Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Brutality of Time - Chekhov's Three Sisters

 

It was one of those happy coincidences that when I was in Sydney the STC (Sydney Theatre Company) happened to be performing one of Chekhov's plays. There was a time, a few years back, when I had finished reading the Cherry Orchard only to discover that that particular play, produced by the Melbourne Theatre Company, had just finished the week before. Needless to say I was sorely disappointed. Okay, while traveling to Sydney just to see a play may sound like a needless expense, it certainly doesn't come close to traveling all the way to London just to see Les Miserables. Anyway, I was planning on going to Sydney anyway, it just happened that this play coincided with my trip there (as well as an exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on the Dutch Grand Masters - though unfortunately, or should I say not surprisingly, the collection on loan from the Rijksmuseum didn't include the Night Watchman).

One of the things that I have noticed is that, with the exception of Shakespeare, I tend not to be all that familiar with the plays of other playwrights. This can cause a problem when I am attempting to sort out the gems from the rubbish that happens to be the mainstay of the Australian theatre scene. Then again, I'm probably close to a friend of mine in that I tend to be a bit of a theatre snob in that I simply do no like contemporary plays, or contemporary playwrights. However, this dislike probably doesn't go to the extent of my friend who will walk out of plays in disgust, but then again, as he has mentioned, you simply can't compare Broadway, or even an American Shakespeare festival, with the Australian theatre scene, and when you don't have the luxury of traveling to the United States once or twice a year then you are probably going to have to grin and bare it.

You can find the full text of the play on Project Gutenberg, and if you are game, the original Russian is here.

The Story - Or Lack Of

The Three Sisters is set in a provincial Russian town, which seems to be a staple of Chekhov, but then again he was born and raised in provincial Russia. However, the three sisters were originally from the metropolis (most likely Moscow) but had moved here since their father had received a commission in the army and had been stationed at the base here. However, this particular version was supposed to be set in the 70s, yet the style was so vague that it did have something of a timeless quality about it. In a way it could have been  the 1970s, but then again it could have been much, much earlier. Further, the location is kept deliberately vague, though since it was snowing on New Years Eve, it was clear that they had set the play in the Northern Hemisphere.

The play is about Three Sisters (and one brother), and stretches over a period of five years. Well, after watching it (and having read it previously), I do feel that five years is a little too short to really capture the brutality of time, but that is something that I will touch upon a little later. Anyway, the play begins after the sibling's father has died and is on the birthday of one of the sisters (and also the first anniversary of their father's death). Anyway, before I continue further I should probably mention a few of the characters.

First of all we have the siblings, the three sisters Olga, Masha, and Irina the youngest, and their brother Andrei, who is the second youngest. Olga is a school teacher, and Masha the artist. Masha is also married to Feodor, who is somewhat older than her, and is also a school teacher. Initially she was enchanted by his charm and grace, but soon become board of him. Andrei is in love with Natalia, who is actually somewhat of a commoner. Like his sisters, Andrei is an intellectual, and seems to actively be pursing somebody beneath status.

Then we have the soldiers, who serve as a counter balance to the sisters. There is Vershinin, who happens to be the commander at the base, and is also married, however he is facing problems in his marriage and ends up having an affair with Masha. Tuzenbach is the second in command, and is not considered particularly handsome. However, for much to the play there is a tension between him and Irinia, and a constant back and forth between romance and repulsion. Finally, we have Solyony, who actually comes across as a bit of a Baldwick from the Black Adder fame. He is also in love with Irinia, however she is repulsed by him, and after his declaration of love for he she does her best to avoid him.
 

So, the play takes place over four scenes, and over four significant events. The scenes take place between 6 to 18 months apart, and the play chronicles the changes that take place over that period. In a way we watching one period, stepping back, and then returning at another point. As mentioned, the play begins on the anniversary of their father's death, and Irina's birthday. Act two begins about 20 months after act one, and is set during New Years Eve celebrations. Natalia and Andrei are now married and it seems that Natalia is taking control of the household. Act three takes place a year after act two and is set during a fire in the town, and the sisters find themselves moved into a single room, with Natalia taking over the rest of the house, and also tearing into their life long servant. We also discover that the house has been mortgaged to help pay off Andrei's gambling debts. The forth and final act is set some time after, and we have the soldiers leaving since the base has been closed down, and everybody is going their separate ways.

Changes

When things change, all you have left are the memories.
If there is one line that brings up what the play is about it is that line. However, this isn't change for the better, but rather change for the worse. When we are talking about change in The Three Sisters we are talking about change that comes about through decay. The town in which the play is set sounds like it would sit in the middle of the rust-belt, and could easily be set in a town like Flint Michigan. Throughout the play one thing after another is closing down - first the school, then the factories, and finally the military are moving out. In fact it is when the base is closed down that the town could officially be considered dead, and this is brought about even more by the sounds of planes flying over head.

We seem to be seeing this with many of our country towns, even here in Australia. In fact there is the constant cry that regional Australia is dying. The government is attempting to change that, however whenever they attempt to move a department out into a regional location there are howls of protest. Yet we have seen that with the department of Agriculture being shifted to regional New South Wales, and a number of state departments also being moved out to the regions, particularly with the collapse of the car industry in Australia (one of Victoria's major regional towns - Geelong - used to be where the main Ford plant was, until it closed down).



Yet we are also seeing the regions being devastated through globalisation, centralisation, and consolidation. The traditional small family farms are dying - it is impossible for the farmers to be able to stay afloat, especially with the major supermarket chains (and other companies) literally setting prices and cutting farmer's margins so that they have little choice by to go into debt. In fact one of my friends, who is a beef farmer, told me that it wasn't until the Chinese started to buy his beef that he began to make money, while another friend who runs a small scale sheep farm, does his own butchering and sells meet over Facebook.

Yet the reality is that the smaller farms are being destroyed, and are being bought up by multinational conglomerates such as Simplot and Archer-Daniels-Midland. The traditional farmer is slowing disappearing, and even with the little to no profit margins, and the farm being mortgaged to the hilt, there is also the problem of technology. Technology is advancing so fast that the traditional farmer simply has to continue to renew his equipment least he fall behind in productivity. However, the conglomerates also have a distinct advantage over them since they have the capital, the reach, and the economies of scale, to be able to continue to reinvent themselves, where as the traditional farmer doesn't.

The question, though, is whether this is change for the better, or change for the worse?

