Monday, January 31, 2011

Dictatus Papae

I hate to say this, but one thing that Facebook often lends itself to is a nattering lack of reflection.

I say this in a tone of rueful acceptance, mind you, not surprise or anguish.

It's a fucking "social network", after all.Generally I like to think that my selection of "friends" helps me avoid the "I'm picking out my toe jam! :-b" sorts of status updates; luckily I'm not bombarded with much of that sort of brain-destroying crap.Mostly the site does what it is supposed to do and provides me a sort of party line to check in with friends and chat about this and that. For all the handwringing about how the Evil Twitter, Facebook, and whatever other electronic media bete noir de jour are destroying civil society by substituting for "real human interaction", when you think about it these things are just replicating the slower means of distant communication humans have used since the beginning of literacy.

What is a "tweet" but a little postcard? What is a Facebook post but a short letter, a digital telegram, a typed-out phone call? "Having wonderful time, caught fish, weather fine. Come soon, Woosie."

I don't see how this happening in realtime, over a fiber cable, somehow makes the process dangerously antisocial. We've always enjoyed our long-distance relationships. Entire books have been published containing the epistolary friendships of pre-electronic times, when living a couple of tens of miles apart meant seeing each other once a year or so. People have always had ways of staying in touch with distant friends and lovers; these electronic means are just an adaptation of a very old gimmick, a quicker version of sending a house slave with a clay tablet to your brother and sister-in-law in Sumer.

But (and you knew there would be a but, didn't you?) to go with the advantages in celerity there is the disadvantage of brevity. If brevity is the soul of wit, it is the mother of inattention. A discussion limited to 420 characters isn't really much of a "discussion", and the one thing I find unlikeable about Facebook - I am not "on" Twitter and have no interest in doing so, since a tweet is even briefer than a Facebook post less informative, and thus more conducive to the ignorant-shouting sort of "communication" than Facebook - is that much conversation is necessarily brief and one-sided. A letter allows time and space for thought, and if two paragraphs are needed instead of one to dissect the issue they are there for the taking. The only limit is the paper and the patience of the writer, and reader.

Which may be the very heart of the matter. We as a culture are increasingly impatient; the notion of simply sitting and reading a letter - or a novel, or a long blog post - is becoming both difficult and challenging. Difficult because many of us are so busy, our days full of cascades of essential ephemera demanding our attention; challenging because our preferred style of prose is often simple and poorly suited to complex thought. While the text we read on paper or off the screen may be prolix the arguments are often crude, the exposition simplistic, and the argumentation circular or absent. So the quick declaratory statements of Facebook make us easier. We needn't marshal our overtasked intellectual reserve; the thinking is done for us.This has become a very roundabout introduction to a topic that emerged on Facebook the past week. Specifically, a friend of mine linked to this article in the New York Times discussing the falling out between the Roman Catholic bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, and a local formerly Catholic hospital.

It seems that the hospital in question performed an abortion on a woman who was in danger of injury or death if her pregnancy had progressed. The bishop, who had apparently warned the hospital that this sort of thing would put them outside Church law, used this surgery to sever the ties between the diocese and the hospital.

My friend was incensed. "Time to move into the 17th century, boys." is the way she put it. Another of her friends replied that the bishop had the right of it; that a "Catholic" hospital had the obligation to abide by church doctrine. Several more of us piled on and we had - especially for Facebook - quite a rousing little discussion. I don't think anyone's opinions were changed, but we at least got to hear a good bit from several sides on the matter.And the more I got to thinking about it, the more I found that I tend to believe in what I first said; that the bishop's job, if he were to be any sort of bishop and not a windsock for popular opinion, was to insist that the mother, as a Catholic or at least as the patient of a Catholic hospital, give her life for the life of her child in the same sense that a bishop would expect his priests to give their lives, if they had to, to ensure the lives, or the spiritual salvation, of those who depend on them.

His understanding of God's Will as expressed by his Holy Father should admit no less, and the tenets of his Church - an authoritarian organization whose fundamental nature is spelled out by the "Dictus Papae" (which includes such statements as "That of the pope alone all princes shall kiss the feet." and "That this (the Pope's) is the only name in the world.") - demand that those beneath him in the hierarchy submit to his interpretation of that Will.

That's cruelly hard. But religions in general ask us to put God first and ourselves afterwards; that's the nature of a religion, most religions. It's a feature, not a bug. Because of that demand religious faith can accomplish great things. Because of it faith can be the spark for horrible atrocities. The direction depends greatly on the nature of the person who "speaks" for the religion and the nature of those listening. But there is no promise that either the speaking or the reception will be beneficial and kind.

All we can only hope then is that our religions don't demand us to make choices that lead to suffering. But by their nature they can, and often do, and we can't really get one without the other, eh?

My bride, lovely woman that she is, is (if she only knew it) a classic American cafeteria Catholic. She has said that if she agrees with a doctrine, she would hew to it. If not, she would ignore it.

I can't do that or believe that.

To me the entire point of a religion - as opposed to a personal faith - is either accepting the doctrines of the religion or working to change them. But until they change, I don't thing that the adherent has an option to just ignore them.

Since I have yet to encounter a religion whose tenets I can accept without demur or disputation, I have no religion. Since I have yet to encounter a moment where my need to have an all-powerful Sky Daddy overpowers my skepticism of the entire notion, I have no personal faith, either. For good or ill, I am alone within my head when the moment for spiritual succor arrives.

And as ruthless as it is I wish that what happened to the hospital would happen more often. I wish that the Catholic Church, for example, would excommunicate people who use birth control, would stop granting annulments and force divorcees out of the laity. American Catholics haven't been forced to actually do what their church demands them to do for a long time. If they were, well, either the laity might change or the church might. Some people might find themselves alone as I do. Some may find that they can abandon themselves in order to have that Sky Daddy within them.

Either way, at least both sides would be consistent.

Because for me so long as a religion does not force itself into the public square and demand that people not its adherents adhere to its beliefs it should be true to itself. For some religions this is not a pretty or humane thing because by their nature they are not about the pretty and the humane but about the demands of a supernatural belief on a merely human soul.

This often makes them magnificent, grand, and terrible.

