Remembrance Day 2012

On this day, at the 11th hour on the 11th month, we pause to remember all those who died in war. We pause to acknowledge the sacrifice of the many for the many more, who died defending freedom and this thing we call civilization from fear, oppression, genocide, hopelessness, brutality, and the scourge of war itself. And, as we have done several times now, my wife and I chose to honor the veterans by going down to the Legislature in Victoria, BC. There, massive crowds come to watch the parade, see the wreaths being laid, hear the speeches, and listen to the 21 gun salute.

And let me tell you, it was cold and rainy this year! But still, thousands of people still came out to pay their respects and show their support for the current generation of veterans and military personnel who are here at home or deployed overseas. As I’m sure most people know, Remembrance Day began as a way of commemorating those who died in the Great War, a somber anniversary that was made to coincide with Armistice Day. After four years of horror and endless conflict, the combatants agreed that the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month would mark the end of hostilities.

Since that time, it has grown to commemorate those who have died in any war, as a tribute to the terrible lessons learned in World War I, but have since come to be repeated, either through necessity or the frailty of humanity, many times since. Known as Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, Veteran’s Day in the US, and Armistice Day in New Zealand, France and Serbia; for much of the world it is simply a day to reflect on the greatest sacrifices, worst mistakes, and terrible horrors to ever be witnessed by history.

To mark the occasion, I thought I would take the time to honor two veterans who are very near and dear to my heart. They are my grandfathers, both of whom I’m named after: Grandpa Matthew Vincent Williams and Grandpa Stewart Beverley Wilson. Both men were pilots with the Royal Canadian Air Force, flying out of bases on Canadian soil, patrolling our coasts, and training pilots and instructors how to fight.

Stewart Beverley Wilson: Born in 1922, my maternal grandfather became a pilot and flight instructor who then went on to be a instructor of flight instructors while serving at CFB (Canadian Forces Base) Trenton in Southern Ontario. He was in his 20’s for the course of his service, barely a man himself, and was responsible for teaching other young men to train other pilots how to fly. He was part of the Commonwealth Air Training Program, a vast air training program in Canada designed to ensure that Britain and the Commonwealth had enough pilots to defend the skies during the Battle of Britain, and then to take part in the Allied air offensive for the rest of the war. Afterwards, he and his family settled in Brantford, but he continued to serve as a flight instructor.

Matthew Vincent Williams: Born in 1912, my paternal grandfather enlisted in the RCAF with the hopes of becoming a pilot. However, due to his eyesight, he was instead trained as a gunner and navigator. Stationed in British Columbia, in part because he had recently become a father (one of my uncles). His tour took him to Jericho Beach in Vancouver, as part of the Western Air Command where he flew personnel in and out of the city and Vancouver Island. During the course of the war, his aircraft – a PBY Canso – sunk a Japanese submarine off the coast with depth charges while on patrol. Though he hoped of settling in the west, he returned to Ontario in Aug of 1945 to take care of his mother and settled into Hamilton. He remained in the Glider Program for many years before retiring.

Thank you all and wishing you a sober, reflective and peaceful Remembrance Day/Veteran’s Day/Armistice Day, wherever you may be. Let us hope that with every conflict and every act of sacrifice since the Great War ended, that we’ve learned something about the futility of war and the needless nature of aggression and conflict. And here’s to the day when we can settle our differences without bloodshed or violence.

Lest We Forget

Worlds of Babylon 5

B5_shadowsThis would be the fourth installment of my “Worlds Of” series, this time in honor of my favorite sci-fi show of all time. Like the show itself, the worlds that were featured here were richly detailed, multi-layered, and part of an intricate and cohesive universe. Though the show only lasted five seasons and the spin-off attempts failed, J.M. Straczynski was able to give most of the locales for his story a fair amount of treatment.

Centauri Prime:
CentauriPrime01The homeworld of the Centauri race and the seat of power for Republic. In ancient times, it was home to both the Centauri and the Xon, two sentient species that battled for thousands of years for control of the planet. Eventually, the Centauri exterminated the Xon, a victory which is celebrated annually with lavish feasts and celebrations. From these humble yet violent origins, the Centauri emerged to become the dominant power in the quadrant, conquering many races at their zenith, including the Narns.

Many locations of interest are to be found on Centauri Prime. These include the Royal Palace, home of the Royal Court and Centaurem, the Senate Building, the Great Temple, and the Imperial capitol. In the buildup to the Narn-Centauri war, the Royal Palace became the scene of intrigue as forces loyal to the puppet-Emperor Cartagia and Lord Refa began assassinating those who got in their way.

After the war was over, things once again became interesting as the mad Emperor made an Alliance with the Shadows and gave them the island of Cellini, hoping they would pay him back by making him a god. This alliance put the planet in danger, as the Vorlons had begun destroying any and all planets that were being used by the Shadows. In the end, Londo was forced to destroy Celini with tactical nukes to eliminate the Shadow vessels and prevent the Vorlons from destroying the planet.

Almost immediately after the war was over, the Drakh infiltrated Centauri Prime and began using it as their base of operations. After implicating the Centauri in a series of attacks on Alliance shipping, war was declared against the Republic. This war ended with the surrender of Centauri Prime after Narn and Drazi forces slipped into the system and began bombarding the surface with impunity. According to expanded sources, the planet would also be devastated when the Drakh were discovered and detonated a fusion bomb in the capitol to cover their escape.

Earth:
B5_EarthThe homeworld of the human race and administrative center of the Earth Alliance. By 2258-62, when the show takes place, a number of changes have happened to the place we call home. For starters, the capitol of the EA is established in Geneva, the headquarters of which is known as Earthdome. It is from here that the President exercises authority over Earth and all the Earth Alliance’s colonies.

Every nation on the planet has joined as an administrative “consortium”, contributing members and money to the upkeep of government. Earth is also home to the Psi Corps, the institution that monitors and trains telepaths for the Earth Alliance. This place is also the home of the Psi Cops, the authorities who track down and arrest “rogue telepaths” – those who choose not to register or take suppressants.

