Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 31 August 2017

It is with great fascination I read of the events of the Russian Revolution and the role that Switzerland played in it.

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I have visited exhibits in Zürich`s Landesmuseum and have photographed the outside of the residence where Lenin lived during his time in that city.

I have always found it curious that the man so responsible for so much bloodshed and suffering in the name of communism once called neutral Switzerland “home”.

Flag of Switzerland

The concept of neutrality is an interesting idea, in that those who claim to be neutral are supposedly not acting for any particular side except one´s own.

Switzerland defines neutrality for itself as taking no one`s side in military conflicts between nations.

But how truly neutral is Switzerland?

Is the manufacture and sale of weapons to other nations “neutral”?

Is the sheltering of political or intellectual leaders out of favour with their homelands “neutral”?

Is the storage of wealth regardless of how that wealth was acquired “neutral”?

Is the refusal to take a side despite the possible consequences of the “wrong” side winning “neutral”?

This year marks the centennial of the beginning of the Russian Revolution.

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“If one had to pick the single event which has shaped 20th century history and our world in the early years of the 21st, this must be it.

The Revolution put in power the totalitarian communism that eventually ruled 1/3 of the human race, stimulated the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, and the Second World War and created the great enemy the West faced for the forty-year Cold War balance of terror.

It is hard to think of another example where the events of a few years, concentrated in one country, and mostly in one city, have had such vast historical consequences.”

(Tony Breton, editor, Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution)

That Russians were enduring severe living conditions that desperately cried out for change and reform is unquestionable.

That the change became so bloody and tragic lies primarily on the shoulders on one man whom the Swiss sheltered and the Germans financed.

On Easter Monday, 9 April 1917, a small, bald Russian with a red goatee beard boarded a train in Zürich where he had been living in exile to travel to Russia to begin a Revolution that would transform the world.

His name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov or Lenin, and he would become the founder of an authoritarian regime responsible for political repression and mass killings done in the name of socialism and the championing of the working class.

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Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin (1870 – 1924)

Had Switzerland not granted asylum to Lenin would he have still engineered the Russian Revolution?

Had Germany not assisted Lenin, an enemy alien, in entering and travelling across their territory, would he have been forced to remain in exile in Switzerland?

How did a Russian end up exiled in Switzerland?

Why did Germany assist him in returning back to Russia?

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was born on 22 April 1870 in Simbirsk.

He was the third child of six surviving children of Ilya Nikolayevich Ulyanov, a teacher and later a director of schools, and Maria Alexandrovna Blank.

Both his parents were well-educated and were considered well-to-do members of the middle class.

His family gave him the childhood nickname of “Volodya”.

Vladimir showed already in his youth that he had an extremely competitive nature and could be destructive.

A keen sportsman, Vladimir spent much of his free time outdoors or playing chess and excelled in school.

His father died of a brain haemorrhage in January 1886 when Vladimir was 16.

Vladimir´s behaviour became erratic and confrontational.

At the time, Lenin`s elder brother Alexander – whom Vladimir affectionately knew as “Sasha” – was studying at Saint Petersburg University.

Involved in political agitation against the absolute monarchy of Tsar Alexander III, Sasha studied the writings of banned leftists and organised anti-government protests.

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Above: Russian Tsar Alexander III (1885 – 1881)

Sasha joined a revolutionary cell determined to assassinate the Tsar and was selected to construct a bomb.

Before the attack could take place the conspirators were arrested and tried and in May 1886 Sasha was executed by hanging.

Despite the emotional trauma of his father´s and his brother´s death, Vladimir continued studying at Simbirsk Classical Gimnazia (equivalent to High School), graduating with honours.

He decided to study law at Kazan University.

In Kazan, Vladimir joined a Zemlyachestvo, a student´s society, and in December 1887 he took part in a demostration against government restrictions that banned student societies.

The police arrested Vladimir and accused him of being a ringleader in the demonstration.

He was expelled from the University and exiled to his family´s estate in Kokushkino.

There Vladimir read voraciously, becoming enamoured with Nikolay Chernyshesky´s 1863 pro-revolutionary novel, What Is to Be Done.

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Above: Nikolay Chernyshevsky (1828 – 1889)

Vladimir´s mother, Maria, was concerned by her son´s radicalisation and convinced the Interior Ministry to allow him to return to Kazan but not the University.

On Vladimir`s return to Kazan, he joined Nikolai Fedoseev´s revolutionary circle, through which he discovered Karl Marx´s Das Kapital.

Above: Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

Marx argued that society developed in stages, that this development resulted from class struggle and that capitalist society would ultimately give way to socialist and then communist society.

Wary of Vladimir´s Marxist views, Maria bought her son a country estate in the village of Alakaevka in the hope that he would turn his attention to agriculture.

Above: Maria Alexandrovna Blank, Lenin´s mother (1885 – 1916)

But he had little interest in farm management.

In September 1889, the Ulyanov family moved to the city of Samara Oblast, where Vladimir joined Alexei Sklyarenko´s socialist discussion group.

There Vladimir produced a Russian translation of German-born Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel´s The Communist Manifesto.

In May 1890, Maria persuaded the authorities to allow Vladimir to take his legal exams externally at the University of St. Petersburg, passing the exams with honours.

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Above: Coat of Arms of St. Petersburg University

Vladimir remained in Samara for several years, working first as a legal assistant for a regional court and then for a local lawyer.

He devoted much time to radical politics, formulating how Marxism applied to Russia.

In late 1893, Vladimir moved to St. Petersburg, working as a barrister´s assistant while rising to a senior position in a Marxist revolutionary cell that called itself the “Social Democrats” after the Marxist Social Democratic Party of Germany.

By late 1894, Vladimir was leading a Marxist workers´ circle, had begun a romantic relationship with Nadezhda “Nadya” Krupskaya, a schoolteacher, and authored a political tract.

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Above: Nadezhda “Nadya” Krupskaya (1869 – 1939)

Vladimir hoped to cement connections between his Social Democrats and the Emanicipation of Labour, a group of Russian emigrés based in Switzerland.

He visited Geneva to meet Emanicipation members Georgi Plekhanov and Pavel Axelrod, and then proceeded to Paris to meet Karl Marx´s son-in-law Paul Lafarge and to research the Paris Commune of 1871, which Vladimir considered an early prototype for a proleterian government.

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Above: Barricade on Rue Voltaire, Paris, during the Paris Commune government of 18 March to 28 May 1871)

Financed by his mother, Vladimir stayed in a Swiss health spa (St. Moritz?) before travelling to Berlin, where he studied for six weeks at the Staatsbibliothek and met the Marxist activist Wilhelm Liebknecht.

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Above: Berlin State Library facade

Returning to Russia with a stash of illegal revolutionary publications, Vladimir travelled to various cities distributing literature to striking workers.

