Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Brief History of Malta

Commander K. by the Azure Window, Gozo
Malta is an archipelago of rocky limestone islands that lie at the center of the Mediterranean.  Humans have lived on Malta for over 7,000 years.  These little islands represent a microcosm of Europe as a whole and have an awful lot of history.

Gganjita Temple, Gozo
On the small island of Gozo you will find the Ggantija Temples -- a megalithic pagan complex that dates back to 3600 - 3000 BC and bears a resemblance to Stonehenge.  Here Stone age man expressed his longing for the divine with rituals of life and fertility.  These temples also resemble Filitosa on the island of Corsica (see earlier post Corsica, May 28, 12012).

Commander K. at the Ggantija Temples, Gozo
The first arrivals were stone age people coming in boats from the much larger island of Sicily which lies about 60 miles to the North.  The Phoenicians settled on island between 800 and 480 BC and used their safe harbours as a trading post.  They were followed by the Carthaginians and the Romans.

Phoenician pottery
National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta
St. Paul writes in Acts in the New Testament "we discovered that the island was called Melita (Malta). The natives treated us with uncommon kindness. Because of the driving rain and cold they lit a fire and made us all welcome."  St.  Paul encountered a serpent who did not harm him and healed the father of Publius, a local Roman official.

In 870 the Arabs conquered Malta.  Their influence endures today in the Malti language -- consider the town of Mdina which means "fortified town" as in Arabic.  They ruled until 1090 when Malta was conquered by the Normans under Count Roger (it was a busy century for the Normans with England and Sicily).  The Knights Templar were driven out of Cyprus by the Turks and relocated to Malta in 1530.

Jean La Valette, Valletta Malta
The great Siege of Malta took place in 1565.  About 700 Knights of Malta, aided by several thousand local Maltese, held out against a Muslim army of over 30,000 warriors led by Mustafa Pasha. After three months and the death of one of Mustafa's favorite commanders, the Arabs abandoned the siege.   The Maltese resistance was led by Grand Master Jean La Valette.  In gratitude for his victory, he founded the city which is today Malta's capital -- Valletta.

St John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta
The Knights of Malta amassed great treasure and built great Baroque monuments such as St John's Co-Cathedral.  St. John's also features two Caravaggio (1573 - 1610) masterpieces, The Beheading of St. John and St. Jerome.  The Knights really did pay tribute to the King of Spain in the form of a Maltese Falcom and their treasure really was "the stuff that dreams are made of".

Napoleon plundered Malta, 1798
In 1798 General Napoleon, who must have shared Sam Spades' dreams, stopped, on his way to Egypt to sack Malta thus ending the long reign of the Knights.  Today in the Louvre museum in Paris you can find the jewel-encrusted Sword of Valletta that French troops looted with a description that reads "A gift from the people of Malta".  Admiral Nelson soon annihilated the French fleet at the battle of Aboukir bay stranding Napoleon's army in Egypt and making the defence of Malta impossible.  In 1800 the Royal navy, in conjunction with the local Maltese, overwhelmed and expelled the French forces.  Just as the Maltese welcomed St. Paul, they also welcomed the British as liberators from the rapacious French.

Queen Victoria, Valletta, Malta
Lord Nelson had himself dismissed Malta as being "a useless and enormous expense".  His successor, Admiral Lord Collingwood shared the view and called Malta "the most gossiping, gourmandizing place I ever heard of".  Nevertheless, strategically-positioned Malta would remain a British colonial possession for the next 164 years.

Madonna and Child, Mdina, Malta
Malta was used as a hospital station for troops engaged in the Crimean war and also during the First World War.  Nor were the British so foolish as to interfere with the island's devoted Roman Catholic faith.

Fort St. Angelo, Former Royal Navy base, Malta 
In 1882 one visitor to Malta wrote...

"Most Englishman at home are so far from warlike sights, that they are apt to forget that their country has after all shown herself great in war as in commerce.  But no man can forget that fact as he stands her upon the Baracca of Valletta and looks down upon the grab forts and the ironclad which sleep securely beneath their walls."   Source: Blue Water Empire, Robert Holland, 2012, www.amzn.com/0141036109

British Power in the Med
On June 10, 1943 Il Duce declared war on the Allies.  The next day Italian planes began bombing Malta.  Joined later by the Luftwaffe, Malta became the most bombed part of the planet during the Second World War.  The siege continued for the next three years as Axis forces attempted to starve the island out.  The island and its people suffered and fought back.  The entire island was awarded the George Cross by King George VI in 1943 -- it is still referred to today by some as the "St. George Island".  Malta was used as a springboard by the Allies for their invasion of Sicily and Italy.  The Maltese had survived their second great siege.