Just prior to the Shadow War, President Clarke declared martial law, effectively ending democratic government on Earth. The colonies thenceforth were administered by armed force, and Clarke himself forged an Alliance between his office, the Shadows, and the Psi Corps. For years, he ruled with impunity, until a coalition led by Sheridan and the White Star fleet arrived at Earth in 2262. Rather than face overthrow, Clarke shot himself and programmed the planetary defensive network to obliterate the surface. The satellites were narrowly stopped by Sheridan’s fleet, thus saving Earth from being turned into “scorched Earth”.

During the Drakh War, Earth became exposed to a deadly plague. This bio-weapon was of Shadow design and introduced into the atmosphere by Drakh ships after they failed to destroy Earth with a Shadow planet-killer. After five years under quarantine, the Interstellar Alliance ship Excalibur discovered a cure and introduced it to Earth. The planet was saved! However, hints given at the end of season 5 indicate that 500 years after the formation of the Alliance, Earth was devastated in a terrible civil war, returning its inhabitants to a primitive level of development.

One million years after the formation of the Alliance, Earth was abandoned by the decedents of the human race, who had evolved to the point of transcendence. After downloading all historical records, the last of the human race left the system for the last time. The sun went supernova shortly thereafter, destroying everything in the system.

Epsilon 3:
b5-eps3The third planet of the Epsilon Indi system and the world that Babylon 5 sits in orbit of. Coincidentally, it is also home of the Great Machine, a subterranean alien artifact of immense power. Not much is known about the species that built it, as the last known inhabitants, outside of the current custodians, died out as a result of a religious schism or fled into deep space.

Thereafter, the Machine was maintained by Varus, one of the last of their species, with the help of ten assistants named Zathras. As he neared the end of his life, the machine began to break down, causing the planet to become geologically unstable. This in turn alerted some of the surviving Epsilonians who were looking for the planet in hyperspace. When they emerged, a confrontation ensued between the aliens, B5, an Earth Alliance cruiser.

This was resolved when Draal, a Minbari member of the religious caste, assumed control of the machine and used its defenses to destroy the invaders. He warned that anyone else attempting to possess the planet’s secrets would meet with the same fate, but later pledged his allegiance and the resources of the planet to Sheridan and Delenn’s alliance. This went beyond mere weapons, as the Great Machine was also capable of seeing through time and space, which was intrinsic in both finding other First Ones and uncovering proof of Clark’s conspiracy.

Aside from the Great Machine, Epsilon 3 also boasted an extensive underground city filled with many technical wonders. According to Commander Sinclair, these included computers the size of buildings and components that were miles in length. In season four, when B5 needed components to boost the signal of their “Voice of the Resistance” transmissions, they found what they needed on the planet below.

Narn:
Narnhomeworld01According to Narn sources, Narn was once a fertile planet with lush rainforests and vast oceans. This changed when the Centauri arrived and occupied the planet for over 50 years. During this time, the planet was strip mined, ruthlessly exploited, and reduced to the status of a slave colony. Much damage was also done during the Narn war of resistance, as Centauri forces bombarded the surface from the orbit.

After the Narn’s proved victorious, efforts to restore the natural greenery were mounted. However, these apparently took a back seat to the need to equip the Narn regime’s military forces, a policy which demanded that this trend of exploitation continue. As a result, the planet’s climate remains,in the words of Londo: “dry, red, depressing.”

The bombardment of the Narn homeworld during the Narn-Centauri in season two didn’t help matters much either. After many hours of being pulverized from orbit with asteroids, most major cities were devastated, electricity and power grids were knocked out, and virtually all infrastructure was reduced to rubble. This also had the effect of kicking up massive amounts of dust into the atmosphere which caused terrible storms and made the climate colder and more harsh.

With the liberation of the Narn towards the end of the Shadow War, efforts to rebuild the planet once again began in earnest. This time, with the Interstellar Alliance and G’Kar’s influence as their guide, the Kah-Ri ensured that the needs of its citizens were their top priority. Thenceforth, attempts to rehabilitate the climate and rebuild infrastructure were placed ahead of revenge and military spending.

Minbar:
44053-babylon_5_movie_news_2_superThe homeworld of the Minbari Federation and their seat of government. As one of the older races in the quadrant, Minbar boasts some of the oldest cities, temples and buildings in the known universe. Most of these are built from indigenous crystal, contributing to the natural beauty of the surface. Colder than Earth’s climate and with stronger than normal gravity, the Minbari are a hearty race known for their strength and endurance.

It is here that the ancient capitol of the Minbari Federation is located. The towering triple-spired government palace is here, even though the Grey Council conducted its affairs from space. The Anla’Shock Temple of Temple of Varenni  are also to found in the capitol, the former being used by the Rangers and the latter being an ancient site where the castes would come together to select leaders during the time before Valen.

Another city of importance is Tuzanor, the home of Valen, the Anla’Shok training grounds where the Rangers receive their basic training, and home to the Interstellar Alliance once Delenn and Sheridan relocated it to Minbar. Just outside the city is the historic Mount H’Leya, where Valen, accompanied by a pair of Vorlons, delivered his holy “Times to come” speech during the first Shadow War.

During 2261, shortly after the Shadow War, Minbar became embroiled in a brief civil war between the Religious and Warrior Castes. This was due to deep-seated divisions which had been exacerbated by the Earth-Minbar War and the destruction of the Grey Council. It ended when Delenn invited Shakiri to the Temple of Varenni, where they would both enter into the Wheel of Fire to demonstrate their willingness to sacrifice themselves. Shakiri withdrew, but Delenn did not, prompting Neroon to save her and sacrifice himself on behalf of her. Thereafter, Delenn indicated that the Grey Council would be dominated by the Worker Caste to prevent such wars from happening again.

Sigma 957:
Sigma957planetThe ancient homeworld of the Walkers, one of the First Ones who had left the galaxy after the First Shadow War. The name itself was given to them by the Narns, who’s regime was the closest government to border their world. Apparently, they named them as such because they considered the inhabitants to be giants, so great and powerful that it was best to keep out from underfoot!