While involved in producing a news sheet, Rabochee delo (“the workers´ cause”), Vladimir was among 40 activists arrested in St. Petersburg and charged with sedition.

Refused legal representation or bail, Vladimir denied all charges against him but remained imprisoned for a year before sentencing.

In February 1897, Vladimir was sentenced without trial to three years exile in eastern Siberia.

He was granted a few days in St. Petersburg to put his affairs in order and used this time to meet with the Social Democrats, who had renamed themselves the League of Struggle for the Emanicipation of the Working Class.

Above: The League of Struggle for the Emanicipation of the Working Class, 1897 (Lenin is in the centre of the photograph.)

His journey to eastern Siberia took 11 weeks.

Deemed only a minor threat to the government, Vladimir was exiled to a peasant´s hut in Shushenskoye where he was kept under police surveillance.

He was nevertheless permitted to correspond with other revolutionaries, many who visited him, and permitted to go on trips to swim in the Yenisei River and to hunt duck and snipe.

In May 1898 Nadya joined Vladimir in exile, having been arrested for organising a strike.

They married in a Shushenskoye church on 10 July 1898.

After their exile, Vladimir and Nadya settled in Pskov in early 1900.

There he began raising funds for a newspaper, Iskra (“spark”), as a new organ of the Russian Marxist Party, now calling itself the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).

In July 1900, Vladimir left Russia.

In Switzerland he met other Russian Marxists and at a conference in Corsier-sur-Vevey (birthplace of Swiss architect Eugene Jost and final burial site of English actors Charlie Chaplin and James Mason, as well as the present day headquarters of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles – the international governing body for amateur wrestling) they agreed to launch Iskra from Munich.

Vladimir and Nadya relocated to Munich in September 1900.

Containing contributions from prominent European Marxists, Iskra was smuggled into Russia, becoming the country´s most successful underground publication for 50 years.

Vladimir adopted his pseudonym “Lenin” in December 1901.

Under this pen-name, Lenin published the political pamphlet What Is to Be Done in 1902, his most influential publication dealing with Lenin´s thoughts on the need of a vanguard party to lead the proletarian revolution.

To evade the Bavarian police, Lenin moved to London with Iskra in April 1902, there becoming friends with fellow Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky.

In London, Lenin fell ill with erysipelas and was unable to take a leading role in the publication of Iskra, which in his absence moved its base of operations to Geneva.

(Erysipelas, also known as “red skin”, “holy fire” or “St. Anthony`s fire”, is an acute infection with symptoms that include high fever, body tremors, chills, fatigue, headaches, vomiting and a skin rash that favours the legs, toes, arms, fingers and face.)

The second RSDLP Congress was held in London in July 1903.

A schism emerged between Lenin`s supporters and those of Julius Martov.

Martov argued that Party members should be able to express themselves independently of the Party leadership, while Lenin emphasized the need for a strong leadership with total control over the Party.

Martov`s supporters called themselves the Men`sheviki (the minority) while Lenin`s supporters called themselves the Bol´sheviki (the majority).

The Bolsheviks accused the Mensheviks of being opportunists and reformists who lacked discipline, while the Mensheviks accused Lenin of being a despot and autocrat.

Enraged at the Mensheviks, Lenin resigned from Iskra.

The stress made Lenin ill and to recuperate he went on a hiking holiday in rural Switzerland.

By spring 1904, the Bolshevik faction grew in strength to comprise the entire RSDLP Central Committee.

In December, the RSDLP founded the newspaper Vpered (“Forward”).

In January 1905, the Bloody Sunday Massacre of protestors in St. Petersburg sparked a period of civil unrest known as the Revolution of 1905.

Above: “Bloody Sunday”, 22 January 1905, Father Gapon leading protestors at Narva Gate, St. Petersburg: Tsarist troops kill 500

Lenin urged Bolsheviks to take a greater role in the unrest, encouraging violent insurrection, mass terror and the expropriation of gentry land.

In response to the Revolution of 1905, Tsar Nicholas II accepted a series of liberal reforms in his October Manifesto, after which Lenin felt it safe to return to St. Petersburg.

Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

Joining the editorial board of Noyava Zhizn (“New Life”), a radical legal newspaper, Lenin used it to discuss issues facing the RSDLP.

Lenin encouraged the Party to seek out a much wider membership and advocated the continual escalation of violent confrontation, believing both to be necessary for a successful revolution.

Recognising that membership fees and donations from a few wealthy sympathisers were insufficient to finance the Bolsheviks´ activities, Lenin endorsed the idea of robbing post offices, railway stations and banks.

Under the lead of Leonid Krasin, a group of Bolsheviks began carrying out such criminal actions.

Although Lenin briefly supported the idea of reconciliation between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, his advocacy of violence and robbery was condemned by the Mensheviks at the 4th Party Congress held in Stockholm in April 1906.

Lenin was involved in setting up a Bolshevik centre in Kuokkala, Finland, before the Bolsheviks regained dominance of the RSDLP at its 5th Congress, held in London in May 1907.

(13 June 1907, Tiflis, Georgia

The two heavily armed carriages rattled slowly into the central square of Tiflis (today`s Tbilisi), the state capital of Georgia.

One contained the State Bank`s cashier, the other was packed with soldiers and police.

There were also numerous outriders on horseback, their pistols cracked and ready.

It was shortly before 11 am and there was good reason for the security: the carriages were transporting more than 1 million roubles to the new State Bank.

Josef Djugashvili – better known as “Stalin” – one of the most audacious leaders of Georgia`s criminal underworld – was about to pull off a dazzling heist.


Above: Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvdi, aka Stalin (1878 – 1953)

The money was urgently needed to finance the Bolsheviks´ political movement and Lenin had given his approval.

The robbery was meticulously planned.

20 heavily armed brigands loitered in Tiflis´ central square, awaiting the arrival of the carriages.

Lookouts were posted on all the street corners and rooftops.

Another band of men was hiding inside one of the taverns close to the square.

All were watching and waiting.

The carriages swung into the square as expected.

One of the gangsters lowered his rolled newspaper as a sign to his fellow brigands.

Seconds later, there was a blinding flash and deafening roar as Stalin`s band hurled their hand grenades at the horses.

The unfortunate animals were torn to pieces, along with the policemen and soldiers.

In a matter of seconds, the peaceful square was turned into a scene of carnage.

The cobblestones were splattered with blood, guts and human limbs.

Six people were killed by the grenades and gunfire and 40 were wounded.

None of the gangsters was killed.

The stolen money was taken to a safe house where it was quickly sewn into a mattress and later smuggled out of Georgia.

Neither Stalin nor any of the others involved in the heist were ever caught.

It was the perfect robbery.

