In a Mass Knife Fight to the Death Between Every American President, Who Would Win and Why?

Hello everyone!

One of my most-visited sites on the web is, and one of my favourite subreddits is HistoricalWhatIf, an online community that debates historical hypotheticals. Earlier today someone asked the question, In a mass knife fight to the death between every American President, who would win and why? Someone beat me to the obvious answer that a final showdown would see Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt doing a dagger-wielding version of a Mexican standoff, so I took it too far and walked through how I thought every president would turn out. An hour later the result greatly exceeded the maximum 10,000 character limit for a post, so I’ve decided to blog about it instead.

To begin, here were the original conditions of the hypothetical, as suggested by the redditor Xineph:

  • Every president is in the best physical and mental condition they were ever in throughout the course of their presidency. Fatal maladies have been cured, but any lifelong conditions or chronic illnesses (e.g. FDR’s polio) remain.
  • The presidents are fighting in an ovular arena 287 feet long and 180 feet wide (the dimensions of the [1] Roman Colosseum). The floor is concrete. Assume that weather is not a factor.
  • Each president has been given one standard-issue [2] Gerber LHR Combat Knife , the knife [3] presented to each graduate of the United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course. Assume the presidents have no training outside any combat experiences they may have had in their own lives.
  • There is no penalty for avoiding combat for an extended period of time. Hiding and/or playing dead could be valid strategies, but there can be only one winner. The melee will go on as long as it needs to.
  • FDR has been outfitted with a [4] Bound Plus H-Frame Power Wheelchair, and can travel at a maximum speed of around 11.5 MPH. The wheelchair has been customized so that he is holding his knife with his dominant hand. This is to compensate for his almost certain and immediate defeat in the face of an overwhelming disadvantage.
  • Each president will be deposited in the arena regardless of their own will to fight, however, personal ethics, leadership ability, tactical expertise etc., should all be taken into account. Alliances are allowed.

(Note: On February 22nd, 2017, the redditors who originally came up with this historical what if contacted me asking if I could update this post to reflect their authorship of the points above. Of course I am happy to do so. Thank you Zach Ehrlich and Luke Conley for creating this fun writing prompt.)

With the scenario set, here’s my take on it:

1) George Washington – Commanding presence, strong physique, military training, viewed as a hero by everyone asked to shank him: He makes Top 10 without question. Of the guaranteed top three (I’m going to call them the Holy Trinity for the purposes of this rambling rundown), my money is on Jackson being the one who murders him; he wouldn’t blink, either. They were closer in age, and the hero myth wouldn’t be quite as firmly set. Besides, I’m pretty sure Jackson didn’t blink when he sneezed…

2) John Adams is going out early. Nothing against the man, but portly well-spoken lawyers bring lampoons to a knife fight. It doesn’t end well.

3) Thomas Jefferson. I’d like to say he’d make a good show of it, but he was a bit of dandy… Middle of the pack, but his dying words would be incredibly quotable.

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My Favourite Authors of Historical Fiction: Sharon Kay Penman

Hello everyone,

While I wait for the ISBN number for my next novel, Zulu, I thought I’d add to my ongoing 11-part series on my favourite authors of historical fiction.

#5 – Sharon Kay Penman

I’ve written about Sharon Kay Penman before in one of my earliest blog posts, a lengthy book review that I will not repeat here for the sake of both brevity and originality. That said, I will repeat again what I said back in 2009: She is one of the shining lights of historical fiction today.

The particular era and area she writes about  is on the Middle Ages of Great Britain and France, and her attention to detail in that time period is every bit as impressive as Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. If she says something happened on a Wednesday, she’s looked up the date and adjusted for the Gregorian calendar reforms that dropped ten days out of the year 1582 to make that statement. I’m only exaggerating slightly when I enthuse that when her characters lean against an oak tree, she’s probably seen the stump. She’s less a writer of fiction than a journalist who apologetically plays fast and loose with her quotations because of the understandable difficulty in interviewing people who have been dead for between seven and nine centuries. The history nerd in me gets all warm and fuzzy reading her stories, knowing she will confess her few inventions in a detailed author’s note at the end.