In 2258, Catherine Sakai did a fly-by of the planet to search for trace elements. During her mission, a massive ship appeared off her bow and her ship was disabled. When she was rescued at the behest of Ambassor G’Kar, he told her simply “There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They are vast, timeless. And if they are aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants…and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know. We’ve tried. And we’ve learned we can either stay out from underfoot, or be stepped on.”

In season 3, during a visit to Epsilon 3 to see Draal, Ivanova was able to see this world and feel the “footprints” of the Walkers with the help of the Great Machine. This was the first indication that their alliance had as to the whereabouts of other First Ones. Shortly thereafter, Ivanova and Marcus traveled there aboard a White Star to make contact with the Walkers. After a strained conversation, Ivanova was able to secure their agreement to join their alliance.

Vorlon Homeworld:
vorlon02Much like the Vorlon race itself, their homeworld is steeped in mystery. Throughout the B5 series, mentions are made of the planet the Vorlons call home, but no details are ever given beyond the limited testimony of Lyta Alexander. As the only human to witness the inner workings of the Vorlon culture, she found herself in a unique position, acting as a sort of bridge and ambassador. However, other than her, no one has ever seen their world and those who have tried have either been destroyed or disappeared without a trace.

As for Lyta Alexander, her voyage to the Vorlon homeworld took place shortly after she made contact with the mind of Ambassador Kosh and broke from the Psi Corps. After weeks of waiting on the edge of Vorlon space, she was eventually admitted after sending out a telepathic signal. When asked what it was like, she said simply “you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

However, some tidbits were given by Lyta as time went on. For one, it is revealed that the Vorlons possessed artifacts of immense power, which humanity and the younger races would only ever be entitled to once a million years had past. This was revealed after the Vorlons had left known space, but had thought to leave their automated border defenses in place and active. In addition, it was also here that Lyta witnessed the Vorlons extensive efforts to modify humans and other sentient’s to produce telepaths. This consisted of large facilities where hundreds of thousands of beings were kept in suspension tanks and either enhanced or modified to exhibit telepathic abilities in the first place.

Zhabar:
Zhabar01The homeworld and seat of power for the Drazi freehold, this planet was first shown in season five of B5 and played a rather important role in the plot. Noted for its hot, arid climate, the Drazi homeworld is also notorious for its crowded cities, narrow streets and small buildings with large vistas.

Much of this information comes from Garibaldi, who traveled here in 2262 on behalf of Alliance Covert Intelligence. According to Garibaldi’s contact on Zhabar, the curious architecture and city planning are throwbacks to earlier eras where the Drazi designed their cities to be impassable to siege engines. In addition, the small roomed architecture also harkens back to previous ages, when the Drazi lived predominantly outside.

After the Shadow War, this world became the focal point of much attention as Centauri agents infiltrated in order to kill Garibaldi’s contact. Though they failed to kill Garibaldi, his contact, and the Drakh-Centauri connection, remained a secret for some time. However, during a subsequent trip by Lyta and Dr. Franklin (at the behest of the Vir Cotto), they discovered that the Drazi were storing captured Shadow devices here. These devices were taken from destroyed Centauri vessels, and the Drazi were apparently hoping to keep them for themselves.

Z’ha’dum:
zhadumMuch like the planet the Vorlons call home, the Shadow’s homeworld is also steeped in mystery. However, several people have walked in its surface or witnessed if from orbit and lived to tell the tale. For instance, the elusive man named Mr. Morden, who came to Z’ha’dum as part of the Icarus crew, enlisted with the Shadows and then became their chief representative to the younger races.

The second person to witness the planet was G’Kar, who travelled to the rim at the end of season 1 to investigate the destruction of the Narn outpost in Quadrant 37. He described the place as a dark world, “where nothing has walked for a thousand years”. His description proved quite apt, as the Shadows and their allies all lived underground in order to hide their presence.

The third and final visit came from John Sheridan, who had been forewarned by Kosh that if he went to Z’ha’dum, he would die. He was right, after a fashion. During his visit to their craggy world, he received a tour of their underground facilities and even a bird’s eye view of the capitol. Right before he blew it all away with two massive thermonuclear bombs and fell to his supposed death. But because he was saved by Lorien, the First One who lived within the planet for eons, his life was restored. As such, he was the only one to visit Z’ha’dum, outside of their willing servants, and live.

Speaking of Lorien, it is noteworthy to mention that for millions of years, Z’ha’dum was the place he called home. During his time with Sheridan, he explained that it was for this reason that the Shadows kept coming back there, out of respect for a First One that was even older than them. This would seem to indicate that Z’ha’dum was not in fact the Shadows homeworld, but merely a world they used as a base of operations whenever they returned to this part of the galaxy. But given their incredible age, this should not come as a surprise. Whether it was the Vorlons, the Shadows or any other First Ones, their true point of origin has probably been lost with time and forgotten by even them.

Remembering 1812

Once in a while I like to break from sci-fi to honor major political developments or anniversaries. And since I missed out on honoring those who participated in D-Day on June 6th, I refuse to let this one pass without comment as well. As many are no doubt aware, it’s the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and in many countries, this occasion is being marked and commemorated. For many people in many nations, not just the historians among us, this war was extremely significant.

But what is most interesting is how it is remembered differently. For Canadians, 1812 was a decisive moment in which the country came together to repel a foreign invasion and declare its nationhood in the face of annexation. For Americans, it is remembered as a largely defensive affair in which a second British attempt at invasion was repulsed. For the the British, it was a largely colonial affair that was designed to distract them from the war on the Continent with Napoleon. And for the First Nations of Canada and the US, it was seen a loss which led to further annexation and loss of sovereignty.

And that’s just the Anglo-American perspective. If we were to set our sights a little farther abroad, we’d notice that people in Russia, Germany, and France also have thoughts of their own to share. For France, 1812 was a major setback in the larger affair known as the Napoleonic Wars. For this stout general/dictator from Sardinia, it was the beginning of the end for his rule and his empire. The Russians accordingly saw it as a great victory against a foreign invader, one which they would exploit in future wars to bolster morale. And for Germany, being forced to fight in Napoleon’s “Grand Armee” was a catalyzing event that helped to rouse national sentiment, ultimately leading to German unification in 1871.