And it is perhaps the failure of my own soul that I would take the smallest common moment of human life; the sound of a sigh, the heat of a quarrel, the softness of a kiss, the breathless of lovemaking, the peace of a nap, the placid twilight of age, over all the magnificence and grandeur ever conceived.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Army I Knew: Reception

(This is me, with my two best college buddies, on the eve of graduation, June 1980. Guess which is which and get the no-prize...)I was free, college-educated, and twenty-three. And I had done what my parents expected of me; I had gone to college and earned a degree. And now it was time to do what I wanted.

So I reported to the old Philadelphia MEPS station on the 29th of December, 1980 with a small bag containing a clutch of toiletries, two changes of shirt, an extra pair of pants and an assortment of white athletic socks. The bus let me off near the City Hall downtown and I walked the right or so blocks to the "Military Entrance and Processing Station".

The MEPS is the first stop for every hunk of new meat, whatever the service or the destination. Most of them are driven in by their recruiters; I was unusual in that I wanted to arrive alone and said so. My recruiter, probably figuring that a 23-year-old college kid could figure out a bus schedule and a map, and happy to have one less cherry to drive around, gave me directions and a time that my intake would be scheduled to report that day.

I understand that the Philly MEPS has been moved out to the suburbs, some place like Essington, no doubt, where there are trees, the streets are clean and empty, and recruiters can get the kids mocha frappuchinos at Starbucks or some such thing. The old MEPS was in downtown Philly, a grim brick pile redolent of generations of youthful bravado and fear. It looked like the sort of place you went to pass through the portal taking you away from casual civilian softness; ugly, dark, dirty with the sort of engrained filth that no amount of mopping and scrubbing can cleanse.I went through the door and followed the comet-trails of kids in civvies, each one led by their recruiter, noting sourly that I had chosen poorly if sartorial elegance was my goal. The Navy swabs looked sharp in their peacoats and white caps, even their junior enlisteds piss-cutter smart in crackerjack blues with the dixiecup caps tipped at a knowing angle. They looked like walking fonts of carnal knowledge - no doubt every one of them had been laid repeatedly by swooning squid-groupies knocked on their backs by the salty manliness of the sailor suits.

The Marines were even worse; their NCOs wore the Class C uniform that sported a trim khaki shirt over dress blue trousers and the white cover. Their black shoes glittered like obsidian, their bold green stripes and riot of ribbon-bar colors mocked the sorrowful dark green of the Army guys, the latter looking like remainders in the toy soldier bin in their sack-like dress greens and foolish stiffened overseas cap (loathed and dreaded by all soldiers, the awful "cunt cap" was perhaps the worst Army headgear ever invented other than...we'll get to that later). Only the Air Force recruiters, in their silly light blue bus-driver outfits, looked less military but then, they were, you know...Air Force.

Regardless of hue, navy, khaki, green, and cerulian, all of us straggled into the smallish room and were chivvied into lines by our sheepdogs. Someone shouted "Attention!" and we drew ourselves up into a semblance of rigidity as a rather preoccupied-looking officer bustled in and stood behind a podium. He wasted no time; we were instructed to raise our right hands and to repeat that we solemnly swore (or affirmed) that we would support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that we would bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that we would obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over us, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so help us God.And we were the property of Uncle Sam.

I honestly don't remember much of the rest of the day. We must have been inspected physically, just in case, and we must have completed some paperwork. All I do remember is that by midafternoon a group of us were on a Greyhoundish sort of bus headed for our home for the next three months or so; Fort Dix, New Jersey.

Today the old post is a slip of itself, a reserve training post and mobilization center. But in the last days of 1980 it was still one of the Army's big BCT posts, home of two Training Brigades - the 5th, whose nickname I don't recall, and the 3rd, known on its signage and nowhere else as the "Pioneers". The place was overrun with soldiers. As we drove in and across the place they were running, or marching, or doing some incomprehensible things in orderly groups. You could hear the sound of chanted choruses that seemed right on the edge of our understanding. As we straggled off the bus at the newish Reception Station we were beginning to realize what we had done to ourselves.

But Army Basic hasn't changed all that much since the Forties; the first couple of days is spent teaching the poor fool simply how to stand in one place and move to another. Simple marching and rest positions, getting the trainees' heads readjusted to the idea that they can't just go where they want and do what they want anymore. The process wasn't very interesting, but it wasn't frightening or intimidating, either. We began to think that the war stories about Basic had been exaggerated just to spook us. We began to get organized, a little.

In 1980 this was still a little difficult. The Carter reforms of the "Volunteer Army" hadn't fully arrived. Several of the guys bunking in my bay in the REPO had been sent there as an alternative to jail; one, in fact, was congratulating himself for his business sense. The way he saw it, he was now supplier to the world's biggest customer base for weed.I don't remember a great, shocking transition between civilian life and Reception Station. Yes, we got up a little earlier than most of us were used to. The marching and standing at attention were a bit different but not unexpected; the REPO cadre were efficient and gruff but not frighteningly so. So by the time we were sorted out and bussed across post to our BT companies we had the beginnings, at least, the pocket change, of soldiering and thought we were well on the way to becoming salty old troopers.So when we arrived to the screaming, scrambling organized chaos of nightfall at Company A, 4th Battalion, Third (Basic Training) Brigade, we were unprepared for what would follow. We were still, in our heads, just civilians on an odd sort of employment, still thinking and moving at the casual pace and random direction of civilians. We really had no idea what soldiering entailed.

And that was about to change.

The Policeman's Lot Is Not A Happy One

From Cairo, have to wonder; what will he choose, when the time comes?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Jukebox: Inexplicable Affection Edition

Two videos I dearly enjoy for no real reason. First, from the terrific-named "Titus Andronicus", "A More Perfect Union" which has somethign to do with the U.S., or New Jersey, or Springsteen, or something which, frankly, I have no fucking idea......and the second IS about New Jersey, and it's one of those goofy novelty songs that you hear played once on FM radio during the "morning zoo" and you never hear it again. But, having driven the Garden State Parkway at night, I have a real fondness for the truthiness of this sonofabitch.Terrible sound quality, but that's kind of a Jersey thing too, innit?

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Burns Nicht

"There's nane that's blest of human kind,
But the cheerful and the gay, man,
Falala, la, la, (sotto voce: aye, etceteraa, ye bugger...!)

Here's a bottle and an honest friend!
What wad ye wish for mair, man?
Wha kens, before his life may end,
What his share may be o' care, man?

