Quote of the Day

“Quick decisions are unsafe decisions.”


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Quote of the Day

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Mahatma Gandhi

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The Battle of Bunker Hill

Historical content on this blog has been scarce lately.


It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with history, it’s just that I’ve been waiting for inspiration to strike.

And strike it did.

My recent trip to the United States provided me with some excellent opportunities to explore sites and learn about history that I was not previously familiar with – not in any real sense, anyway.

There is something to be said for standing in a historically significant location and imagining the events of centuries past. Previously, Old World locations like Rome, Athens, Pergamon and Volubilis were the settings for such bouts of introspection.

The Bunker Hill Monument (at Breed's Hill). (c) Ethan Reilly, 2014.

The Bunker Hill Monument (at Breed’s Hill). (c) Ethan Reilly, 2014.

This time though, it was Boston.

The capital of Massachusetts proved to be one of my favourite cities, and a large part of that was thanks to the wealth of history on show.

On one of the days that we were there, my girlfriend and I took a Freedom Trail walking tour that covered many locations significant to the American Revolution, including the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, and at the very end, the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Fought in 1775AD during the earliest stages of the American Revolution, the battle was just one engagement in the almost year-long Siege of Boston, when the Colonial forces sought to force the withdrawal of the British garrison from the (then) peninsula town.

The actual battle took place across the narrow waters separating Boston from Charlestown though, and, in one of those surprisingly common historical misconceptions, had little to do with Bunker Hill in the end, since the majority of the action took place on the adjacent Breed’s Hill.

"Array of American Forces on the Field at the Battle of Breeds Hill" (c) Charles E. Frye. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

“Array of American Forces on the Field at the Battle of Breeds Hill” (c) Charles E. Frye. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Things got under way on June 13, when the Colonials surrounding Boston learnt that the British were planning to occupy the heights above Charlestown, thus giving them effective control of Boston Harbour and further nullifying their attempts at sieging the British out.

Determined that the no-man’s land on the Charlestown peninsula should be under their control instead, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress despatched General Israel Putnam, Colonel William Prescott and Engineer-Captain Richard Gridley, with approximately 1200 men, to capture and fortify Bunker Hill, the highest point on the peninsula. Once there though, the Colonials disagreed over whether they should obey their orders to the letter or instead fortify the heights of Breed’s Hill, which was closer to Boston and more easily defensible.

In the end, they chose (if the confusion and anarchy that the Colonial forces exhibited thereafter can be called a ‘choice’) Breed’s Hill, and began digging trenches and building fortifications.

When the British learned of what was happening, they responded (albeit somewhat sluggishly). Artillery began to bombard the Colonial positions and later, after the Revolutionaries had had over six hours to prepare their fortifications, a force of 1500 men under General William Howe travelled across in longboats and landed on the peninsula at Moulton’s Point.

Statue of Colonel William Prescott at the Bunker Hill Monument. (c) Ethan Reilly, 2014.

Statue of Colonel William Prescott at the Bunker Hill Monument. (c) Ethan Reilly, 2014.

The planned assault of the hill was further delayed when Howe decided to call for reinforcements. This meant that Prescott was also able to call for additional troops, amongst whom were popular patriots Joseph Warren and Seth Pomeray.

By the time the assault was ready to get under way at 3PM on June 17, approximately 1500 Colonials occupied the heights of Breed’s Hill (with some holding back at Bunker Hill itself), with more than 2400 British infantry advancing up the slope to meet them.

The first assault was repulsed with heavy losses. The second assault fared no better, as the Colonials, despite not having the advantage in training and discipline, used volley fire and the cover they had constructed to best effect.

It was during one of these two assaults that someone – no-one knows who for certain – on the Colonial side is said to have uttered the immortal line, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” Less a bravado-filled rallying call, and more an appeal to conserve ammunition until it could be used most effectively, this saying has become synonymous with the battle, although it echoes many earlier sentiments in military history.

"Battle of Bunker Hill" by Howard Pyle. This work is in the public domain.