Message to Malta from King George VI

In 1964 the island gained its independence from Britain.

In 1979 the Royal Navy withdrew its base from Malta.  Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi, who supplied the island with cheap oil, attended the ceremony.  The strongman "in his arrogant showman form, gave the thumbs down when the Union Jack was lowered."  Source: Blue Water Empire, Robert Holland, 2012,  www.amzn.com/0141036109.

in 2008 The Republic of Malta joined the Euro.

Today, happily, Malta is invaded merely by hordes of tourists seeking sun, history, natural beauty, gourmandizing and a warm welcome from the Maltese people.

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Museo Napoleonico, Rome

Commander Kelly at Museo Napleonico
Rome, Italy

"Dans le monde il n’y a qu’une alternative : commander ou obéir. On prétend que, pour bien savoir commander, il a fallu d’abord bien savoir obéir. Quelle erreur ! Je n’ai jamais obéi, moi, j’ai toujours commandé." (Napoléon Bonaparte)

"In the world there is only one alternative: command or obey. It is contended that, to know command, one must first learn to obey. What a mistake! I never obeyed, me, I always commanded." (Napoleon Bonaparte)

On the banks of the Tiber across from the Castel Sant'Angelo you will find the Museo Napoleonico -- one of the foremost museums in the world devoted to Napoleon I, the Emperor of the French.  You will find the link here...http://en.museonapoleonico.it/.

As the bicentennial of the battle of Waterloo in 2015 looms before us, Napoleon Bonaparte continues to fascinate the public.  More books have been written about Napoleon than any other person in human history with the exception of Jesus Christ.

Napoleon I
He sold us the Midwest
To the French, Napoleon was their moment of maximum glory.  To the Corsicans, he was their favorite son and...a traitor.  To Americans, Napoleon remains relevant (see earlier post Napoleon...Relevant Today, 5/20/12) if only because the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleonic France by President Jefferson accounts for 23% of all current US territory including ALL of the states of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma as well as parts of Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Northern Texas and Louisiana.  To Europeans, Napoleon's legacy endures principally in the dream of a unified and centralized European Union and currency.  To the Russians, he was a proto-Hitler who invaded their nation and burned the holy city of Moscow.  To the British, he will always remain the tyrannical ogre who despised their "nation of shopkeepers," threatened their island home with invasion and then starvation, only to be defeated by their greatest martial heroes -- Nelson and Wellington.  

Napoleon in coronation dress
Museo Napoleonico, Rome
This museum has some of the finest paintings and other works of art associated with the Napoleonic era.  The museum was itself a gift made in 1927 by a Bonaparte descendant, Giuseppe Primoli (1851 - 1927).  The museum was inaugurated by Il Duce himself in 1934 (see video below in Italian) who sought to bask in the Emperor's shadow.

Napoleon I, 1769 - 1821
Napoleon  and the Bonaparte family had strong connections to Italy and to Rome.  Napoleon formed the Kingdom of Italy and became its first King in 1805.  Napoleon once said, "Io sono Italiano o Toscano, piutosto che Corso" ("I am more Italian or Tuscan than Corsican").  His family had roots in the Tuscan town of San Miniato (see earlier post San Miniato, Home of the Bonapartes, 12/2/12).

Pope Pius VII (1800-1823) being arrested by French troops in Rome
Napoleon's Roman connections run deep as well.  Napoleon, heir to the French Revolution, had stormy relations with the Vatican.  He sent French troops to arrest the Pope Pius VII in 1808.  Most of his family members, however, fled to Rome after his exile to St. Helena in 1815.
Pauline Bonaparte 1780 - 1825
By Joseph Kinson
Napoleon's favorite and prettiest sister was Paulina Bonaparte.  Her first husband was General Leclerc who died of yellow fever on Sant Domingue (now Haiti -- see my earlier post Toussaint L'Ouverture Champion of Freedom and ...Conservative?, 4/27/12).  Her only son, Dermide, died at age eight.  She later married a wealthy Roman, Prince Camilo Borghese (Villa Borghese gardens).  She was the only one of Napoleon's siblings to accompany him in exile to Elba.  She later lived in the Villa Paolina in Rome.  You will even find this model of Paulina's breast in this museum!