Then catch the moments as they fly,
And use them as ye ought, man:
Believe me, happiness is shy,
And comes not aye when sought, man."And before the night is over, may I be wishing you a very happy Robbie Burns Night? For all that I'm a just regular Yank, the blood of the great lairds (crofters, bandits, sheep-lifters, hedge-robbers, reivers, drunks, and generations of laborers, accountants, and itinerant soldiers) of Skye runs red in me veins. So from the Highlands of North Portland, may ye fare well this night, and may y'wake to a cuddle and a kiss?


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

State of my 'Net Union

I just couldn't face up to hearing the former junior Senator from Illinois explain how he was really, truly a moderate Republican. So I spent the evening with the family and looking for interesting oddities on the Interwebs.

Like this one: a woman in New Zealand is paralyzed by a hickey. Go Team Edward! What the hell was her inamorata thinking? Romance safety tip; when women say "Oh, my little snugglebottoms, you're so scrumptious I could eat you up!" she is speaking metaphorically. Do NOT attempt this.

Over at the ever-reliable Pink Tentacle, a collection of Japanese postcards from the turn of the last century to the late Forties. I was intrigued by the large number of "kewpie" variations, from kewpie as the Monopoly guy, kewpie soldiers, kewpie sumo...kewpie everything. The "kewpie doll"; talk about a monster fad that has been almost completely lost to memory.

I followed that lead from PT to various Web entries for kewpies and from there to a short article on the woman who created the little images, one Rose O'Neill, who once said that "Kewpie philosophy takes the unwieldliness out of wisdom, puts cheerio into charity and draws the fangs of philanthropy. I have put all of my love of humanity into this little image."

Well alrighty then.

She was a pretty terrific artist, as the illustration below testifies, in the Edwardian style. Very Whistler and Sargent, Arrow collars and picture hats, the tag-end pf the Gibson Girl days. Look at the delightfully scathing expression on her debutante; the woman could solid fucking draw, even if she turned her gifts to the Dark Side of Extraordinary Cuteness.Still, cute or no the kewpie story has a fairly unhappy ending. When the dolls and other kewpienalia fell out of pop culture in the mid to late Thirties the poor woman lost her shirt and died in what was then known as "straitened circumstances". Not what you'd expect for someone who put the cheerio into charity. And all that's left is the empty grin on the face of the doll. Rather a glum little story.

Although, personally, I think this 1940 card is much, much sadder. Being the daddy of an adorable little Asian tyke I couldn't help getting a bit chokey at the sight of this little Japanese air-raid warden with bright augite eyes, her fire bucket and mop, and her little "smoke resistant" headscarf. The characters on her bucket read "Bring It On". Really. That's what the Japanese thought was bravado at the beginning of WW2. A little girl with a "Bring It On" bucket against a sky full of B-29s pregnant with fire.Yeah. Fire raids.

Who knew?Just sad.

Here's something a bit more cheery; "Better Book Titles". My personal pash is the improved title for Kafka's "Metamorphosis": "A Bug's Life". Although "Ghost Dad" isn't bad for Hamlet. And then there's this one;

Okay, c'mon, admit it. Who doesn't love a love story?

For one of the more entertaining manga love stories on the Web, check out "Red String". Definitely the spunkiest, romantickest, most fun arranged-marriage-forbidden-love-tales-of-Tokyo-youth-written-by-a-woman-from-Voorhees-New-Jersey going. Check it out.

It doesn't hurt that the artist has a nice touch with the 少女漫画 (shojo manga) style, either. Here's a nice example featuring Miharu, her main character. Pretty, neh? And while I was chasing down references to the shojo genrve I ran across the fella who did this wonderful work back in the Thirties; Katsuji Matsumoto (松本かつぢ)

Here's a page from his Nazo no kurōbaa ((なぞ)のクローバー) - "The Mysterious Clover", one of the early shojo manga, from 1934. What's amazing here is the craftsmanship' the varying perspectives, the clean lines and attractive shapes, as well as the effective layout that pulls the eye along the story.Nice!

There's always something worth a look over at deviantart.

This made me think of my son's latest obsession; Battlefield Heroes. This easy online shooter game has a loopy cartoon sensibility, and the game is easy enough for a kiddo to enjoy but challenging enough to keep him wanting more. But I just liked the artist's appreciation of the incongruity of the tank commander with the sword (don't laugh - you see stuff like this in the steampunky sorts of fantasy gaming like Warhammer. Seriously. I shit you not)Forgotten about the damned politics already? Great! Then my work here is done.

See ya 'round the Net!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Horses of the Night

I've been up since five a.m., and it's nearly midnight; I left the house this morning in darkness and returned in the dark, and I have not seen my family waking for more than a full day.

This is not to complain; this is the life I've chosen. My work is demanding on my time but it returns it to me by giving me good, tough problems to solve, and difficult tasks to master. I love doing geology for a living, and I accept freely that this means that sometimes I will have to put my work before my family.The part about this that slips the blade-tip of guilt into the hollow place in my throat is that it's not always so difficult putting that work first.

Because the work, you see, is grown-up work, an adult's profession, and my day is spent with other adults, many of them other professionals and scientists. The demands are always there, but so are the limits.

And children are, by design, born with vast emotional boundaries that are the bright mirror of their early physical limitations. Long before they can walk they can run you down, pull you back on your heels, shake you from sleep, and food, diversion, dissipation, from money making and lovemaking.My friend B has written a good little article about this neutron star of need; I feel the painful jab of truth when she says;
"Never enough of those perfect moments to store in our memories forever, or time away to take mental breaks so we can be fully rested for the continued onslaught of cleaning, cooking, straightening, and serving the little tyrants we love."
Because at the same moment I am feeling overwhelmed by the relentless sameness of my children's days (how many mermaid/Star Wars games can you play? How many times can you walk the same path, visit the same pool, the same arcade, the same playground?) I can feel far away a vibration, almost a sound but just below the edge of hearing; the distant drumming of the hooves of the horses of the night.

Faust's night-horses; the frantic spinning of the earth around its pole, of the planet around the sun, that will take those child-days and put them away forever. The little boy and little girl I loved yesterday, that I took to the Nickel Arcade Sunday, that I cuddled with last week, will be carried away in the turning race of the night-mares and gone from me, forever.The little people who take their places are almost the same...nearly perfect replicas...but just that tiny bit older, that microcosmic fraction smarter, more skeptical, less candid with that confiding, loving openness of their baby-days. They are another day, another week, closer to being adults. Perhaps loving, hopefully wise...but never again the sweet-smelling hugs of seven, or the chuckling cuddles of four.

