Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Eternal Peace

As everyone who has ever witnessed a beauty pageant can attest to, one of the most desirable of all human wishes is that of world peace.

Despite millennia of untold bloodshed, strife and power struggles for kingdoms, dynasties, regimes and spoils, the world will continue in vain to strive for the seemingly elusive goal.

Numerous peace treaties have been signed through the ages and some have even helped to maintain their noble objectives. The mother of all these treaties can be traced back to 1259 BC and is credited to the Egyptians in a truce between the Hittites.

Engraved on silver tablets, the treaty was established between King Hattusili III and Ramesses II to promote alliance and brotherhood between their lands. The two kingdoms agreed to cease invasions and eradicate the financial burdens caused by centuries of warring. The Hittite king believed a treaty would be instrumental in stabilizing his throne.

‘The Eternal Peace’ would not live up to its name but it undoubtedly set a precedent that would be imitated and attempted in various parts of the world through different time periods, not exactly something to scoff at.

Often well-documented failures contain the best intentions and despite the Eternal Peace’s shortcomings, the mere fact that such a treaty was negotiated so long ago is inspiring in itself.

The next time Miss USA contestants expatiate on the possibilities of instantaneous harmony blossoming across the globe, they should be reminded that it’s all still very much a work in progress, one that was initially tried out a lot earlier than they might have guessed.

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be

Conveyor belt sidewalks, pneumatic sky shuttles and video screen telephones— These were the assumed luxuries of the years to come in our collective imaginations of years gone by. In some cases our predictions proved to be fortuitously adept. Despite unforeseen technological progress, however, numerous expectations remain unrealized.

In turn-of-the-century France, the popularity of Jules Verne’s science fiction works such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea inspired a postcard series projecting life in the year 2000. Through their varied illustrious renderings, the desire for a more conveniently ordered and functional world is evident in every aspect of life from travel, industry, farming, housework, grooming, leisure and education.


These paintings and illustrations are now categorized as ‘retrofuturism’, a term denoting their hopes and fantastic predictions. The term later applied to literary, film and television genres that incorporated the style into narratives for entertainment effect.

Understandably, the artists and the science that they drew on were limited to the existing knowledge and trends of the time. The result was a fascinating combination of logical extrapolation and mysteriously vague yet prescient concepts.

For some reason, it was speculated that humans of the future would conduct many of their daily activities underwater, including riding on seahorses and employing whales as public transportation. 

Indeed, the use of prehistoric animals as slave labor was a frequent feature of daily life for television’s Flintstones, something Michael Chichton apparently overlooked in his research for Jurassic Park where he popularized the myth that dinosaurs and man were separated by 65 million years of evolution.

Alarmingly, much of what typifies life in our current era can be glimpsed in obvious ‘prototype’ form in some of these images. Helicopters, cellphones, computers and robots were all imagined here, decades before their proper introduction into the world.

In retrospect, the artwork seen here is a credit to the fervent imaginations of these visionary artists. They represent what innovation, science and creativity have already accomplished as well as the many inventions and possibilities that remain on our horizon.

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Behold the Colossus

Around 280 BC, a sculptor named Chares and a 300-man crew constructed a statue of the Greek god Helios on the island of Rhodes, completing it in only twelve years. The giant bronze figure which stood 108 feet high at the mouth of the city’s harbor was erected in celebration of Rhodes’ liberation from armies in Northern Greece.

For a period of 56 years the Colossus stood at the port attracting mariners from other lands as one of the world’s Seven Wonders.

At some point around 226 BC it was toppled in a devastating earthquake, supposedly snapping at the knees. Its titanic remains were left where they laid for fear of defying a religious oracle. For another 800 years, the Colossus, even in ruin, continued to marvel those who beheld its awesome sight.

The precise location of the Colossus remains unknown. Nor is there any certainty regarding its appearance or pose. Much of those inferences are rooted in the poetry and literary references of the Hellenistic period, which lend themselves to vague embellishments.

In Sergio Leone’s 1961 film, The Colossus of Rhodes, Rory Calhoun portrays a Greek soldier who assists in a siege of the Colossus in a plot to overthrow the king of Rhodes. The statue in the film is scaled much larger so as to house arsenals and accommodate armies inside. The Colossus is also depicted as being made of hollowed brass and its massive scale enables it to straddle the harbor to breathtaking effect.

Though its moment in the sun was a fleeting one, the towering figure certainly made an impression. As in Newton’s law of universal gravitation, however, what goes up... must come down.

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Remembrances in Context

This Wednesday saw the 75th Anniversary of V-J Day, in which the world recognized the official conclusion of World War II. After Imperial Japan surrendered and accepted the agreed terms, President Harry Truman addressed the nation with the momentous news.

Inevitable celebrations erupted in numerous cities and public squares as the sight of many men (mostly returning servicemen) kissing nearby women became typical of the festivities. Though forcing unrequited smooches would be considered egregious by today’s standards, it seems more understandable in light of the joy Americans were suddenly sharing after years of sacrifice, danger and separation from loved ones and homeland. The kissing fest wasn’t so much selfish aggression as it was a natural impulse that many expected to be befitting an extraordinary and historic occasion.

If it all happened today, the moment’s symbolic significance would undoubtedly be lost on most, sadly eclipsed by the literal image(as it always is).

One wonders if such an outcome could ever now occur at all. The Greatest Generation won its war with its persistent unity, something this nation may never again achieve.

Sadly, there are parts of the story that we have been sufficiently able to repeat.

The “victory riots” in San Francisco are the disturbing yet forgotten side to the jubilant celebrations of V-J Day. Mobs made up mostly of enlisted Navy men, not returning from overseas, gathered in the Bay Area’s downtown streets, gradually getting drunk and losing control.

For three days the celebrations transmogrified into dangerous chaos as motorists were attacked, cars overturned and women dragged into the dark and assaulted. Businesses were vandalized and looted and buildings, cars and trolleys were burned and destroyed. Soon bystanders were being run down by out-of-control cars and attacked with weapons, wooden boards, garbage cans or bare hands.

In the aftermath, thirteen people were dead, at least six women had been raped and over 1,000 people were injured in what were described as the deadliest riots in San Francisco’s history. Despite the overwhelming crime that had clearly occurred, no charges were pressed and no one was ever held responsible or accountable... for anything.

The authorities were most likely embarrassed by the tragic events and turned a blind eye to the matter under the convenient cover of the real celebrations that dominated world news that week.

Why did this happen? How could history have lost track of something so devastating and shocking? It seems that a cover-up was not only easy but politically satisfying. Letting justice play out would draw attention to the failures of the city long after the hoopla of V-J Day had dissipated. 

Perhaps it was thought of as ‘unpatriotic’ to pursue punishment after such a grand occasion. The troops had returned, America was victorious and it certainly didn’t need to go on a subsequent guilt trip. As we know all too well, anything with good intentions can be hijacked for a darker purpose while its perpetrators can easily disappear into dense, massive crowds.

Why dwell on uncomfortable regrets when there are better things to recall-that symbolize hope, accomplishment, renewal and peace? Most of us don’t want to face sad and inconvenient facts. We’d rather ignore the worst among us, committing the worst acts and the inability of our leaders to stop or even recognize it.

I have two questions for you, and please feel free to use the contact form below: 

  • Why do so many actions violate their supposed causes?
  • Why do so many people with causes not know how to act?

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    Christopher Robinson