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Why I wrote about the Inca

Hello again everyone,

Amazon is still processing my e-book, so while I wait for the big news I thought I’d blog a little on what drew me to write about the Inca.

I am wholeheartedly and unashamedly a history nerd. I love it. It’s the story of humankind, and there’s always something more to learn. The Inca are tucked away in a little-explored corner of the historical zeitgeist, and for most of my childhood and teens I had them grouped in with the Aztec and the Maya as New World civilizations that did not survive the arrival of Europeans. At some point I heard the improbable story of Francisco Pizarro’s one-upping Hernán Cortés in audacity and rapaciousness, but really the Inca meant nothing more to me than a source of the silver and gold that filled those galleons English pirates and privateers hunted throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries. The Inca as a people were a blank to me, and I was on a Roman history kick that I’ve never really gotten over.

Sometimes it’s the little things that draw your attention to an idea that will consume years of your life. There’s a great exchange in Seinfeld where George Costanza tells Jerry that his favourite explorer was Hernando de Soto.

“De Soto? What did he do?” Jerry asks.

“He discovered the Mississippi,” George replies.

“Yeah, but they were going to find that anyway!” Jerry protests.

The delivery of that line always tickled me, and one day I decided to read a book about conquistadores to see what all the fuss was about.  It turns out before De Soto led his ill-fated expedition into Florida and across the American South he had already earned fame and fortune as the leader of Pizarro’s horsemen against the Inca. I flipped to the chapter on Pizarro, and I read two things that got my immediate attention: First, the Emperor Atauhuallpa (I should mention there are several different accepted ways to spell his name. I’m using the one that appears in my book) was the winner of a recent civil war and indeed had not yet undergone his coronation when Pizarro’s men seized him and demanded the largest ransom in history only to kill him after it was paid; second, smallpox had hit the Inca years before the arrival of the Spaniards, and a quarter of the population had died.

Right there, I knew there was something more to the Inca than just the drama of Pizarro’s improbable conquest.

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Pyrrhus and Hannibal: What Great Enemies Taught Rome

I’ve had a lot of fun reworking two of my old university essays so far on this blog, one on the South African War and one on the foreign policy of John Diefenbaker. I’m pleased to say they are among my most popular posts so far, and so I’d like to continue posting content like this from time to time.

As I’ve mentioned before, I know anything I put up on the internet is free for someone to use for their own devices, so I’ve taken out the footnotes and bibliography, rendering my essay much less useful to anyone looking for a quick copy and paste. My old homework really isn’t meant to be an academic shortcut for today’s students, but if anyone wants to use it as a good introduction to the subject material available at your library, I’m happy to help.

Today’s essay is about the greatest non-barbarian enemies of the Roman Republic, and what they contributed to the eventual success of the state they sought and failed to subdue through force of arms. If memory serves, it received a very high grade indeed. I also had a lot of fun writing it. Enjoy!

Pyrrhus and Hannibal

What Great Enemies Taught Rome

Pyrrhus and Hannibal were the two single greatest threats to the Free Republic of Rome. They invaded Italy, smashed consular armies, turned vassal city-states against their Roman overlords, and killed thousands of legionnaires in the service of the Senate and People of Rome. Despite victory after devastating victory, they accomplished nothing. They could not defeat Rome, nor even leave her humbled. These two men whose aim was to destroy Rome became some of her greatest builders; they taught the Romans that even a total tactical defeat meant nothing strategically as long as Rome was prepared to endure.

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Remembrance Day, 2010

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. It’s the first Remembrance Day of my life that I will not be celebrating with my grandfather, Murray Anderson, a veteran of the Second World War who passed away last winter.

In December, 2009, I scanned a number of pictures he took during his time in the Royal Canadian Navy with the intention of uploading them to honour today. Unfortunately I cracked the motherboard of the computer containing those scanned pictures last spring, and I haven’t managed to recover the harddrive yet. When I do, you can be sure I’ll upload them to this blog.

In the meantime, I want to put something up here in his memory, and to mark this day where we remember all those who have served and sacrificed in the past and present so that we can live in a better world. On my facebook profile I have a collection of photos of his ship that I’ve found online up, and so I’ll republish them here for a wider audience.

