Evolution not as Charles Darwin saw it does not follow a smooth path. There are many kinky events which could change the direction of evolution abruptly. Similarly, the evolution of civilizations does not go smoothly one book at a time. There are kinky events along the way that could change the course of history. In Charles Messenger’s book, these events were human created wars. The book gave a focused analysis of 25 wars which were considered significantly enough to have changed the world. I chose four of them below which I think are interesting and have some factors which are less known.
Charles Martel against the Moors (AD 731-9)
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Western Europe was divided among three kingdoms: Visigoths in Spain, Franks in France and Lombards in Italy. When the Islam was born in the 6th century in the Arabian Peninsula, it quickly spread through the Levant, Asia Minor and North Africa. It was only stopped from spreading into Europe by the Byzantium. But the Moors in North Africa advanced into Spain by sea and moved upward to France. The tactic was to try to take Constantinople from the rear.
Charles Martel of the Frankish kingdom was the main force in Western Europe in the 8th century which stopped the Moors and kept them in Southern Spain for several centuries. He was crucial in keeping Islam out of Europe and saved Christianity.
The success of the Moors transformed Andalusia of Spain with Islamic culture. Its architecture affected European design from then on.
Charles Martel granted his land to his sons and let them rule independently while pleading loyalty to him. This in effect created the feudal system which remained as a major form of governance for many centuries to come.
The Crusades (AD 1071-1254)
The Crusades starting from the 11th century was a series of campaigns by the Christians aiming to regaining Jerusalem from the Muslims. The significant ones are the Fourth and the Seventh Crusades.
The Fourth Crusade was planned to capture the Dalmatian coast of the Balkan Peninsula. However, the Crusaders were then diverted in 1204 AD to besiege Constantinople and then sacked it, to the surprise of the Orthodox Church Christians. The Byzantium took refuge in Asia Minor and could only return and regain Constantinople seventy years later. This unethical event of the Catholic Christians marked the permanent separation of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
The Seventh Crusade was a failure. It was the campaign which revealed that regaining Jerusalem was not possible.
A major legacy of the Crusades was the creation of the military religious orders, which transformed Christians into soldiers; notably the establishment of the Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller which were also known as the Knights of St John, and the Teutonic Knights. They all developed into power centres vying for wealth and into war machines.
Spanish conquest of Mexico (AD 1519-39)
The 16th century was the Age of Exploration when the Europeans discovered America. Among the numerous efforts of colonization, it was the Spanish conquest of Mexico led by Hernan Cortes which had the most far reaching consequences for the American culture.
The conquest was not easy, with Spain being so far away, strong resistance by the local Aztec people, and so few Spanish soldiers against a large population. But the advance in weaponry gave the Spanish the upper hand.
As a result of victory and the wish to push Christianity, the Aztec empire, together with her religion, culture and history were completely destroyed. The Aztec civilization was almost out of existence. Even modern archeology effort has great difficulties in knowing the details of the Aztec culture until today.
Thirty Years War (AD 1618-48)
These were purely religious wars originating from the rise of Protestantism, and the split of Catholics and Christians. At that time, Germany was a collection of princedom states under the overall umbrella of the Holy Roman Empire, with the emperor elected among them. The north and east states opted for Protestantism, while the south and west states remained Catholic. The wars started when some states expelled the corrupted Catholic bishops, and the German states engaged each other in war.
The war spread to Denmark in 1625. Denmark formed an alliance with England and France to help the northern states of Germany for fear that any Catholic victory could undermine her interest. Sweden entered the war in 1630, defending her interest from both sides. The wars entered the France-Swedish alliance stage in 1635, with the alliance gaining the upper hand against Spain. At last, in 1648, the Peace of Westphalia was signed, with the Holy Roman Empire declaring amnesty. All German states were granted autonomy, with Catholic and Protestantism states given equal status.
The Thirty Years War was a complicated war involving all states in Europe for a very long time. The result was the demise of the Holy Roman Empire. The victims who suffered most were the general population. In the most contested areas, as much as two-third of the population perished.
Location-based services have been growing some years ago, starting from RFID devices. Initially, they are for industrial use, tracking cargoes, sales items, and sometimes persons using bracelets or identity cards. RFID are close-proximity devices and signals are read by RFID detectors at close range. Later, with more powerful detectors and GPS technology, location-based services extended to geospatial level.
Such services are now extended to the commercial world with the proliferation of smartphones. Firms want to know where you are. Many people also want others to know where they are. It is a widespread practice that people stamp their own location at social media, letting others know where they are and what they are doing. This information turns out to be useful to business and so companies are all engaging in the effort of knowing where you are.
Your whereabout is tracked at three levels: vicinity, presence and department.
With a smartphone, your location is easily obtainable through the GPS satellite network. There are already many apps which enable a person to locate the whereabout of their friends. The location obtained through GPS is not very precise, only to within a few blocks. Thus only the vicinity of location is known. But this is already sufficient if someone wants to track down another person. On big data level, location of the mass could provide valuable demographic information on traffic, crowd control and rescue operations.
