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Saturday, 1 February 2014

English and German perspectives on the Great War

It's Saturday, so I'm going to mention something other than MPs' sense of entitlement, which is the common news thread bubbling away at the moment. This is about maps. I'm a map person; maps and charts tell you an awful lot about the people who make them and use them, and, in the case of maps marked up with human demographics, allow useful insights into all sorts of issues. Here for instance are two maps of the theatre of war of the Great War - the first from the BBC, but absolutely typical of those we will be drenched with over the next year or so, the second from Der Spiegel.  

You'll notice that our map is centred somewhere over Luxembourg and ends with the Balkans in the bottom right hand corner. Given our major effort was the Western Front, our focus on that area may be understandable. The German map is centred somewhere over Vienna, and paints a picture of Germany and Austro-Hungary surrounded by enemies - a picture that still colours German political perspectives today.

The German map also helps understand why Churchill was so focused on the Dardanelles. A junction between the Ottoman and German Empires - and remember the Berlin to Baghdad railway was a political statement, not an act of engineering bravura - would have immeasurably strengthened that alliance. In the event the two were kept apart by fierce fighting in Serbia and Romania.

We will view the Great War as a struggle between France and the UK against relentless German Westwards aggression - they will view it as the existential struggle for survival of a surrounded, blockaded Reich starved of food and war materials. This perspective, together with French vindictiveness at Versailles, allowed the 'stab in the back' meme that paved the way for Hitler. We must be aware that this perspective still exists, and that next year it will get another airing. This, I suspect, is why some German politicians who know their history are trying to play down the Great War centennial. After a century, we still see things very differently.

And that's a bit of historical perspective you won't get from John Craven's Dan Snow's War Round.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Getting the message out

In the run up to May, I'm convinced that the message that all Euphobes need to get out must be above all simple. The electorate really aren't interested in arcane arguments about treaty clauses - this is an issue for administrators. So we must take command of the agenda and make the key points as simply and clearly as possible. I'll be doing my bit, on a wholly non-party political basis of course, with mock-ups of simple issue messages such as this;
The visualisation may be a bit crap, but the ideas are free, gratis and without any conditions.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Carswell's Damascene conversion?

A piece in the Speccie apparently catalogues Carswell's about-turn on being a Euro rebel. It's nonsense of course. The man has always been an establishment careerist who wants nothing more than to be a permanent MP and a full-paid up member of the truly loathsome Political Class.

Don't forget that it was Carswell who led the moves to make MPs' addresses secret because they were 'special'. He's now realising that UKIP could turf him out of his comfortable seat and from 2015 he'd have to work for a living.

Expect many more Tory 'rebels' to do the same over the next year.

Army go in

The Telegraph is reporting that the government is sending in the Army to the Somerset Levels.

Wouldn't the Navy be more appropriate?

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Booker Backs Localism

In a well-featured piece in the Mail, Christopher Booker catalogues the failures of the Environment Agency that have allowed the Somerset Levels to be submerged for most of this Winter. He rightly identifies that the old Drainage Boards, organised and run locally by those familiar with the watercourses, flood plains and topography of their areas, abolished in favour of a centralist State authority, did a far better job. And as a sting in the tail, he points out that the Norfolk Broads, not run by the EA but by a local Board, have escaped flooding problems this year. 

Spot on. The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988 was a thorn in the heart of the centralists; when the Tories sought to enact the Environment Act 1995 which created the EA they badly wanted to include the Broads, but difficulties including a concerted local campaign of opposition kept the Broads out of the EA's clutches. It continues with its remit (a legal obligation the Greens can't touch) to serve agriculture, forestry, local social and economic interests, navigation, public enjoyment, natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage.

Unlike of course the EA, conceived from an act of green insanity, with a mission to "achieve sustainable development" with a vision of a "rich, healthy and diverse environment for present and future generations". And this is the problem with remote, central State authorities that lose touch with their local roots; they become susceptible to influence by cranks and nutters who value geese over people. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Homs? Aleppo? Or where?

The siege ended with the slaughter of more than twenty thousand of the town's inhabitants; two-thirds of the population. For days after, the corpses were thrown in the river, rotting, terribly mutilated. No-one was spared on account of age or sex. An eye witness wrote:-
"Thus it came about that the city and all its inhabitants fell into the hands of the enemy, whose violence and cruelty were due in part to their common hatred of the adherents of the other faith, and in part to their being embittered by the shells which had been fired at them and by the derision and insults that the townspeople had heaped upon them from the ramparts.