Brutality of Time

The thing with the plays of Anton Chekhov is that they tend to be as bleak and the Russian tundra. Well, some have suggested that that may be just a little too harsh since the play can also be seen as a comedy. Well, Trainspotting is a comedy, but in another sense it isn't, though I would not go anywhere near as describing Chekhov as writing black comedy (if even such a concept existed at the time). Sure, there are some parts that could be consider comic, but that usually comes down to the skill of the director. Further, much of the comic elements generally occur at the beginning, and tend to be interpretations of how the characters interact with each other. Yet, the other thing is that you need to soften the audience up somewhat (which is what happens in Trainspotting) to confront with the incredibly powerful ending.

Time is not a kind master. In fact one of the themes that seems to be running through John Green's Youtube series on literature, is the inability to stop time, or even turn it back. The thing with time is that it continues moving forward, whether we like it or not, and it takes us with it. The other thing is that it changes us - by the year, the day, the hour, and the second. In fact in one moment time can completely shatter your dreams and bring your happiness to an end. One wrong choice, or one unlucky moment can have a chance to destroy you, yet time ever marches on - there is no stopping it.

The characters are now looking to the future with wonder and dreaming, only to look back to what was. At the start of the play we have them looking back to their father's death, and as things move on they long for the brighter times. Yet we see the ravages of change that time is bringing on the community, with the closure of the factory, the university, and the base. Yet time marches forever on, and there is nothing that they can do to stop it, no matter how they try.

This isn't a question of traveling in time, going to the future or returning to the past, but attempting to stop time, especially in those fleeting moments of joy, or to speed it up to escape those ever present times of grief and sorrow. That great party, that first kiss, that moment of exhilaration when you have succeeded and you feel that the world is your oyster. We want those times to last forever, yet for some strange reason they don't, and time moves forever on. It's not that we don't try to freeze time - we live for he weekend, go out to he pubs and clubs every night - we try to capture those times of joy and happiness, and when we can't we resort to drugs to take us back. Yet time marches on, we grow older, and the joy and exhilaration grow less and less, as we need more and more to maintain the joy.


Shattered Dreams

Remember that time when you were on top of the world, when everything seemed to be going your way. When you were young and capable of anything. You had got your foot in the door and the only way was up. Well, Chekhov did as well, and this is a play that we have received near the end of his life. In a way he was dying - he had tuberculosis - but his brilliance had just recently been discovered by the Moscow theatre scene after he had dropped out of literary circles a number of years before. Yet, time seemed to be against Chekhov because at this point he literally had one foot in the grave. However, he could look back at a time when he was young, and healthy, and had the potential to conquer the world - except that he hadn't.

You see from a young age we are told that we can be what we want to be, that we have no barrier, and that it is only ourselves that can hold us back. In a way that is a lie, but it is also encouragement to help us succeed. In some places that is true - in Australia we are fortunate to have a decent school system, depending on where we live of course, and good universities. Yet not everybody, even in Australia, has the same chances and opportunities that I have. In fact I have the opportunity to retrain and go into a completely different line of work, and in that way I am incredibly blessed - most of my colleagues have no such luck.

Yet, there was a time, when we got our first job, completed that degree, and it seemed that we could do almost anything. Then suddenly life takes a sharp turn, and we find that those dreams that we had are no longer being fulfilled. We had such hope in a child that eventually goes off the rails and disowns us, or we suddenly find ourselves in a dead-end job with no place to go, and an environment that wears us down day by day. Chekhov saw this, and knew this, since while he had seen some moderate success with his writings, his plays were never all that well received. We see this in the play with Masha, who was an artist and with Andrei, who was a philosopher - never came to all that much.

In fact Irina cries over the fact that suddenly she has forgotten her Italian, and that the ravages of time are eating her up. In fact we are constantly reminded of the potential that Andrei had, only to throw it all away and simply become a town councilor - in fact not just any old town councilor, but the councilor of a town that is slowly dying. The girls were expecting so much more from him, particularly as a philosopher - they wanted him to rock the world with his brilliance, yet ends up only influencing the local community.

Empty Relationships

Time also destroys relationships. Well, not quite since my parents are three years off their diamond jubilee, which in this day and age it quite an achievement. In fact I remember speaking to a friend once who was genuinely surprised that my parents were still together since with everybody she knew their parent's had split up. Then the question  is raised as to how many weddings have we been to where on that wonderful day there is promise and blessings on a happy future and a long life together, only to discover that the marriage has broken down in a matter of years. In fact it seems that these days most people who get married are probably going to do so at least twice, which is a boon for the wedding industry mind you.

So, we see this in the play, in particular with two relationships (and while there is a third, I won't touch upon it due to its tragic nature, and the fact that it is a huge spoiler). First we have Masha, who is said to have married young, and she married the intellectual Feodor, who for a while is the headmaster of the school, but ends up becoming just a teacher. He is absolutely smitten with Masha, and in fact spends half the play running around looking for her. The bleak final scene is the climax where we see him run onto and off of the stage, calling out her name, until he stumbles on the horrid truth. The thing is that Masha is having an affair, and has had been doing so for the last three to four years.

It can be said that there is a mystique about a man in uniform, though I suspect that this may have been a form of cultural conditioning to attempt to increase recruitment rates into the armed forces (especially after conscription was ruled a big no no). However, it seems to go beyond this because the relationship is empty and loveless, at least from Masha's point of view - but then again that seems to be more of a flaw with Masha than it is with Feodor. In a way I don't feel that Feodor had done anything wrong, it is just that Masha had become bored. This is another thing that seems to be permeating around society - affairs are better than traditional relationships - but then again that has a lot to do with while it not being strictly illegal, it is generally frowned upon - the forbidden fruit always tastes so much better.

Then there is Andrei and Natalia. Natalia is very controlling and domineering. Further, she is beneath their class, and was portrayed as such in the play for our modern eyes and brains to understand the contrasts. Here we have three well educated women, and their brother, who is equally educated, marries somebody who dropped out of highschool and works in retail. Okay, this doesn't ring all that well with us these days because if we were to look down upon somebody in that regards we would be accused (and rightly so) or intellectual snobbery. However, this was very much an issue in Chekhov's day.

Yet we see how the marriage changes over the play. Once again, Natalia is the forbidden fruit, but not really so because there is some goading by the sisters for Andrei to make a move on her. Yet, once they are married, we suddenly discover that Natalia has sunk her claws into him, and is making her presence felt in the house. She chastises the house keeper for being too old and a waste of resources, and while she is rebuked by Olga, this rebuke falls on deaf ears. Then we have their room in act three, where we discover that due to the need to raise children, Olga and Illiana have been relegated to the smallest room in the house.