But the stolen roubles included a large number of 500-rouble notes whose serial numbers were known to the authorities, making it impossible to cash them.)

(Giles Milton, History´s Unknown Chapters: When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank)

As the Tsarist government cracked down on opposition – both by disbanding Russia´s legislative assembly, the Duma, and by ordering its secret police, the Okhrana, to arrest revolutionaries – Lenin fled Finland for Switzerland.

There he tried to exchange banknotes stolen in Tiflis that had identifiable serial numbers on them.

Alexander Bogdanov and other prominent Bolsheviks decided to relocate the Bolshevik centre to Paris.

Although Lenin disagreed, he moved to Paris in December 1908.

Lenin hated Paris, calling it “a foul hole”, and while he was there he sued a motorist who knocked him off his bicycle.

In May 1909 Lenin lived briefly in London where he used the British Museum Reading Room to continue his writing.

Above: The British Museum, London

In August 1910, Lenin attended the 8th Congress in Copenhagen, following this with a holiday in Stockholm with his mother.

With his wife and sisters, Lenin then returned to Paris.

Here Lenin became a close friend to the French Bolshevik Inessa Armand, with whom it has been suggested he had an extramarital affair from 1910 to 1912.

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Above: Inessa Armand (1874 – 1920)

At a June 1911 Paris meeting of the RSDLP Central Committee, it was decided to move their focus of operations back to Russia, ordering the closing of the Paris centre and its newspaper Proletari.

Seeking to rebuild his influence in the Party, Lenin arranged for a Party Conference in Prague in January 1912, but he was heavily criticised for his divisive tendencies and failed to boost his status within the Party.

Moving to Krakow, Poland, Lenin used Jagellonian University`s library to conduct research, while staying close in contact with the RSDLP, convincing the Duma`s Bolshevik members to split from their parliamentary alliance with the Mensheviks.

Due to the ailing health of both Lenin and his wife, they moved to the rural town of Bialy Dunajec, before heading to Bern for Nadya to have surgery on her goiter.

Before the hostilities of World War One broke out, Lenin and Nadya were living in Poronin, a peaceful hamlet at the foot of the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland, then Austrian controlled.

Map of Europe focusing on Austria-Hungary and marking central location of ethnic groups in it including Slovaks, Czechs, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ukrainians, Poles.

It was as close as a political exile could get to home, with Russian territory only a little to the north.

Although Lenin always travelled frequently – a Party leader had to attend key meetings of Europe`s socialist elite – he had lived happily in this backwater, working on theoretical questions and amusing himself by taking long walks in the nearby woods to pick mushrooms.

The summer of 1914 had been a bitter one for the Russian Tsar: there had been strikes in Baku and barricades were up across St. Petersburg.

On 6 August 1914, Austria declared war on Russia.

All over Europe, thousands of people found themselves suddenly in the wrong place.

As Russians, Lenin and Nadya had become hostile aliens in Austrian territory.

The gendarmes turned up at their door soon after dawn.

Barging inside, they searched the house, turning up a lot of papers and discovering a loaded Browning pistol.

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The gendarmes had their proof that Lenin was in Austrian territory to spy.

They took him away and by evening Lenin was sitting in a prison cell in the local town of Novy Targ.

It took a lot of cabling and negotiation, but the authorities agreed to release Lenin once they had become convinced that there was no Austrian alive who hated Russia`s tsarist government as heartedly as Lenin did.

The Lenins had to move.

They had considered Sweden, but they could not cross Germany, Austria´s ally, to get there.

In any case, Lenin liked Switzerland.

He had a good network of contacts there.

He could afford the food and rent.

He enjoyed its lakes and mountains and the opportunities they gave for walking, swimming and loafing.

And while wartorn Europe became increasingly hungry, neutral Switzerland remained a land of milk, cheese and soft white bread and chocolate.

And, though expensive, there was no other country in the world where he preferred to go if he needed medical treatment.

From 1914 to 1916, the Lenins lived in Bern, before relocating to Zürich where he would remain until Easter Monday, 9 April 1917 when he would board a sealed train and assume the reins of the Russian Revolution.

Above: Lenin, Switzerland 1916

In Switzerland, Lenin would assume the mantle of leadership over the Bolshevik movement and would gain recognition as a force capable of tearing down the Tsar.

It was in Switzerland, where this baldheaded, red goateed, stocky, sturdy person, ordinary in appearance but with eyes and movements of a hate-filled political zealot, would rise phoenix-like from relative obscurity as a political refugee to become the revered and feared symbol of Russia and international communism.

The story will begin with a group of bird watchers by a tiny quiet Swiss lake…

(To be continued)


Above: Flag of the former Soviet Union

Sources: Wikipedia; Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths, edited by Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia; Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia, Dominic Lieven; Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917, Helen Rappaport; Lenin on the Train, Catherine Merridale; Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points in the Russian Revolution, edited by Tony Brenton; History´s Unknown Chapters: When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank, Giles Milton; Only in Zürich: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects, Duncan J.D. Smith.



Canada Slim and the Final Curtain

Flag of Switzerland 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 August 2017

Back in May an employer of mine and I made an agreement:

The school didn’t want me to work for them and I didn’t wish to work for the school.

The position was ended to our mutual satisfaction and with little discomfort on either side.

Despite my age diminishing my abilities of finding work as easily as I once did, I have confidence in my own abilities to survive.

In the past, I have been fired from some positions, sometimes deservedly, sometimes not.

As an employee of various institutions for the past forty years – I first worked as a farmhand in my teen years – I found two things to be true:

  1. You must do what you love and love what you do, or you will never really be “successful” or feel motivated to give your best efforts towards the job.
  2. No matter how hard you try, you will never please all of the people all of the time.

Granted that a person is judged by his/her actions, rather than how they feel or think.

And as most of us spend 80% of our adult lives working, we are defined by our jobs, whether we like this definition or not, or whether a person’s identification by their work performance is a fair assessment of their character or not.

When it comes to employment, not all work is the same.

In an ideal world, employees at an early age decided what profession they wanted, followed their career path without faltering, and advanced up their chosen career ladder without blemishes on their record, rising based on their competence and hard work.

But not everyone has led such a blessed worklife.

Many people have drifted into the jobs and professions they now practice.

Many people hate their jobs and spend their lives enduring their work by counting how many days remain until their vacation or how many hours are left until they can ride away from the jobsite and do some activity as unrelated to their work as possible.

Depending on a person’s educational background, or their ability to have afforded an education financially and emotionally, many folks suffer through positions they can barely tolerate because these positions offer a paycheque.

And many tolerate less than desirable working conditions, because their income supports other people besides themselves.

Chances are strong that, unless you are a gifted networker or your position is secure because of your personal connections to your employer, you will find yourself terminated from a position at one time or another in your life.

