Tag Archives: war

Taking Liberties – a matter of style

I’m going away for the weekend but I don’t see why y’all should rest easy on that account. Here, my dears, is a trailer for a film on limited release, but it is a film that everyone in the UK should see.


This isn’t Eric Blair’s 1984, this is Tony Blair’s 2007. It’s here and now.




Support the Troops

Some posts this evening have brought tears to my eyes. Courtney’s and the Hobgoblin’s deeply moving posts about their fathers damaged in Vietnam brought real echoes of my own father, damaged though less obviously so, in another far eastern jungle 30 years earlier.

Hobgoblin has asked those who read his blog to consider and blog about what is meant by “Support the Troops”, and I fell over his plea on Charlotte’s blog, so it works, this viral blogging. In turn, I ask each of you to continue the conversation that Hobgoblin has started, and blog just one post on the subject of “support the troops”.

Why is it so difficult for the hawks to accept that it is possible to support the troops and oppose the war?

I guess it is all part of the dumbing down and monochroming of language. The phrase, 6 years ago, which presaged all of this was “if you are not with us, you are against us”. No. Sorry. It was then perfectly possible to be critically supportive – to share the outrage but deplore the reaction. This is wicked in itself, this deliberate use of language to polarise the debate. First nuance is drained away, then thought itself. It is possible to support the troops and oppose the war, just as it was possible for me to buy both the white peace poppy and the red British Legion poppy each November.

A colleague of mine is an Assyrian, an Iraqui Christian whose family left Iraq when he was 10 or so because of the real dangers to the adults in the family from the regime of Saddam Hussain. He was strongly pro-war when it started. Now he’s not. A friend of my partner is an Iraqui Muslim with a very similar story. She was strongly pro-war in 2003. Now she isn’t.

Oddly, having opposed it actively and vehemently at the time, I now have no clear opinion about whether or not the US and the UK should pull out of Iraq. You see, the wound we have opened up and infected there will fester and suppurate for generations. Just look at Ireland and Israel. That’s how it works. Violence is easy to start and hard to stop. Leaving now will not make the situation any better and cutting and running from a situation so greatly of our making is morally suspect, it is a despicable act of cowardice. But….

But… I believe that the wound will never heal while the blade is still in it, so I think that keeping troops there is, just marginally, the worse of two great evils.

However, staying or going is not what the Hobgoblin wanted the debate to be about. He is rightly outraged by the way that veterans are treated once they get home. I don’t have anything wise or sensible to add to the debate, other than to echo what has already been said. How can we sleep in our beds at nights, knowing that the men we sent out to kill on our behalfs are being treated in these despicable ways when they come home? At least the British government is not giving below-inflation pay “rises” to the armed forces, as they are to other public employees. It is odd, just the once, to be saying the name “Blair” and not prefacing it internally with the word “c**t”.

There is nothing new under the sun, so I had been going to quote something written 117 years ago, the poem Tommy Atkins by Rudyard Kipling. (The “widow” in the poem was Queen Victoria).

However when I looked for the text, I found that Kipling’s comments have been updated by the current generation in Afghanistan and Basra. This puts its finger with military precision on just the political reason why veterans are treated so badly.

Kipling talked o’ better food for ‘im, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all
the last time ‘e wuz in Kabul, but them stories they wuz tall.
And nothing changed in all those years, cept more of ’em ‘as died
In the two world wars you think of and those countless ones besides

Yes it’s Tommy this an’ Tommy that and pat ‘im on the back
When ‘e goes to face your enemies and put in the attack.
But its sorry Mr Atkins when it’s time to pay ‘im back
Army ‘ospitals yer closing to save pennies on yer tax.

And so, back to the Hobgoblin:

So, here is my plea. I want to start people talking more and more and more about supporting the troops. I want people to think more about how we treat the people who have made the sacrifices for our country. I want people to think about how cynically politicians exploit the troops for their own ends. I want people to think about how a drunken frat boy draft dodger can be seen as a hero and biggest supporter of our troops, and I want people to think about just what this absolute and complete collapse of meaning says about our country. Please, write something about this. Spread the word. Talk about how we need to support our troops in real, tangible, material ways–starting with bringing them home from this evil, stupid, stupid war. Reference me or not, link to me or not, but talk about it. Ask everyone who reads your blog to write about it–just one post–until everyone in the blogosphere is talking about it. Create a chain blog, an enormous pyramid of entries. It may mean nothing–probably will mean nothing–but things only start to happen when people talk and agitate.

Please consider yourself tagged. Join in this coversation. Debate this issue. Support the troops, bring the poor bastards home, and then continue to help them, as they have helped us.

Freedom of speech – only there to defend those we agree with

I’ve just had a very odd thing happen. I have had comments which I made and which have already been replied to deleted off a political blog for no better reason than I can see than that I disagreed with the person whose blog it is, and could cite sources.