So while I desperately want to claim those moments when I can be with adults and be an adult...I desperately want to hold on to those little people, the ones who can be, as B puts it, like ice cream, both too rich and yet a rich delight, an embarrassment of riches, a surfeit of love and loving. Because when the courses are run, the ice cream will thin away and be replaced with a more complex and more mature concoction; more tart, a tad astringent, perhaps. Not worse, not better, just...different. And without the vanilla sweetness of childhood.

So I sit at the screen tonight and wonder at the hint of vanilla at the back of my tongue. The seeds of tomorrow are already planted tonight, they lie in the dark ground unfruited and yet already reaching towards the light, and childhood is going as the night-runners hasten towards the morning. What is it I regret, I wonder; that in the hastening darkness there is never enough of me, or never enough of them?

"Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon."

(from "Frost at Midnight" by Coleridge)

Friday, January 21, 2011


It's not raining at the moment, in the early morning hours, but the porch lights and streetlights are shining off the wet bitumen of Amherst Street. The ground, where I can see it, is dark with the cold rain of the previous day and the remaining leaves are stained and sodden. It is the dark time, the wet winter of the year in the Pacific Northwest.I've lived here in North Portland for ten years now, in Oregon for twenty, the longest I have lived any single place in my life. Admittedly, I was a vagabond from my infancy when my father moved about the country at the behest of his company, a oxford-shirted, narrow-tied salesman and manager for a chemical company, the embodiment of the Sixties corporate man. But this place is the one I chose, or, at least, my then-wife chose for us and I have continued on in. So I have no justification to complain about the winter rain.

And normally I don't. It rains here, it always has. Lewis and Clark noted that the natives of the Oregon Coast wore no clothing below the waist because it would have been constantly saturated in the winter, while they and their troops groused endlessly about the constant rain. But vinyl, rubber, fleece, and gore-tex are more weatherproof than leather, and we here are better protected than the soggy inhabitants of Fort Clatsop. For all that I work out-of-doors all through the winter I have no complaint for most of the rest of the year.

But the rainy dark of midwinter always seems different.In the short daylight between the turning of the sun-season in late December and the return of the first of spring in early March the rain seems grimmer, the sodden trees more dour, than they do in December or April; the former retains the lingering warmth of autumn, the latter holds the promise of spring. But January and February are all winter; dirty, wet, cold, a plodding round of long, raw nights and short, dank days. Chests congest, noses drip, fevers flare. Tempers shorten, tongues sharpen. I have no idea of the actual statistics, but I'll bet that all the domestic crimes spike in the dark months. Suicide, murder, battery...they all seem less unthinkable when the cold rain spits in your face and the sky lours about your head like a bad mood.

So I leave my bed and the warm, embracing scent of my sleeping beloved and sit by the light of the screen, to gaze out at the slick black street thinking of the darkness and the coming rain.


So we seem to be the domestic servants for a "Calico Tabby" (or Patterned Calico) domestic shorthair and a full solid (or "self" colored) black/ebony domestic longhair.It's always good to know whom you serve.Fascinating little cat chart, courtesy of Jezebel.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Ugly 'Merkin

It's late, I'm still at work, and I really need to get food, family, and sleep not neccessarily in that order, but before I logged out at work I was perusing the blogsphere and found this;
“The film is set in the 50s, I couldn’t have just had a landing strip! I had to grow the hair down there. But because of years of waxing, as all of us girls know, it doesn’t come back quite the way it used to. They even made me a merkin – a wig – because they were so concerned that I might not be able to grow enough.”

There are times when I am apalled at the horror that is mankind. War, murder, rape, genocide, syrupy coffee drinks, Uggs. And there are moments when I am stopped, mute, overwhelmed by the exuberant beauty that is the world and everything in it; birdsong, the unthinking caress, thunderstorms, a sleeping cat, blueberry cheesecake.But...merkins?

I cannot honestly decide what to think.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Decisive Battles: Ayacucho 1824

Ayacucho (or Battle of La Quinua) 9 DEC 1824Forces Engaged: South American rebel ("Patriot", "Independentist" or "Republican") forces - Eleven infantry battalions in three divisions;

Peruvian Division {Grand Marshal de la Mar} four single-battalion regiments: Peruvian Legion, 1o, 2o, 3o de Infanteria, 1,580 infantrymen;
1st Division (Colombian) {GEN Lara} three single-battalion regiments: Vargas, Vencedores, Rifle*, 1,700 infantrymen
2st Division (Colombian) {GEN Cordova} four single-battlion regiments: Bogota, Caracas, Voltigeroa (light infantry), Pichincha, 2,300 infantrymen;

for a total of 5,580 infantry.

(*Note: I believe that this may represent the Rifle Battalion of the British Legion, perhaps the only thing most Europeans know about the Wars of Independence. This unit has gained repute as much as anything from being the subject of numerous fictional and historical works in Great Britain - see "Sources" for the article by Ian Fletcher. By this time it is likely that many if not most of the soldiers in the unit were not English or Irish, but surely a handful at least must have remained. We'll talk more about these soldiers in a bit)

Cavalry Division {GEN Miller} Four very understrength "battalions" (seven squadrons) of cavalry: Junin Hussars (2 squadrons), Mounted Grenadiers (Columbia, 2 squadrons), Hussars (Columbia, 2 squadrons), Buenos Aires Mounted Grenadiers (Argentina, 1 squadron), for a total of about 200-300 troopers

Independentist artillery consisted of one cannon and its crew, probably less than fifteen gunners

A total of 5,780 all arms (although rather laughably in the case of the artillery) under GEN Antonio José de Sucre y Alcalá.

Spanish Royalist - Fourteen infantry battalions in three divisions:

Vanguard Division (GEN Valdes) four battalions: I/Imperial Alejandro*, I/Centro, I/Cantabria, I/Castro, about 1,500 infantrymen
First Division {GEN Monet} five battalions: II/Primero, II/Burgos, II/Guias (Legion Tacnena), II/Victoria, II/Infante, about 2,000 infantrymen
Second Division {GEN Villalobos} five battalions: I/Gerona, II/Gerona, I/Primero, II/Imperial Alejandro, Fernando VII, about 2,000 infantrymen

for a total of about 5,500 infantrymen

Cavalry Division {GEN Ferraz} twelve squadrons: Horse Grenadiers of the Guard (2 squadrons), Fernando VII Hussars (3 squadrons), La Union Dragoons (3 squadrons), Peruvian Dragoons (2 squadrons), San Carlos Horse (1 squadron), Halbardiers of the Viceroy (1 squadron), probably about 500-800 cavalry

Royalist artillery organization is unclear. The order of battle lists 14 cannon and their crews under a GEN Cacho but I cannot find any unit breakdown below this; it is possible that the Royalist cannon, being the most poorly supported arm in the Royal colonial army, were simply grouped in a single battalion. Assuming a crew of 10-15 per cannon the Royalists probably fielded roughly 300 artillerymen.