For many of us, once we get past the shock and the anger of the “injustice” done to us, once we rediscover that it is not the job that defines us but we define the job, we then pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and once again face the world of work head held high, hopefully wiser for the experience.

Sometimes we are terminated because we did something intolerable in the eyes of the employer.

Sometimes we are terminated because the employer does not like how we did our job even if our performance was according to the standards set by the employer.

Sometimes an employee is simply more expensive to keep on than to fire.

Sometimes the employer simply doesn’t like you and found an excuse to dismiss you.

At this moment, someone somewhere has just been fired.

Despite our lives being more electronically accessible and open now more than any other time in human history, the loss of a job, although painful, is not the end of the world.

We can recover from this job loss and new employment can be found, because we who are not in the public spotlight can spin our employment record in such a way that we can find a new employer who doesn’t have preconceptions as to who we are or what we can do.

But what about those folks who are in the public spotlight and who have lost their jobs in a very public manner?

How do they recover?

Some cases of dismissal are easy to accept, if the employee was dismissed through the worker’s own wrongdoing.

So when I consider the character of folks like Bill O’Reilly, if there are numerous amounts of people accusing you of wrong behaviour, whether legally proven or not, the taint and scandal of having that kind of person publicly representing an organisation reflects poorly upon that organisation.

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O’Reilly is a bully who bullied others too often to tolerate and treated women in ways that were disrespectful and dishonourable.

Fox Media eventually had enough.

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By all accounts, O’Reilly should be financially secure enough to weather the storm and live the rest of his days upon his financial portfolio, but it seems doubtful that he will ever return to the heady heights of television’s Olympus where he once was supreme.

O’Reilly did wrong and he was sacked because of it.

But what of James Comey, the FBI director canned by President Trump?


Did he do wrong?

And where does he go from here?

Analysis of all this is fraught with several difficulties:

I am just an ordinary man, a Canadian working in Switzerland, lacking inside knowledge or experience in these matters, so what follows are mere opinions and thoughts based on what bits of information I have been able to garner in my own long distance manner.

I am limited to what information is allowed me, for it is not absolutely certain how valid, complete or objective news reports about Comey’s dismissal actually are, though I try to give the media some benefit of the doubt.

Complete objectivity on my part regarding anything that Donald Trump says or does is difficult for me, for when I consider his record, both before and since his Presidency began, I find it difficult to like, respect or trust this man, despite my dim hope that he may one day prove me wrong.

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But if we can judge a man by the caliber of his enemies, the fact that much of the media despises – and is despised by – him, that he seems to have the lowest approval rate of any President the United States has seen, that he views the judicial branch of government as a threat to his executive power, and that even his own wife is reluctant to even hold his hand in public or share a bedroom with him at the White House, does not say positive things about the man.

Trump is President by default rather than acclaim, reminiscient of Peter Ustinov’s Prince John, in Walt Disney’s animated Robin Hood, in many discomfiting ways.

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Comey’s dismissal has caught my attention, for it brings to mind questions of accountability and the exercise of authority.

Comey’s dismissal matters to the world for it raises the idea of Trump’s possible impeachment, which would have a huge impact on American government and politics both in the United States and abroad.

Who is James Comey?

James Brien Comey Jr., born 14 December 1960, is an American lawyer who served as the 7th Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 4 September 2013 to 9 May 2017.

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Prior to his appointment as FBI Director, Comey was the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (2002-2003), US Deputy Attorney General (2003-2005), general counsel and senior vice president of Lockheed Martin, America’s largest defense contractor (2005-2010), and senior manager at Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut-based investment management firm (2010-2013).

Comey has also been a lecturer on national security law at Columbia University’s Law School, been part of the London-based financial institution HSBC Holdings, and has served on the Defense Legal Policy Board.

In his New York years, Comey helped prosecute the Gambino crime family.

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Above: Carlo Gambino (1902 – 1976), head of the Gambino crime family

From 1996 to 2001, Comey acted as deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee, lead prosecutor in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia and Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Richmond.

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Above: Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 25 June 1996

From 2002 to 2005, Comey investigated President Clinton’s controversial pardon of Marc Rich, prosecuted three men involved in one of the largest identity fraud cases in American history, indicted Adelphia Communications founder John Rigas for bank, wire and securities fraud, led the prosecution of Martha Stewart for securities fraud, indicted ImClone CEO Samuel Waksal for tax evasion, indicted Frank Quattrone for destroying evidence in the investigation of Credit Suisse and led the prosecutions in Operation Wooden Nickel which resulted in indictments against 47 people involved in foreign exchange trading scams.

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But the halo lost its shine, when in 2005, Comey endorsed a memorandum approving the use of 13 enhanded interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, though he did advocate the prevention or limiting of the use of torture.

(During his 2013 confirmation hearing, Comey stated that even though he believed that waterboarding is torture, he felt that the UN Convention against Torture was too vague and difficult to interpret as banning the practice.)

Flag of  United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

Comey’s halo slipped further when the New York Times reported in 2006 that Comey refused to certify the legality of central aspects of the National Security Agency program, which had been accused of wiretapping many Americans without their knowledge or permission or legal justification to do so.

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In 2007, during a testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Comey said:

“The Department of Justice, in my view, is run by political appointees of the President.

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US Attorneys are political appointees of the President, but once they take those jobs and run this institution, it is very important in my view for that institution that they….be seen as the good guys and not either this Administration or that Administration.”

As FBI Director, Comey delivered a speech at Georgetown University in February 2015, regarding the relationship between police and the African American community:

A vertical oval-shaped black and white design with a bald eagle whose wings are spread and who is grasping a globe and a cross with its claws. Around the seal are leaves and the numbers 17 and 89 appear on either side.

“At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo – a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavoured groups….

Police officers on patrol in our nation’s cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of colour.

Something happens to people of good will working in that environment.

After years of police work, officers can’t help be influenced by the cynicism they feel.”

In a speech at the University of Chicago on 23 October 2015, Comey said:

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“I remember being asked why we were doing so much prosecuting in black neighbourhoods and locking up so many black men.

After all, Richmond was surrounded by areas with largely white populations.

Surely there were drug dealers in the suburbs.

My answer was simple.

We are there in those neighbourhoods because that is where people are dying.

These are the guys we lock up because they are the predators choking off the life of a community.

We did this work because we believed that all lives matter, especially the most vulnerable.”

Then the involvement of foreign powers in US politics suddenly became a very relevant, a very real, problem and the focus of public attention.

According to the media sources that would break the news story, it is unclear how the data breach of the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was actually discovered, but it has been suggested that a product demonstration of CyFIR, an electronic intrusion detection program of Manassas-based security company CyTech Services, uncovered the infilitration that was targeting the personnel records of millions of people.

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In June 2015, OPM announced that it had been breached, a breach which may have started in March 2014 but was not noticed by OPM until April 2015.