It’s his blog. He can do what he likes with it and with the comments made on it.

Even so, I find it deeply ironic that his tagline is “Winning friends and influencing people for better or for worse”. I cut my cyber-teeth on a site where nothing was ever deleted unless it was illegal, racist or homophobic. Having my words removed is an odd feeling.

So, if you don’t want comments deleted from a political blog which purports to invite civilised debate, then don’t do any of the following:

Don’t point out an uncomfortable interpretation of the bible and say “I have not verified it” – to do so suggests that you don’t have access to the Bible which means you must be – spit the word out – an atheist.

Don’t say “what I meant was that I did not check it out with a Greek scholar” when you are abused for failing to verify it. Don’t cite your mother who did study New Testament Greek as the otherwise unverified source of your comments. Presumably to do so implies you don’t trust your mother, which undermines Americans’ faith in motherhood and apple pie and breaks the commandment to honour your parents. More atheism. Evil evil Aphra.

Don’t challenge an unsubstantiated and frankly incredible statistic posted by your host by looking up relevant statistics in the National Statistics Office of the UK, the CIA, the French Embassy in Washington and British Census data and quoting them with links. To do so undermines an otherwise perfectly good argument which manages to vilify both the French and the Muslims living in France. I’m an enemy of Freedom. Obviously.

Don’t answer a post containing a series of loaded political questions simply and honestly, and above all don’t put in a slightly flippant reference to the 45 minute warning and WMD in the last reply. I am not sure what it means if you do those things, but I do know you won’t be granted the freedom of speech to do so.

Don’t suggest that you find the social darwinianism of the US unpleasant, and that you prefer the shared responsibility of loving your neighbour, paying your taxes and having health-care free at the point of delivery. To do so suggests that you are European, addicted to welfare and therefore plainly a socialist, and – as we all know – there is no evil greater than socialism. Unless it’s to be French. Or a Muslim. Or to oppose the war in Iraq.

Don’t say that America is going to be in the 2nd league in 50 years time. To do so shows you are an obvious enemy of freedom and are casual about the end of American hegemony. (That is one of those words which I can never quite remember what it means, so I guess I must be casual about it).

Don’t blog pseudononymously. To do so indicates that you …. wait for it …. have no sense of pride. Presumably only people who are ASHAMED of something would use a pseudonym.

Oh, incidentally, as well as all the above, I have high-school debating skills, (which may well be true). In case you didn’t know already I had better warn you that he can tell that I am an atheist, a socialist, an international pacifist. Oh, and most of what I say is plainly gobbledygook.

You have been warned.

In some respects it’s impressive that I got so far under his skin, and it does mean that I won’t be wasting my time bothering him any more, which will be good for his temper and for mine.

I am however shocked that someone who claims to invite active debate on their blog will simply delete the posts of those he disagrees with. My few original comments which have been replied to by other commentators are “awaiting moderation”. I am not sure if that means that anyone other than me can see them.

If that is what American Freedom of Speech is, then the good goddess help us all.

Channel hopping while Rome Burns

This post was drafted at the end of July after a two month spell of hot, dry weather. It has been sitting around since then, waiting to be posted but always being pipped by something else. By coincidence, I finally published it on the same day as the Stern Report, which blows my argument out of the water rather.

Is this it, do you think?I spent a lot of my early teenage years reading the apocalyptic Science Fiction of John Wyndham, in fact reading a lot of apocalyptic Science Fiction altogether, and pleasantly dramatic and terrifying stuff it was too. In the 1980s Ben Elton did a more modern version of the same thing.

And now here we are, where we all knew we would eventually arrive, though we all hoped that we’d somehow manage to change trains before we got here; on the verge of the apocalypse.

It’s ok, so long as you don’t look down.

  • War – check
  • Death – check
  • Famine – check
  • Pestilence – not quite,
    though Pratchett and Gaiman updated him quite brilliantly to Pollution, in which case – check.

You see, what none of the writers of apocalyptic SF got right was the tone of the times. They predicted mass hysteria in the face of global catastrophe in the style of a hapless citizenry fleeing invading Martians in Welles’ War of the Worlds, but we are mundane little creatures and no-one correctly predicted the banality of our current news reporting.

Orwell would have managed it. A lot of the dystopia in 1984 gets its power from the mundane banality of the world he describes, but he was looking at politics not climate change. If Orwell had been 15 years younger, and had an engineering or scientific background, he would have described just the sort of news reports we hear every day: Scientists say that we are on the verge of the 6th exinction, but first, the Cricket.