Interesting how history can be relative, isn’t it, depending on who you ask and what their perspective is? But thanks to my own historical studies, I’ve learned much about this war, and can say that they all reflect a certain aspect of truth. In the end, all points of view and how we choose to remember the war tell us much of our national experience of it and confirm that the war was a very large affair that was experienced differently all around the world. I shall be brief, since the real historians are the ones you should be listening to. I just want to offer my humble two cents 😉

The American Perspective:
In the course of studying American history, I was interested to see just how the War of 1812 was treated. It was no secret to me that the popular American conception is that they won the war – here in Canada we say the exact same thing. But what I did find objectionable was the rather glaring ommissions that seemed to pervade the history textbooks on the subject.

For example, so many of the battles which took place on Canadian soil were not mentioned, the focus being on the battles America won and which happened for the most part on their own soil. These included the Battles of Plattsburgh, Chesapeake Bay, Washington DC, and especially New Orleans.

And yet, the best explanations I have heard for this come from American historians themselves. As one put it, “Americans, when they chose to remember the war at all, focus on the last year of the war when the battles were defensive in nature”. This, he claimed, is what gives rise to the illusion that America was fighting a defensive war which allowed them to think of it as a victory.

Another historian, who was also a General in the US Army, claimed that it is only in West Point Academy that a full and comprehensive treatment of 1812 is available in the US. Here, he claims, officers in training are taught that 1812 is a perfect example of what NOT to do in a war, namely go to war with overconfidence, an underfunded and staffed army, and a divided country.

And yet another claims that 1812 is America’s first “forgotten war”, beating Vietnam by over a century and a half. I especially liked this take on it since I’m a real proponent of how history repeats itself, just in different settings with different particulars. Seen in this context, 1812 was a less than stellar affair which quickly became overshadowed by the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, both of which were decisive for America and had a far greater impact on their history and development as a nation.

The First Nation Perspective:
Compared to the other perspectives, this one is by far the most sobering and real. In fact, one could characterize it by saying that this is a case where people were invited to a war, made a big difference, and then were shut out in the cold to be forgotten while the other combatants came to terms and all had their own victory parties. Disgusting really, but it teaches us something about how history frequently screws people over.

For the Cree Nation and the many nations that encompassed the Great Lakes Region, the war began long before 1812. Prior to this, American encroachment led many nations in the Ohio valley to begin to organize and militarize for the sake of defense. Seeing opportunity and common cause in this, the British began arming these nations and making alliances with them, knowing that any invasion northward would effect all. At the forefront of all this was a committed individual named Tecumseh, a Cree leader who was responsible for much of the cultural revival that was setting in and saw potential in an alliance with the British.

When war was declared, Tecumseh and his bands of fighters proved to be the decisive factor in several battles, not the least of which was at Fort Michigan, where they came upon the garrison by way of the river and took the fort with barely any casualties or shots being fired. In time, the collaboration between Brock (the British Commander) and Tecumseh led Brock to give him his overcoat as a personal gift. However, in keeping with his cultural traditions, Tecumseh conferred the honor onto a more senior warrior in his army. Brock was not offended.

During the American invasion of Upper Canada, the Mohawk nation also proved decisive. At the attack on Fitzgibbon, Mohawk warriors mounted a surprise attack on the unsuspecting American army and forced the surrender of over 500 troops. They had been tipped off by a young woman named Laura Secorde, a nurse who had been privy to the American plans while tending to wounded soldiers on Canadian soil.

In just about every subsequent battle on Canadian soil, Cree, Mohawk and Iroquois warriors were intrinsic to the fight. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that the presence of these seasoned warriors was often the difference between victory and defeat. Facing overwhelming numbers, the Angl0-Canadian forces were often bolstered by the fact that American troops were frightened of Native warriors, having been subjected to stories about their fearsome, bloodthirsty nature for so long.

Unfortunately, the war ended for the Cree Nation and Tecumseh during the Battle of Moraviantown (aka. the Battle of the Thames)i n southern Ontario. After the defeat of British naval forces on Lake Erie, British forces were ordered to pull back to where they could be reinforced and resupplied.

However, Tecumseh objected and voted instead to hold the line against the advancing American armies. Though he died and his forces were defeated at Moraviantown, this battle stalled the American forces long enough to give the British and Canadian forces time to regroup. As a result, the Americans were defeated at Lundy’s Lane six months later and the last invasion of Canadian soil was stopped.

The Canadian Perspective:
As I already stated, from the Canadian point of view, 1812 was a decisive war that saw the country come together to repel a foreign invader. This perspective does gloss over the fact that there were divisions between Upper and Lower Canada, that victory was owed in large part to its Native allies, and that Canada was still nominally a colonial possession of the British Empire. However, the perspective still holds true, as Canadian militia were the cornerstone of the small garrison of British regulars. In fact, Brock chose to dress all of his militia in the same red coats as his regulars in order to give the illusion that he had a larger force. This in turn would play a major role in ensuring the cohesion and organization of his forces in the battles to come.

And to top it off, Canadian forces did succeed in overcoming the odds against a much larger American invasion force. Whether it was the assaults on American border forts in Michigan and along the Great Lakes or defensive actions in Ontario and Quebec, Canadian forces managed to acheive an almost unbroken string of victories.

These included the Battles of Queenstown Heights, where the American forces that had crossed Lake Ontario and set fire to York (modern day Toronto) were defeated. The Battles of Chrysler’s Farm and Chateauguay were also decisive victories which forced the American forces to abandon their St. Lawrence campaign, the planned invasion of Quebec. And finally, Lundy’s Lane, though not a decisive victory, was seen as the final battle in which the invaders were stopped.