This data theft contained security clearance information as well as sets of millions of fingerprints on current, former and prospective federal government employees, US military personnel and those for whom a federal background investigation was conducted.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), however, does not use the OPM system, so they might not have been affected by the breach.

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The media reported that US government officials suspected that Chinese hackers perpetrated the breach, but it remains unclear whether the attack had been sponsored by the Chinese government or not.

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China responded that they had been the target of cyberattacks in the past.

In July, Comey said:

“It is a very big deal from a national security perspective and from a counterintelligence perspective.

It’s a treasure trove of information about everybody who has worked for, tried to work for or works for the United States government.”

And the OPM was not the only classified information situation on American minds.

David Petraeus, a highly-decorated former General, was appointed CIA director on 6 September 2011 but would resign the position on 9 November 2012.

File:DCIA David Petraeus.jpg

The Petraeus Scandal would cast many dark shadows on all those it affected.

When Washington socialite Jill Kelley approached the FBI about receiving anonymous threatening emails about Kelley’s supposed affair with Petraeus, it was discovered that they had been sent by Petraeus’ biographer Paula Broadwell.

Above: David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, July 2011

When Broadwell was interrogated, she confessed that she and Petraeus had an extramarital affair for years.

Investigators also discovered that Broadwell had classified documents, but as well that there had been much correspondence between Kelley and another general, John Allen, raising questions of impropriety between Kelley and Allen.

(Both Kelley and Allen have since been exonerated of all misconduct.)

After being briefed on 8 November 2012, President Obama summoned Petraeus to the White House, where Petraeus offered his resignation.

Obama chose not to suspend Petraeus but accepted his resignation.

Comey objected that Petraeus was allowed to plead guilty to only a misdemeanor of mishandling classified information.

In March 2015 it became publicly known that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had used her family’s private email server for official communications, rather than official State Department email accounts maintained on federal services.

Official Portrait of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (3328305563).jpg

Those official communications included thousands of emails that would be marked classified by the State Department.

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Some experts, officials and members of Congress contended that her use of private messaging system software and a private server violated State Department protocols and procedures, as well as federal laws and regulations governing recordkeeping.

Clinton responded that her use of personal email was in compliance with federal laws and State Department regulations and that former secretaries of state had also maintained personal email accounts, though not their own private email server.

Comey identified 110 emails as containing information that was classified at the time it was sent, but on 5 July 2016 he announced that the FBI’s investigation had concluded that Clinton had been “extremely careless” in handling her email system but recommended that no charges be filed against her.

This 5 July announcement during a 15-minute press conference in the J. Edgar Hoover Building is the first time the FBI disclosed its prosecutorial recommendation to the Department of Justice publicly.

On 28 October 2016, Comey notified Congress that the FBI had started looking into newly discovered emails that may be pertinent to the case – emails that were found on a laptop belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s husband, Anthony Weiner, during an investigation of his sexting scandals.

Anthony Weiner, official portrait, 112th Congress.jpg

On 6 November, Comey notified Congress that the FBI had not changed its conclusion, reached in July, regarding Clinton’s emails.

The problem was that this email controversy had unfolded against the backdrop of Clinton’s 2016 presidential election campaign.

Comey’s path of transparency in informing Congress, who in turn would leak this information to the press, may have influenced the public’s perception of Clinton and the results of the 2016 election.

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According to the Clinton campaign, Comey’s letters effectively stopped the campaign’s momentum by hurting her chances with the voters who were receptive to Donald Trump’s claims of a “rigged system”, but others have argued that Comey’s public actions were just one of cumulative factors that cost Clinton the election, including her decision not to campaign in key states like Wisconsin and Michigan.

On 3 May 2017, Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that:

“It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election, but that honestly it wouldn’t change the decision.”

On the same day (5 July 2016) that Comey announced the FBI´s recommendation that the US Department of Justice file no criminal charges relating to the Hillary Clinton email controversy, the FBI acquired the Donald Trump – Russia dossier by Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 intelligence officer.

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The FBI opened an investigation into the Trump campaign later that month.

Comey asked President Obama permission to write an op-ed warning the public that the Russians were interfering in the US elections, which the President refused as the allegations of misconduct and collusion between Donald Trump and his campaign and the Russian government were unverified.

Flag of Russia

Above: Flag of Russia

CIA Director John O. Brennan then gave an unusual private briefing to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on the Russians, which Reid then publicly referred to.

Comey, however, refused to confirm the Trump campaign was under investigation, even in classified Congressional briefings.

In January 2017, Comey first met Trump when he briefed the President-elect on the Steele Dossier.

On 27 January 2017, Trump and Comey had dinner alone together at the White House.

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According to Trump, Comey requested the dinner so as to ask to keep his job and, when asked, told Trump that he was not under investigation.

According to Comey, Trump requested the dinner, asked Comey to pledge his loyalty, twice.

To which Comey replied, twice, that he would always be honest, until Trump asked him if he would promise him “honest loyalty”, which Comey did.

On 14 February, Comey met with Trump during a terrorism threat briefing in the Oval Office.

At the end of the meeting Trump asked the other security chiefs to leave the room, then told Comey to consider imprisoning reporters over leaks and that “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go.”

Comey, as is usual, immediately documented the meeting in a memo and shared it with FBI officials.

On 4 March 2017, Comey asked the Department of Justice for permission, which was not given, to publicly refute Trump´s claim that his phones had been wiretapped by former President Obama.

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

On 20 March 2017, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Comey confirmed that the FBI has been investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, and whether any crimes had been committed.

Comey refuted Trump´s tweeted allegations that Trump Tower had been wiretapped:


“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”

On 3 May 2017, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey said that Russia is the “greatest threat of any nation on Earth….One of the biggest lessons learned is that Russia will do this again.  Because of the 2016 election, they know it worked.”

Trump was angry and frustrated when Comey revealed the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia´s effort to sway the 2016 US presidential election.

He felt Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough attention to internal leaks to the press from within the government.

Comey requested additional money and resources to further expand the probe into Russian interference into the election.

Trump had long questioned Comey´s loyalty to Trump personally and he was angry that Comey would not support his claim that President Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped.

On 9 May 2017, Trump formally dismissed Comey.


The White House initially stated the firing was on the recommendation of US Attorney Jeff Sessions, listing objections to Comey´s conduct in the investigation into Hillary Clinton´s emails.

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On 10 May, Trump told reporters that he had fired Comey because Comey “wasn´t doing a good job.”

Comey sent a letter to FBI staff in which he said:

“I have long believed that a President can fire an FBI Director for any reason, or for no reason at all.  I`m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed.  I hope you won´t either.  It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply.”

In the absence of a Senate-confirmed FBI Director, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe automatically became Acting Director.