A model of Pauline's breast
For more tittilating tales about Napoleon's nymphomaniacal sister I recommend this blog...http://scandalouswoman.blogspot.co.uk/2008/05/notorious-pauline-bonaparte.html.

Napoleon's brother Lucien was considered the "Rebel" of the family (see earlier post Napoleon and the Rebel, 10/24/12).  Lucien the Republican politician helped Napoleon advance to power and Napoleon never forgave the debt.  You can find a portrait of Lucien, who lived for a time in Florence, here as well.
Lucien Bonaparte 1775 - 1840, by F.X. Fabre
There is a charming painting by Jacques Louis David of Napoleon's nieces.  For the full and tragic tale of Carlotta or "Charlotte" Bonaparte see my earlier post Napoleon Son of Tuscany, 11/29/12.

Zenaide and Carlotta Bonaparte, by by J. L. David

Commander Kelly says, "When in Rome, visit the Museo Napleonico and Vive Napoleon!"

Special Thanks to Matteo Pierattini and all the staff of the Palazzo Tornabuonni (http://www.palazzotornabuoni.com/en/default.asp) in Florence.

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades here...www.americainvades.com or on Amazon...www.amzn.com/1940598427

And now Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World...
or on Amazon...
For the full Italy Invades package see...

Miracle at Mosta

Santa Marija Assunta, Mosta, Malta
Completed 1860

Here is a rare gem; this is a true story of World War II that has a happy ending!

The name "Mosta" means "center" in the Maltese language.  You can find the town of Mosta at the center of Malta, visible from around the island.  At the center of the town you will find the third or fourth largest domed church in the world -- Santa Marija Assunta.

Mosta from a distance, Malta
After Mussolini's declaration of war on June 10, 1940 the island of Malta was attacked from the air by Axis air power.  The island and its people endured a gruelling three year siege.  British-controlled Malta was the most bombed part of the world in the Second World War.

Malta in World War II
"On Thursday April 9, 1942 the Rotunda church at Mosta, not far from Takali (RAF base, CK) was hit.  With the third-largest suspended dome in the world, it was considered one of Malta's most treasured buildings.  At about 4:40pm in the afternoon, during a service, and with three hundred people worshipping, a bomb pierced the dome, bounced twice off the wall, skidded the length of the nave and came to a halt -- without exploding.  Not a single person was injured and it was immediately hailed as a miracle."  (Source: Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege, James Holland, 2003 www.amzn.com/1401351867).

Mosta Dome, Malta
Insight Guides Malta guide book says, "The Islanders take great pride in its impressive scale.  At 40 metres (130 feet) in diameter, it out-domes St Paul's Cathedral in London by 6.7 metres (22 feet), and is reputed to be either the third or fourth largest unsupported dome in the world, surpassed only by St. Peter's in Rome, Hagia Sofia in Istanbul an (though Mosta officials are not much amused by this recent addition) the church at Xewkija in Gozo." (Source: Insight Guides: Malta, 2012)

Detail from Mosta Church exterior, Malta
Visitors today will find a replica of the unexploded Luftwaffe bomb in the Cathedral.

Unexploded Axis bomb replica, Mosta
Commander Kelly says, "Visit Mosta and judge for yourself whether Mosta and the Maltese were lucky or whether the hand of God was at work.  We only know for certain that many Maltese believed in the "Miracle at Mosta" then and many still believe in it today."

Special thanks to Alex Abela, our fine driver from the Grand Hotel Excelsior in Valletta (www.excelsior.com.mt) and also to Chris Moran who first told me about Mosta!

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades here...www.americainvades.com or on Amazon...www.amzn.com/1940598427

And now Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World...
or on Amazon...

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Nearly Forgotten Dead of WW II

Commander K. at the American Cemetery, Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy offers many delights for the visiting tourist...wonderful art and architecture, juicy bistecca fiorentina, fabulous wines and many delicious gelato options.  Everyone needs to see the statue of David at the Academia if only once in a lifetime.  On the teeming cobblestone streets of Florence you really can hear "the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo".

If one cares to, it is possible, however, to make an escape from the crowded galleries and piazzas in to experience a quiet and peaceful world of surpassing beauty and poignancy.  I recently had an opportunity to visit three World War II cemeteries just outside of Florence.

At the American cemetery on the road to Chianti country one can find the graves of 4,402 US military dead.  The quiet Greve river flows nearby the 70 acre site.