All of these experiences served to galvanize national sentiment and helped to inspired demands for reform which would culminate in the Rebellions of 1837. This is especially ironic seeing as how American planners believed that the Upper Canada Loyalists would welcome an American invasion and see it as a chance to throw off British rule. Instead, it inspired Canadians to reject union with the United States and demand a measure of independence on our own terms.

The British Perspective:
And last, but not least, we have what Merry Ol’ England thought of the whole affair. Far from seeing it as a mere diversion, the British were actually quite invested in what took place on North American soil, even if they did see it as a distraction from Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

For many years, Britain had been locked in a state of cold war with the US, monitoring the frontier with wary anxiety and taking every opportunity to bolster its defenses, either by supplying Native allies or making sure their were garrisons in Upper and Lower Canada and fleets on the Great Lakes.

Though these were by no means comparable to American forces, they did indicate how seriously the British took the prospect of an American invasion. And in the end, Britain felt pretty good about it’s conduct during the war. Their vaunted General Brock, though he died in the line of duty, organized a stalwart defense of the colonies while the British Navy harassed and assaulted many American ports. Though eventually these invasion attempts were rebuffed, they did meet with some success.

While Brock and Tecumseh managed to seize a series of key forts in the Great Lakes region and burned Detroit to the ground – in retaliation for the burning of York – they managed to set upon Washington DC and burned it to the ground. This is something which is commemorated extensively on the American side, particularly how a portrait of George Washington was saved before the old White House was set ablaze.

But of course, the defeated attempts at invasion did not go unnoticed either. Whether it was at Plattsburgh, Baltimore or the disastrous assault on New Orleans, it was clear that the war would end with American territorial sovereignty more or less intact. As a result, Britain would walk away from the war undefeated, but without much to show for it.

But of course, that was ultimately the goal in North America, to repulse the American invasion while at the same time ensuring that Napoleon’s defeat on the continent was assured. With the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, and the war with France now over, Britain breathed a temporary sigh of relief. This would end with Napoleon’s return from Elba, but that too would be resolved with the Battle of Waterloo a year later. For the British, as well as the Americans, 1812 would fade into obscurity, something to be remembered mainly by historians and not popular consciousness.

Final Thoughts:
Well, that’s my limited appraisal of the war. For the full scoop, you really need to check in with the historical recreationists, especially those who maintain the border forts along the Great Lakes region. For example, if you’re in Kingston, best check out Fort Henry. I remember going there as a preteen and thinking just how awesome the whole affair was. Not only do they dress in period costume and tell you much about the history of the fort, they also conduct actual musket and cannon drills just to keep things interesting and authentic.

Also, be sure to do your own research on this and other “forgotten wars” of history. It’s often because they were so instructive that they are allowed to fade into obscurity, mainly because people would like to forget what happened. However, that is how lessons are avoided and convenient lies allowed to permeate. Those familiar with World War I and the legend of the “Stab in the back” will know what I mean by that! Had people not been in such a hurry to forget the carnage and pretend that the war was just a big misunderstanding, or that Germany had been betrayed and not defeated, World War II could very well have been avoided.

And for those veterans who fought in the Vietnam War, as well as those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan (two “forgotten wars” in the making), the lessons of a forgotten war cannot be allowed to go unlearned again. In fact, one could argue that if 1812 were taught in full in schools and academic institutions other than West Point throughout the country, wars like Vietnam and Iraq could have been avoided. When one reads of how men like Jefferson said taking Canada would be “a mere matter of marching”, slogans like “domino effect” and “we’ll be welcomed as liberators” suddenly ring very hollow!

In short, there’s a reason history is full of repeats. All too often, it seems that only a select few are able to discern the patterns and realize that this sort of thing has been done before, usually with disastrous consequences. And my father – who recently visited Europe as part of commemorative trip – would tell you, some people do remembrance right! In Belgium, especially in the town of Ypres, commemorative ceremonies are an almost everyday occurrence. Those who died in the defense of the country and the events which devastated it are solemnly remembered on a regular basis, not just once a year. One would get the impression that these things are important to them!

Okay, that’s enough out of me. Happy anniversary War of 1812. You accomplished much, remind us of much, and really deserve to be honored, regardless of the fact that you fell between the War of Independence and during the Napoleonic Wars. I tell ya, those wars are such attention hogs! In any case, I look forward to 2014 too, when the end of World War I will be commemorated the world over, but especially in Flanders where the people will holding all kinds of celebrations to mark the centennial of the end of the Great War. My wife and I plan to be in attendance. I know my folks will be front row center!

Good day and peace be with you, friends!

Cool Ships (volume VIII)

Battleship Yamato:
A couple times now I’ve given praise to ship designs that went beyond the usual airplane/ seafaring paradigm. But what can you say about a spaceship which is a carbon copy of a old sea battleship? I don’t know, gutsy maybe? That its paying homage to the original? That’s all I can really say on this one, since it is identical to its namesake from the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Taken from the anime series of the same name, the Yamato was a prototype ship which was built in secret by Earth forces in the ruins of the original. Using alien technology, it was the first Earth ship to boast FTL and a “wave-motion-gun”. These devices were meant to give it an edge in the ongoing war with a race known as the “Gamilons”.

Early in this war, the Gamilons had bombarded Earth with radioactive meteorites. The result was that all human settlements had to be moved underground. However, the radiation was slowly working its way down to the inhabitants, and the only hope for survival came in the form of a message from a distant star. After completion, the Yamato was meant to fly to this world and retrieve the device which apparently could cleanse Earth of its poisonous radiation.

Thus, the Yamato was created to perform a mission that meant the very survival of the human race. It’s drive system was to make sure it could make the trip, while its weapons were meant to ensure it could defend itself.

Cylon Heavy Raider:
Another installment from the BSG universe, here we have the heavy hitter of the Cylon fleet, the dual purpose attack and transport craft, otherwise known as “the turkey”. Capable of atmospheric entry, space flight and FTL travel, the Heavy Raider is capable of attacking, transporting troops and conducting boarding operations.