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The next day, Trump stated to Lester Holt in an NBC News interview that Comey´s dismissal was in fact “my decision” and “I was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation.”

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Trump then admitted that the true reason for the dismissal was that “when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Russia and Trump is a made-up story.'”

Trump labelled Comey “a showboat” and “a grandstander.”

McCabe testified before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does” and that “the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey”, contradicting White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders who said she had heard from “countless” FBI agents in support of the firing.

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On 12 May, Trump tweeted “James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press”.

On 19 May, the New York Times published excerpts of an official White House document summarising Trump´s meeting in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, where Trump admits to them:

“I just fired the head of the FBI.  I faced great pressure because of Russia.  That´s taken off.”

In that same meeting, Trump labelled Comey “crazy” and “a real nut job”.

Comey´s termination remains controversial.

Critics have accused Trump of obstruction of justice.

On 22 June, faced with a subpoena for the tapes that Trump alluded to, Trump issued a tweet stating “I have no idea whether there are tapes or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

On 2 August, the New York Times reported that Macmillan Publishers had acquired the rights to Comey´s first book, to be released in spring 2018, in which Comey will discuss ethics, leadership and his experience in government.

I want to read that book.

I, along with millions of people, watched Comey testify in front of a public Senate Judiciary Oversight Committee hearing.

FBI Director Comey Testifies at Senate Judiciary Committee Oversight Hearing

I was impressed with the dignity and forthright way he responded to questioning.

I was impressed with him when items not advisable for public exposure he did not refuse to answer but said he would gladly answer these questions to the Committee behind closed doors.

Comey struck me as a good and honourable man who kept his dignity and professionalism no matter how many enemies his honesty would create.

I have lost jobs in the past despite my popularity with everyone save the person terminating me.

I have lost jobs for “doing the right thing” and, on rare occasions, for not doing the right thing.

But my loss of employment was never as dramatic a fall from a high position as the position held by James Comey, nor my loss so public.

James Comey is not perfect.

James Comey made mistakes.

But everything seems to point to an open-faced, open-hearted resolution to follow his conscience and to obey and enforce the law.

I believe, and hope I am never proven wrong in this belief, that James Comey is a good man.

Above: James Comey (right) at the annual Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Conference of 25 May 2016

I only hope that I too will one day be seen as a good man as well.




Canada Slim and the Great Explorer

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 August 2017

Let me begin with an apology or two.

Much time has gone by since I started this blog and I feel like a negligent parent towards this activity and the few folks who read this blog.

Life has been busy and it has been complicated, but let´s try to recapture the muse and endeavour to be both consistent and passionate about my writing once again.

Truth be told, one never knows how much time one actually has.

So, for those who have missed this blog I apologise for taking so long to return back to this activity.

As well, as I no longer possess a personal home computer those who read this blog today will find that I am forced to return to writing without the inclusion of photographs at this time, but I hope to add them at a future date.

Musical genius Jimi Hendrix once asked:

Jimi Hendrix 1967.png

“Are you experienced?”.

When we are reunited with old friends or family members we often ask them:

“How have you’ve been?”

“Where have you’ve been?”

Lately I have rediscovered a passion for Sherlock Holmes that has made me consider both how I, like many people, see but do not observe, and how the past is not as removed from the present as might be first thought.

(Regarding the world’s and my evolution into Holmesian fandom, see Canada Slim and the Bimetallic Question of this blog.)

Through my reading and teaching I am beginning to see travelling from perspectives I had not previously considered.

(For more about the benefits of travel, see The Great Adventure of this blog.)

London, England, 1 April 1894

“Holmes!”, I cried.

“Is it really you?

Can it indeed be that you are alive?


Is it possible that you succeeded in climbing out of that awful abyss?”

…”I had no serious difficulty in getting out of it, for the very simple reason that I never was in it…

…We (Holmes and Moriarty) tottered upon the brink of the (Reichenbach) Falls….

I slipped through his grip…and over he went….

The instant that the Professor had disappeared it struck me what a really extraordinary lucky chance Fate had placed in my way. 

I knew that Moriarty was not the only man who had sworn my death. 

There were at least three others whose desire for vegeance upon me would only be increased by the death of their leader. 

They were all most dangerous men. 

One or other would certainly get me. 

On the other hand, if all the world was convinced that I was dead they would take liberties, these men. 

They would lay themselves open, and sooner or later I could destroy them. 

Then it would be time for me to announce that I was still in the land of the living….

Several times during the last three years I have taken up my pen to write to you, but always I feared lest your affectionate regard for me should tempt you to some indiscretion which would betray my secret….

You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend…”

(Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Empty House)

(See Canada Slim and the Final Problem for details as to how Holmes and Moriarty – and many years later I –  came to be at Reichenbach Falls, near Meiringen.)

Holmes escaped, and for the next three years, a period which Sherlockians call “the Great Hiatus”, Holmes travelled the world.

It is implied, in Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House, through Holmes’ mention of several places in Asia – all British imperial hotspots – that Holmes was working as a secret agent for the British government.

(James Bond of the Victorian age?)

Doyle gave the reader a wealth of intriguing hints about what Holmes was up to in those three years.

Despite the story’s historic Victorian setting, Doyle also wove into his fiction up-to-the-minute global issues into Holmes’ adventures.

Holmes said he posed as a Norwegian explorer named Sigerson.

Perhaps “Sigerson” was inspired by the real life Swedish explorer Sven Hedin?

Sven Hedin from Hildebrand Sveriges historia.jpg

Above: Sven Hedin in 1910

I am inspired to write about Hedin for a number of reasons:

I want to show that we are all a product of those who came before us, not just genetically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.

I want to show that even great men and women are often swept up in the current of their times and often make bad decisions with the best intentions.

Hedin inspired a local writer and poet who in turn has inspired me in my writing this past year.

Sven Anders Hedin (1865 – 1952) was a Swedish geographer, topographer, explorer, photographer, travel writer and illustrator of his own works.

During four expeditions to Central Asia, Hedin made the Transhimalaya known to the West and located the sources of the Brahmaputra, Indus and Sutlej Rivers.

Hedin also mapped Lake Lop Nur and the remains of cities, grave sites and the Great Wall of China in the deserts of the Tarim Basin.

In his book From Pole to Pole, Hedin describes a journey through Asia and Europe between the late 1880s and the early 1900s, visited Istanbul, the Caucasus, India, China, Asiatic Russia and Japan.

On some levels I can relate to Hedin.

At 15 years of age, Stockholm resident Hedin witnessed the triumphal return of the Arctic Explorer Adolf Eric Nordenskiold after his first navigation of the Northern Sea Route.

Hedin describes the experience in his book My Life as an Explorer:

“On 24 April 1880, the steamer Vega sailed into Stockholm harbour. 