To pinpoint the presence of a person in a building, some more information is required. There is now an apps used by many department stores which offer shopkicks whenever the customers visit the stores. With prior registration, a customer’s smartphone is recognized within the store, and shopkicks in the form of cash points or bonus points are automatically rewarded to the customer’s account. Customers could earn money just by browsing in the store. It is a very effective way to attract customers.
To gauge the preference of customers, it is more useful if the precise location at a particular department is known, or better still, what merchandise they are interested in. Some companies use the blue tooth technology which could triangulate smartphone signals and obtain its accurate location within the store. Some stores even invite customers to scan the barcodes of merchandise to obtain detailed information and be rewarded with discount. At the same time, the store could record the wish of the customers for future reference.
Besides the NSA and the CIA, many companies are very eager to know where you are. They could get the information without your knowing, or provide some incentives so that you are happy to give them the information. There are now a lot of people willingly or intentionally letting their location known to others.
Whether letting others know your location is a good or bad thing remains to be a personal choice. But such personal data have been a target of commercial war, with the customers in the dark. The article disclosed two cases where rival companies may be competing to use such data. One is anti-showrooming. Customers always go to showroom to examine a product and then go home to buy it online at a lower price. If the location of the customer is known, discount could be offered right away, closing the deal before the customer leaves. The other war occurs when a rival company captures the identity of valuable customers at prestigious locations and offers them alternative products. All in all, these involve the use of personal data for which the customers may not approve.
At this smartphone age, there is still one thing you could do to protect your location. Just turn off your phone if you want to.
I came to know Mr. Wendell Funk in the 1960s. My father passed away when I was still young, studying in primary school. My mother had to look after six children by herself. She worked as a workman in the government, earning very little. Luckily we lived in public housing and her small salary was just barely enough to get by. Cost of children’s education was a problem. There was no free education in Hong Kong at that time.
Children were trouble free. We did not actually feel the difficulties. My mother looked after all of us well, and we truly enjoyed ourselves among siblings. While in junior secondary school, someone introduced my family to the Foster Parents Plan. I really could not remember the details as my mother took care of all the arrangements. All I could recall was that Mr. Wendell Funk was my foster father and there was a monthly subsidy of about forty dollars a month. It was a substantial sum as the average monthly salary of a normal worker was only about two hundred dollars a month at that time.
What I could really remember was the regular exchange of letters between us. It was not easy for a secondary school student to write letters in English. He was very kind and told a lot about himself. I knew he was working in the Colorado Mountains, owned a shop selling supplies to skiers. The Foster Parents Plan subsidy stopped when I finished secondary school. Shortly after, our correspondence also stopped. I thought he no longer run the shop in Colorado.
More than forty years passed. My mother passed away in 2005. In sorting through the things she kept, I found several letters from Mr. Wendell Funk, probably unknowingly kept by her at the bottom of the drawer. It brought back some memories. So I started looking for a way to make contact. However, the old address which was only a postal box number was no longer reachable. Furthermore, after so many years, I figured that he should be over eighty by then.
In 2012, I came across an American company on the Internet specialized in selling personal information. I did not know how this company could collect personal information and organize a database. However, as the personal information were open to the public for search at a price, I thought they must have been collected through public sources. The first search was free of charge. So I typed in Wendell Funk for a trial. There were over twenty persons of such name in USA, and the first search could only yield very limited information, including age and the city they lived in. Contact information could be provided paying only a few dollars per name. I therefore chose two names whom were over sixty and were living in the central states near Colorado.
I sent them both a letter explaining the background and my intention. In about a month, a reply arrived from Quincy, Illinois. Mr. Wendell Funk could not remember me, but he did recall sponsoring a child many years ago. But I was sure that I found the right person. I could recognise his handwriting which was the same as the letters he wrote forty years ago. So I sent him a copy of the letter he wrote in 1969. He was very glad in seeing that. It brought back a part of history of him.
We then resumed our regular letter exchange, and I came to know much more about him and his life. First I checked on his address from Google Map and tried to find out his exact location. To my surprise, the address on Google showed that it was the Illinois Veteran Home. He was a ninety years old veteran living there. That was the first time I came to know that he was a soldier in the Second World War.
We talked about religion. I thought Americans before World War II were faithful people. He confessed that his faith cracked at an early age. He studied at a Methodist school. The pastor told him that they were better people than the other students at the Baptist school and Christian school. But his best friend was at the Baptist school and he knew himself was not a better person than him. As he grew up and became more rational, he considered religion was only a delusion. In the 1940s, racial discrimination was rampant in the United States. When he was a young soldier, once he took a bus and went to sit down at the back with black people. The bus driver stopped the bus and ordered him to sit in the front with other white people. He had to reluctantly comply, but he regreted the incident for the rest of his life.