This is my grandfather’s ship, the HMCS Dumheller (K167). Of the 37 U-Boats destroyed by the Canadian Navy during the Second World War, it sank one and assisted in sinking another. It also served in Operation Neptune, the naval component of Operation Overlord, the Allied Invasion of Europe.

My grandfather was one of the wireless operators aboard the HMCS Drumheller. His ship escorted the Mulberry hulks, old wrecks that were scuttled off the D-Day beaches to make breakwaters and piers so the Allies could use the Normandy beaches as a port.

On June 6th the HMCS Drumheller was just offshore. He could see bodies floating in the water. He told me he saw a troopship, its deck full of soldiers, hit a mine and vanish in a flash of light and white water. Later that day he was out on the deck when the HMS Norfolk was firing its eight-inch guns inland against Nazi positions. He burst his eardrum and permanently lost his hearing in his right ear. He never reported the injury for fear of being put ashore, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that he filed a claim with veterans affairs. He was afraid he was going to get in trouble somehow for concealing his war wound for so long.

This is the HMCS Drumheller coming into a harbour. This photo was taken from the deck of a Canadian destroyer. See the sailors lined up on the deck? During the run up to D-Day it worked alone, shepherding individual ships from British port to British port along the English Channel.

One night he said they were escorting an American merchantman through the English Channel, and they could hear over the water the special whine of a German E-Boat (a torpedo boat that was easily a match for the Drumheller). The Canadians were hoping that the Germans wouldn’t find them, but the Americans had a 50-calibre machine gun bolted to their bow, and they started firing wildly into the night. All of a sudden my grandfather heard the ‘Ping! Ping! Ping!’ as the bullets bounced off the metal of the E-Boat. The Germans revved up their engines, turned tail and ran. He figures they must have thought anyone with the nerve to shoot at them must have been another torpedo boat. The Americans trigger-happy attitude saved the day.

My grandfather told me once they were in Portsmouth, and V-1 Buzz Bombs were flying overhead. All the ships in the harbour were firing their anti-aircraft guns, and then the orders came over the radio from the harbour master to cease fire immediately: If any of the V-1s were shot down, they could have hit one of the ammunition ships. The RAF would take care of them once they were in land.
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Diefenbaker’s Foreign Policy

I enjoyed reworking one of my old university essays for publication on this blog last month, and so I’ve decided to do so again. This time my subject will be the foreign policy of former Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker.

Oh, I know: Canadian History, what dreary stuff. Balderdash! Canadian History is boring when it’s taught in a boring way. I took a couple of courses in university that were taught with great fire and enthusiasm by a professor I deeply admire. His passion was obvious and infectious, and his memory for obscure details and stories from Canada’s past was astounding: Several years after taking his courses I ran into him in the halls one day, and he remembered I was a descendant of Empire Loyalists. Hundreds of students had come and gone through his classrooms in the interim, but he remembered that. It impresses me still.

Anyway, I wrote this essay for one of his classes, and I’ve always been fond of it. As I mentioned in April, I’m aware that anything I put up on the internet is free for someone to appropriate, so I’ve taken out the footnotes and bibliography, rendering it much less useful to anyone looking for a quick copy and paste to solve their looming deadline problem. My old homework really shouldn’t end up being someone else’s easy way out. That’s not to say any students reading this aren’t welcome to use this essay as either a source, or perhaps as a jumping off point to go to their school’s libraries and find the monographs that support my arguments. I’d be very pleased if that were to happen.

For non-student readers who feel like taking a mental stroll through one of the more interesting and convoluted ambitions of one of Canada’s most interesting and convoluted prime ministers, read on and enjoy!

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The South African War: The First Total War of the 20th Century

I came across this old university essay the other day, and I thought it blog-worthy (after a few minor edits, corrections, and of course a healthy contribution of pictures). I already have one post about the Boer War on this blog. You can find it here.

I’m aware that anything I put up on the internet is free for someone to appropriate, so –in the interest of academic integrity– I’ve taken out the footnotes and bibliography. That’s not to say any students reading this aren’t welcome to use this essay as either a source or perhaps as a jumping off point to go to their libraries and find the monographs that support my arguments. For non-students reading this blog, I invite you to enjoy something I put a lot of time and effort into, once upon a time. My opinion wasn’t spoon fed to me in class. My thesis and the research to support it were arrived at through my own efforts. If memory serves, I got a mark in the high 80s or low 90s.

