Friday, October 1, 2010

First World War to end on Sunday with final payment

Startling story in the Irish Examiner on Wednesday.  Germany has until this week still been paying off First World War reparations.

The First World War “finally draws to a close”, the Examiner says, on Sunday 3rd October, with Germany’s final payment of wartime reparations to the Allies. 

After 92 years, a final payment of €69.1 million payment will discharge the onerous debt, which the paper correctly describes as “the price for one world war and a cause of another”.  For campaigning against the reparations was one of Hitler’s main themes, and it struck a chord with some Germans who wouldn't otherwise have given him the time of day.  See my recent post What was it like at the time?

The reparations were set at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, as both compensation to France, Britain, and America, and as punishment for the war.  Article 231 of the Treaty (the so-called 'war guilt' clause) declared Germany and its allies responsible for all 'loss and damage' suffered by the Allies during the war and provided the basis for reparations.

John Maynard Keynes was the principal representative of the British Treasury at the Paris Peace Conference. In June 1919 he resigned in protest at the extent of the reparations, and subsequently protested publicly in his book The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919).

What follows is quoted from the Irish Examiner story. “The initial sum agreed for war damages in 1919 was 226 billion Reichsmarks, a sum later reduced to 132bn. At the time this was the equivalent of around €28bn – the then equivalent of 100 million kilograms of gold.

“However, interest on that sum was added to considerably when Hitler rose to power and refused to foot the bill any longer. The Treaty of Versailles settlement is also credited with accelerating the Nazis’ rise to power as it was a substantial roadblock to getting the country back on a sound economic footing as money poured out of the country to finance the debt.

“France, which was on its last legs after the war, pushed hardest for the maximum fiscal punishment for Germany. 

“The Wall Street Crash in 1929 sounded the death knell of the already feeble Weimar Republic and the country sank further and further into debt. Just four years later, Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany and by the end of the decade, the country was at war again in Europe.

“The reparation debt came back at the end of World War II, and was quickly frozen again when the nation was split into West and East Germany. Following the 1990 reunification, the debt was renewed. 

“Most of the money goes to private individuals, pension funds and corporations holding debenture bonds.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The shore of our ignorance

John Archibald Wheeler (1911 – 2008) is someone I must find out about.  He said: "As the island of our knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance."  He was an American theoretical physicist, and one of the later collaborators of Albert Einstein.  He is also known for having coined the term black hole.  But if he never did anything except coin that phrase about the island of our knowledge and the shore of our ignorance, he would have justified his existence.   

Even though he probably borrowed the thought from TH Huxley who said "The known is finite, the unknown is infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability.  Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land." (Huxley was "Darwin's Bulldog" 1825 – 1895)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Delphic Oracle on In Our Time

Crypt of Necromanteion of Epirus

Near Parga in NW Greece in the early 1980’s we were conducted round an ancient temple of necromancy, the Necromanteion of Epirus. Nekromanteion means oracle of death, or of the dead, and people went there to talk with their ancestors.

This temple of necromancy was devoted to Hades and Persephone. I remember our tour guide leading us up the river Styx. We actually waded up it and she maintained it really was the Styx and she showed us the entrance to Hades. At the time I believed her. Having looked into, I now realise we were probably wading in the River Acheron (marked
Aheron on my tourist map). Acheron translates as the "river of woe" and it was believed to be a branch of the underworld river Styx over which in ancient Greek mythology Charon ferried the newly dead souls across into Hades. So I was nearly right. Here's the webpage I've consulted.

When we got to the Necromanteion our tour guide described for us how supplicants would come to the oracle to speak to the dead. The whole business, it seems, used to involve a lot of sleep- and food-deprivation, drugs, ranting and raving in the darkness and general terror. Some of this applied to the priestess and some to the supplicants and some to both so far as I can remember. Standing there in the cave it was easy to imagine how this must have been a very effective way of convincing people that they were getting important messages from the dead, or the gods. Doubtless not inconsiderable sums of money changed hands in the process.

But I ought to avoid cheap jibes when discussing these things as I'm sure genuine spiritual experiences took place here. I can imagine the Delphic Oracle was a similar sort of place and I'm eagerly awaiting next week’s In Our Time (30th Sept) on this subject.
In mythology, the Delphic Oracle used to wrap her predictions up in such a tricky way that they were invariably misunderstood. And whenever the Delphic Oracle predicted something bad, and people tried to avoid whatever bad thing the oracle had predicted, all they succeeded in doing was to tragically bring upon themselves the very bad thing they were seeking to avoid.

The supreme Delphic Oracle story concerns King Oedipus. His father was Laius king of Thebes. Laius consulted the Delphic Oracle, where the priestess told him he would be murdered by his son, should he ever have one. Not only that, but the boy would go on to marry his own mother, that is to say Laius’s queen, Jocasta.

So when Oedipus was born, in a vain effort to thwart the oracle, Laius and Jocasta exposed the baby on the hillside to die.

Despite this Oedipus survived and grew up in neighbouring Corinth. He in turn consulted the oracle, and in turn attempted to thwart its terrible prediction that he would kill his father and marry his mother. But the very attempt to thwart it by running away from Corinth, led him to Thebes where the oracle came to pass.

I'm halfway through writing up the story of Oedipus for my putative book of “ten stories your child should know”. But I'm stuck. It’s hard, a lot of messengers coming and going and names to remember. I still don’t know if it will work.