A total of between 6,300 and 7,000 all arms under the last Viceroy of Peru, José de la Serna e Hinojosa, primer conde de los Andes.

(*Note: Spanish infantry units appear to have been multiple-battalion regiments, and most of the units at Ayacucho included both of the battalions, although for some reason de Serna brigaded the battalions in separate divisions. The battalion number is indicated by the Roman numeral to the left of the diagonal, and the regiment by the name to the right. So "I/Imperial Alejandro" represents the First Battalion of the regiment named "Imperial Alejandro".

The Sources: When researching Ayacucho what struck me forcibly is how utterly impossible it is to access the simplest information in English about the South American "Wars of Liberation" period (roughly the first quarter of the 19th Century: more on which below). I tried online and found the Wiki entry (the usual first stop) to have been originally written in a language other than English (presumably Spanish) and then translated by someone with good but not fluent English skills. This has produced some extremely cryptic results. How does one interpret, say,
"The mechanism organized by Canterac foresaw that the vanguard division surrounded, alone, the enemy gathering, crossing Pampas river in order to secure the units to the left of Sucre."
Far from clear, both grammatically and militarily.

Obviously the original sources are in Spanish, and I suspect that given the precarious situation of the South American revolutionaries, like most revolutionaries, much official sources such as regimental returns, supply and quartering documents (if they were ever kept) were lost, or have been lost. In particular the Royalist forces, at the end of a very long supply line (and a Spanish one, at that) and poorly supplied to begin with, are likely to have gone without the usual forms and returns delightful of scriveners since Marius' day. What little that has been translated appears to be available only in hardcopy.

Most of the information on the Wars of Independence on-line is found on wargaming sites; although this site has a nice politico-military summary of the wars originally published in 1912. The website "Liberators!" has some details of the wars, while for those interested in the real-life Richard Sharpes there is this nice little summary of the British Legions by Ian Fletcher. During my research I noted that much of the on-line sources are inactive or incomplete, the most disappointing being perhaps the "Regimientos de America" website, most of which is "under construction" or just unavailable.

You will also have to look hard for a good general history of the period. The most approachable I have discovered is "The Buried Mirror", a rather novelized history by the Mexican writer (and, not surprisingly, novelist) Carlos Fuentes. Nicely illustrated, and easy to read, but very cavalier with detail and a trifle breezy for a useful military history. Still, well worth the time.

The armies of the period are similarly scanted, although as usual the people at Osprey have produced a volume on the Independentist forces, "The Armies of Bolivar and San Martin" containing a brief history of the wars, uniforms, orders of battle, and some references. Perhaps the most complete work is John Lynch's "The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826" (2nd Ed.) published by W.W.Norton back in 1986, It is out of print by available at Amazon, among others.The Campaign: You could probably trace the origin of the Battle of Ayacucho back into the 16th Century, but the revolts, rebellions, and revolutions that culminated on the plain of La Quinua had two main wellsprings; a related group of prefacatory causes and two immediate causes.

The prefacatory causes included the Bourbon Reforms, economic tensions, and the examples of the Atlantic Revolutions.

The Reformas Borbónicas were implemented after the Spanish Bourbons replaced the last of the Hapsburgs at the beginning of the 18th Century. Since the founding of the Spanish American colonies in the mid-16th Century the American-born aristocrats, the Criollos, creoles, had gained position, wealth, and power in the colonies. This privilege was threatened by the replacement of the colonial corregidores by a royal intendant directly responsible to the Escurial (the Spanish Crown), not to the viceroys and other local officials in the colonies. Almost all of the new intendants were Peninsulares, Spanish born. This extended to the colonial courts as well, where by 1807 twelve of ninety-nine judicial appointments were held by creoles.This guy, by the way, is Ferdinand VII, the Bourbon in particular who was hanging about the Escurial when all this fighting took place. Looks nasty, doesn't he, like the sort of person who probably picked his nose as a kid and gives women passersby the sort of looks that make them feel squicky? Well, he was a pretty rotten piece of work, as you'll see. But let's move on to talk about more prefacatory causes.

Like their cousins to the North, the South Americans were irate about taxes, especially when the new Bourbon intendants began to make collection more efficient. Several revolts, one in the Viceroyalty of New Granada (the present northwestern tier of South America which includes Columbia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador) and another in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, shook the Spanish colonial administration in the 18th Century.The American Revolution started South Americans it picked their pockets, the Spanish government jacking up taxes to pay for the help they provided the American rebels. Then the French Revolution added to the colonists' impatience with their royal master; the world seemed an increasingly large place to be constrained by old ties to the "mother country."

But the immediate causes of the Wars came less than a decade into the new century. First, the British attempted to seize several ports on the east coast of the southern cone. The British Army attacked and occupied Buenos Aires in the winter of 1806 (June, which is winter in Argentina, remember). The Spanish viceroy fled with the treasury, the local Spanish aristos welcomed the invaders, but after 46 days the local creoles counterattacked and overwhelmed the Brits, who retreated to the Royal Navy squadron offshore.The now cock-strong creoles tossed out the viceroy, put on of their own in his place, and raised local troops to protect themselves, since the Spanish Crown had protected them for squat. In the summer of 1807 (February), a now-reinforced British expedition attacked and occupied Montevideo, and the following July sent a detachment to take Buenos Aires. After six weeks of fighting in which half of the British forces were killed or wounded, Argentine and Paraguayan militias forced the British to capitulate and withdraw.

This taste of local war did several things. It impressed on the local notables in the Viceroyalties of Rio de la Plata and Peru that the "mother country" wasn't in the running for Mother of the Year. It caused them to organize the first domestic military forces on the continent. And it gave them a taste for self-government.

