Georges Danton: “My only regret is that I am going before that rat Robespierre.”

Oh Camille.

These words will never be recorded – never be transcribed into the annal’s of history, the lament of the one’s chained to doom. I would scream to the very heavens for eternity if I thought for a moment that it would make a difference… this isn’t fair.

I know it’s childish, this fear of death – but I assure you, Camille, I go into God’s hands with my head held high. It is not the act of dying I am afraid of. No, surely not, what I fear is what I am leaving in this world of the living.

This revolution was born from the fruits of OUR LABOURS, Camille, the sweat from our brows and our backs greased the cogs of this machine. We changed the very foundation of France, overthrowing the corrupt monarchy and all we get for it is an early unwanted death. For our services to our country we are rewarded with oblivion.

Oh Camille, what wondrous men we were, what wondrous men we could have been.

Camille, they will surely weep for us. Take some little comfort from that.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Robespierre.

I curse you Robespierre.

I curse you Robespierre, such that your soul will never find it’s way into God’s light. I curse you, such that your spirit will be spit out of heaven and you will spend eternity falling, ever falling. Falling, in the way that the wind will rip you from history and your insanity will be dissolved into the air.

I curse you.

We once had, if not brotherhood, at least mutual understanding. We were creating a France that our children would be proud of. I know not when your idealism became madness but I must have failed to see the signs, because I was not prepared for all the murders, and all the terror that you instilled into this country.

Robespierre, you will follow me into dissolution. I will drag you down screaming, and we will fall together.

______________________________________________________________________________

“Don’t forget to show my head to the people. It’s well worth seeing.”

______________________________________________________________________________

In the dying light of day the great leader seemed to be rising out of his tomb as much as preparing to descend into it. Never was anything more bold than that great athlete’s countenance, never anything more formidable than the look of that profile which seemed to defy the knife. That great head, even as it was about to fall, appeared to be in the act of dictating laws.

______________________________________________________________________________

Georges Danton, born on October 26th 1759, and died on April 5th 1794.

 

Georges Danton: A King in Peril & A Hope for France

Dear Camille Desmoulins,

I write with a fervour – limitless energy flows through my veins, as France is spreading her wings for the first time! Not three months ago today, I wrote you about the revolution that was surely going to begin. Although you agreed with me, when I dared to open my mouth to present my dream I was scoffed at behind closed doors. But I refused to give up hope, and now we are on at the crest of this wave of change. Oh Camille, I feel as though I am poised to strike the killing blow! First we stormed the Bastille and with my new position as Minister of Justice I have the legal means to take action against the King!

Although, not much action will need to be taken – the King has doomed himself. In his Royal foolishness, King Louis XVI was caught fleeing France; we have all the conviction we need to bury him and his legacy and create a new France, a France built on domestic peace, stability and justice for all! I must convince the people that the King must die; he cannot be allowed to become an obstacle to this Revolution.

Camille, our Caveliers clubs has grown to more than we could have ever dreamed of. Our organization has become one of the premier places of discussion in all of Paris. Along with the Jacobin’s club, we are the most powerful political society in the city.

Ah, the Jacobin’s club. My friend, I beg of you, be cautious around Maximilien Robespierre. He is a silver tongued serpent that has wove his way into our ranks. He speaks of great things but he masks his true desire – to burn all of our heritage and re-establish all of France’s Institutions in line with his own likings. It is admirable to hope for a France based on pure moral virtue, but it is unfortunately drastically unrealistic, and his radicalism is unsettling. Treat him with great discretion.

Camille, I promise to write again soon. You are my visionary brother.

Stay safe.

Georges Danton.

 

Georges-Jacques Danton: Do you hear the people sing?

Before continuing, please find a passing minstrel to sing this.

To Camille Desmoulins,

The midnight-oil burns quickly these nights.

I am no stranger to writing; indeed, as an Advocate for the people in France I am often found penning various legal pleas. Recently, however, my wrist has grown weary. Too many people are crying out in the dark – crying out to be heard in a country where no one is listening. In the Cordeliers District, my home, my child’s home, the last place in France where liberty has not yet been violated; the streets have filled up with the wretched faster that I could have imagined. I pride myself on giving a voice to those who cannot speak; however, in the past month I have not been able to make a dent in the ever growing list of the needy. I must do more to help the people. When my beautiful France has become a battleground between starvation and altruism, I know that I must act.