So it is with relationships - Andrei has changed and is no longer the brother, but an alien under the control of somebody who clearly wants the sisters out of the house. While this relationship hasn't necessarily degenerated, it is clear that Natalia is what one would call 'high-maintenance'. She has a lot of demands on Andrei and his resources, which is probably why he has run up so many gambling debts. In a way this is probably a warning by Chekhov to his contemporaries as to why one shouldn't marry outside their class, while to the modern audience, once should be more circumspect as to who to enter into a life long relationship in the form of marriage, and try not to have one's judgement clouded by love (if that is all possible).



Going Home

The idea of home takes many forms. In a way it is more than just that place that we return to everyday after work, were we eat out meals and sleep, as well as watch television. In fact it is more than possible that that place ceases to be a home, whether it be due to those we share the house with, or due to some traumatic event that occurred there in the recent past. In a sense the concept of home is a place of safety, a place where you can cut yourself off from the rest of the world, and be confident that you will not be disturbed. This is why people whose house has been burgled no longer feel that that place is a home - in a way it has been defiled.

Yet home takes another form in Three Sisters - home is a place of joy and happy memories, and that place unfortunately lies in the past. Iliana is always looking to return home, but unfortunately she cannot because that place of joy and safety lies in the past, and it is nigh impossible to return to that place. In fact many of us see the past in that light, and many of us desire to return to that past, but unfortunately we are unable to do so - this is why the idea of time travel premeates our culture because it represents a desire to return to a place that we are unable to do so.

We are now a hugely mobile society, and I would argue that a part of this has something to do with our desire for a place to call home. It is not just moving houses, but also moving cities. In Iliana's case she grew up in the city, while in her mind was home, but was then rudely pulled out of that comfort zone to be taken to a country town. For the rest of the play she has this desire to return home, because she believes that once she returns to the city then everything will be so much better. However, there is no guarantee that this will be the case. In a way we spend our lives searching for a place to call home, but for some reason we are never able to find such a place - which is probably why we are slowly becoming a race of modern nomads.

I'll finish this post off with a BBC version of the play starring Anthony Hopkins (from 1970).


Here is a review, and some insights, on a production of the play in Bakersfield California.

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The Brutality of Time - Chekhov's Three Sisters by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Fields of Agincourt

For a battle that is little more than a footnote in history, Agincourt certainly sits in the mind of the English consciousness. Well, that probably has a lot to do with Shakespeare, who wrote an entire play focusing on this battle, and this is one of the reasons why I have decided to write a post on the subject. Then again, I had also visited the village of Agincourt when I was last in France, and I was rather surprised to discover an entire museum dedicated to the battle. In fact, this museum is probably the main reason that this tiny village is actually on the map, and I suspect that the reason for this is because a lot of English people travel to France simply to see the site where a rather insignificant battle was fought some six-hundred years ago.

At first, all I expected to discover were fields of corn and that was it, however as you drive along the road into and out of Agincourt you will discover a number of wooden soldiers along the side of the road, effectively marking where the battle was fought. Well, sort of because the fields happen to belong to the farmers, and I doubt they are going to be all that thrilled with people traipsing across their paddocks simply to reenact a battle. However, when I arrived I discovered that they had also set up a museum that takes us on trek back in time to see, learn about, and experience the battle. However, before I go on let us look at a bit of context.


The Hundred Years War

I first heard about this war in university. In a way it is interesting how as I have grown older my understanding of our past has been slowly pieced together. Before I returned to high school I had heard of Napoleon, and I had heard of the French Revolution, but I never realised that the two were actually connected. As for the Hundred Years War, well, I had heard of the Norman invasion, and I had heard of King Richard III, but this war that lasted from 1337 to 1452 was completely new to me. In fact, while I had heard of Jean d'Arc, I never realised that she was connected to this war, or that the role that she played was incredibly important to the France that we know of today.

The general consensus is that the Hundred Years War began in 1337 when King Phillip II of France confiscated the duchy of Aquitaine from the English which resulted in Edward III declaring war against the French. However, I am inclined to suggest that the war dates back to the Norman Conquest, which is the main reason why the English had possession of the Duchy of Aquitaine, as well as Normandy. In fact, England was ruled from Rouen for much of that period, and it was only after the Capetian conquest of Normandy in 1204 that the King of England returned to England.


However, England still had control over a number of French territories, and it had been French policy to basically 'kick the English out of France'. In 1316, a rule was established to prevent a woman from assuming the throne of France, which created a problem when the last of the Capetian kings, Charles IV, died without a male heir. This meant that Edward III of England was the next in line, but because he was only heir through the female line his claim was rejected and instead it was handed to Phillip of Valois, which was the former king's cousin.

The war started when Phillip decided that he wanted to move against the English territories, and Edward responded by sending troops into France. The initial phase of the war was disastrous for the French, with them losing a number of battles, and with Phillip also being captured by Edward's son The Black Prince. This resulted in a peace treaty, and control of vast areas of France under English rule. From 1360 the war settled into a stalemate and a war of attrition, namely due to the death of The Black Prince thanks to the plague, and the ascension of Richard II to the throne of England.

A recap of English possession in France

However, while England erupted into turmoil, thanks to Henry IV overthrowing Richard, France wasn't much better with a mad king and rivals to the throne fighting each other for control. This culminated in the assassination of the King's brother in 1407, and the division of France into two (or rather three if you include England's possessions), that being the Armangnacs, the supporters of the Duke of Orleans, and the Burgundians, the supporters of John the Fearless, who chose to remain neutral in the conflict. This is a split of which the new King of England, Henry V, took advantage, thanks in part to John the Fearless' neutrality.

About History

Sometimes, actually a lot of times, it is tempting to simply accept history as it has been written down, but the thing is that the further away in time we go, the less reliable our sources become, and in fact the less frequent our sources become as well. These days we live in the world of the 24 hour news cycle were pretty much everything is record, and painful research goes into what we know of the past. However this wasn't always the case, and in fact modern processes of history simply did not exist back in the days of the Hundred Years War. Sure, there is the suggestion that history is written by the winners, but when we consider that a bulk of our knowledge of the Peloponessian War comes from Thucydides, an Athenian, and was on the losing side of the battle, this doesn't always stand up. The other concern is that accounts generally weren't written down until years later, though back in those days memory tended to last a lot longer than our days where almost anything can be found by a Google Search.