And then in 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain.The overthrow of the Bourbon Spanish crown didn't break the ties between Spain and its colonies. But they were weakened, and the "Junta of Seville" that claimed sovereignty over the overseas empire because of the place the city had as an origin for the colonial trade was not likely to inspire the same loyalty. Local "juntas", governing councils, began to arise in the colonial states. And when the provisional government of Spain - the "Supreme Junta" itself was dissolved in 1810, well, it was the devil to pay and no pitch hot.

1810-1814 - Debatable Land

For the first four years South America was a mess of little wars everywhere. Poor farmers in the countryside fought urban elites. In the Venezuela part of New Granada,a Spanish immigrant named José Tomás Boves took the "Llaneros", a bunch of mestizo cowboys over to the royalist side by promising to destroy the white creole landowners. But Boves typically ignored actual Spanish officials and really didn't give uno ano de rata about restoring the royal government, choosing instead to keep real power to himself and his buddies.

In the backcountry of Upper Peru, the republiquetas allied with hick gentry and the indios - the pure natives living in rural squalor - but couldn't muster the force to take the major cities.

The fighting in this period had as much to do with class and racial differences as either a love for king or independence. But atrocities mounted and the lines began to harden.

Simón Bolívar proclaimed "war to the death" for New Granada, but this meant that royalist creoles would be purposely spared but even neutral Peninsulares would be butchered. This was the sort of thing that produced the Boves and the llanero sorts on the other side.

So the early years were a typical civil war; political causes could be tossed aside just as easily as they were picked up - Boves' llaneros became independentists once the aristos and cities went royalist after 1815!

So things were fairly unsettled when the French were driven out of Spain in 1814 and the Bourbons returned.

1815-1820 - A Splash of Bourbon

By 1815 the general military picture looked like this:

- In northern South America, Francisco de Paula Santander, Simón Bolívar, Santiago Mariño, Manuel Piar and José Antonio Páez, fought conventional battles in the Orinoco River basin and along the Caribbean coast. They received aid from Dutch Curaçao and anti-royalist Haiti.

- In Upper Peru, guerrilla bands controlled the isolated, rural parts of the country but the cities were held by the Spanish

- The bulk of the former Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata; present Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and parts of Peru, were held by the patriots/Independentists.

When Ferdinand VII was restored he realized that he had the support of the nobility and the Church and dismissed the Cortes (the Spanish legislature), abrogated the Constitution, and ordered the arrest of liberal leaders on May 10, 1814. He restored the Old Bourbon Order: the former laws, institutions and promised to convene a Cortes in the old, conservative form with separate houses for the clergy and the nobility.

This was a clean break with both the autonomous South American governments like New Granada and Rio de la Plata (even though they had not declared formal independence), and with many in the areas not yet beginning to separate - Quito, Peru, Upper Peru and Chile. Many in these regions had held on to the hope that the "new", now-dissolved Cortes that would fully include the overseas possessions and provide an alternative to independence.

Ferdinand's moves didn't send waves of patriots into the tules; most of those already set on independence were fighting for Bolivar or the others already. What they did do was set areas that were outside of the control of the crown on the path to full independence.
"The governments of these regions, which had their origins in the juntas of 1810, and even moderates there, who had entertained a reconciliation with the crown, now saw the need to separate from Spain, if they were to protect the reforms they had enacted."
In 1815 the Escurial dispatched an expeditionary force to pacify the rebellious northwestern partion of South America; 10,500 troops under GEN Morillo. During this period royalist forces retook most of New Granada and Chile.One reason for the effectiveness of the Royalist forces was the narrow appeal of the patriot rebellion. The creoles were terrified more of an uprising from below - of the negro and indian peasants - then of vengeance from the king above. So many New Granadans of the poorer and duskier sort were happy to join the King's troops in robbing, raping, and murdering the creole betters.

But early 1816, Morillo changed his tactics from promises of liberty to slaves and land to the poor to terror. His forces began executing anyone suspected of thinking bad things about the King and he installed something with the delightfully Kafkaesque name of the "Tribunal of Purification" along with a Board of Confiscations.You get the idea.

This violent repression started pushing the poor and religious over towards the rebels. When Bolívar returned from Haiti at the end of 1816 he was ready to start dealing.

The other factor in the close of the Royalist feast days was the "southern cone". What is today's Argentina and the Guays (Para- and Uru-) were never reconquered. In Argentina one José de San Martín, a Spanish Peninsular War vet, became the governor of the Province of Cuyo. In the Royalist advance three armies from the Río de la Plata had gone to take Upper Peru.

Three armies had gotten their Argentinian asses whipped.

San Martín, a brilliant organizer as well as a competent commander, put together what would become the "Army of the Andes". In the high summer (January) of 1817 San Martín did a "Saint Bernard Pass", leading the Army over the Andes, well, over the Andes and into Chile. He descended on the unprepared royal garrisons of north and central Chile and controlled that littoral by February. He assembled a fleet (commanded by a British naval officer, Thomas Cochrane), and Chile was secured and declared independence by 1818.Meanwhile Simón Bolívar assembled a scrubby mix of Llanero guerrillas, New Granadan infantry and cavalry, and the British mercenary Legions. In midwinter (June to July) 1819, using the rainy season as cover, Bolívar led his army across the flooded plains and over the high passes of the Andes (almost a quarter of the Brits and his llanero cowboys died of exposure) and seized Bogotá in a coup de main. He also bagged the royal treasury, and gained the support of many in New Granada, still smarting from the harsh reconquest of Morillo.

By the end of 1819 had formed the beginnings of the new nation of "Gran Colombia". San Martín was consolidating his hold on Chile and eyeing Peru. But, though they did not know it, at that very moment Ferdinand VII was, like the evil Emperor in Star Wars, Strike Back!

1820-1824 - The Spanish Are Revolting!

Ironically, what saved the new nations was neither Bolívar's boldness nor San Martín's thoroughness but Ferdinand's nasty authoritarian streak, which infuriated a young officer by the name of Rafael de Riego.

Colonel Riego was the commander of the Asturias Regiment of infantry, then in Cadiz as part of a 5,000-man expeditionary force preparing for embarkation for the Western hemisphere. Riego was something of a liberal, and he had likely been stewing over the abrogation of the 1812 Constitution.

Finding the officers of the Asturias of a like mind, the colonel led his troops into the streets, and found the other battalions disposed to riot. The disorder spread, and by March Ferdinand was forced to grant the restitution of the Constitution and promised to accept other liberal reforms. In fact, the episode was just the beginning of a nasty little civil war that culminated in a second - this time successful - French invasion of Spain, a viciously nasty Bourbon ratissage and mass murder of the constitutional faction, and a return to absolute monarchy that eventually led to the Carlist Wars and the destruction of what remained of Spanish imperial power and much of Spain itself.But that is, indeed, Another Story.

