Oliver Stone to make history TV for the US

So it appears that the film director Oliver Stone is intent on saving poor US citizens from historical ignorance with a 10 hour series entitled Oliver Stone’s Secret History of America.

I know the guy likes his politics, and apparently likes to be controversial, but I’m wondering what he really knows about history? I mean, the Guardian reports his stance on Hitler as being a scapegoat, which I find promising (yes, Nazism couldn’t have happened without him, but he was a product of his time), but I find his reported attitude to Stalin pretty irritating.

Seriously, does he think that Stalin fought Hitler because of some deep-seated dislike of Fascism? I think it’s pretty clear that Stalin didn’t realise until way too late in the game that Hitler hated Communism. I mean, didn’t he threaten to send his own military officials to the gulags because they kept warning him about the massive build-up of troops on his border? And what’s with the complete lack of communications from Stalin immediately after Hitler attacked? He didn’t even have any defences for the Germans to run-through on the border, he was that certain that Hitler was his pall.

Stalin wasn’t a good guy. Stalin wasn’t fighting the Nazis because he hated Nazism, or because he wanted to save the world. He fought them because it was that or be destroyed – the Nazis were out to kill or enslave the people they perceived as ‘slavs’, and that meant most of Russia. It’s worth pointing out what everyone seems to forget: Russian troops did horrible things during World War Two in retaliation for what the Germans did to them, egged on by heavy propaganda from Stalin.

It’s okay understanding Stalin’s point of view, but I think it’s pretty dangerous to produce a TV series for mass consumption that makes him out as anything like a reasonable, rational guy. He may have saved his nation from complete destruction, but frankly he was mad as a bag of badgers.

National Army Museum

A couple of weekends ago a friend and I visited the National Army Museum (NAM), in Chelsea. The NAM is one of my favourite London museums… far more so than its famous neighbours the V&A, Science or Natural History Museums.

National Army Museum logo

The NAM has a couple of things going for it – firstly, it’s quite unknown, so it’s always quiet (no screaming children!). Secondly, it’s very earnest, very down to earth, and doesn’t have the impersonal, elitist, corporate feel of the nearby large museums. Thirdly, it’s full of incredibly cool stuff!

By cool stuff, I mean original uniforms and costumes, guns, swords and armour.  It also has a lot of really quirky pieces like the skeleton of Napoleon’s favourite horse, and a miniature 50 square ft reproduction of the battle of Waterloo, as well as some iconic things like a French Eagle captured at Waterloo, the order that sent the Light Brigade on their fateful charge, and Florence Nightingale’s lantern.

The NAM is set up chronologically, so that if you follow the signs (of course you don’t have to) you move through the history of the British Army and it’s engagements from the Civil War through to the present day, which contextualises it all nicely. As well as the fantastic displays and a light smattering of non-invasive interactives, the walls of the galleries are all covered in massive amounts of information.

The objects themselves are displayed quite traditionally, but there is really such a wealth of personal affects, military equipment, clothes and minutae that it is always very engaging. There’s also a good smattering of massive things like 20 pounder cannons and jeeps, and in general the displays do a good job of communicating what it was like to be a soldier during each period. The only signficant criticism I have is that all of the displays are inside glass-fronted cabinets, and unfortunately the glass hasn’t been made non-reflective, so you often get quite a bit of glare obscuring the objects.

The museum curators are clearly making a good effort to keep up to date, and there’s currently a gallery focussing on the British Army in Helman. This is a really fantastic gallery as almost all the objects are available for handling, so you can get inside the tents and tough the letters and personal affects, and you can pick up the guns the soliders are using (which are unbelievably heavy). It brings the whole conflict a lot closer and makes it a lot easier to understand, and there’s an interesting juxtaposition with some historical (late 19th century/mid 20th century) quotes on Afghanistan. I think it’s great that kids of service people can come and get a bit more of an idea of what the place is like.

We visited every gallery (but didn’t read absolutely everything) and it took about four hours. So far everyone (male and female friends and my mum!) has enjoyed it, so you don’t have to be a history geek to like it. The NAM is just ten minutes walk from Sloane Square, one stop down from South Kensington (home of the V&A etc), so it’s quite convenient if you’re in the area. The shop is pretty poor, but I imagine if you’re into military history it probably serves quite a good range of books. But if you’re interested in a museum in London, and fancy actually learning something about British history for a change, do take a look, it really is a fantastic place.

Wulstan Tempest

Some recent work in the Borough of Havering introduced me to a figure from history who I just had to write about. Luckily enough the man has a number of mentions on websites, but considering his achievements he’s worthy of a little bit more attention!

I was recently reading an assessment by Oxford Archaeology on the former site of RAF Hornchurch, which was very well written and went into a considerable amount of detail about the site and the former RAF base. The borough of Havering put considerable money into identifying all the remaining parts of RAF Hornchurch as well as contacting the local community: you can see the website part of their outreach work here. Oxford Archaeolgy had lots of interesting suggestions on how the park could be enhanced. Let’s hope the Borough go through with some of them.

Anyway, RAF Hornchurch was a large site, covering most of the modern Hornchurch Country Park and some of the present housing estate. Google have a good community map showing the location of some of the features surviving:

RAF Hornchurch was one of the many bases close to London who were charged with the defense of the capital, both during World War One and Two. Of course, we all know about the Battle of Britain during World War Two, but I didn’t realise that during World War One Britain also came under airborne attack from Germany.

The only difference being, the Germans attacked with zeppelins!. Continue reading