I was curious about his participation in the war. He belonged to the Air Corp of the US Army, a mechanic supporting the air force. His special skill was the maintenance of the dynamo in the engine of aircraft. He said he did not participate in combat duties. His closest experience with the war was a tour at an US air field in Europe behind the front line. His assigned duty was to exchange the batteries of aircrafts. When I browsed Youtube, I accidentally found a video recording of him being interviewed at the Veteran Home. The interview was part of the Hans Holdiman Project recording the comments of veterans on the war. It was prepared for submission to the Library of Congress. The video recordings were the collection of the Quincy University, subsequently uploaded to Youtube. It can still be viewed at http://youtu.be/RDG0FaKxKYU. During the interview, Wendell Funk expressed great regret on the war, which inflicted great misery to mankind. A war should not be started by any country for whatever reason.
In the 1960s, both his parents passed away. Having fallen in love with the outdoor, he moved to Colorado and lived in the mountains. There he started a small retail shop serving the mountain recreationists. It was during this period when he assisted me across the Pacific through the Foster Parents Plan. In our correspondence then, I only learned about his life in the mountains. He seemed to enjoy himself very much in this life style.
Our correspondence broke off thereafter. It turned out that he sold off his shop after ten years in the business and moved to Alaska. He was a bush lodge caretaker there for three years. Alaska was an ever colder place than Colorado. But I think the wilderness would better suit his taste. However, the job folded when the price of crude oil went down in the early eighties.
In 1984, he went for a trip across the Soviet Union. At that time, Soviet Union was still under communist rule and travelling was not easy for an American. He joined a 17-member group with a Russian handler and went to Moscow and Leningrad. We discussed the scenery in Russia. Many communist constructions including the underground were visited, but not surprisingly not many Orthodox churches. He had a good impression of the GUM department store where he spent a few hours. The department store was adjacent to the Red Square, but he could not find it until a young policeman who could speak a little English came to the rescue.
Back from the Soviet Union, he joined the US Peace Corp and went on a two-year tour in Botswana. The Peace Corp was a volunteering service representing USA in developing countries. Volunteers lived and worked in that country and contributed in education, technology transfer and emergency relief. His work in Botswana was the teaching of agriculture at junior secondary level.
After the Botswana tour, he returned to Colorado and undertook a wide variety of jobs. Then he decided to settle down in Illinois in 1996 to be near to his younger brother. In 1998, at the age of 75, he went on a German container ship as the only passenger on a six-month journey around the world.
Finally, in 2004, he went to live in the Illinois Veteran Home. At such old age, he was still considered healthy. There were three grades of care at the Home: self-care, intermediate and intensive. He was at the self-care grade and was assigned a small single room of 9.5 ft by 10 ft, with wash basin and basic furniture. Bath room was just down the hall and the dining hall was two blocks away. He resisted a hip replacement and had to use a cane. Otherwise, he did not have problem walking.
He was a keen writer, and wrote to the local newspapers for a number of times. For his love of nature, he wrote extensively on conservation. His other focus was freedom, and he had great sympathy on the American indians. His 90th birthday was 8 March 2013. I sent him the peotry of Auden as a birthday present. He seemed to be very delighted about it.
Since we resumed correspondence in 2012, he was very deligent in replying. Whenever I sent a letter, a reply from him would arrive in two weeks. Taking into account the postal delivery time, he should have replied it within a few days. However, after April 2013, there was a long pause and I did not receive any reply. In that Summer, there was serious flooding in the middle and southern states of USA. Illinois was in upper Mississippi basin and I thought the flooding could affect that area. Then one day in June, I browsed the Internet and searched for the Herald-Whig, a local newspaper of Quincy, looking for news of flooding there. The river bank was flooded but the city was not affected. Then, to my surprise, I browsed the obituaries and found that Mr Wendell Funk passed away just a week before. May he rest in peace.
我是在1960年代認識 Mr. Wendell Funk。在我很年少時，其時還在讀小學，父親就已經去世。母親要獨力撫養六個小孩。她找到一份政府工作，只是做一個工人，工資十分微少。幸運地當時我們 已是住在資助房屋，租金不多，而母親的微量薪金僅僅可夠一家人過活。但小孩子的教育費用就的確是一個大問題。在那一個年代，香港還未有免費教育。
少年快樂不知愁。其實我們少時不是十分真正感覺到生活的困難。母親照顧得我們十分周到，而我們大家亦十分享受兄弟姊妹之間的共處。當我在初中的時候，有人 介紹我家到國際培幼會接受援助。其間的細節我已經不能記起，因為所有的安排都是由母親一手包辦，做好了一切的手續。我可以記得的只是 Mr. Wendell Funk是我的契爺，而每一個月有大約四十元的援助金。以當時的生活水平來說，這已是一個相當的數目。當年一個普通的工人平均每月工資只是大約二百元。