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‘Troubled Heads’
‘Nor Prayers for Mercy’: Januarius MacGahan’s Dispatches from the 1876 April Uprising in Bulgaria by Richard Selcer


The work of a young Ohio-born journalist for the London Daily News once horrified Great Britain as the details concerning the mass torture, rape and burning of the Bulgarian Christian civilians in the town of Batak reached them. However, dreaming dragons seem to have short memories, for the British State and public have been accepting Muslim immigrants from around the world ever since. This war crime was committed by the “usual Turkish suspects” the Bashi-Bazouks, or “troubled-Heads,” Islamic Caucasian militia men reminiscent of the Russian Cossacks. The Bulgarian Uprising was foolishly conducted by idealists and easily crushed. The only real points of interest here are that Islam seems to rival Shintoism as an excuse for slaughter of enemy noncombatants. Richard Selcer is careful to skirt this ground in the rapidly liberalizing Military History and these were not Jihadists, simply thugs acting out in the way that Islamic conquerors have been prone to act among non-Muslim peoples since at least the 1200s.

What I find fascinating are the figures of the Bashi-Bazouks, an irregular cavalry trooper that may cast some light on the character of the “Rotten-Heads" that Richard Burton commanded in the Crimean War a quarter century earlier.

He wears ornate, tooled boots, baggy pantaloons, an ornate belt, a vest, jacket and cape, a fez with pony tale tassel and an ostentatious mustache of sweeping proportions. He holds a carbine, has a scimitar belted on his left hip and wears two black-powder pistols in a quiver, seemingly designed for arrows, under his right arm so that the butts can be grabbed from over the right breast. One look at this white devil and one must suppose that he has a wickedly curved dagger hidden somewhere on his person.

Finally, in a postmodern nation tilting towards open civil war, Richard Selcer sketches an insightful account of those ineffective ideological uprisings that are not proxy forces commanded by outsiders [the Left] but rather base their actions on moral considerations and notions of right, wrong and liberty [the Right], as opposed to calculations intended to achieve victory.

Books by James LaFond

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