Today In Fact, 29 May

Civilisations had, until Oswald Spengler, been thought as rising and falling in a linear progression. It was assumed of course, that our current civilisation is the best and the brightest and ancient civilisations were less so. In other words the arts of civilised living were assumed to be something that we as a human race got better at by practice. Spengler demurred. In his two volume book on civilisations his depressing and reactionary views envision civilisations as embodying a particular stance towards life. Spengler, who was born today in 1880, also argued that human civilisations really can only last at most for a thousand years.

As if in confirmation, Spengler’s birthday is also curiously marks the day when the Byzantine civilisation finally died in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople and the death today, in battle against the Ottoman Turks, of its last Emperor; Constantine Palailogos IX. His death marked the end of the Roman Empire, which had continued in the East for 977 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Today also marks the day in 1918 when Armenia saved itself in the Battle of Sardarabad against the Ottoman Turks during the First World War. This battle for survival meant that Armenia was able to retain its culture and identity formed some 2 000 years earlier. Armenia was unable to stop the subsequent vengeful genocide the Turks committed against Armenians living in Turkey.

Our civilisation, if not the human race was surely saved by a man born today in 1917. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States and the first Catholic President, he stood-up to his generals who, during the Cuban Missile Crisis were urging a missile strike against Cuba. Such belligerence would almost certainly have triggered a global nuclear war and destroyed our civilisation. He later reflected that,

“It is insane that two men, sitting on opposite sides of the world, should be able to decide to bring an end to civilisation.”

JFK introduced many innovations before his tragic assassination in 1963. For instance he introduced Affirmative Action and was a strong supporter of UN Peace Keeping. In a speech to the United nations in 1961 he said: “Let us call a truce to terror. Let us invoke the blessings of peace. And as we build an international capacity to keep peace, let us join in dismantling the national capacity to wage war.”

Today marks the formation of the first UN peace-keeping force deployed in 1948 in Palestine. It is also international UN Peacekeepers day used to mark the work of UN peace-keeping in conflict areas around the globe.

I cannot let the day go however without honouring the birthday of another Catholic boy, born today in 1984; G.K.Chesterton was prolific writer, wit and argumentalist. Given to debating religion, life and politics, G.K. Chesterton’s most famous series of novels was the Father Brown books. A very large man, he was also extremely forgetful and often had to send telegrams to his long-suffering wife, Frances, asking where he was supposed to be because he had taken the wrong train.

Chesterton’s writings consistently displayed wit and a sense of humour. He employed paradox, while making serious comments on the world, government, politics, economics, philosophy, theology and many other topics.

So happy Birthday JFK and GKC and I suppose also Herr Oswald. Our civilisation is richer because of you.

Douglas Racionzer (get the full Doug treatment at