The cold wet August this year, September’s rush towards the autumnal equinox and October’s mild storminess means that most of us have forgotten just how hot and dry the summer was. However, I got an extra frisson of helplessness late in July when I heard something new on the radio: for the very first time I heard a prediction of a food-shortage in the West as a result of global warming. Un-nerving enough, you’d have thought, but the thing I found really disquietening was that it was not presented in those terms. As it turned out, normal service was resumed in August when it rained for most of the month. So that was all right then.

You see, in the news broadcast there was no drama at all. Blink, and you’d have missed it. It comprised the last two lines of this online report from the BBC on that most English of subjects the weather. It was entitled UK heatwave subsides for weekend which ends:

Current conditions combined with a cold and wet spring mean production of some crops has fallen by up to 40%.

Broad beans, potatoes, baby carrots and peas could be some of the produce in short supply over the next few weeks.

But remember that you read it here first, in those two lines about peas and baby carrots: maybe not this year, maybe not next, but there will be food shortages here in the West because of global warming. We are all doomed.

And next, Celebrity Love Idol.

Sixes and sevens

  • I think standards are slipping
  • You find things rather challenging these days
  • She is completely set in her ways

I am finding this world increasingly alienating. (Blair, Bush, Iraq, tailgaters, processed foods, processed musak, processed thinking, global warming, multinational corporations, international terrorism…)

…slap me now before I get hysterical in public.

The question is, how much worse actually is it? Certainly, global warming is new, or does it just seems more likely? However, I strongly suspect that the reason I find the world nastier and scarier is because I am older, grumpier, more cynical and more easily spooked by things like Bush and Blair, liar Blair, it’s not fair, don’t you care? Nukes in Korea. Here and there. Iraq, terrorism, suicide bombers, suicide bombers with nukes, nuclear war no thanks, Chechnya, Georgia, Dubbya, Dubbya Bush, Wubbleyou Bush. Wubbleyou. Wibble you. Wibble.


I was fortunate to be born in a particularly pretty, particularly safe, particularly peaceful part of the UK. It was rural. Rural as in farms and villages and schools with 24 pupils. A smooth and rural prosperity. Roses above the door. Terrorists. Bombers. Afghanistan. More torture now than in the time of Saddam Hussain. More torture. More torture. Guantanamo, mo, mo, yo, yo. Yo! Blair!

These days two bedroom cottages are over quarter of a mil sterling, (that’s Mr Sterling to you and me), the pubs are restaurants, the post-offices are closed and the buses aren’t. Anything. The buses aren’t anything at all. They don’t exist. Exist. Exit. No exit. Extinct. Extinction. Sixth extinction. Specicide. Specious arguments. Extinctions. Extinction. Exit. No exit.

The place is full of television presenters, these days. It’s Surrey or Berkshire. It has no integrity and no soul. It’s suburbia for fex sake.

I moved away a couple of years ago, and though I blip back every now and again, I spent three nights there last week for the first time since I left. Never go back. No way back. Everything changes. No way back. No through road. No way out. No way forward. No oil. NO OIL. No way. No votes. Not enough votes. Steal an election. Steal a country. Hey, steal a country, why don’t you. Steal two. Steal three. Here, have mine. We don’t have it any more. Not since it was given away. A million in the street said ‘not in our name’. Not in our name. We’re sorry. Don’t kill us. Even though we’re killing you. It isn’t fai-ai-ai-ai-air.

I had been wistful about leaving, but I’m not now. The pubs aren’t pubs they are restaurants. There is nowhere for farm-workers to go wet their throat with a pint on the way home, because there are no pubs, and precious few farm-workers for that matter. The houses they were born in cost twenty years’ wages. But that’s ok. It’s all part of the global economy. International banking. International farming. Kenyan beans. Indonesian rice. Isreali avocados. Chilean grapes. Texan oil. Multinational corporations. Multinational manufacturing. Sweatshops. Five-for-a-tenner. Sweatshops. Slave labour. Slavery. Slaves. Gangmasters. Cockles and mussles alive alive o. Cocklers at Morcambe have drowned a drowned-oh. It’s ok – they’re illegals.

But is it me? Is this no madder than the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile crisis? Have we exchanged fear of tuberculosis, cholera and an early, painful, unnecessary death for fear of Tony Blair, Condoleeza and an early, painful, unnecessary death?

I’m glad I’ve moved to where houses are just ridiculously expensive, where my neighbours aren’t TV presenters. models, actresses and media whores, even if it is not dark here at night any more.

But is it me? Is it just that I’m older, or is the world nastier?

Whatever it is, I really HATE tailgaters.

9/11 – Five years on

Like everyone else I guess, I’ve spent a lot of the past week or so trying to take some sort of stock of the last five years, so I looked up something which I posted in a largely British and American web community on the 12th September 2001. I remember it as being incisive and insightful, but re-reading it now, I find that it was over-punctuated and over-blown. However, it did contain some interesting analysis.

