WDF 11: The Mexican-American War

The Mexican-American War 1846-48 was one of those splendid little wars that dramatically shaped the future of the American continent and state. Through a combination of factors, US interests and the consistent pressures of the Monroe Doctrine ensured that neither foreign states nor local concerns were about to get in the way of the US' 'sphere of influence', or the protection of its citizens. What began ostensibly as an act to protect those citizens soon escalated into a full-blown invasion and conquering of the lands which Spain had once called its own, but which by the end of the war formed part of the United States. While on paper its power had ballooned in a glorious war, in actual fact the war only exacerbated the rising tensions between north and south within the US, as competing ideas of what it meant to be American chafed side by side, to explode within a generation into the bloodiest affair the continent had ever known. Simple enough though this war seemed then, it served as the cut off point in many ways for what we think of as modern America today.

The map of the conflict

The map of the conflict

WDF 12: The Crimean War

While the Ottoman Empire slipped into regional and external crises, the Russians sought to take advantage by invoking one of their declared national destinies: the capture of Tsargrad. While national ambitions were all very well, Tsargrad happened to be occupied already by a different power under a different name, for Tsargrad was in fact Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire since its expansion into the city in 1453. Russian ambitions for the region revolved around expansion into the beneficial Black Sea, the control the trade routes that St Petersburg so relied upon. Pitted against these ambitions were the British and French, with equally urgent motivations for keeping Mother Russia at bay. Allowing Russia to seize such an important region would have been disastrous for the notions of practical power balances in the region, and the Ottomans, already on the backfoot, would surely spiral into devastation. Such power vacuums had to be avoided at all costs, so in the name of the status quo, Britain and her allies intervened to prevent the Russian takeover, in one of the earliest references to one of the trickiest puzzles - the Eastern Question - that London would encounter in the 19th century. Check it out, and remember to listen to the TALK episode as well if you just can't get enough!

The Charge of the Light Brigade was the most infamous event of the war, but it was unfortunately reflective of the wider way of conducting the war, by both sides

The Charge of the Light Brigade was the most infamous event of the war, but it was unfortunately reflective of the wider way of conducting the war, by both sides

WDF 13: The Boer War

Without a doubt, Britain was expanding. Its African holdings within a decade almost encompassed the entire length of the African continent, in an enterprise fuelled by railways, gold mines and indentured labour forces. Circumstances of Empire notwithstanding, London likely thought it was the same formula again when news arrived of the Boers rising against them for the second time. The last time the Boers had been fought in a war, in the early 1880s, London had opted to bow out of the conflict rather than risk further embarrassment. That had been a stain on Gladstone's record, but things were different now, and under Salisbury's expansionist regime there could be no stopping the Imperial tide, or could there? In actual fact, the Second Boer War exposed the weaknesses of Britain's imperial experiment, and demonstrated yet again that despite the shiny wrapping, the bottom line was what truly concerned London above all. If the solo episode isn't enough for you, make sure to check out the TALK episode as well - Sean and I delve into it all, and we'd love to have you join us! 

Battle of Mafeking, one of the many indications that the war was not going to be the walkover London expected

Battle of Mafeking, one of the many indications that the war was not going to be the walkover London expected

WDF 14: The War of 1812

The implications were unmistakable - war was about to break out with the former colonies. But how? How had affairs so deteriorated to this point? How had Britain allowed its foreign flanks to become so exposed, while it struggled and rallied against Napoleon Bonaparte closer to home? A series of misunderstandings, tied in with some genuine ambitions, served to push these one day eternal allies over the edge, in what history has deemed 'the Forgotten War', but we remember it into being here, and run through the other issues that went along with it. If you don't get enough from the solo experience, why not check out the more casual TALK episode too? The two episodes should inform you of what was what during this fascinating period of cross-Atlantic power politics.

The USS Constitution takes on the HMS Guerriere

The USS Constitution takes on the HMS Guerriere

WDF 15: The Boxer Rebellion

There's only so much imperialism one country can be expected to take, even one as incomprehensibly vast as China. For all intents and purposes, China was the European playground at the dawn of the 20th century. Vested economic and strategic interests had combined to draw every European power of consequence into the Scramble for China, but by the closing days of the 19th century, the Chinese had had enough. A powerful movement, claiming invulnerability to bullets, boasting of an incredible mission, and declaring patriotic, nationalistic intentions, held Chinese people and its Empress in rapture for a number of months. Long enough of a period for Europeans to sit up, take notice, and run to the defence of its vested interests as one. Never before had the world seen such cooperation, and it never would again. Only when issues of imperialism were concerned, it seemed, could Europeans put aside their differences and devastate all before them. With dramatic consequences for the future of China, the Boxers did battle with the Europeans, in a situation where only one could come out on top. Since this was my real foray into the land of Chinese pronunciation, I would ask to forgive my verbal and vocal atrocities in advance.