What the revolt and failure of the Cadiz Expedition did was end hopes of reinforcement from the Peninsula. Bolívar got news of the collapse of Cadiz expedition early in the year and spent the rest of 1820 preparing a campaign against Venezuela.

By the end of the year it was pretty obvious that the Royalist cause had been hammered by the lack of reinforcements and the mess erupting in Spain. Individual Royalist soldiers, and even entire units, began to rally to the Patriots in large numbers or just run off into the countryside.

Another, and perhaps a more severe, problem that stemmed from this was the cutoff of new Spanish troops. The graph below shows what happened fairly clearly; "peninsular" Spaniards make up between a fourth and a fifth of the Royalist forces in the early 1820s. These guys could be counted on, if they wanted to stick around at all, to fight for their King against the locals. But lose them and you have to recruit the locals, and their loyalities were, at best, more shakeable. By Ayacucho the number of home-bred Spaniards is down to 1 percent, not enough to make any real difference.On 28 JAN 1821, the ayuntamiento of Maracaibo chose to join the new nation state of Gran Colombia as an independent republic.

This kicked off a new round of open war, which culminated in the Battle of Carabobo on 24 JUN 1821. This, which we'll talk about in June of this year, was a decisive defeat for the royalists and effectively ended the reconquest in the north. With this victory the Gran Colombian forces took control of Venezuela.

In the south one José de la Serna had deposed the viceroy of Peru early in 1821.

This de la Serna sounds like he was a complete dick; he seemed to spend as much time fighting with other Royalists as with the Independentists, but that might also have been the effect of the civil unrest in Spain. San Martín negotiated with him for half a year, with the patriot position strengthening and the royalist weakening the entire time, until La Serna abandoned Lima to retreat to what he considered better positions in the mountains around Cusco.

Meanwhile, Bolívar sent an army under Antonio José de Sucre to take Quito and after the Battle of Pichincha 24 MAY 1822, Sucre's troops took Quito (now Ecuador).

However, for the next two years two Independentist armies were destroyed trying to breach the Royalist Final Redoubt in the high Andean parts of Peru and Upper Peru. The stalemate continued into early 1824, when La Serna had a falling out with GEN Pedro Antonio Olañeta

At this time the entire Royalist army of Upper Peru (today's Bolivia) rioted. This festival was led by Olañeta, who was a "conservative" (that is, a partisan of Ferdinand). But why would a royal officer rebel against La Serna, who was leading royal troops against the rebels?

You see, when the French invaded and Ferdinand VII declared himself Grand Imperial Pooh-bah of Spain again, he decreed that everything approved during the last three years of constitutional government was illegal - which annulled the designation of La Serna as viceroy of Peru.

La Serna, who seems to be some sort of "constitutional" or "liberal", sent 5,000 troops against Olañeta and his men and between 22 JAN and 17 AUG the two factions fought four engagements; Tarabuquillo, Sala, Cotagaita, and La Lava. Both factions were devastated.

Bolivar, no fool, proceed to maneuver against Cusco. He spanked a Royalist force under de Canterac on 6 AUG 1824. By October the patriots were knocking on the gates of Cusco, Bolívar turned things over to GEN Sucre and returned to Lima to reorganize the army and fund-raise.

La Serna. meanwhile, suddenly realized that the Patriot forces were going to take him like the wild beast took the farm wife; by surprise and from behind. He pulled his forces, what were left, together, recalling GEN Valdés from Potosí, and hastily impressed as many of the locals as he could.

This wasn't really all that effective. The chart shows the dramatic decline in the number of "peninsular" Spaniards in the Royalist forces - less the 1% by Ayacucho - and these men were the only ones truly reliable in battle. But needs must, and so La Serna marched out to maneuver against the Patriot forces while his sergeants labored to make soldiers of the indians they had been provided just weeks before.

And the amazing this is - they did. On 3 DEC 1823 La Serna fell on the Patriot army as a place called Corpahuaico (or Matará, which is which is unclear).

I can find no details of this engagement but the Royalists must have given the Patriots on hell of a beating, because Sucre's force is said to have lost more than 500 killed and wounded as well as most of their artillery for a cost of 50 royalist soldiers. Sucre managed to prevent a rout, apparently, mostly by choosing good ground that prevented the larger Royalist force from encircling or turning his little force. But he seems to have had to burn up one of his best units, the Rifle Battalion of the Colombian Army, whose British, Irish, and other war veterans fought their last time at Corpahuico.But the little engagement had cost the royalists, too. La Serna had had to use up a lot of powder, shot, and other supplies. Now he was losing his raw troops badly to desertion, altitude sickness and other diseases, and his food supply was running short. He found a strong defensive position on the heights of Condorcunca ("condor’s neck" in Quechua). But he had five days' rations and intel that Columbian reinforcement would mean slow starvation and disaster. For now he had the advantage in numbers, and nothing to gain by delay.

The Battle of Ayacucho was about to begin.

The Engagement: The Royalist army opened the ball by moving non-tactically down to the north towards the plateau before Quinua where the Patriot army waited some time between daylight and early forenoon; I have no time recorded for the opening maneuver.The Royalist plan was for GEN Valdes Vanguard Division to lead off, as the name implies, deploying to the Royalist right with the four battalions in line supported by two squadrons of cavalry and six cannon.

The next in line to debouch was supposed to be the center - five infantry battalions of the First Division of GEN Monet supported by most of the cavalry; the Dragoons of La Union and the San Carlos Horse, the Mounted Grenadiers of the Guard and five cannon.

The trail element was the Second Division (GEN Villalobos), supported by single squadron of the Halbardiers of the Viceroy, and, presumably, the remaining three cannon.