Two of the eye-witnesses of Agincourt were actually children at the time of the battle, and didn't write of their experiences until at least twenty years later. However, we do have a poem by Alain Chartier, which is the Book of the Four Ladies (the only copy on the internet was a scanned book that is not only written in French, but it is written in that spidery script of the time), about sorrow of four French women who lost their husbands in the battle. Another source we have is a treatise on military strategy written by Jean Beusil around 1470, which emphasises the importance of leadership.

Mind you, this battle is probably one of the most well known of the battles of the Hundred Years War, probably thanks in a way to the works of William Shakespeare who immortalised it in the story of Henry V. However, as suggested, much of these works tended to be rather subjective, and as I had discovered at University, using Shakespeare as a source to talk about the battle (and the war) simply does not work (and further, I completely missed out the other plays that occurred during the war as well, namely because they didn't include any fighting in France). However, despite this, there is no lack of writing from the time about the battle.

Yet despite the battle having a significant number of records, there is still a lot of debate over the exact composition of the armies, and the advantages that they faced. In fact historians go from a figure of 4 to 1 to as high as 10 to 1.


Henry V

While we do have a play based around this king, we should also remember he is also the same Hal in the two Henry IV plays, the one who is living a wild life with Falstaff and his companions. However, it isn't the play that I am interested in here, but rather the man. He initially stood out while still a prince in the Battle of Shrewsberry where he defeated the Welsh rebel Owen Gwendower. However, as a king, his reign was quite short, lasting from 1413 to 1422, yet it was a reign which reinvigorated royal power, namely due to his personality and has charisma. Mind you, this wasn't to last since England was shortly to descend into the bloody war of the Roses and the reign of Richard III.

Shortly after ascending the throne, Henry put down a rebellion of the Lollards, which no doubt cemented his authority, and also prevented the disaster that cost Richard II the throne. During this time, he also made a claim to the French throne, since he was not only a Plantagenet, but also a descendant of William the Conquerer. However, he was tricky in this part since he sent negotiators into France, and while the French were distracted, he began to raise an army, reactivated the shipyards in Southhampton, and also rented a number of ships to help him make the crossing. When the French realised what was going on, they sued for peace and offered him the hand of Catherine in marriage, a huge dowry, and of course the duchy of Aquitaine. However Henry wanted more, so he promptly rejected the offer.

He then marched into France in 1415, and scored significant victories at Harfleur (modern day Le Havre) and Argincourt, thus paving the way for the conquest of Normandy. He then forced the French to sign a peace treaty in 1420, and made himself the regent of France. He also married the French princess Catherine, but then died three years later at the age of 34, leaving the only heir to the throne a nine month old baby. The capture of Le Havre was important in that it was situated at the mouth of the Sienne, thus giving Henry control of a vital trade route into Paris.

Even while the French had an overwhelming numerical advantage, most of the battles during the war ended with decisive English victories (with the exception of those led by Bertand du Geusolin). The reason for this was due to England's use of tactics and recruitment. The thing is that back in those days the standing army didn't exist. In fact armies were raised by the King who called on his lords to field troops on his behalf. However, there were professionally trained soldiers, but they tended to be in the form of knights (and mercenaries). The ordinary soldier generally worked the land, and the only weapons they had was that which they purchased with their own funds - they didn't even necessarily know how to use them.


The English operated on a different system - the king had the lords bound to a contract to provide troops when needed. This was initially implemented by Edward III, but was later reinforced by Henry V. There was also a levy imposed, though these troops were generally used for home defence. Another thing with the indenture system was that there was a ratio required, usually three archers for every men at arms. The army also consisted of tent-makers, armourers, and even surgeons, and was actually quite small in size (around 12000). However, the siege of Harfluer reduced this even further due to the plague, and also the need to leave garrisons at conquered towns.

Thus, while the English army at Agincourt was small, it was experienced and well disciplined, while the French army had only been called up quite recently, and not only lacked experience, but also integration (which was due France's use of Geonese mercenaries). The success of the battle was due to the formation and tactics that Henry used - by deploying his archers, which comprised of at least three-quarters of his army, he was able to win the day.

The English weren't the only ones to have missile weapons, as the French utilised crossbowmen, including mercenaries from Genoa. However, the difference was that the English archers played an important role in the battle, and while the crossbows could have been a match for the archers, the French did not utilise them effectively, reducing them to only a secondary role. As such, when the initial cavalry charge was made towards the English, the archers were easily able to blunt this attack through the use of their long distance weapons. Further, due to them being lightly armoured, they also made an effective fighting force in hand-to-hand combat.

The Battle of Battles

After Henry captured Harfleur things seemed to start going badly for him. He decided to march to Calais, another important port two hundred kilometres from Harfluer, but shortly after moving he was suddenly attacked by French troops. In fact in the march across Normandy he found that he was regularly being harassed by troops and also subject to cavalry charges, though he managed to fight them all off. The original plan was to cross the Somme river, however upon reaching the Somme he discovered that the French had destroyed all of the bridges.

The French had set up in positions on the far side of the river, and Henry was having a terrible time looking for a ford or a bridge that hasn't been burnt down. Every time he reached a ford, he discoverd the French on the other side, and attempting to cross the river while being harried by the French isn't the wisest of battle tactics. However, he eventually found a way to cross the river, and while still being harassed by the French, he is approached by three heralds who advised him that the French will meet the army in battle, at a time and place of their choosing - through the use of scouts Henry discovered that this place was the village of Agincourt.

Henry's route through France

The problem was that Henry doesn't want to fight a battle, particularly since the French not only had the advantage, but his troops were also exhausted from the forced march. However, both armies decided to settle down for the night in preparation of the battle that was to come. However, Henry, knowing that he simply would not be able to take the advantage, settled down for a short night, and them went to mass at a local chapel before setting off for battle.

The troops were arrayed across from each other. The cream of the French troops were on display, consisting of heavily armoured knights (tanks if you will). As for the English, they were positioned a kilometre away, with the troops arrayed in two lines. Henry took command of the bulk of the force, and the duke of York in commanded the flanks. Interspaced between the troops were the archers, set in triangles to allow a 360 degree field of fire. However, a bulk of the archers sat on the flanks so as to create a kill zone through which the French must cross before engaging the English. They also set themselves up behind a field of stakes, creating another impediment for a cavalry charge (which they were basically expecting).


In an attempt to avoid battle, Henry offered the return of Harfleur which the French had initially requested, and the counter offer was for Henry to abdicate his throne in favor of the French, which, not surprisingly, was also rejected. As such the two forces faced off against each other for several hours, neither wanting to make the first move. The English then made the first move, marching into bowshot. The catch was that the French were on ploughed ground, while the advantage was with the English, who were on uncultivated land. The English then let off a volley of arrows which resulted in the cavalry charging, who were then cut down to the man by the archers. The injured horses turned around and charged back through the French troops, adding to further disarray.