The Siege of Peking by Boxer forces, resisted by the foreign delegations

The Siege of Peking by Boxer forces, resisted by the foreign delegations

WDF 16: The Indian Revolt of 1857

How did London manage to exercise control over a subcontinent of nations, using a bureaucracy a fraction of the size of the actual population? By accident, as it turned out. By the 1850s varied chartered companies ruled over portions of India, with the East India Company exercising the greatest control. Far from an imperialist venture, the whole endeavour was framed in economic terms, but when Indians in great numbers declared that enough was enough in 1857, everything changed. From this point on, London was not a contracted partner, but a direct ruler of the Indian Raj, and it all began here. Find out why British India developed as it did in the 19th century, and how Britain was able to command such breathtaking resources in manpower and land in the process.

A good indication of the extent of the revolt on the Indian subcontinent in 1857

A good indication of the extent of the revolt on the Indian subcontinent in 1857

WDF 17: The Austro-Prussian War

Otto von Bismarck's march towards European predominance and immortality was by no means a foregone conclusion. For centuries, the Habsburg family had ruled European politics with varying degrees of power, and had revolutionised the shape of that continent in the process. It was an influential hold on power, affecting as it did the entirety of the German peoples in one way or another. Yet, though Vienna had stood for so long in this position, times were changing. The unstoppable march of German nationalism, awakened by the rhetoric of Napoleon and reinvigorated by the events of 1848, meant that the mantle of German nationalism had to be taken by one of the German superpowers. The only question, this German Question or German Dualism, was who would take this mantle first, would it be Berlin in the North or Vienna in the South? Contemporaries believed Vienna was the safe bet, but the entire course of history and the state of Germany today, indeed of Europe, declares that such contemporaries were wrong. They may have figured for Austrian prestige, but they never figured for Bismarckian tenacity, cunning or opportunism. In just a few short months, everything would change, and modern Europe as we know it would take form.

By the end of the Austro-Prussian War, Europe was changed forever...

By the end of the Austro-Prussian War, Europe was changed forever...

WDF 18: The Russo-Turkish War of 1877

It wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last. Only a generation before, Europe had scrambled to halt the insatiable Russian hunger for expansion in the Bosporus. Now, it seemed, it would have to scramble again. Yet, though the emergency was present, the great war was not. Russia had gambled on European inaction and it had been correct. Inactive though it was on the military front though, Europe was tearing itself apart over the question of what to do next. Diplomatic feelers miles long were pinged across the continent, as all powers, though they sent not a soldier, spilled gallons of ink and wore out numerous wrists attempting to gather a consensus for what to do next in response to what the Russian Bear had just done. Every power, it seemed, had its own answer, but as the Russians would soon discover, European inaction was far from a guarantor of military success. 

The Russo-Turkish War represented Russian ambitions exploding out of their confines for the second time in a generation, a spectacle which the British felt they could not allow, resulting in a domestic struggle in the heart of the British government

The Russo-Turkish War represented Russian ambitions exploding out of their confines for the second time in a generation, a spectacle which the British felt they could not allow, resulting in a domestic struggle in the heart of the British government

WDF 19: The First Italo-Ethiopian War

Coming late to the party is never fun. For Italy, formed at the same tumultuous time as Germany, there was no question that it could be looked over for African spoils any longer. Late to the Scramble for Africa, Rome was nonetheless determined to avail of its spoils. When seeking to pick its next target for expansion, it first had to traverse its complex European dealings so as not to ruffle any feathers, and in the process it landed on the ancient kingdom of Abyssinia, an apparently easy target for the industrialised Italy. But all was not as it seemed. Abyssinia, or Ethiopia as we know it, was far from an easy target, and Italy's choice for expansion and imperial glory was neither straightforward, nor was it destined to be successful. With consequences that would shake and shock Europe, the war served as a perfect example of how NOT to imperialise.

This Battle of Adwa was the nail in the coffin for Italian imperialism in East Africa, and its prestige never fully recovered from the blow

This Battle of Adwa was the nail in the coffin for Italian imperialism in East Africa, and its prestige never fully recovered from the blow