It is useful to have even 5:5 hindsight, so here are the main points, annotated, re-punctuated and mildly paraphrased:


The cry goes out “how can these evil people kill innocent victims?” but Muslims everywhere are being threatened and attacked in response, and those angry responses show us how come innocent people get killed. I am not a Muslim …but I do remember events like Tripoli, and the innocent people killed there. As a direct result, NYC and DC have been attacked, and MORE innocent people are killed. … the dead of yesterday were not the first, and neither will they be the last. (Statement, not threat).

Hardly prescience, but even so I’m astonished and shocked by the estimate of 72,265 dead as a direct result of 9/11, which has been reported in The Independent.

The next section discussed some unsympathetic reactions from Brits who were referring to our long history of Northern Irish terrorism, and it is curious how irrelevant these comparisons now seem. The most interesting part of it reads:


… The other thing that Ireland and the shift from Imperialism since 1945, has done to us is made us aware that we are not inevitably and inviolably correct just because we are British…

That is a lesson that the current American regime, and I suspect a majority of the American people, have yet to learn about themselves. Ach, there are only so many apocalyptic visions I can manage in one evening, particularly when I’m comparing those of five years ago with those I have now; please feel free to insert your own here.

The next section is worryingly prescient:


There is a difference between saying … “the US has been arrogant, and responsible for … atrocities…” and saying “the US deserved to to be attacked in retaliation for those atrocities”. Some people are hearing the former, when often what is being said is the latter…

It feels like fewer and fewer people are hearing words clearly, which is increasingly worrying considering the laws designed to monitor and control us which have been introduced since 2001.

One thing which concerns me in particular these days is the danger involved in using the word “understand” in the context of young radicalised Muslims being sickened by the war in Iraq. “Understand” means “comprehend”, but it is often assumed to mean “endorse”. I absolutely can understand the reasons why young Muslim men become radicalised – the mechanisms are fairly straightforward and could probably be replicated in a lab if one could still conduct unethical psychological experiments on students for $25 a day. They are broadly the same mechanisms which produced the inrush of foreigners to fight in the Spanish Civil War. I do not endorse the terrorists’ actions, but I do think it is vital we learn to comprehend them. The only way to deal with terrorism in the long-term is to make it irrelevant, and you cannot do that if you refuse to understand it.

The next section commented on double standards and perspectives but could not find any conclusions:


… The old joke about learning languages says: I am a freedom fighter, you are a member of the resistance, he is a terrorist. Let us be clear: the US has given … unofficial support to groups who have been considered terrorists…

The final section was the most important at the time, but the least coherent. It paraphrases down to:


[What the terrorists have done is taken the initiative, so that the only thing the American psyche is capable of is reacting to events; it is the terrorists’ game and the Americans are now playing by their rules.]

The best response would be to do something outside the world view of their attackers. Usually one only gets outside a world view by being outside the times: this is … ‘the historical perspective’ and it is easy to be wise after the event. But we are IN these events…. and … the only thing that will work is something the terrorists do not expect, but I do not believe that the US is capable of doing that.

So… five years on, my opinions have not really changed other than finding that Northern Irish terrorism has become irrelevant.

I am trying to assess whether or not the events of the last five years have been better or worse than I expected. There is a rule of thumb, though I forget who it is credited to, which says that we tend to over-estimate the short-term effects of a technology, and under-estimate the long-term effects. I think I fell into that trap. The final line of the piece I wrote five years ago presupposes a tactical nuclear response by the US, which was clearly an exaggerated prediction. But in the long-term our prospects are worse than even I thought, and the long-term has just begun.

I find the estimate of 72,265 casualties shocking in both senses; I’d have guessed the figure at 10,000 or so. It is clear that the West’s young Muslims are becoming radicalised even faster than they can blow themselves up, and I am disgusted by the exploitative cynicism of a leadership and a priesthood which can manipulate young men into committing suicide in that way, while the leaders and the priests carry on regardless. That is something which I find hard to understand.

What leaves me sick with fear is that we are still only a dozen yards or so down this particular Cresta Run, but there really is no way to slow down or stop. All this, and global warming too.


There’s a particular kind of sickening and envious delight I feel when I come across words, phrases or even entire poems, which I wish I had written myself. One couplet – written by a South African woman whose name I don’t know but who lives in Stroud – is a good example of this:

Mr Language-man,
let me lick your words…

I would have been shivering with delight if I had written that in my first language. She wrote it in her second.

Another example comes from Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s new album Living with War:

Sister has her headphones on
She hears the music blasting
She sees her brother marchin’ by
Their bond is everlasting
Listening to Bob Dylan singin’ in 1963
Watching the flags of freedom flyin’

Now why couldn’t I think of placing a 21st century teenager in a situation where she’s “Listening to Bob Dylan singin’ in 1963”?

Because I’m not Neil Young, I suppose.