The French then moved towards the English, but once again their numbers worked against them. With forests to either side, they found themselves trapped, and the English archers proceed to draw their hand weapons and attack the French. The result was a slaughter which causesed the French vanguard to turn and flee. The battle then paused, and suddenly there is a shout from behind, and the English turned to discover that their baggage was being pillaged. However, this was only a minor incident, but the result is that Henry ordered the execution of all of the French prisoners, with the exception of the great lords. However, the battle had come to an end, and Henry was victorious.

Implications

So, I guess the question is what effect on history did this battle have. Well, honestly, I think the French have the best answer to this question - not much at all. Sure, the short term results meant that the French had been decisively defeated and Henry was defacto ruler of France. We must remember that he only lived another seven years. Further, a much more important character was to come about a few years later - Jean d'Arc. While some of us may know of Henry, especially if we are familiar with the Shakespeare canon, pretty much everybody has heard of jean d'Arc.
 

Though while it is possible that Agincourt set the context to allow somebody like Jean to arise, I need to look at the context a little. Without Agincourt, France was still divided, and the English still occupied large sections of the country, but not to the extent that it did after Agincourt. However, the main issue with Jean was that the French were clearly under the thumb of the English, and it was a complacent and defeatist nobility that she was challenging. Without this then it is unlikely that there would have been that sense of urgency that enabled Jean to arise.

The thing is that Jean d'Arc had such an influence on history that it is hard to write about it in this post, particularly since it is about Agincourt. The French suggested that it was a minor battle that shouldn't have the significance that it has, and it is only the English pining for better times that the battle is remembered at all. Still, the English then went on to pretty much rule the world in the 19th and early 20th century, so this idea of remembering better days probably doesn't work as well. Yet, I guess when we look at the bigger picture, many of these minor events, as insignificant as they may appear, all work together to create the grand tapestry that makes up our history. In a sense, everything is connected.




Creative Commons License
Fields of Agincourt by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Henry V - War in France


When I first discovered that the Pop-Up Globe was coming to Melbourne my initial thoughts where that I was only going to go and see Much Ado About Nothing, namely because that was one play that I hadn't seen. However, one became two (Othello), and after seeing Othello I realised that the only version of Henry V that I have seen was a modernised version that was basically one long play within a play (and you can see my post on that particular production here). What I hadn't seen was a production that had been performed using traditional costume, and this is what this particular version was offering. Further, I have now noted that they have extended their season into January (and the into February), which means that I will probably end up going to go and see As You Like It as well (and I a curious to see if return to Australia next year with the current production that is being performed in Auckland).

The thing with this production is that it is an all male theatre troop, which adds to the authenticity of the production, but it also adds to the amusement as well. This current season has two troops performing: the Queens Men, which is a mixed troop and they did Othello and Much Ado About Nothing; and the King's Men, which is an all male troop, and they are doing Henry V and As You Like It. Mind you, this style adds to the amusement value of the whole spectacle, and differs substantially from the original Globe where women were basically banned from appearing on stage. These days having female actors is part and parcel of the theatre scene and nobody really thinks anything of it, but back then, to have a female on stage would have been scandalous.

A part of me is tempted to write about the battle of Agincourt, the battle which the play is focused on, especially since I visited the site when I was in France. However, instead I will leave it for a separate post and in this post simply focus on the play. The play itself does stand out in that it is probably one of Shakespeare's  more well known histories, and is also the reason that the Battle of Agincourt is actually still remembered to this day, but then again the play itself was probably looking back at a time when England practically ruled France, and served as a reminder of a time when the English army literally annihilated the French. The other thing with the play is that it was the play that won Brannaugh an academy award and proved to the world that Shakespeare can be successfully put onto the cinema.


Before I get into the play another thing that came to mind as I was watching this performance was that it sort of reminded me of World War I. I guess the reason for that is that I am currently read Robert Grave's Goodbye to All That, and the main focus of that play is on his experience in World War I. As I thought about it though, other than being in France, there is really nothing all that similar between the two wars. The wars of Henry V were actually quite quick, at least where this period is concerned, and the armies quite mobile. This was certainly not the case in World War I. Further, in this period, the armies would simply wander around in a group, and tended to be somewhat smaller, and battles would start up when they happened to run into each other.

Nobles and Commoners

The one interesting thing in this play is that we have two different classes of people - the nobility and the commoners. One should remember that this follows on from Henry IV, and for those familiar with the play, one will remember that in the first part Henry is actually spending is time with a group of rabble rousers, led by the infamous Falstaff. At the beginning of the play we learn that Falstaff has died, and for those of us familiar with the earlier play, we will notice that some of the characters have followed us over. However, one should remember that at the end of Henry IV part II, after Harry becomes kings, he distances himself from his former life, and even openly rejects Falstaff.

This carries over into this play, particularly when one of the soldiers steals a worthless crucifix from a chapel. There is a push to have the soldier punished for such a minor infraction, but there is a principle at play here - the soldier must be punished, and must be punished to the full extent of the law, which means execution. There are no ifs, buts, or exceptions. The thing is that this is a question of discipline, order, and honour. Henry's army is not a bunch of bandits storming across the country raping and pillaging, but rather an army of Englishmen conquering France.



Then we have the eve of the battle, where Henry disguises himself as a commoner and wonders among the troops. This scene was actually mentioned in an episode of Star Trek, and is important because the king is actually going amongst his men, and attempting to connect with them to know how they feel on the eve of the battle. Wars in many cases are disputes between kings and princes who use their pawns to do the fighting. Henry is different because he understands that his men, even though they are commoners, are still men, and that they have lives, and joys, and fears. In a way this also reflects back on his time with Falstaff because to him they are more than just dirty commoners, they are real men.

This is probably why, in this play, we have Henry charging into the thick of the battle. He isn't a general, or commander that hangs back in a tent, protected from the battle, where his soldiers and knights do all the fighting. No, instead he is right in the thick of it, the first up the ladder at Harfleur, and charging into the fray at Agincourt, ready to take on the biggest and baddest knight there is. Sure, we also have the longbowmen, who actually played an incredibly important part in the battle, but while the two performances that I have seen remind us of this, in reality what Shakespeare is interested in here is the nature of the king, and a reminder of the people of England at the time of a period now long gone.