Unlike the standard Raider, the heavy can either fly itself on autopilot or be piloted by actual an Centurion. However, its automated functions do not appear to be the result of a sentient nervous system. In terms of armaments and capacity, the heavy has six cannons mounted under its cockpit and its bay is capable of holding up to ten Centurions.

The Heavy Raider made its first appearance in season one (“Scattered”) when one crashed into the starboard flight pod. On Caprica, Sharon Valerii (Boomer) commandeers one to provide fire support to the resistance and save Starbuck as she escaped from a Cylon medical facility (“The Farm”). The Heavy Raider would go on to make several more appearances in the series, particularly whenever assault missions or heavy raids were concerned.

Quasar Fire-class Cruiser:
Once more onto the Star Wars universe, my friends! But this time, its into the expanded universe with a ship that is somewhat obscure by most standards. Known as the Quasar Fire-class cruiser, or Alliance Escort Carrier, this ship made its first appearance in the Thrawn Trilogy during the Battle of Bilbringi then again in the novel The Truce At Bakura.

Designed by the Sullustans as a cargo transport, many of these vessels were given to the Alliance and converted for combat. This consisted of stripping down the cargo bays and turning into hangars, and mounting defensive turrets at the front and rear.

Thought lightly armored, armed, and shielded, the Quasar’s small size and versatility make it a ship of choice for small fleets and minor attack forces. It’s six squadrons of fighters also give it an effective defensive screen, making it all the more suitable as a small fleet command ship.

The Leviathan:
Did I say once more, I meant twice… maybe more! And this one goes way back, to roughly 4000 years before events in the original movies. Officially known as an Interdictor-class cruiser, this vessel was the mainstay of the Republican navy during the time of the Mandalarion Wars and was featured heavily in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

During the outbreak of the Sith War which immediately followed, the Leviathan served as Darth Revan’s flagship. After he was captured by the Jedi Order, ownership of this vessel changed to Darth Malak. The ship was responsible for obliterating the surface of Taris and was later the site where Darth Revan, now working for the Jedi Order, confronted Darth Malak for the first time since his defection.

Measuring 600 meters in length, the ship carries an arsenal of 20 quad laser cannons, 4 turbolasers, 2 ion cannons, and four squadrons of fighters. Although somewhat mild by modern Star Wars standards, she was designed to be a forerunner to the modern Star Destroyer design.

Negh’var-class Cruiser:
Despite their brawling, yelling and terrible table manners, you gotta admit; the Klingons make a fine looking ship! And this is especially true of the Negh’var-class warship, the heaviest of the heavies in the Klingon armada, serving as the command ship on many different occasions (and in multiple universes).

Ships of this kind made their first appearance in the series finale of Star Trek: TNG when two attacked the USS Pasteur. Another appeared in DS9 when a changling posing as General Martok led the Klingon fleet against the Cardassian Union, and again against Deep Space 9 when the Federation chose to oppose the invasion. They also went on to play an important role in the Dominion War alongside Federation and Romulan warships.

In addition to the standard cloaking device, the Negh’var carries an impressive array of armaments, including two massive disruptor pods mounted underneath the ship’s wings. It also carries multiple photon torpedo launchers, and several smaller emitters mounted across the ship. She is also capable of standing toe to toe with most other ships in the Alpha Quadrant in terms of velocity, making it up to speeds of Warp 9.

Ornithopter:
Not long ago, I was lamented the fact that I kept forgetting to mention anything from the Dune universe. Now I can’t seem to do a single post without including a Dune ship! This time, its the ornithopter, the curious cool ship that’s perplexed readers and conceptual artists for some time.

The most common vessel in the Imperium, the ornithopter (or ‘thopter for short) was an extremely versatile vessel that served primarily as a cargo vessel and transport. In addition, they often served in a military capacity, being fitted with lasguns, bombs and missiles. This was particulalry the case during Paul Muad’ib’s uprising, when House Atreides ‘thopters were fitted for the assault on Arrakeen and the Imperial Palace.

According to numerous descriptions taken from the expanded Dune universe, the thopter was primarily powered by jet propulsion, but relied on a set of beating wings to maintain altitude and maneuver. The concept has gone through several renditions over the years, due to the many attempts to adapt Dune to the screen. In David Lynch’s 1984 movie adaptation, ‘thopters appeared as small, box-like crat with swept wings that retracted and deployed from the fuselage.

In the 2000 miniseries, they were pictured as vertical take off and landing craft with fans mounted in pivoting wings. The featured picture (shown above left) is taken from The Road to Dune and is an artists concept of what a ‘thopter would look like. Here, we see beating wings which deploy for takeoff and retract upon landing.

USNC In Amber Clad:
Feels like its been awhile since I included anything from the Halo universe. And so here’s the Reunion, a Vladivostok-class guided missile frigate. Though somewhat old and outclassed by modern Covenant standards, several frigates played a crucial role in the Great War against Covenant forces. One such vessel was the In Amber Clad.

Armed with 12 Point Defense Guns, 40 missile pods, 5 twin rail gun turrets, a magnetic accelerator cannon, a compliment of Shiva nuclear missiles and a full compliment of Marines, dropships and escort fighters, the In Amber Clad was considered the mainstay of the old Earth fleet. Capable of atmospheric entry and landing, this ship did not need to rely on drop pods or shuttles, and could land an entire Marine force by itself.

During the Covenant War, these frigates were replaced by the larger and more heavily armed Halcyon-class cruisers. However, the In Amber Clad managed to score a significant victory over the Covenant during the Battle of Installation 05. During the course of the battle, it served as the flagship and won the day when it crashed into the Covenant ship High Charity.

VF-1 Veritech:
As requested, I’ve finally found an example from the Robotech universe! And to be honest, I wondered how long it would take. Though I’m not too familiar with this franchise, the RPG is something I remember fondly from my childhood, and some of the designs still percolate in my consciousness.

One of which is this, the VF-1 Vertiech, also known as the “Valkyrie”. This battleoid, which was adapted from alien technology (known as Protoculture),was originally designed for hand-to-hand combat with aliens which were up to 15 meters in height, the Veritech and subsequent breeds of mechas became the new face of warfare.