Camille Desmoulins, my dear, dear friend. You spoke of a France where the Monarchy is not irreconcilably hostile to freedom, where the Monarchy is elected by the people and for the people. As children we spoke of this, but now, my friend, this needs to become a reality. We can make a radical change. It starts with us; we will be the spark that will ignite the Revolution! We speak of a transformation; I say it is upon us! Let the winds of change fan the flames as to consume the corrupt bureaucracy that has been in power far too long!

These nights I stay up deep into the witching hour; writing letters, drafting documents and bringing people together. Camille, I propose that we form a society of like-minded individuals. Every change starts with a few, but we need to take action and that means we need people that can help. Together we can make a difference.

And Camille, we are not the only ones that are beginning to grow weary of the inaction. Have you had the chance to peruse the “Petition of Women of the Third Estate to the King?” Women from all over France wrote this, my friend –

The women of the Third Estate are almost all born without wealth; their education is very neglected or very defective: it consists in their being sent to school with a teacher who himself does not know the first word of the language [Latin] he teaches. They continue to go there until they can read the service of the Mass in French and Vespers in Latin. Having fulfilled the first duties of religion, they are taught to work; having reached the age of fifteen or sixteen, they can earn five or six sous a day. If nature has refused them beauty they get married, without a dowry, to unfortunate artisans; lead aimless, difficult lives stuck in the provinces; and give birth to children they are incapable of raising. If, on the contrary, they are born pretty, without breeding, without principles, with no idea of morals, they become the prey of the first seducer, commit a first sin, come to Paris to bury their shame, end by losing it altogether, and die victims of dissolute ways. 

Do you see, Camille! The time to strike is now! 

I have a dream for a new France, my friend, and I am now of the opinion that our vision for this magnificent nation has become more than a pipe dream.

My fondest hope is that one day I will see it with my own eyes – and this day is coming, I promise you.

Sincerely,

Georges-Jacques Danton

Socials Assessment

  • Describe your selected section of the unit and what you understand to be the main idea at the heart of understanding it.

Emma Field, Aidan MacDonald and I researched, analyzed, synthesized and presented information on Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard Cromwell. We covered their roles in history, their impact on the English Civil war and (hopefully) generated discussion/introspective thought on the morality of their actions during the 1600’s.

  • Considering your own presentation, as well as those of others:
    • What are you proud of contributing to your group and the class’ understanding of your topic?

The Fajber-Field-MacDonald Trifecta (FFMT, for short) was quick to decide on our course of action with regards to this assignment: we all agreed to make a song. After further discussion, it was proposed and then agreed upon that we would additionally create and present a timeline chronicling the life and times of the Cromwells, therefore putting all our information into a more accessible format.

We split the timeline into three sections, and the song was created in a 6 hour writing/recording session that used materials such as: video-cameras, Aidan’s laptop, excessive amounts of Chai Tea Latte, and repetitive vocal support on the part of Emma and Aidan that I was to be the lead singer.

    • How would you alter or improve your group / class participation to ensure better understanding of your topic in future units?

FFMT was the best quad in TALONS history. ‘Nuff said.

In all seriousness, we worked very well together.

With regards to class participation…

I have been undertaking a vigorous mental exercise that has doubled as a thought experiment; for the past month or so in the TALONS room I have been endeavoring to speak less and to listen, truly listen, more. The catalyst for this change in classroom behavior was a discussion we had during the Wiki section, where Vanessa’s diplomatic chops caused me to re-evaluate the impact I was having on discussions.

Being quieter was a rather fascinating thing to try and do, really, and over spring break I have had a lot of trouble putting these thoughts into words. The conclusion that I drew included, but were not limited to:

  • The TALONS, as a whole, are ineffective decision makers; however, this is because we are generally primarily concerned with hearing everyone out. That is not something that I wish to see change. Despite this, the lack of forward momentum which arises in most class discussions involving choice is a frustrating thing to observe without personally jumping in and doing what (I feel), would increase our effectiveness, and therefore our overall time we had left to do things.
  • Our class contains people that put their opinions forward, and those that choose not to. This seems like a surface assumption, but over these past few weeks I have had the opportunity to think about it a lot. I want to hear everyone’s opinion, but I feel a NEED to move things forward. I get physical pain in my chest when we use entire blocks for simple discussions; not because I think the discussion was unimportant, or unneeded, but because we could have discussed what we needed to speak about and then discuss what we wanted to speak about. That’s all. How this relates back to the idea of certain people choosing not to put their ideas forward… to reach our highest cohesive success, every TALONS needs the confidence to put their ideas forward, and the restraint to hold their ideas back. I can say now from experience that the latter is more difficult then one might think. This means that when you feel your thought is worth saying, you say it. No one can fault you. But when you are saying something for the sake of being heard or rehashing something that you or someone else is unhappy with, unfortunately you have to exercise your self-control. This was hard for me to initially understand (it seems we TALONS have very ingrained ideas and values of justice), ‘how can you let something happen when you could and should forward a better option?’. For In-Depth, my mentor, Jacob Gebrewold, had Emma and I read the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. It reads as such: You give up to go on.

It was an interesting thought experiment, and one I recommend to other people in our classroom that have the inclination to speak often and freely. Because of this self-imposed restriction during the course of this project I contributed less than I had the capacity to; however, I am glad that I took the opportunity to gain this new insight.

  • How should we as a class look to improve future experiments in collaborative unit planning / teaching / assessment? ”Ask and yea shall receive…”

I think the project was well-formed, cohesive, and excellent for learning retention (I will never forget ‘Black Tom’ from the English Civil War). The problem that I personally had was the time it took to get off the ground. I will not waste your time describing again my thoughts on our class discussions.

  • Other than your own section, describe an element of the unit which captured your interest.
    • What will you remember about it?

I could go into detail on almost every quad’s project (in my opinion everyone had a high calibre lesson) but I’d like to take this time to highlight the Risk game.

The Risk game was successful in what it was aiming to do: to have the TALONS class actively learning about the battles and scope of the English Civil War, all the while being engaging to (most of) the class. That’s no mean feat. The creators put a lot of thought into the game rules which was evident (food, special events, special units, etc.) but what really caused it to be effective was the evolutionary process it had over the course of the week it ran. Mr. Jackson pointed out how he was delighted to see that the Risk team was taking feedback and actually applying it; what may have been unsaid was how good an effect that had on the TALONS class. That constant change and recognition of feedback allowed it to go from a great, to an outstanding project.

    • How does it relate to your existing knowledge/feelings/assumptions about history and politics?

This unit is the entirety of my existing knowledge/feelings/assumptions about the English Civil War… but relating to modern day politics what struck me was how Mill-ian everyone was. The accepted school of thought was: For the Greater Good. Even the Parliamentarians who were fighting to put power into the common man’s hands subscribed to that belief.

  • Considering the entire unit (course material as well as collaborative unit planning and group work), what questions / issues did the English Civil War unit raise for you?

For me it was always about the morality of the actions taken by those in power. How did Cromwell manage to away with canceling Christmas? I’ve never fully agreed with the idea that power denotes corruption, but the English Civil War definitely supports that concept. It was a turbulent time filled with leaders that just took what they wanted (e.g. CROMWELL) and they became powerful for it.

Do the leaders of today follow the same principals of power that the leaders of yesterday did? Has the common man and woman gotten better at rejecting decisions they don’t agree with that are made by the powerful? How?

Food for thought, I guess.

  • Describe your daily engagement with the topics covered/discussed in class. Use examples of strategies and habits used in your daily studies.

High engagement in class. I really enjoyed this project and wanted to make the most of it, so I was doing my best to remain at a high level of engagement. At home, I will admit I was significantly less eager to do the daily readings and the review of my character for the court and everything else, too… but it paid off the end. Reading strategy #1: Write what you read, read what you wrote, and then compare what you read to what you wrote about what you read. Got it? Reading strategy #2: I do this all the time, actually… I pick a random song and then replace the lyrics with everything I just learned/read. You can’t forget Henrietta of France when you put her into a song, say, “Royals”…

 

  • How would you undertake a similar course of study to greater effect in the future? Aspects of this unit you would strive to duplicate or change to improve.

