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Archive for the ‘personalities’ Category

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Printer, inventor, diplomat, founding father

Benjamin Franklin

 

Once early in his newspaper career he had to deal with the rival paper Mercury, which had the patronage of William Penn’s sons and Franklin as with many other patriots disliked their policies. One day a delegation of well meaning friends, Quakers, called on him at his house. They were there to warn him to moderate his political views. Anticipating what they were there for he invited them to stay for dinner, which consisted of some kind of mush and water. Franklin spooned the mush onto his dish and began to eat. His guests also tried to follow his example but they could not speak their point of view without getting the mush sticky in their throat. Franklin quietly tackled his food as he was well used to it. Finally the Quakers could not suffer the fare any longer and asked what it was.

‘You see what humble food I can live on,’ snapped Franklin, ‘He who can subsist upon saw-dust pudding and water doesn’t need the patronage of anyone.’

Note: There is a parallel to this in the life of Cato the elder. Plutarch writes about Marius Curius, a neighbour of Cato who had in his day scored a great victory over the Samnites. This War had lasted 298-90 BC. His simple living and hard work were well known. He continued to live in his humble cottage, working over the little patch of his land with his own hands even after he had celebrated his three triumphs. It was here that the ambassadors of the Samnites had found him sitting in front of his hearth boiling turnips. They offered him large sums of gold, but he sent them away, telling them that a man who could be satisfied with such a meal did not need gold.

 

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I n t r o d u c t i o n

 

What is an anecdote? It was the redoubtable Dr. Johnson who in his Dictionary (1755) defined the word as ‘something yet unpublished; a secret history.’ On the anvil of usage a word gets beaten till it comes to mean quite something else. The doctor as concession to vagaries of time, in a later edition amended the definition as follows: ‘A biographical incident; a minute passage of private life.’

 This second book of the Representational Man contains more anecdotes and the intent is same as the first.

Man as a key and symbol. Since we come with a physical and inner life should we not be represented both visible and in inner life as well? The representational men ought to serve as a key to our inner life or our lives in the spirit.

No action of man can be understood without asking what his motives were. Why did VI Lenin resort to a violent overthrow of the Tsars while MK Gandhi adopted non-violence as his weapon? This can only be understood by the role ethos shaped their thinking. Ethos is defined as the disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement. (AH dictionary)

Alexander of Macedon is a representative man for the ilks of Julius Caesar and Napoleon whose fame and fortune are all hitched to the physical world. Their actions also prove where their emphasis lay. For the Great Soul as MK Gandhi is called, ahimsa was an article of faith and for this he owed to the teachings of Gautama Buddha and to the epics. Prince Siddhartha Gautama forsook his kingdom and the worldly advantages and yet became a representational man. He turned his loss to advantage. He became the Buddha after he put his finger on the pulse of our existence to show us a way forward. For all those who value a life in the spirit he is a representational man.

Conquerors of world empires or of our hearts and minds, prophets or saints, fools or sages have all made their mark using the same arena, the earth. Only they placed their emphases differently.

Spirit of the times is the oxygen we breathe even as they and yet we see our world through their eyes.

Diogenes of Cinope could tell Alexander to keep out of his sun because he saw his circumstances under the sun applicable to the great man as well. How come they are representational men and we are not? We are connected to representational men because we breathe the same air and create the spirit of our times in the manner we contribute however small, for the common fund. And yet we often forget what spirit we are made of; neither we cash in on the wisdom which the representational man has well made use of. Representational man in a manner of speaking is our admission we fell back in the race of life.

If we are not true to our own thoughts we are reduced to deal in second hand goods passed on by others. If we have failed to think noble thoughts or act upon them we may be forced to settle for the second best which another has thought for us. It is in this context we look up to the representational man who has succeeded where we never even tried.

I shall end this by quoting two authors who more or less approached study of history from focusing on men who made history. Scholars of present day history may not fully endorse their approach but the following quotes suit my purpose well.

My intent is not to write histories but only lives. For the noblest deeds do not always show mean virtues and vices but sometimes a light occasion, a word or some sport makes man’s natural dispositions and manners appear than the famous battles won…”

(Plutarch-The Life of Alexander)

“No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of the great men”.

(Carlyle)

(This is selected from my book: Representational Man in two volumes-self published through http://www.lulu.com)

Benny


 

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32nd  President of USA

In his day FDR  was the bugbear for great many who called him, a dictator, a charlatan, a grinning poseur. For others he was a friend of the poor, the champion of the minorities, the defender of Labour, the patrician saviour of Capitalism, the inspiring architect of the Allied victory and a prophet of a new world order under the aegis of the UN.

For foes and friends alike the truth remains undisputed: his impact on the modern world shall endure. When he died William S. White observed, ‘ it seemed as if history itself had died’.