Mechas can function in both the fighter and mech role. Capable of flying through space, atmospheres and fighting on land, the Veritech was one of the most versatile and maneuverable mechas in the known universe. With a flight speed of Mach 3 (in atmosphere), and a top speed of 100 km/h running, she is as fast as any land vehicle or aerospace vessel. In addition, the standard Veritech carries two high-powered lasers, head mounted laser cannons, guided missiles, a rotary cannon, and is even capable of engaging in hand to hand combat.

YT-2400 Corellian Freighter:
To finish, I’m in the mood for something Corellian! And so it’s back to the Star Wars universe for this one. Much like its predecessor, the YT-1300 (a.k.a. the Millennium Falcon), the 2400 was a class of light freighter that was fast, tough and endlessly modifiable. So like the Falcon, it was a favorite amongst smugglers, merchants and privateers.

Smaller and lighter than the 1300 series, the 2400 boasted only one servo-turret for defense in addition to its shield array and armor plating. However, this could easily be remedied with the addition of extra guns and missile launchers. And its ample hull space and engine power, the 2400’s could easily accommodate additional mounts and the added weight.

One such ship which acheived notoriety during the Galactic Civil War was the Outrider, the ship of famed smuggler Dash Rendar. This ship, like most other 2400’s, was heavily modified to accommodate additional systems and weapons. Clearly, when the Corellian shipyard designated this vessel as freight transport, it was a nod and a wink!

Thank you all and good hunting! See you in next time in volume 9!

B5 Continued…

B5 Continued…

Picking up where I left off, Babylon 5, second season!  When season one ended, Sinclair and G’Kar had taken off, both to pursue their own agendas. Delenn was in a chrysalis (cocoon) and undergoing a transformation, and Londo was making deals with “shadowy” forces. Resuming…

Season Two:
Season Two opens with Babylon 5 getting a new commander (Captain John Sheridan, played by Bruce Boxleitner) since Sinclair has been reassigned, somewhat mysteriously, to the Mimbari homeworld. Much like Sinclair, he too has a history that involves the Earth-Mimbari war. Sheridan is a war hero, the only man who ever destroyed a Mimbari ship and lived to tell about it. After receiving his post at B5, his first task is to deal with a renegade Mimbari cruiser that is staffed by warriors who never accepted their surrender. In the course of things, Sheridan learns the truth about the war. Lennier, Delenn’s assistant (who has taken over now that she is in a cocoon!), explains…

At the Battle of the Line, the humans who were captured were examined using a holy relic that came to the Mimbari from their chief prophet (Valen) who came to them a thousand years ago. The relic glowed in his presence, and a few others. When Sinclair was exposed to it, it glowed intensely. They concluded that his “soul” was Mimbari, that it was as strong as Valen’s, and that other humans possess Mimbari souls. This is why they ended the war. Few understood this decision, but given its importance of the Mimbari, they accepted it. In the end, Sheridan is successful and the renegade Mimbari cruiser is destroyed. But he is also made aware of the fact that he’s not too popular with the Mimbari.

Meanwhile, Londo meets with Morden again. Having gotten over the severity of what Morden “associates” did to the Narn border colony, he asks Morden what would happen if he were to ask for another “demonstration” of their power. Morden says plainly that they will provide it, and Londo only need “pick a target”. In return, all he asks is that Londo turn over whatever information he comes across about stuff happening on the rim. Which shortly thereafter comes in handy…

G’Kar returns from his investigation into the attack on their border colony. Going on a tip from some old Narn texts, he began looking into certain worlds at the border of known space. On one such world, he found something and barely got out alive. After determining that the configuration of the ships that attacked him were virtually identical to the ones described in the texts, he concludes that this ancient race is returning and is responsible for the attack. The border world he found is apparently called Z’Hadum, and his world has sent a ship to investigate.

Naturally, Londo tells Morden and the ship is ambushed just as it jumps out of hyperspace. G’Kar’s investigation is halted, and his warnings end up ringing hollow. However, Delenn emerges from her cocoon and appears half-human now. No explanation is given beyond her saying that it was a gesture to bring their two species – humans and Mimbari – closer together. Sheridan is impressed, and we get a preview of the romantic relationship which is to follow.

In time, Londo gets a visitor, a man named Lord Refa, who has heard of what Londo has done and is impressed. He comes to Londo bearing an offer: he and friends back home want to overthrow the current Emperor, who they think of as weak and conciliatory to the Narns, and put their own person on the throne. They want a return to the good old days of power, like Londo, and are willing to do what it takes to make that happen. Londo is enthused and agrees, but gets a word of warning from a seer (a Technomage) shortly thereafter. He is told that he will become powerful, and be responsible for the lives of billions. He is naturally perturbed.

Other developments include Sheridan finding out that Ivanova is a latent telepath who’s mother committed suicide to escape the Corps, that Franklin is running an underground railroad for telepaths looking to do the same, and that the station’s resident telepath, Talia Winters (whom Garibaldi has a thing for) is a sleeper agent whom the Corps planted to keep an eye on them all. They also get a visitor in the form of Lyta Alexander, a telepath who was originally assigned to B5 but has since been working with the Vorlons, and has been changed by them… She has since turned against the Corps, and seems to know a thing or two about the Vorlons secrets.

And of course, the old conspiracy about the president begins to shape up. Garibadli recovers, his old security deputy is busted but disappears on his way back to Earth to stand trial. Before leaving, he also leaves Garibaldi with a cryptic warning, that this is “much bigger than he knows”. Sheridan also learns from his old friend, General Hague, that the destruction of Earth One was an inside job and that the VP was involved. He also tells Sheridan that he was appointed to B5 because the new President, Clark, thought he’d be loyal, being a career soldier. Sheridan and his senior officers decide to join Haig’s counter-conspiracy and begin helping them, which includes giving safe passage to the doctor who had proof that Clark’s cover story about an illness was false.