I would set aside a few minutes to make sure that groups weren’t doing the same thing. For example, two groups did songs. Nothing was wrong with either song, they were both excellent, in fact; however, repetition, no matter how well disguised is a contributor to boredom, and furthermore lack of engagement. A few minutes at the beginning to confirm that every group was using different media would have prevented that.

 

BIG QUESTION: Do you agree with the statement “Absolute power corrupts absolutely?” Why or why not?

No.

Studying the English Civil War gave me an interesting thought: 100’s of years ago, humans thought that humans were pretty great. They were pretty proud of themselves.

The idea that humanity is an unhealthy species appears to be a more modern opinion, and its interesting how quickly we jump to condemn ourselves. It is far easier to say that we are a disease, and appear wise, then it is to say we are strong, and appear arrogant.

So I ask forgiveness for my arrogance in this: I believe that we have limitless potential. It’s cheesy, yes, but there is something wonderful about the idea of infinite possibility. I reject “absolute power corrupts absolutely” because of this; I refuse to accept that no one has enough will-power to defy this old quote from a famous cynic.

….

Now I eat my words. With regards to the English Civil War, it seems as though Nietzche was right. King Charles, Oliver Cromwell, The Parliamentarians after Cromwell’s reign… no one really seemed to fit our classroom definition of “good guy(s).”

 

Socials: Mill’s Ideology

Mill’s Ideology in a nutshell could be defined by the statement: “For the Greater Good.” Why try to make peace with your warring neighbors when you can massacre most of them quickly and efficiently?

Afternoon TALONS will understand this meme without the need for explanation, but essentially, during a class discussion on ethics with regards to ‘insert sarcasm here’ the greatest humanitarian ever, Christopher Columbus; Emma, thinking no one would hear, quietly spoke: “It’s easier to just kill everyone.”

Now, because I don’t want Emma to be investigated because of the lack of vocal inflection in the written language, I’ll make sure I clearly state that she was not serious.

In our TALONS Social Studies *cough* Philosophy *cough* class I recently came across one of the more intriguing ethical dilemmas that history can throw at you: Is the mindset of accepting atrocities as the price for greater human progress still with us today?

To answer this question, I must first separate it into chewable bites.

1) What, in clearly defined terms, is this “Mindset?”, and

2) How do we (dis)prove that we have evolved from our oftentimes, seemingly barbaric roots?

The latter is rather difficult to address, however the former can be shown very cleanly by the piece of media above: “It’s easier to just kill everyone.” This statement demonstrates the disconnect between what I, and many others regard as moral (e.g. not aimlessly murdering), and the concept of efficiency = good.

Keeping that in mind, I can now examine whether that ideology of seeing atrocities as acceptable when needed, has changed since Columbus.

I understand I will not be fully accurate, especially seeing as I live as a privileged, white male who arguably has never experienced true hardship; but I shall remain a student of perseverance.

The reason it is difficult to find out whether or not we accept atrocities as: uncool, but okay if it brings us new stuff- is mainly that history is generally dehumanized. Howard Zinn futilely attempted to ignore the effect that examining the past has on the story itself, but to no avail. Bias leaks through, and the humanity of it always, always bleeds away. Despite remaining consciously aware that it is happening, you can read about the most awful events to ever occur in human history and feel less emotion than you would if you stubbed your toe.

“Those tears, that anger, cast into the past depletes our moral energy for the present.” -Howard Zinn

The past simply does not bring up the emotion that the present does, and so it is frustrating to answer Question #2 because you cannot examine history and identify the feelings that it conjures up. So you have to look at the present. Anyone can do this, in fact, I recommend that you attempt this for yourself in a second: really think about the world, think hard about something that is happening right now, or something that you could postulate happening in the future.

For example, think about the revolutions in the Middle East: does the deposition of corrupt governments justify the thousands, or tens of thousands of people that have died and are dying?

Or what if North Korea did actually initiate war instead of only threatening it? Personally I can’t see an outcome where North Korea emerges victorious, but again: does the reintegration of a culture back into the international world actually outweigh the lives lost, the families ruined, the homes destroyed?

When I think about these questions, I get angry because my answer seems to vary depending on how empathic I feel that day, which isn’t exactly ideal for when you want to write down something concrete.

But ultimately, the answer is something personal. So if you want to find out, close your eyes, do you best to imagine those scenarios, and feel.

And then take those feelings and dissect them with cold, hard logic.