Presumably La Serna intended his force to remain within supporting distance until their deployment was completed and presumed that the outnumbered patriot force would stay on the defensive until the maneuver was performed, but in this he was either badly misinformed of the capabilities of his and the enemy troops or simply overoptimistic in his planning, because the participants all recount that Sucre quickly realized the opportunity afforded by the royalists' straggling march downhill and ordered his forces forward.The worst damage was done on the royalist left/patriot right, where the 2nd (Colombian) Division of Córdova, with the patriot cavalry in support, moved forward in attack column and simply overran the Royalist left.
"Colonel Joaquín Rubín de Celis, who commanded the first royalist regiment (tasked to) protect the artillery...which was still loaded in its mules, moved forward carelessly into the plain where his unit was smashed and he himself was killed during the attack of the Córdova’s division..."
The remaining units of the Second Division were apparently smashed in this assault, as it disappears from the further accounts of the day; no doubt the inexperience of the green troopers of the royalist infantry had something to do with this collapse.Seeing the left overrun, GEN Monet pushed his First Division across the ravine that spanned the royalist center and right and attempted to turn the attacking Columbians from their left. This forlorn hope - Monet managed to form only two of his five battalions - was predictably overwhelmed by the advancing Colombians; GEN Monet was wounded and three of his staff killed as the royalist center disintegrated in turn.

The large cavalry contingent supporting the First Division attempted to save the unit from rout but this attack was halted by a combination of disciplined fire from the patriot infantry and the charge of the Independentist cavalry. The main body of royalist cavalry was badly mishandled and began to come apart as well.

The left the Vanguard Division, which faced de la Mar's Peruvian Division and Lara's 1st. The royalists had been the first down the hill and had deployed without difficulty but had been forced to shake out into attack formation to storm an isolated house or estancia that was held by no more than several companies of patriot light infantry. This delayed the Vanguard advance until after the destruction of the royalist left and center; by the time Valdés’ troops were making headway against the fortified place Córdova’s Colombian division had joined the other two against the remaining formed troops on the royalist right.La Serna attempted to rally his troops while his deputy, GEN Canterac himself committed the three-battalion reserve. The Wiki diarist records that
"...however, (the )Gerona battalions were not the same that won in the battles of Torata and Moquegua, because during Olañeta’s rebellion they had lost almost all their veterans and even their former commander Cayetano Ameller; this troop, composed by recruits forced to fight, scattered before facing the enemy, and Ferdinand VII battalion followed, after a feeble resistance."
By 1300hrs Viceroy de la Serna had been wounded and captured, and although the Vanguard Division of Valdés continued to resist, making a fighting retreat to the high ground to his rear the Battle of Ayacucho was effectively over. When the Royalist force assembled on the heights it consisted of a rump division and about 200 cavalry. GEN Valdés and GEN de Canterac, the remaining Royalist commanders, realized that they were in an untenable position; vastly outnumbered, their remaining soldiers morally broken, and days from support with little or no provisions to supply a retreat.They capitulated. Patriot losses are said to have come to about 400 killed and 600 wounded. Royalist casualties are reported to have come to about 1800 dead and 700 wounded.The Outcome: Decisive Patriot/Independentist victory.

Ayacucho marks the end of organized Royalist resistance to the independence movement in Spanish South America. Our man Olañeta, pig-headed Royalist bastard to the end, held out until March in the mountainous region around Potosí. He started with four battalions of regular infantry; I/Union, I/Chichas, and I/ and II/Ferdinand VII, but by February, 1825 both the latter had mutinied. The royalist cause had one last hurrah; a cavalry engagement at Chuquisaca on 22 FEB 1825. But by this point the end was in sight.

But down to two battalions and a ragged tail of cavalry it was over when the I/Chichas mutinied and attacked Olañeta's remaining supporters of the Union Battalion at Tumusla on 2 APR 1825. Fortunately for the overwhelmed Royalist soldiers Olañeta was killed there, and the remaining Spanish troops surrendered five days later.

The Impact: The direct impact was the closure of the Independence Wars of South America. The Viceroyalty of Upper Peru became the nation of Bolivia in the winter of 1825. By the new year of 1826 not a Spanish intendant, garrison, or official remained on mainland South America; the Spanish colonies in the Americas were reduced to what they were on the day the Spanish-American War began, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

But for the new nations of South America in many ways the troubles were just beginning.For one thing, fifteen years of war had done a lot of wrecking in societies and economies that were fairly fragile to begin with. Without the Escurial to engineer a trade bloc the underpopulated new nations provided little incentive for trade within the continent. Spanish protectionism AND subsidies ended; many South American industries but particularly textile production were permanently damaged and foreign imports beat out local production. This hammered the Native communities which specialized in supplying finished products the South American urban markets using pre-industrial techniques. Without a European demand for minerals silver production in Bolivia after 1825 dropped to half its pre-war levels, and in Mexico it dropped to a quarter.

And the timing was as bad as it could be; the Napoleonic Wars had just ended and the global economy was recovering and aggressively seeking new markets. The new South American nations could only connect to the world markets as a Third World raw-material supplier, and finished goods from the northern hemisphere cost more than the raw materials payed.One great achievement was abolition. With the Spanish encomienda system destroyed the new countries moved relatively quickly and ended chattel slavery; the entire continent was free ten years before the United States tore itself apart to take the same step.

But other political moves were not as fortunate. The combination of Spanish absolutism, social stratification, the continued grip on power of large landowners and churchmen, and, especially, the authority seized by force during the wars, produced very volitile and unstable political systems.The resultant creature, the caudillo, would trouble South America from the day after the battle we've just discussed down to this very moment. Nowhere in South America is the tradition of civil government, of peaceful transition between parties, secure from the threat of caudilloism.

In that respect the dead hand of the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons remains clutched around the heart of South America today, 186 years after the last battalions to fight for the Royal cause were shattered on the plain before Ayacucho.

Touchline Tattles: Interestingly, the disaster at Ayacucho has produced its own "Dolchstoßlegende". Apparently one Juan Carlos Losada claimed that the entire battle was a put-up job, and a conspiracy between La Serna, filthy liberal that he was, and Sucre, to fake an engagement and give Bourbon Fred his conge'. Losada says: "los protagonistas guardaron siempre un escrupuloso pacto de silencio y, por tanto, sólo podemos especular, aunque con poco riesgo de equivocarnos” - "The protagonists forever after guarded their pact of silence and, therefore, we can only guess, but with small chance of error on our part."

The memoirs of Andrés García Camba recounts that the Spanish officers of Ayacucho were accused of treachery upon their repatriation to Spain. The liberal leanings and sinister Masonic connections of La Serna were evidence, claimed the accusers, that "The "little business" of Ayacucho was a "Masonic" defeat!".To which the battered "ayacuchos" could only reply wearily "The "little business" was lost, my general, in the same way all battles are lost."