A cousin of President Roosevelt, and the only son of James and Sarah Delano Roosevelt he was the quintessence of social privilege and wealth. Having passed his bar exams,he accepted in 1910 an offer  to run for the NY senate. One found him at first, ‘ a spoiled silk sort of guy. But he was amassing quietly his political capital that would when time came confound his detractors. He became assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Wilson. It proved to be his baptism of fire in the use of political strategy and of persuasion in an  executive  position.

At the Democratic convention of 1920 he was chosen as the running mate of James M.Cox from Ohio. His setback was further exacerbated by infantile paralysis in Aug,1921. It in a way gave him a new perspective, -compassion as well as steely resolve,  and while ‘lying there, he grew bigger day by day.’. The year 1924 marked his return to national politics. He became the Governor of New York( ’28). With the onset of Market crash of 1929 it was clear to him new alternatives were needed. In 1930 during his campaign for selection he promised a ‘New Deal.’ With a stunning victory he set forth a new credo of government and economy for the State of New York. His eyes were already set for Presidency since President Hoover was already beaten by the march of events. Carefully FDR prepared his moves that would lift him to the White House. His New Deal was a call to arms rather than a political campaign.For the nation’s 14 million unemployed, Roosevelt’s attack on irresponsible Corporate interests his credo constituted a thrilling new chapter in political leadership .

Inaugurated on March 4, 1933 FDR closed the banks for 4 days and his New Deal in practice showed the nation could be saved. Farmers were given a boost   with the passing of the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act, which stopped foreclosures, and authorized Federal refunding of the mortgages; on May 18, the Tennessee Valley Authority came into being; on May 27, Trust and Securities Act, House Owners Loan Corporation(June,13). In Hundred Days he had three other major Acts passed (June16)-and his New Deal was a concrete example of his vision. (To be concluded)

 

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Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

For any young man politically minded and also a collector of quotes Thomas Paine is an inescapable presence whose quotes even this day have not lost their shine. In this age where all major religions are suffering from the virus of fundamentalism it is merely a caution well taken. Did he not say “To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead?” His sane voice urging the man on the street that ‘he should not petition for his rights but take them,’ made the American revolution a necessity. His ‘Common Sense(1776)* was so influential for John Adams to observe, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

A corset maker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination his footprints in England, America and France left in their wake great many who were his allies and admirers turn on him in the end as fiercely as they had warmed up to his clarion call.2.

Born in Thetford England in the county of Norfolk, Paine emigrated to the British American colonies in 1774 and it was Benjamin Franklin who advised him to go to America and he just did, arriving in time to participate in the American Revolution.

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Paine lived in France for most of the 1790s, becoming deeply involved in the French Revolution. He wrote the Rights of Man (1791), in part a defence of the French Revolution against its critics. His attacks on British writer Edmund Burke led to a trial and conviction in absentia in 1792. In 1792, despite not being able to speak French, he was elected to the French National Convention. The Girondists regarded him as an ally. Consequently, the Montgnards especially Robespierre regarded him as an enemy. He narrowly missed guillotine and Thomas Jefferson as the Third President of the new Republic invited him to settle down in the new nation. His later years were plagued by ill health, neglect and when he died only six people attended his funeral. Quakers refused him burial and he was finally buried in a part of the grounds attached to his home.

*Common Sense

Paine used “common sense” as a weapon to delegitimize the monarchy and overturn prevailing conventional wisdom. He used two ideas from Scottish Common Sense Realism and from Philosophes. The idea is that ordinary people can indeed make sound judgments on major political issues, and that there exists a body of popular wisdom that is readily apparent to anyone. The Continental Enlightenment spread out influencing people as to how they thought. It empowered people in France to think for themselves. They held that common sense could refute the claims of traditional institutions. According to Sophia Rosenfeld the phenomenal appeal of his pamphlet resulted from his synthesis of popular and elite elements in the independence movement.

2.

Paine decided that President George Washington had conspired with Robespierre to imprison him. Embittered by this perceived betrayal, Paine tried to ruin Washington’s reputation by calling him a treacherous man unworthy of his fame as a military and political hero. Paine described Washington as an incompetent commander and a vain and ungrateful person. In a scathing open letter to President Washington in 1796, he wrote: “the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles or whether you ever had any.