“Battle of Bunker Hill” by Howard Pyle (1853 – 1911). This work is in the public domain.

With mounting casualties, the British called for another contingent of reinforcements before attempting the assault for the third time.

This time they were successful, overrunning the Colonial positions, thanks no doubt in part to the fact that the defenders were almost entirely out of ammunition at this point.

With unit cohesion quickly breaking down, Colonel Prescott led the Colonials in a fighting withdrawal. It was at this stage that Joseph Warren was killed.

"The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775" by John Trumbull (1756 - 1843). This work is in the public domain.

“The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775” by John Trumbull (1756 – 1843). This work is in the public domain.

The Colonial troops abandoned Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill too, and withdrew across the Charlestown Neck, effectively ceding the peninsula to the British.

It was a costly victory for His Majesty’s troops though. While the Colonials lost some 115 men, with another 300 wounded, the British lost 207 “Regulars” and 19 experienced officers, with another 800 or so wounded.

It was a Pyrrhic victory at best.

View towards the Charles River and Boston from the base of Breed's Hill. (c) Ethan Reiily, 2014.

View towards the Charles River and Boston from the base of Breed’s Hill. (c) Ethan Reiily, 2014.

There were also political consequences; the outcome served to strengthen resolve for armed conflict on both sides of the Atlantic, while the unexpected resilience of the Colonial forces gave hope to many – including the newly appointed Commander of the Continental Army, George Washington – that the Revolutionaries could eventually prevail.

Visiting the site in person, now a quiet residential neighbourhood, it is still easy to see why it was chosen by the Colonial forces. Although the geography of Boston has changed dramatically in the years since that fateful day in 1775, the heights of Breed’s Hill still command a strong position overlooking the waters of the Charles River and the city itself.

A fine place then, to make a stand.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Film Review

wpid-the_hobbit_-_the_battle_of_the_five_armies.jpeg I actually saw this during some down-time while I was in Boston recently. It was in 3D, which, while still impressive, I find to be at best, superfluous, and at worst, distracting.

Unfortunately, this last (we think) outing from Peter Jackson in Middle Earth is a bit of a distraction from beginning to end. And not a good one, in my opinion.

I love The Lord of the Rings – both books and the film adaptions. And I didn’t mind the first two cinematic outings featuring Bilbo and his dwarven companions (‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ and ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’). They were overblown, for sure, but still hugely enjoyable, with much of the joy and love of the source material translating to the screen and replicating the magic of the first trilogy.

This last film I fear however, may have been one film too far.

Starting with Smaug attacking the (near) helpless residents of Laketown, and ending with the titular battle, much of the running time seems like one continuous action sequence. And that, despite how cool it probably sounded on paper, is not enough to sustain a movie (at least, not for me).

At times it almost seems as if Peter Jackson and co. were going to go ahead with their original plan for two films, not three. But somewhere along the line, either:

a) They decided that they could make more money out of a trilogy and that the film-going public would eagerly pay to see said trilogy, even if they had to needlessly drag things out to make it happen (which is true – I parted with my hard-earned cash easy enough!).


b) They let things get away from them during filming and shot much more “spectacular” footage than they thought they would, necessitating a lengthier overall run-time and hence a third film.

I’d like to believe it’s ‘b’ – it’s hard to blame Peter Jackson for his exuberance, even if his enthusiasm may have begun to fail at the end.

And if it is ‘a’, I can only imagine it was some stereotypically greedy film company executives who insisted on such a diabolical scheme – I’d hate to think Peter Jackson would betray his fans in that way.

Whatever the reason though, the truth is that even though it was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ falls short where it should soar. And it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to depart Middle-Earth in such a way.

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 5)

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Quote of the Day

“What we now want is closer contact and better understanding between individuals and communities all over the earth, and the elimination of egoism and pride which is always prone to plunge the world into primeval barbarism and strife… Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment…”

Nikolai Tesla

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Snowpiercer Review

A while ago I wrote about the trailer for the Korean-American film ‘Snowpiercer’.