The Salic Law

There is something of interest raised at the beginning of the play, which in a way is justifying the invasion of France - the illegitimacy of the French King. Mind you, this sort of goes against certain things in that at the time the play was performed there was a woman on the throne of England, but this isn't what we are necessarily concerned with here. What Shakespeare was doing was constructing a fiction that gave Henry the right to go to war against France - that the king could only come down the male line, not the female, and the fact that this hadn't happened in France undermined the right of the current king to sit on the throne.

Yet there could have been a number of reason why Henry actually went to war, and this salic law is little more than a pretext. Mind you, it isn't as if people haven't used dodgy pretexts to go to war before, or since, but while there are some instances where war is an unfortunately necessity, it many cases it simply comes from the greed of certain parties. Well, one could easily argue that the Napoleonic Wars were all defensive wars on the part of Napoleon, and ever since I heard that argument, my opinion of those wars changed substantially.


However, in Henry's case the reason for war seems to be two fold. Okay, one could argue that this is simply just one battle in a war that lasted over a hundred years, but then if one falls into that trap, how long, in reality, did this war really last, and why is it that it starts with Edward III, and finishes with Henry VI? Could it not have begun a lot earlier, and finished a lot later? Mind you, one interesting thing from Robert Graves is the reaction of the French in the Pas de Calais during World War I. Basically they were concerned that the British would never leave. That reaction almost brought to mind this period of history, and makes me wonder whether people really do have incredibly long memories.

So, there was the point of expanding English territory, and we should remember that at this time England did actually control quite a lot of France. The other point was to solidify his rule, and what better way for a strong king to stake his claim than to go to war. Mind you, this is always a risky thing to do, because if we remember back to Richard I, we note that he went to war in Ireland and returned to discover that somebody had taken his throne. However there is a difference - here Henry uncovers some traitors, and instead of dily dallying around he has then executed, straight away - Henry doesn't muck around.

Borrowed from The Internet Shakespeare

The Massacre

This mucking around leads us to the alleged war crime committed by Henry after the battle. What is interesting is that at one part of the play he commands his soldiers to treat the French with respect, and to not go around robbing like they are a bunch of bandits. Fair enough, because he is leading an army, not a bunch of thugs, and an army is meant to have discipline. Actually, this is something that is a little odd because there really wasn't much in the way of standing armies during those periods - in this time if a King needed an army he would raise one among his lords and peers.

However, we suddenly see a different side to Harry after victory at Agincourt. All of a sudden he orders all of the prisoners killed. This does raise the question of whether he actually committed a crime. The thing is that back then there was no such thing as the Geneva Convention. In fact there was no such thing as rules for war -  they didn't come about until after the Thirty Years War. That meant that prisoners didn't have to be treated humanely. Actually, prisoners were quite valuable in that one could get a ransom for them. Yet what about the average soldier, what if they were captured? Well, if they were peasants then there is probably little that one could actually do with them, and they were no doubt a burden to the army.

Yet, it also sees to be to be another sign of his complete dominance over the French. In fact the whole play seems to revolve around Henry and his character. He was a strong king, one that took England to war against their eternal enemy and won, but not only won, but won convincingly. What could be happening here is that Henry is reinforcing his power over the French by reminding them of where they stand. Remember we are still living in Medieval Europe here, so the humaine treatment of prisoners didn't exist, and even then peasants were people in the same sense that the nobility was. 

Sweet Catherine

I want to say a few things about Catherine, which actually seems a little odd - sort of like it was tacked on at the end. Basically Catherine is the daughter of the King of France (who appeared on stage in a wheelchair, which sat in contrast with Henry, who was young and fit), and appears a couple of times, particularly in one rather baudy scene where she is attempting to learn English. In fact this one scene really did play to the lowest common denominator in the use of the double-entendres, particularly where a French women, who cannot speak English, is attempting to learn the language, and instead swearing profusely.


This particular scene is of interest to me (and for those who are interested, it is Act III, Scene IV) because it allows me to see how French was spoken back in those days. Mind you, when I first read the play all those years ago in University (I was writing an essay on the Hundred Years War, and wanted to use Henry V as a source, not that that was what was asked, but then again I was a classic for writing stuff that had nothing to do with the essay question) this scene went over my head, namely because I didn't know French, nor did I understand the double-entendres. However, to assist the audience see the humour, the King's Men changed it slightly so that we could see how bawdy it actually was.

Anyway, I will include a section for your benefit (even though I have linked it above):

KATHARINE
Alice, tu as ete en Angleterre, et tu parles bien le langage.


ALICE 
Un peu, madame.
KATHARINE 
Je te prie, m'enseignez: il faut que j'apprenne a 
parler. Comment appelez-vous la main en Anglois?

ALICE 
La main? elle est appelee de hand.
KATHARINE 
De hand. Et les doigts?
ALICE 
Les doigts? ma foi, j'oublie les doigts; mais je me 
souviendrai. Les doigts? je pense qu'ils sont 
appeles de fingres; oui, de fingres.
KATHARINE 
La main, de hand; les doigts, de fingres. Je pense 
que je suis le bon ecolier; j'ai gagne deux mots 
d'Anglois vitement. Comment appelez-vous les ongles?
ALICE 
Les ongles? nous les appelons de nails.

KATHARINE 
De nails. Ecoutez; dites-moi, si je parle bien: de 
hand, de fingres, et de nails.
ALICE 
C'est bien dit, madame; il est fort bon Anglois.
KATHARINE  
Dites-moi l'Anglois pour le bras.
And for completeness sake, here is a video I found on Youtube:


Then there is the final scene, which is probably a good place to finish off. Here we have Henry, who has convincingly defeated the French, sitting at the top of the world. The catch is that he hasn't got the girl, so what better thing than to take the daughter of the French king as his wife. Well, in reality she would have no choice, but this is Shakespeare - he actually gives her a choice, and Henry has to convince her to become his wife. The catch is that she cannot speak English, and he can't speak French. Quite probably most of the audience couldn't speak French either, so this production took the easy way out and had her speak English.

In the end, it came down to the fact that we knew that both actors were male, it is just that one of them was dressed up as a woman, so the kiss at the end of the play was, well, amusing. Okay, a number of years back it probably would have been horrifying to some on the audience, but these days, particularly with the legalisation of Same Sex Marriage in Australia, it is nothing (though it is still rather amusing).

Still, I did quite like how Catherine would simply wonder around the stage, as if she were basically in her own little world, and was only dragged into the reality of the play once Henry had conquered France.




Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Post - Free Speach vs National Security


Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks
Release: 12 May 2017
IMDB Rating: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes User Rating: 73% (Critics gave it 88%)

This is another one of those films that a short review on IMDB really can't do it justice, but then again IMDB really isn't the tool that one should be using to analyse movies - it isn't as if it is Goodreads (even though it does happen to be owned by the same company - Amazon). Still, I'm not really sure that there are all that many films that can be critically analysed, not in the same way that a book can. Then again, there was a time when I was able to see a lot of themes in some of the more mainstream films (such as Blade Runner), and there does exist a whole subject on film studies, which explores how the director uses the medium to tell the story.

However, this isn't want I will necessarily be doing, since I am more interested in the story behind the story, and the issues that the film raises as opposed to performing a critical analysis on its construction. Needless to say, I can certainly write a lot more about this film than simply rehashing the plot and then making a comment as to whether I like it or not (and this is something that I have been doing of late, but then again a lot of films just seem to rehash the same old stuff over and over again, and this is if they don't happen to be a remake, reboot, or a sequel).

Some have suggested that this film is Steven Spielberg's "All the President's Men", though the events of this film are set before the events of the other (though The Post ends at a point that sets us up for the events that are to come). What is surprising though was how fast Spielberg brought this film together (and I was surprised to discover that he was the brains behind this film, though I shouldn't be at all surprised that he is still lurking in the shadows of Hollywood, in the same way that Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are), namely that it only took six months to make. However, in a lot of cases it is a film for the times, and there are filmmakers who are passionate about a topic and are able to get a film made pretty quickly (though I also wonder whether he is also angling for an Oscar, since I believe this is Oscar season).

The Pentagon Papers

The film opens in Vietnam (not surprisingly), and has Daniel Elsberg returning to Washington with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. He is then called into the briefing and asked how he believes the war is going. The response is 'pretty much the same'. This is the catch because since they had increased the number of troops in Vietnam at the time, for the answer 'pretty much the same' to come it is quite damning. Upon returning to Washington, Elsberg grabs a copy of a study produced by McNamara, heads over to another location where they proceed to photocopy the entire document (which back in those days would have taken quite a lot of time - no such thing as a document feeder back then).

The papers are then released to the New York Times, which was basically the leading newspaper in the country. However, we also shift over to the Washington Post, a small, family owned newspaper that is attempting to grow its subscriber base. At the time it was not even playing second-fiddle to the New York Times, but rather was considered a local paper that published things such at the wedding of Richard Nixon's daughter. Mind you, Nixon didn't particularly like the paper, but then again I suspect that Nixon really didn't like any newspapers.


The New York Times decides to run with the Pentagon Papers, as they became known as, which caused an immediate stir, particularly in the halls of power. However, Nixon decided to step in and put a stop to it, and issued an injunction  in the courts, successfully ordering the New York Times to stop publishing the papers until it could be referred to the Supreme Court for the decision. Elsberg, who was a bit dismayed at the turn of events, approached the Washington Post to see if they would continue the publication of the papers.

Well, this is the crux of the film - do they or don't they publish, and if they do, does this mean that they are in contempt of court. This was a huge risk for a small paper to take, particularly one that is on the verge of listing on the stock market - if something serious happened in the first week of listing then the banks could pull out and it would be no end of trouble for the paper. Well, as we all know, they ended up publishing, were taken to court for breach of the injunction, and the court ruled in favour of the Washington Post. The matter then went to the Supreme Court, which also ruled in favour of the newspapers against the government.

Government Accountability

This is one of the roles that the press plays - they are supposed to hold the government accountable, particularly since we live in a democracy. If the government does something wrong, it needs to be exposed so that the next time the election cycle comes around, people can go to the ballot box fully informed. Yet governments, particularly the executive arm that is responsible for administering the laws, and making most of the important decisions, don't always like to be exposed to what they are doing, and this is where the conflict with the press arises.

However there can be a catch, since politicians and newspaper editors move in the same circles, they tend to form relationships. In the film the editor of the Post (Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks) openly acknowledges that he was good friends with Kennedy and Johnson, and the owner (Kay Graham, played by Meryl Streep) is really good friends with Robert Macnamara (though at the time of the film he was no longer secretary of defense). As such this can lead to the problem were the newspaper goes soft on one party and particularly hard on the other. Then there was Nixon, who I gather was not all that enamored with the press himself, and I gather that the feeling was mutual.

I guess we see this problem today, especially in Australia where we have the highest concentration of media in the world, and as such it is pretty much controlled by one man, and he tends to prefer the ruling conservative party (though interestingly a story in one of his papers brought about the downfall of the Deputy Prime Minister, and more interestingly it was a sex scandal, something that rarely comes up in Australia because, well, people don't particularly care).

Okay, some of our cities (Sydney and Melbourne) have two competing newspapers, but everywhere else has only one, and they are basically Newscorp newspapers. While we do have media outlets that offer independent views, they are pretty much confined to the internet (such as Guardian Australia). Like Fox in the United States, we have Sky News which is basically full of our own right wing commentators, and it is horrifying that when the huge TV screens appeared in our railway stations as bill boards, they ended up touting Sky News over and over again. There was not one commentator that was presented that held an opinion that was not right wing (and not to mention Mr Andrew 'Most-read columnist in Australia' Bolt).


So, when we have a Liberal (conservative) government these media outlets simply sing their praises and condemns anybody who might disagree with them, yet when the Labor Party is in power, the media doesn't just hold them accountable, they outright condemn them, and this is clearly seen when the local Melbourne rag, the Herald Sun (or, as I like to call it, the Herald Scum), printed a front page article on how gangs of African youths are terrorising the Western Suburbs (which, by the way, is a load of rubbish), which set off a media firestorm regarding these non-existent gangs, and in turn demonising the Africans.

I guess the point that I'm making here is that the press should try to be impartial, and attempt to be party politically neutral, though in the end due to the world that we live in, I doubt this going to happen. I do notice that if newspapers even attempt to be moderate, then they are condemned as being left wing, and the Labour Party, in some circles, are still called communists (and having been to a meeting of the communist party, all I can say is that Labor is nowhere near that extreme).

National Security

This is the other side of the debate: National Security. In fact this has always been an issue during war, because we have the threat that an enemy is attempting to do our country, and in turn us, harm, and it is the government's job to protect us from such harm. However, the question is raised when we have a situation where our country is protected by a moat - as is the case with the United States (and in turn Australia). The thing is that at the time a war was being fought on foreign soil, and there was a huge debate as to whether it was worth fighting that war in the first place.