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(1856-1951 ) Marshal,

Politician, war hero of Verdun

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Philippe Henri Pétain was a military and political leader and France´s greatest hero in World War I (1914-1918). He was later condemned as a traitor for having headed the pro-German Vichy regime after France’s defeat in World War II (1939-1945). 
     Born in Cauchy-ó-la-Tour in 1856, Pétain was educated at the Saint-Cyr military academy and the École Supérieure de Guerre (army war college) in Paris. As a general during World War I, he won fame for his successful defense of Verdun against the Germans in 1916. Later, as commander in chief, he did much to restore morale in the French army after a series of mutinies in 1917. He was made a marshal of France the following year. During the 1920s Pétain served in French Morocco. In 1934 he was minister of war, and from 1939 to 1940 he was ambassador to Spain. 
     Following the German invasion of France in 1940, Pétain – then 84 years old – was recalled to active military service as adviser to the minister of war. On June 16, 1940, hesucceeded Paul Reynaud as premier of France and soon afterward he asked the Germans for an armistice, which was concluded on June 22. On July 2, with the consent of the Germans, he established his government in Vichy in central France, and on July 10 he assumed the title of chief of state, ruling thereafter with dictatorial powers over that portion of France not directly under German control. Pétain and his prime minister, Pierre Laval, established a Fascist-oriented government that became notorious for its collaboration with German dictator Adolf Hitler. The Vichy government ruled with Germany’s approval, appointing all government officials, controlling the press, and practicing arbitrary arrests. The government also passed anti-Semitic laws and rounded up French, Spanish, and Eastern European Jews who were deported to German concentration camps.

With the German army occupying two-thirds of the country, Pétain believed he could repair the ruin caused by the invasion and obtain the release of the numerous prisoners of war only by cooperating with the Germans. In the southern part of France, left free by the armistice agreement, he set up a paternalistic regime the motto of which was “Work, Family, and Fatherland.” Reactionary by temperament and education, he allowed his government to promulgate a law dissolving the Masonic lodges and excluding Jews from certain professions.

He was, however, opposed to the policy of close Franco-German collaboration advocated by his vice premier Pierre Laval, whom he dismissed in December 1940, replacing him with Admiral François Darlan. Pétain then attempted to practice a foreign policy of neutrality and delay. He secretly sent an emissary to London, met with the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco , whom he urged to refuse free passage of Adolf Hitler’s army to North Africa, and maintained a cordial relationship with Admiral William Leahy, the U.S. ambassador to Vichy until 1942.

When, in April 1942, the Germans forced Pétain to take Laval back as premier, he himself withdrew into a purely nominal role.


     After the Allies landed in France in 1944, Pétain went toGermany and then to Switzerland. He returned to France after the war to stand trial for treason. In August 1945 he was found guilty of intelligence with the enemy and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was moved to Ile d’Yeu, an island off the coast of Brittany, where he died.

(Ack:worldatwar.net/biography, Brittanica.com)

 

 

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Late Jayawardene of Sri Lanka

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Pen Portraits- Theodor Herzl
Theodor Herzl (1860-1904)
founder of the political form of Zionism, a movement to establish a Jewish homeland. His pamphlet The Jewish State (1896) proposed that the Jewish question was a political question to be settled by a world council of nations. He organized a world congress of Zionists that met in Basel, Switz., in August 1897 and became first president of the World Zionist Organization, established by the congress. Although Herzl died more than 40 years before the establishment of the State of Israel, he was an indefatigable organizer, propagandist without whose vision the state of Israel might have turned out altogether different and out of step with the times.

A Jew in name but in all other things totally assimilated into the prevailing consciousness of Germanic culture as an ideal,he even joined a fencing club Albia in his Vienna days to prove he was unlike the typical Jew bred in the dingy ghetto. 1881 pogrom in Tsarist Russia coincided with closer at home politicians of the Right and Catholic clergy inveighing against liberalism that had given Jews certain exceptions. The Church of Rome had singled the Jews for their ire since they supported Bismarck’s anti-clerical policies. The changing political climate was something like the verse from the Exodus. ‘There arose up a new king over Egypt who knew not Joseph.'(ex.1:8)
It is however difficult not to bring in Moses for comparison. The original Moses turned back on the Egyptian culture but Herzl wanted to create a secular nation than a Jewish homeland revolving about the Torah. He did not even believe Moses as the author of Penteteuch. He was a Reluctant Moses who set out achieve his goal once he was sure of the vast scope of his mission. It appealed to the dreamer in him, and the oversized ego that equalled matched his commanding presence.

Born and brought up in the dual monarchies of Austro-Hungarian empire he spoke German and not Hungarian. Born to parents who were well to do (assimilated in secular ideals) he preferred literary fame above all. Among earliest of his heroes none were of Jewish persuasion. In his youth he had seen the Iron Chancellor creating a grand German Federation and in his life mission it must have unconsciously served as the template. Pan-Germanism was inclusive of all peoples subscribing to German culture that cut across various client states about Berlin. Growing up in Vienna Herzl was well tuned to the growing trends. There was also anti-semitism running into all levels of the society. As a reporter in Paris during the Dreyfus Affair he realized there was no other way to recast the proverbial Shylock image into a citizen of the world. It would require a nation. People don’t change from within, but change their social structure they would also change, a dictum that seems very valid. There were quite many detractors but it certainly speaks of the optimism and impermeable spirit of the man to stay his course.
In a sense his dedication to the cause to which personally he had great antipathy but nevertheless a great cause to give his all, makes him ‘King’ Herzl. He is rightly called the father of the nation of Israel.
benny

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