Then was there naught but beating and burning, plundering, torture, rape and murder. Most especially was every enemy bent on securing much booty. When a marauding party entered a house, if its master had anything to give he might thereby purchase respite and protection for himself and his family till the next man, who also wanted something should come along. It was only when everything had been brought forth and there was nothing left to give that the real trouble commenced. Then, what with blows and threats of shooting, stabbing and hanging, the poor people were so terrified that if they had had anything left they would have brought it forth if it had been buried in the earth or hidden away.

In this frenzied rage, the great and splendid city that had stood like a fair princess in the land was now, in its hour of direst need and unutterable distress and woe, given over to flames, and thousands of innocent men, women and children, in the midst of a horrible din of heart-rending shrieks and cries, were tortured and put to death in so cruel and shameful a manner that no words would suffice to describe, not no tears to bewail it…

Thus in a single day this noble and famous city, the pride of the whole country, went up in fire and smoke; and the remnant of its citizens, with their wives and children, were taken prisoners and driven away by the enemy with a noise of weeping and wailing that could be heard from afar, while the cinders and ashes from the town were carried by the wind to nearby towns, and still more distant places…"
Actually it was Magdeburg, destroyed in the thirty-year conflict between Catholics and Protestants that engulfed Europe, just as the conflict between Shia and Sunni is engulfing Syria, Iraq and the Middle East. 

Those killed in the Thirty Years War are said to number some seven and a half million, from populations a fraction of their modern equivalents. Europe was a smoking ruin; starvation, disease, failed harvests, lawlessness. And the lesson is that no wars are more fratricidal, more zealously fought, than wars of religious sects; intervention is pointless, and peacemaking premature until the earth is soaked in blood and both sides are exhausted.

It's a lesson I hope dearly that David Cameron will learn, and not only Cameron. Mathew D'Ancona wrote a particularly stupid piece for the ES recently lecturing us all on our duty to intervene. For whom, Mathew? Do we prefer dead Shia or dead Sunni? Do we support the Syrian rebels until their own atrocities are uncovered and then switch sides? And what's the sense of supporting Shia here and Sunni there?

D'Ancona may learn in the fullness of time that all any assistance, arms and money to one side or the other will achieve is an acceleration of the cathartic bloodshed and the saturation of the soil with the lives of the protagonists more rapidly than otherwise. 

Yes it's Fisk, but he's right

Blair's regime change in Iraq, the 'new' reason for his illegal war after the lies about WMDs became unsustainable, has come to maturity. Unfortunately the press remains largely sheepish about reporting the brave new Iraq, and we must rely on Robert Fisk in the Indie. Yes I know - Fisk has form and linking to a Fisk piece is viewed in some quarters like admitting to an anal fistula. 

If Fisk's figures for the numbers of executions and for those waiting for the hangmen are right, Blair's new Iraq regime must be congratulated for achieving in just ten years levels of repression and brutality that it took Saddam twenty-five years to reach.

And is Blair now agitating for more, er, 'regime change' to halt this barbarous brutality? Um, no. Chilcot's report may well soon see Blair in the dock himself - so he's busy exculpating himself in advance. His efforts couldn't be bettered even if orchestrated by Max Clifford (which, for all I know, they may be - he can certainly afford Clifford's fees); all that's lacking is a photoshoot of Blair washing the Pope's feet.

Blair will be fortunate that any jail term he receives will be served in the comfortable surrounds of the Hague rather than in Abu Ghraib, where the screams of the victims of his new regime's torturers may disturb his sleep.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

EU hubris could destabilise Europe

The deaths and disorder in the Ukraine can be laid in no small part at the fragrant feet of Catherine Ashton. As she departs her unelected role at the EU later this year with payoffs and perks that would keep the whole of Benefits Street fed for a decade she leaves a trail of blood, pain and frustration in her wake. 

Ukraine is not Europe. Not even the Western part, which has its own language and which provided Himmler with so many willing guards for his extermination camps. The desire of its people to escape serfdom and the knout is understandable; having hoped the Bolsheviks would oblige, Stalin soon disillusioned them. The Holodomor, slaughter by starvation, in 1932/33 killed many millions.

And this was well known at the time to that repulsive traitor and gulag-apologist Nye Bevan, who praised the system of his Soviet masters in Parliament while children died in agony on the streets of Kiev.

Putin is not Stalin. The Western Ukranians are no longer serfs. They have been stirred up by Ashton's promises that would gratify Ukranian nationalism, and she's done so because of the hubris of the EU, which wants to be an ever-bigger ever more powerful federation, an Empire to challenge the US.

The separatists are pressing Ashton to visit Kiev within the next few weeks in the hope that concessions will lead to the resumption of accession talks. The EU needs to be aware it's playing a dangerous game - and one that could destabilise the European peace that NATO has secured since the last war.