Just recently, I had the chance to finally see it.

And I have to say, I liked it.

More than a science-fiction film, it turned out to be a carefully crafted thriller – there wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t wondering what would happen next, and when it did happen, it was never what I imagined it would be.

In addition, it held more surprises thanks to its very un-Hollywood nature – that would be the director, Bong Joon-ho’s influence, I’m sure.

If you like unconventional action films, I’d definetely recommend it.

Verdict: Control the Engine, Control the Train.

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Quote of the Day

“To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do.”

John Adams

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Facepalm 2.0

So, thanks to a lengthy stopover in the Ottowa airport en route to Washington D.C., and a little bit of help from Mr. Google, I managed to figure out the (on reflection, very simple) procedure for copying and pasting from the Samsung Memo App to WordPress.

Good to know. Now I feel like a idiot.


Consequently, I was able to upload my ‘Why Game of Thrones is better than A Song of Ice and Fire’ post. Enjoy (or not)!

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Why Game of Thrones is better than A Song of Ice and Fire.

Cue internet outrage…


In all seriousness, I understand why this could be a controversial subject. It’s rare for adaptions to be credited with equal significance, much less to be lauded above, their source material.

There are, of course, exceptions. ‘The Godfather’ springs to mind as the obvious example. But even then, there will always be those who insist the book was better!

The books of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series are better than the HBO adaption ‘Game of Thrones’ in every aspect though, except one (maybe).

Now don’t get me wrong. I love ASOIAF. The world and the characters GRRM has created are so fully-realised, and so exquisitely described, that it’s impossible not to believe in them, and get wrapped up in the scope of the narrative.

It is, by a large margin, some of the best fiction I have read in the last few years. And I think a lot of avid readers would agree with me – I mean, it’s easy to see just how popular the books have become. Just look at the passengers on any bus/tram/train or other form of public transport and observe how many of them have their heads stuck in a copy of A Clash of Kings, or A Storm of Swords!

Personally, I’ve seen it a lot. And I’ve been one of those people too!

Something has occurred to me though, as the HBO series has continued to gain on the plot threads left hanging since the publication of A Dance with Dragons.

Where the TV show succeeds (and where it could be argued, the books – dare I say it – fail), is in the application of restraint.

Certainly, ‘Game of Thrones’ is a sprawling series with so many elements that it can be hard to keep track without prior knowledge of the setting and characters. But if this is so, then the A Song of Ice and Fire books are that to the nth degree.

While the books do a better job of immersing us and explaining what is going on, it’s most definetely a double-edged sword. All the exposition can be tiring, and the narrative explorations begin to feel a lot like indulgent tangents by the time you reach A Feast for Crows.

The great fear is, of course, that George R.R. Martin has lost control of his own plots, and the series is in danger of blowing out to Wheel of Time proportions.

GRRM has steadfastly denied this though.

Even so, it seems at this point that he may be guilty of not heeding one of the cardinal rules of writing; that is, brevity is king.

Good fiction is an exercise in brevity.

If one word will do, why use two?

This all may be an oversimplification of a more complicated issue, but watching the finale of GoT Season 4 recently, I couldn’t help appreciating how the writers of the episodes had taken the convoluted plot threads laid down by GRRM and made them more easily digestable.

I certainly don’t agree with all the decisions they’ve made (personally, I think they’ve butchered Stannis’ character arc, for one), but whereas the books can be a slog sometimes, the TV series has never felt that way to me.

And that’s why ‘Game of Thrones’ is better than A Song of Ice and Fire.

In one respect, anyway.

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On the plane from Vancouver to Toronto, I wrote an epic post that is sure to excite and delight (and possibly enrage). Unfortunately, after landing I realised my mistake – I had written it in Memos on my Samsung Galaxy Tab, which has neither the upload capability nor the cut/paste functionality I need to get my musings into WordPress.

Such is life, I suppose.

Looks like that one will need to wait until later.

I’ll keep working though and hopefully have something serviceable for you to read soon.

Thanks for hanging in there.


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