Commander K. with statue of American soldier by an Italian sculptor
361st Infantry, 91st Division ("Pine Tree"), US Army
The Italian campaign began with the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943 and fighting continued in Norther Italy right at the end of the war on VE day May 8, 1945.  The mountainous terrain of the Apennine spine of Italy made it highly defensible for the Germans.  Moreover, the Germans were led by Field Marshal "Smiling Albert" Kesserling one of the Wehrmacht's most able commanders.  After initial successes the Germans fought a tenacious series of rear guard actions that slowed the Allied advance up the boot of Italy.

The Italian government changed sides shortly after the invasion of the Italian mainland.  Mussolini was captured by the new Italian government and then rescued by Hitler's commandos led by Otto Skorzeny.  Many Italian partisans aided the allied cause in the fighting which took place in Tuscany and all over Italy.  There were also many horrific Nazi reprisals against the Partigiani.

Over 327,000 Allied soldiers were killed during the Italian campaign -- more than in the campaign in the West from Normandy to the Rhine.  In spite of this, Allied veterans of the Italian campaign never really got their share of glory or media credit for helping win the war.  Few books were written and films made chronicling their exploits.  The strategic highlight of the campaign, the liberation of Rome, took place on June 4, 1944 -- only two days before D-day.   The Viscountess Astor allegedly disparaged Italian campaign veterans as the "D-Day Dodgers" (see video below).

Commander K. at the Commonwealth War cemetery near Florence
By the banks of the Arno you will find 1,632 of the over 50,000 Commonwealth soldiers that never returned from the Italian campaign.  You can learn more about Commonwealth memorials around the world at this link...www.cwgc.org.

You may be surprised to find women as well as male combatants including this 28-year old Canadian Radio Officer, Maud Steane...

Maud Steane, 28 year-old Canadian Radio Officer aboard the SS Vigo Hansteen
"Her life was a wordless sermon in courage and understanding"
Picture below is a picture I took of the visitor guestbook at the Commonwealth War Cemetery near Florence.  Note how few visitors sign in -- about one per day.  I was nearly the sole visitor at each of the three cemeteries I visited.  Note the many "RIP" and "No War" sentiments expressed below, but also the gentleman from Virginia who wrote out the prescription, "War as needed to defeat evil".  Commander Kelly says, "Amen brother" to Bob De Cusati in Richmond Virginia!

Guest registry from Commonwealth Grave Cemetery near Florence, Italy
Higher up in the hills near the Futa gap where the air was distinctly cooler, one can find a massive German cemetery as well.  Over 30,000 German dead from the Second World War (Deutsche Gefallene des zweiten weltkriegs)) are buried here.

Stone tablet at German cemetery
The German cemetery, with the absence of crosses, not to mention stars of David, is more austere than the Allied versions.

German cemetery near Florence
Hermann Donath was only 19 years old when he was killed in Italy.  The soldiers here still are overwhelmingly young -- reminding us that war is ever a young man's trade.

Very occasionally one can find a grave decorated with fresh flowers.

American Cemetery Florence, Italy
Commander Kelly invites you to pay a visit to one of the many overseas cemeteries for US military personnel that are beautifully maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission  (www.abmc.gov).  France has eleven US military cemeteries in any foreign country including the gorgeous Normandy cemetery.   One can also find US military cemeteries in England, Belgium, Italy, Panama, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Mexico, Philippines, and Tunisia (Carthage).  If you can't make the trip, you can still give a thought and prayer to these soldiers who fought for our freedom.

General George S. Patton, who is himself buried surrounded his troops in a cemetery in Luxembourg,  said, "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."

D-Day Dodgers

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
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And now Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World...
or on Amazon...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Margaret Thatcher RIP

Margaret Thatcher RIP, 1925 - 2013
When I was a boy growing up in the 1960's, my parents brought me along on a trip to France.  We were in Paris on Bastille day and joined the throng that was watching the parade down the Champs Elysee. Vendors were selling cheap 'periscopes' made of paper and a mirror that allowed one a chance to see above the massive crowd.  The Cuirassiers trotted by with their steel breastplates gleaming in the July sun.  French army tanks rumbled along.  Three jets from the French air force screamed overhead laying out a Tri-color pattern overhead.  Finally, everything built up to the arrival by Jeep of a tall large-nosed man wearing a kepi -- it was Charles DeGaulle.  He was the only World War II era leader that I had a chance to see in the flesh, admittedly from a distance.  Now all the World War II leaders belong to history.