Yet let us consider the bigger picture: the Cold War. In many cases the wars fought during that period were basically proxy wars - the two superpowers never actually came into direct conflict, and pretty much all of the fighting involved one or both powers arming insurgents to fight on their behalf (and in a way we seem to be returning to that time). This was the situation that was happening in Vietnam, and the fact that there were Americans on the ground meant that if the wrong information was made public then their lives could be in danger.


This is the problem with having a free press - the enemy reads our newspapers and watches our television channels. This isn't the case in the totalitarian regimes where information is tightly controlled - 1984 style. The thing is that what the citizens of these regimes are being told is exactly the same thing that we are being told, and in a way this works twofold - it keeps the population ignorant, and keeps us in the dark. As such the regime manages to stay in power.

Then again information, and control of information, has always been a source of power and authority. Yet when we consider that one of the cornerstone of Democracy is that the press is free, and one of the freedoms is to hold the government accountable. However, when there is a war being fought, there is the balance between what could be considered national security, and that which can be used by our enemies to bring harm to us. Yet, this may have been the case if the plans for D-day were published in the London Times two months before the operation, but there is something different when it comes to Vietnam.

The thing is that Vietnam was a contentious war, but in a way it was probably a war that we were always going to have problems winning. The thing is that when the Japanese invaded South East Asia during World War II it sent a signal throughout the region that the European powers weren't actually as powerful as it was perceived, and this culminated in the fall of Singapore, at the time viewed and an impregnable fortress (though we shouldn't forget that the Japanese did fight a successful war against the Russians - the first time a non-European power defeated a European power). While the Japanese were eventually defeated, it set off a serious of revolutions in the region with the attempt to overthrow the colonial powers - the catch was that the revolutionaries tended to be communist, or at least left wing.

This is where Vietnam became contentious because while it was accepted that many of the countries in the region were agitating for self-governance, some of these countries were following the path of China which had become communist. Thus when the French withdrew from Indo-China, it was inevitable that the United States was going to take up the slack in an attempt to prevent communism from spreading through-out the region. The question that arises though is whether the domino theory was going to happen? Well, the former French Colonies all become communist (and began fighting amongst themselves), while Malaysia and the Philippines also face communist insurgencies when were quickly crushed. As for Thailand, well, that was Thailand.

Age of the Internet

This debate simmered for a while, and was suddenly brought back into light during the War on Terror. However, things were somewhat different because the rhetoric was 'either you are with us or with the terrorists'. This was not a question of releasing government secrets, but rather controlling the press to support a specific policy - in this case the War in Iraq - and not question the government in any way whatsoever. Mind you, the events of September 11 was quite a shock and in fact many in the West were not spared for the attacks of the radical Islamists.

Yet this wasn't a question of supporting terrorists, this was questioning the legitimacy of going to war. There are lots of debates as to the reasons behind why Iraq was invaded, whether it be to access the oil, or to get rid of a tyrant. However, this is not the issue, what the issue is was that debate in the media was suppressed. In fact protesters were chided by the government for 'giving comfort to Sadam'. In many cases it seemed that a decision had already been made, and it didn't matter what anybody said, they were going ahead. The fact that both sides of politics supported the position was also quite a concern. However, it came down to the fallacy that if one doesn't support the government's position, then one must be an enemy.

I suspect this is one of the points where the huge political divisions that we are seeing now came about. Okay, there has always been debates across the political divide, and there seems to be almost a sense of hatred towards people who do not support one's views these days. I guess that back at the turn of the century, with the conservative parties in power, and the opposition following their lead for fear of being considered an enemy, many people who opposed the government's position were somewhat concerned - this is probably one of the reasons that there has been a surge in the Green vote in Australia. Then again, look at what happened when France said that they were not going to support a war against Iraq.


However, to bring it back to the original part of this post, I should make mention of some of the leaks that have come about more recently, and that is with Bradly (Chelsea) Manning and Edward Snowden. While one might think that things have changed for the worse in regards to Manning and Snowden, but we shouldn't forget that Elsberg was also brought up on charges of espionage, though the case was thrown out of court due to a technicality (I believe the evidence was collected illegally). However, what we see with Manning and Snowdon (and in turn Assange, who is considered an enemy in that he published the documents) is that the things that drove Elsberg to release the Pentagon papers, also drove them to release the Afghan War Diaries and to release the truth behind the NSA surveillance program.

The problem here is that with regards to the Pentagon Papers is that the various media outlets were careful in what they released, whereas Wikileaks simply provides an outlet for documents to be dumped without any form of vetting in place. Yet this isn't the real issue (though should be some cause for concern) but rather that the debate that surrounded Elsberg and the Pentagon Papers is still alive and well today, and that governments, particularly when it comes to the prosecution of a war, don't want their dirty secrets released to the world, in part because of the threat that it might be used against them by enemy combatants, but probably more because more likely than not there will be revelations of criminal conduct.

Fake News

I probably should finish off with this idea of fake news, namely because it is a phrase that seems to be thrown around a lot these days. I guess the concern that is being raised is that certain people in power are attacking institutions when they say things that they don't particularly like - for instance when Donald Trump won the election one of the first things he claimed was that there were irregularities in the result. This was rather baffling because normally that is something that the loser in the election would claim (and this tends to be quite rare, particularly in Australia). However, we have somebody winning the election making a claim of irregularities. Some people suggested it was to fend off any claims from the opposition that they should have won, or it could simply have been a response to the fact that he didn't win the popular vote (which is irrelevant in any case because, well, he won).

However, there is still this issue with fake news. The suggestion is that in referring to unflattering reports as being fake he is attempting to warp reality to suit his own inflated ego. However this isn't new since the Post deals with a time when Nixon attempted to silence newspapers when they printed things that weren't all that flattering to him. I guess the thing is that the events portrayed here happened something like fifty years ago, which is something like two generations. People my age weren't even born around that time, so it seems as if we are coming back full circle.

The reality is that presidents of all stripes have attempted to manipulate the mainstream media, and have used various methods to do so. What we are seeing now is nothing new, and this bullying of the press, and claims of fake news, is just the cries of another person that is lashing out at things that are beyond his control. When the press worked in his favour, there was no problems whatsoever, however when things start going against him, then all the sudden there are cries of 'unfair'. The reality is that journalists, like judges, don't like being told what to do and what to write, and there are ways of building rapport, which isn't the way that the current president is going about it. In the end the forth estate is beast that while it may be tamed to an extent, in the end can never be domesticated, not at least in an advanced democracy like ours.
Creative Commons License

The Post - Free Speach vs National Security by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me