The entire city was illuminated. 

The buildings around the harbour glowed in the light of innumerable lamps and torches. 

Gas flames depicted the constellations of Vega on the castle.

Amidst this sea of light the famous ship glided into the harbour.

I was standing on the Sondermalm heights with my parents and siblings, from which we had a great view. 

I was gripped by great nervous tension. 

I will remember this day until I die, as it was decisive for my future.

Thunderous jubliation resounded from quays, streets, windows and rooftops.

“That is how I want to return home some day.”, I thought to myself.

I was 15 as well on 14 May 1980 when a distant relative sent me the birthday present of a three-year subscription to National Geographic.

Logo of the National Geographic Society

Seeing pictures of faraway places with strange-sounding names, reading of the exploits of a young man sailing around the world and another walking across the USA, and seeing that there still remained a world of adventure and experience beyond the dairy farms and ploughrow fields, beyond Mount Maple and the busy highway outside my yard, beyond the isolation of the tiny parish of St. Philippe d’Argenteuil de la Paroisse de St. Jerusalem, I began to plot my escape.

Especially motivating was the story of Peter Jenkins who left his house on the East Coast of America, walked down to New Orleans and then over to the West Coast.

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Like Patrick Fermor who walked from England to Istanbul, or Laurie Lee who walked from the security of the Cotswolds to Spain, Jenkins followed the call of the road not knowing where it would lead beyond the notion of “Here’s a point on the map. I’ll go here.”

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Above: Patrick Fermor, 1966


I could, if brave enough, throw a backpack on my shoulders and simply go.

Only later in life would I begin to realise that fame such as that achieved by Hedin and his hero Nordenskiold, or recognition the likes of Jenkins, Fermor or Lee requires an organised campaign almost akin to Hannibal crossing the Alps.

In my own adventures I realised that wide renown was never as important to me as the actual experience of travelling.

Chances are strong that I shall not long be remembered after these words are read, for I set no new records, made little publicity and have been content to simply write down my feelings and observations that someone might read and enjoy.

But without restless folks like Hedin, Jenkins, Fermor and Lee, I might have remained feeling limited to my origins and would have settled for a life of quiet desperation.

Without the accounts of folks like these I might not have been inspired to try my hand at writing.

And though there are those who cannot see beyond the 50-something tall, slightly overweight, balding barista and freelance teacher, I still see potential yet untapped.

I hope.

Hedin learned to seize opportunity where he could.

After graduating from high school in 1885, Hedin accepted an offer to accompany the student Erhard Sandgren as his private tutor to Baku, Azerbaijan, where Erhard’s father was working as an engineer in the oil fields of Robert Nobel.

Torre de la Doncella, Baku, Azerbaiyán, 2016-09-26, DD 08.jpg

Above: Maiden Tower, Baku, Azerbaijan

While in Baku, Hedin began to study languages: Latin, French, German, Persian, Russian, English and Tatar.

He would later learn several Persian dialects as well as Turkish, Kyrgyz, Mongolian, Tibetan and some Chinese.

In 1886, Hedin left Baku for Iran, travelling by paddle steamer over the Caspian Sea, riding through the Alborz Range to Teheran, Esfahan, Shiraz and the harbour city of Bushehr.

Hedin then took a ship up the Tigris River to Baghdad, returning to Tehran via Kermanshah and then travelling through the Caucasus and over the Black Sea to Istanbul, then finally returning to Sweden.

He then published a book about these travels entitled Through Persia, Mesopotamia and the Caucasus.

Hedin then returned to his studies, learning geology, mineralogy, zoology and Latin in Stockholm, Uppsala and Berlin.

In 1890 Hedin acted as interpreter and vice-consul to a Swedish legation to Iran, where he would meet and accompany the Shah of Iran on a climb up Mount Damavand.


He then travelled the Silk Road via the cities of Mashhad, Ashgabat, Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent and Kashgar to the western outskirts of the Taklamakan Desert.

On the trip home, Hedin visited the grave of the Russian Asian scholar Nikolai Przhevalsky in Karakol on the shore of Lake Issyk Kul.

Nikolay Przhevalsky photoportrait and signature.jpg

Hedin published the books King Oscar’s Legation to the Shah of Persia in 1890 and Through Khorasan and Turkestan about this journey.

After completing his doctorate in Halle, Hedin was encouraged to become throughly acquainted with all branches of geographic science and its methodologies so that he could become a fully qualified explorer, but:

“I was not up to this challenge.

I had gotten out onto the wild routes of Asia too early.

I had perceived too much of the splendour and magnificence of the Orient, the silence of the deserts and the loneliness of long journeys.

I could not get used to the idea of spending a long period of time back in school.”

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Hedin went against what remains very European thinking…the idea that a person cannot pursue his dreams without qualifications.

Hedin still remained dedicated to become an explorer.

He was attracted to the idea of travelling to the last mysterious portions of Asia and filling in the gaps by mapping areas completely unknown in Europe.

From 1893 to 1897, Hedin left Stockholm, travelling via St. Petersburg and Tashkent to the Pamir Mountains.

Several attempts to climb the 7,546-metre/24,757-foot high Muztagata Glacier were unsuccessful.

Muztagh Ata Xinjiang China.jpg

Hedin then tried to cross the Taklamakan Desert, but his water supply was insufficient resulting in the deaths of seven camels and two escorts.

(In 2000, Bruno Baumann travelled Hedin’s route and concluded that it is impossible for a camel caravan travelling in the springtime to carry enough water for both camels and travellers.)

Taklamakan desert.jpg

Hedin’s ruthless behaviour and obsessive urge to complete his research would earn him massive criticism.

After a stopover in Kashgar, Hedin visited the 1,500-year-old abandoned cities of Dandan Oilik and Kara Dung, northeast of Khotan in the Taklamakan Desert.

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He then discovered Lake Bosten, one of the largest inland bodies of water in Central Asia.

Bosten-Lake (Bosten-See), Xinjiang, China, 87.00E, 42.00N.jpg

Hedin mapped Lake Kara-Koshun then travelled across northern Tibet and China to Beijing and returned to Stockholm via Mongolia and Russia.

From 1899 to 1902, Hedin navigated the Yarkand, Tarim and Kaidu Rivers and found the Lake of Lop Nur, where he discovered the ruins of the lost city of Loulan.

From upper left: roof of the Jokhang Temple; Norbulingka monastery main gate; Potala Palace; Wheel of Dharma and prayer wheels (bottom), Jokhang; satellite picture of Lhasa

Above: Scenes of Lhasa

He attempted to reach the forbidden city of Lhasa and explored India.

This expedition resulted in 1,149 pages of maps of newly discovered lands.

Between 1905 and 1908, Hedin investigated the Central Iranian desert basins, the western highlands of Tibet and the Transhimalaya.