But by far the biggest part of season two is the “Great War” between the Narns and the Centauri. After the first time he called in a favor from Morden, his “associates” destroyed an entire colony of Narns on the border of disputed space. This incident gained Londo some serious popularity in certain circles back home, including Lord Refa. Things come together again when the Emperor himself decides to visit Babylon 5, apparently to issue an apology to the Narns for his family’s actions. G’Kar intends to assassinate him, but his efforts are cut short when Emperor suffers a near-fatal heart attack. When he learns of the Emperor’s true purpose, he reaches out to Londo for the first time.

However, Londo and Refa are already mobilizing. Refa’s people assassinate the Emperor’s Prime Minister back home, and he tells Londo they need an attention getter to set them ahead of the other potential successors. Londo remembers what Morden said about “picking a target” and chooses another military base that borders Centauri space. The dark, spidery ships attack, destroy everything, and Centauri forces move in afterwards. This time around, the Centauri ARE blamed, the Narns declare war, Londo is hailed as a hero by his people, and Lord Refa’s puppet Emperor (Cartagia) takes the throne. The Great War has begun!

And just before the Emperor dies, he is met by Kosh. He asks him how this will end, and Kosh tells him “in fire”. Londo and Refa also come before him to tell him the “good news” about the war. Rather than condone it, he pulls Londo close and tells him “you are both damned”. “Small price to pay for immortality” says Refa, but Londo appears shaken once again. In the ensuring weeks, Babylon 5 is thrust into the middle of the war, being asked to arbitrate and take in refugees from all the Narn colonies that begin to be overrun.

Meanwhile, John is made aware of what’s really going on. After learning the truth about the Earth-Mimbari War, he is told of another, more secretive war, one which has been a long time coming and is imminent. After learning that Morden is aboard the station, and realizing that he was on the same ship as Anna Sheridan (John’s wife) which was apparently destroyed, John orders Morden taken into custody and questioned. Apparently, the ship was lost during an expedition to the world now known as Z’Hadum, all hands thought to have perished. Since he’s not dead and wandering around freely, John wants answers!

His efforst are interrupted when Kosh and Delenn explain. Z’Hadum is the home of an ancient race known as the “Shadows”. They are one of the “First Ones”, a group of races billions of years old, the first to achieve sentience in the galaxy. The Shadows are the oldest, and they have been at war with the others for eons. In the last war, what few First Ones remained defeated them and drove them off, with the help of some younger races – including the Mimbari. Whereas all the others have now died or moved on, only the Vorlons remain. Now that the Shadows are returning, they must prepare! A new alliance must be struck, and both the Mimbari and the Vorlons understand that humanity and B5 are important to that effort, though they don’t fully know why.

According to Delenn, the Shadows are behind the Narn-Centauri war because they intend to weaken the younger races by making them fight each other before they invade. The only advantage they have right now is that Shadows do not know that the Mimbari and Vorlons already suspect what they are up to. He is also told that Sinclair is on Mimbar preparing a new force of fighters for when the time comes; they are known as the Rangers, and Garibaldi was made aware of them some time ago. Sheridan reluctantly agrees to join their alliance, and lets Morden go. In secret, they begin to plot and Kosh begins to teach Sheridan how to, as he says, “fight legends”. Sheridan also vows that one day, he will go to Z’Hadum to find out what happened to his wife, despite Kosh’s warning that if he does, he will die!

Season two ends with the end of the war. After months of fighting a losing war, the Narns prepare for one final assault to slow the Centauri down and prolongue the war. However, Refa’s people intercept their plans and make plans of their own. He asks Londo to arrange for his friends to destroy the Narn attack while they in turn attack the Narn homeworld, using mass-drivers. These are an outlawed weapon of mass destruction, and their use will level Narn’s surface. Londo is very reluctant, he doesn’t want the death toll, and he is growing suspicious of Morden and his “associates”. But, under pressure, he agrees, and everything happens without a hitch. The last Narn fleet is destroyed, he watches as  Narn is leveled and forced to surrender, and then dictates the punitive terms of peace at the B5 Council.

In order to avoid arrest and remain free, G’Kar is told by his people to request asylum. Sheridan agrees, but is powerless to stop the Centauri from imposing terrible terms of peace on the Narns. All he can do is promise G’Kar whatever help he can, and in a meeting later with Delenn, Kosh and the Rangers, he pledges that where they stand, they will draw a line against the coming darkness.

Almost immediately after the war ends with the Narns, the Centauri begin attacking the borders of several more worlds immediately thereafter. In response, a representative of the Earth Alliance came to the station for the purpose of “evaluating the Centauri”. Sheridan and G’Kar were hopeful that this meant Earth was preparing to take sides, but all were disappointed when it was revealed that Earth was signing a non-aggression pact with them, effectively turning their backs on the Centauri’s continued aggression.

However, these efforts are somewhat frustrated due to the appearance of a Narn cruiser which Sheridan offers aid to after it jumps in near the station. This leads to a confrontation with a Centauri cruiser, and Sheridan is forced to destroy it. In order to salvage the situation, Earth orders Sheridan to issue a formal apology. But on his way to deliver it, Sheridan is nearly killed by a bomb that was planted in his car. He jumps from the car and begins falling towards certain death. Miraculously, Kosh reveals himself and flies to his rescue.  When he leaves his encounter suit, everyone sees an angel, though in different guises, depending on their race. People feel the station is now blessed, a good omen in dark times…

At the same time, Zack Allen, one of the station’s pilots, dies pursuing a lead. Some time before, he saw a Shadow vessel in hyperspace, and became obsessed with it. While ferrying the Narn cruiser to safety, he breaks off when he detects a faint trace of neutrinos in hyperspace. He comes face to face with a Shadow vessel, and is then destroyed! However, his gun camera footage survived and was retrieved. Season two thus ends with the footage being aired on interstellar television!

Whoo, I get goose bumps just thinking about it! And I assume people can see by what I mean about the quality of the writing and the consistency of the plot. By this point in the show, things are really starting to come together. But of course, many threads still needed to be tied, and many mysteries still revealed.

Most of these come up in Season Three, coming up next!