The South African War (1899-1902)

The First Total War of the Twentieth Century

The South African War was the last gasp of British Imperial Jingoism and the first whisper of the fall that was to come.

The British Empire had never been more powerful than at the outset of hostilities in 1899. Military experts expected the battle-hardened British army, tempered by a hundred years of such colonial wars, to brush aside the Boers with no more effort than any of the other malcontents of the Pax Britannia had required. By the end of the war in 1902 the days of Britain’s assured world dominance were over. The eventual victory had never been in doubt, but the duration of the war had seen the sun begin to set on the Union Jack. The Empire buried the Boers under the strategic assets of Time, Money, and Manpower –all of which Britain had and the Boers did not– but the Boers’ guerilla tactics were an effective stalemate to Britain’s resources.

It took total war on behalf of the British in the form of destroying civilian homesteads and relocating an entire population to concentration camps to bring the war to an end. Still, it was with stubborn pride that illiterate ranchers had humbled the giant before the world.
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Documents found in my mother’s antique desk dating to just after the end of the First World War

My mother's desk. Above it there's a picture of my grandfather, Philip Micks, along with his medals from the Second World War.
My mother collects antiques, or at least she likes them enough to keep an eye out for them when she pursues one of her true passions in life, interior decorating. Some years ago she bought a writing desk of quarter cut oak, and within one of the drawers she was told were some documents from the desk’s original owner dating to just after the end of the Great War. I have a friend who is a government archivist –and to hear that woman speak in awe about the benefits of acid free paper is to be in the presence of true devotion– but I confess I have no idea how to go about preserving these pages beyond keeping them in their drawer. We do our best not to handle them or disturb them, but now that I have an outlet to share them with a wider audience through this blog, I’ve scanned them and written them out. Hopefully I haven’t done too much lasting damage to the originals in the process.

The first is a draft of a letter to a periodical (possibly the old Leamington Post and News) protesting that no true veteran of the trenches could possibly bemoan the free issue of rum and tobacco products given to soldiers on the Front. I’ve recently read Shock Troops by Tim Cook (I’ll do a book review soon), and he made several mentions of the British tradition of issuing rum and cigarettes to infantry. When those soldiers returned to civilian life, Canada was in the grips of Prohibition, and they flexed a lot of voting power to get those laws repealed, much to the consternation of the Temperance Movement. I would hazard a guess that I know which way the author of these documents voted on that matter.
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A Boer War Story

This is another photo from my grandfather’s collection. In his album the caption at the side reads, “1938. Dad (E. J. Anderson) and fishing buddy Mr. Monaham (Boer War Vet). (Dad age 49)” As in my last post, this photo inspired a story from my grandfather.

I don’t know Mr. Monaham’s first name. I’ve run a search through the list of the 7,000 Canadians who served in the Boer War, but there isn’t a Monaham among them. Mr. Monaham must have served in a British unit, and there are far too many of them to attempt a quick check for the sake of a given name. Whatever his full name, to my grandfather he would have been ‘Mr. Monaham,’ a man who enjoyed fishing every bit as much as his father did. What stands out in my grandfather’s memory, though, is an old war story he once heard.
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Awesome Pictures: Assyrian Lion Hunting

What is it:

This is a bas relief panel carved in limestone from an enormous frieze depicting the royal lion hunts of Assyria, built for the North Palace of Nineveh, circa 645-635 BC. It is now on display at the British Museum in London in a massive hall that will take your breath away.

Why is it Awesome?

I first came across the sculpture when I was seventeen, wandering around the British Museum. The lion’s expression of suffering –of great dignity struck low– was so palpable that I felt compelled to sit down and sketch it. I have that drawing taped into one of my early notebooks, and in an idle moment a year or so ago I decided to look around online to see if the image was available. Much to my delight, my very lion –of the dozens depicted on the frieze– was available on the Wikipedia Commons. It promptly became my desktop. I have since scoured the Internet for more images and information with limited results at best, I’m afraid. What I did find is compiled into this article.

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