Hedin visited the Dalai Lama in the cloistered city of Tashilhunpo in Shigatse.

ashi Lhunpo Monastery

Hedin was the first European to reach the Kailash Region, including sacred Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash – the midpoint of the Earth according to Buddhist and Hindu mythology.

Kailash north.JPG

The most important goal of the expedition was the search for the sources of the Indus and the Brahmaputra Rivers, both of which Hedin found.

From India, he returned via Japan and Russia to Stockholm.

In 1923, Hedin travelled to Beijing via the USA – where he visited the Grand Canyon – and Japan.

Grand Canyon view from Pima Point 2010.jpg

He then travelled with Frans August Larson (aka “the Duke of Mongolia”) in a Dodge automobile from Beijing through Mongolia via Ulaanbataar to Ulan-Ude and from there across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Moscow.

Between 1927 (Hedin was already 65.) and 1935, Hedin led the International Sino-Swedish Expedition which investigated the meteorological, topographic and prehistoric situation in Mongolia, the Gobi Desert and Xinjiang.

Above: Envelope of a letter from Hedin to his sister Alma with Chinese stamps issued on the occasion of the Sino-Swedish Expedition

Hedin was joined by eight Swedes, a Dane, ten Chinese, thirteen Germans (including local young man Fritz Mühlenweg), 66 camel riders and 30 soldiers.

Above: Fritz Mühlenweg in later years

Hedin described the Expedition as a peripatetic university in which the participating scientists worked almost independently, while he – like a local manager – negotiated with local authorities, made decisions, organised whatever was necessary, raised funds and recorded the route followed.

He gave these archaeologists, astronomers, botanists, geographers, geologists, meteorologists and zoologists the opportunity to participate in the Expedition while carrying out research in their areas of speciality.

Hedin was a prolific writer:

His publications amounted to some 30,000 pages, with 2,500 drawings and watercolors, films and many photographs.

And this doesn´t include his 25 volumes of travel and expedition notes and 145 volumes of diaries he regularly maintained between 1930 and 1952, totalling 8,257 pages.

Hedin´s expeditions laid the foundations for a precise mapping of Central Asia.

He was one of the first European scientific explorers to employ indigenous scientists and research assistants on his expeditions.

Even though Hedin was a man of small stature, with a bookish, bespectacled appearance, Hedin nevertheless proved himself a determined explorer, surviving several close brushes with death from hostile forces and the elements over his long career.

His scientific documentation and popular travelogues, illustrated with his own photographs, paintings and drawings, his adventure stories for young readers and his lecture tours abroad made him world famous.

(In the months after his return from the Sino-Swedish Expedition, Hedin held 111 lectures in 91 German cities as well as 19 lectures in other countries.

To accomplish this lecture tour, Hedin covered a stretch of road as long as the Equator, 23,000 km/14,000 miles by train and 17,000 km/11,000 miles by car – in a time period of only five months.)

With all his travels, Hedin never married and had no children.

Hedin remains a controversial figure and not only because of his fatal adventures in the Taklamakan Desert.

Even though Hedin would gain fame and glory for his accomplishments as an explorer and would be ceremoniously honoured by King and Shah, Czar and Kaiser, Viceroy and Emperor, Pope and President, Chancellor and Dictator, Hedin was often criticised for his political leanings.

Some historians claim that Hedin was a child of the 19th century unable and unwilling to align his thinking and actions according to the demands of the 20th century.

Others criticised Hedin for making his exclusive knowledge of Central Asia not only available to the Swedish government but to any government, including those of Chiang Kai-Shek and Adolf Hitler.


Hitler portrait crop.jpg

Hedin was a monarchist and was against democracy in Sweden, believing that democracy weakened national defence and military preparedness.

Hedin felt Russia was the greatest danger to Europe and Asia with its desire to dominate and control territories outside its borders, and so felt that Germany was Europe´s best defence against Russian expansionism.

Hedin viewed World War I as a struggle of the German race against Russia and particularly admired German Kaiser Wilhelm II, whom he even visited in his exile in the Netherlands.

German emperor Wilhelm II(cropped)(1).jpg

Hedin´s conservative and pro-German views eventually translated into sympathy for the Third Reich.


Hedin saw Hitler´s rise to power as a revival of German fortunes and welcomed its challenge against Soviet Communism.

Hedin supported the Nazis in his journalistic activities.

Although Hedin was not a National Socialist (Nazi), his incredible naivete and gullibility as well as his hope that Nazi Germany would protect Scandinavia from invasion by the Soviet Union, brought Hedin in dangerous proximity to Nazis who exploited him as an author, destroying his reputation and put him into social and scientific isolation.

Even after the collapse of the Third Reich, Hedin did not regret his collaboration with the Nazis, because this cooperation had made it possible for Hedin to rescue numerous Nazi victims from execution or death in extermination camps.


Much of what happened in the early days of Nazi rule had his approval, but Hedin was not an entirely uncritical supporter of the Nazis.

He attempted to convince the German government to relent in its antireligious and antisemetic campaigns.

Hedin requested pardons for people condemned to death and for mercy, release and permission to leave the country for people interned in prisons or concentration camps.

Hedin tried to save over 100 deported Jews and Norwegians as well as acted on behalf of Norwegian activists.

Hedin died at Stockholm in 1952.

Among the many honours paid to Hedin by numerous countries, a glacier (the Sven Hedin Glacier), a lunar crater, a species of flower, a species of beetle and a species of butterfly, fossil discoveries as well as streets and squares have been named after him.

There is a permanent exhibition on Hedin and his expeditions in the Stockholm Ethnographic Museum and a memorial plaque dedicated to Hedin can be found in the Adolf Frederick Church.

In Swedish, it reads:

“Asia´s unknown expanses were his world.  Sweden remained his home.”

Flag of Sweden

Is it any wonder that folks like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Fritz Mühlenweg were so impressed by this little Swede who opened up the big world?

I wonder…

Would Hedin have explored and written so much had he been blessed with a wife and children?

Modern explorers like the aforementioned Peter Jenkins and train travelogue author Paul Theroux sacrificed their marriages to their wanderlust.

PaulTheroux 2008Sep.jpg

Above: Paul Theroux, 2008

I wonder…

Were I not married or if I had never married would I still be travelling?

Would I have been a more prolific writer had I explored roads and paths not taken?

Fritz Mühlenweg, after his travels in Mongolia, would meet and marry a woman and raise a family and beat back his wanderlust by writing and painting the Lake of Constance region he loved.

Like Mühlenweg, I too have travelled a wee bit in my younger days and married and settled by the Lake of Constance.

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Is the cure for my own wanderlust that burns within my blood to write about where I have settled?

I wonder…

Sources: Wikipedia / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Empty House”