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Jul 012016
 

It’s the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme this morning, and there are those commemorating the event by claiming they all died for our freedom. Well that may have been what they thought they were fighting for, but that’s arguably not what the war was about. At least for the British, there were no real risk of invasion at the beginning of the war.

There is still arguments to be had over the causes of World War 1, but a very high level view indicates military adventurism by the Austria-Hungary empire in the powder-keg of Europe (the Balkans), combined with interlocking defence treaties that amounted to the mutually-assured destruction of the 19th century. To a great extent, Britain was fighting because France was fighting, and they were fighting because Russia was fighting who were fighting because Austria-Hungary were invading their allies in the Balkans – Serbia. Germany was pulled into the mess because of it’s alliance with Austria-Hungary.

If that sounds like a confusing mess, you don’t know the half of it. Not least because I have not mentioned Belgium.

Why does this matter? Particularly since I am implying that the sacrifice of the WW1 casualties was not for a particularly noble cause.

The first reason for remembering, is that those who thought they were fighting for a noble cause deserve to be remembered.

Secondly we need to remember just how stupid war is, and particularly that people are still arguing over exactly how and why it started. There may be justifiable wars – even wars that are not strictly defensive. But if you are not entirely sure why the war is being fought, it is definitely a war you should not be in.

thiepval-memorial

Nov 192011
 

The interesting thing about what has been happening in Syria over the last few months is that people are just about beginning to ask why the West (as in the UK, France, USA, Germany, etc) are not taking the lead in doing something about Syria. There seems to be an assumption that we only did something about Libya, because it was easy and somehow in our interests to do so (i.e. “oil”).

Well perhaps, although Libyan oil reserves are hardly big enough to risk that much over.

But there are plenty of other reasons why the West isn’t taking the initiative over the Syrian situation.

First, on several occasions those opposing the current Syrian regime have made it clear that they do not want foreign intervention. So intervention could risk making the situation worse.

Secondly if you accept that there would be no Libyan-style intervention, you are pretty much limited to applying for and imposing sanctions of some kind. And the West has been doing that for some time – the EU has been imposing increasingly draconian sanctions since at least May this year, and the US has been imposing sanctions for far longer although in their case this has little to do with support for democratisation and more to do with punishing Syrians for having a government that supports Hezbollah. Yet despite all the talk, the Arab League has yet to impose sanctions. So who is taking the lead here ?

Lastly, it is all very well expecting the West to take the lead in opposition to noxious regimes, but where else in life do you find a situation where nothing happens, because the one who usually takes the lead in a community of equals has nodded off? If the Arab League feels the West isn’t making a strong enough stand, there is no reason why they cannot take the lead here. The West is distracted at the moment with economic problems – in particular the Eurozone crisis; maybe it should be pushing harder for something to happen in Syria, but when it isn’t doing enough (and some people might argue that it is), the Arab League could push itself.

 

Nov 092008
 

Today is Remembrance Sunday; a day to remember those killed in war. It should perhaps be on the 11th November (this year on a Tuesday), but the British government is too cheap to give us all a day off for remembrance.

As this is the 90th anniversary of the armistance of world war i, it is perhaps understandable that some concentrate on the dead of that war. As a general rule one of the things we remember when we remember the dead of the wars, is that they died for our freedom. For the wars since that is definitely on the true side, but perhaps not for WWI …

After all WWI started when the Austrian-Hungarian “dual monarchy” declared war on Serbia after Serbian military intelligence had been involved in assisting the assassination of a Grand-Duke. Russia was pulled in to support Serbia, and the rest of the European ‘powers’ were similarly pulled into the war.

But that is over simplistic – historians are still arguing over the causes of WWI. But what is clear is that there was initially no great villain that needed bringing down although many of the men who volunteered to fight were led to believe (in the case of Britain) that Germany was some sort of great villain.

To those who survived WWI, Rememberance Day was less a day for remembering those who died for our freedom, than just remembering the dead. It is difficult to appreciate the level of casualties today, but one clue is on the lists of the dead given on memorials in almost every little village. Probably just about everyone living in Britain in the 1920s would have been close to someone who had died in WWI.

To put it into statistical terms, Britain lost 2.1% of its population in WWI compared to 0.93% in WWII.

Some of the blame for the horrendous level of casualties can be placed at the door at the incompetant military leadership who took far too long to adjust to 20th century warfare from their 19th century mindsets. Or in the words of more than a few, the British army were “Lions led by donkeys”.

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