Thatcher Funeral, April 17, 2013
St. Paul's, London
Today I had a chance to attend the procession of Baroness Thatcher's funeral to St. Paul's Cathedral in London.  Today I witnessed not merely a funeral but also the end of an era.  The streets were thronged with those who wished to bid farewell to the last of the three leaders that led the West in the Cold War -- Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.  Just day's after the horrific tragedy at the Boston Marathon we are reminded that all three of these leaders were very nearly assassinated (by John Hinckley, Mehmet Ali Agca and the IRA).  The snipers perched among the angels on the roof of St. Paul's were visible reminders of the dangerous world we all now live in.

Snipers at St Paul's, April 17, 2013
The daughter of a grocer, she rose to the highest level of British political life in a class conscious society shattering the glass ceiling forever.  Moreover, she did so as a staunch Conservative.  She was indomitable; "this lady is not for turning".

To really appreciate Thatcher one must understand something of the turbulent time that preceded her administration.  The Britain of the 1970's was paralyzed by strikes and Labor unrest.  London streets were piled high with reeking garbage due to labor action.  In December of 1970 I recall reading about one clever Londoner who gift wrapped their garbage and left it in the backseat of his automobile with the car doors unlocked, sure in the knowledge that it would be stolen.  One could not complain too loudly because the print unions exercised control over the press as well.

Adieu Thatcher (Photo courtesy: Marc Lelslie)
I lived with my family in Chelsea for about six months in 1970 during the garbage strike.  I will never forget my father sneaking out in the dead of night to drop our garbage off in Sloane square along with hundreds of other families.

On the international front the British Empire had been in full retreat since 1945.  The year she came to power, 1979, marked the withdrawal of the Royal Navy from Malta -- a critical garrison of the British empire from 1800 to its independence in 1964.  Britain was no longer great.

On the domestic front, Thatcher fought a war against the scourge of socialism that had occupied the driver's seat of British politics since 1945.  She famously declared, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.”    Home ownership soared during her administration and jobs were created.  Her free market approach helped London restore its leadership as a global financial capital.

Thatcher was viscerally determined to not jettison the British Pound in favour of the Euro.  Recent events in Greece and Cyprus have proven the wisdom of her decision. 

British Sacrifice from the 1982 Falkands War
St. Paul's Cathedral, London
It was the Soviet press that first called her the "Iron Lady" and she relished the label.  The "Iron Lady" helped Britain to become great once more.

In 1982 Argentina made the huge mistake of invading the Falkland islands and provoking the Iron Lady.  Thatcher was not about to abandon the Falkland Islanders who wanted to remain British.  Recalling the lessons of Munich, she led Britain in a principled war against Argentine aggression in the cause of self-determination.  Her leadership in the Falklands crisis demonstrated to the world that the British lion still had claws.

Thatcher was a friend to Ronald Reagan and to America.  The United States, caught between two allies, remained neutral during the Falklands conflict, but Ronald Reagan made sure that US Intelligence services provided the most up to date satellite photography of the South Atlantic battle zone.

St. Paul's, London
Margaret Thatcher did not merely win the argument;  she, like Ronald Reagan in the US, changed the terms of the debate.  All of Britain's current politicians, across the spectrum, owe a debt to Thatcher.

Faithful readers of this blog know of my love for oysters (see earlier posts Cats, Oysters and Dr. Johnson 1/23/13, Oysters and Civilization 2/4/13).  Could there be an oyster connection to Maggie Thatcher?  You betcha!  The name "Margaret" is derived from the Greek word "margarites" which means "pearl".  Thatcher was indeed a rare pearl among women!

Angel, St. Paul's, London
I never had the opportunity to meet Baroness Thatcher personally.  I do, however, have some friends who did have the pleasure of spending time in her company.

From one friend I learned that her "drink of choice" was Bells whisky -- a very unpretentious choice.  She nixed the idea of an RAF flyover at her funeral celebration as an unnecessary burden on the British taxpayer.  She was the parsimonious to the core.  Perhaps this explains why free-spending President Obama chose to snub Thatcher by not attending today's ceremonies...?

Another American friend of mine spent a few days on a cruise with Thatcher after her retirement from political life.  She inquired of Thatcher what she thought her ultimate legacy would be.  Thatcher replied, "It only requires a gentle hand upon the rudder to eventually turn a big ship around in the ocean".  

Thatcher did have her hand of the British rudder and, perhaps, it turns out that "This lady really was for turning after all"!

Special thanks to David Ansell.

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades here...www.americainvades.com or on Amazon...www.amzn.com/1940598427