Friday, June 30, 2006

Revising History - 3

Andrew Roberts in another review  in the Daily Telegraph:
In the light of Beevor's discoveries in Moscow, it is worthwhile considering what would have happened if a Stalinist Spain, a satellite of the USSR, had emerged, as it easily might have done. By June 1941 it would have made more sense for Hitler to have invaded Spain than Russia, leading to the loss to the Allies of Gibraltar and the strategically vital western Mediterranean, which in real life Franco's neutrality effectively protected.
Hitler could have continued into Spain in 1940, immediately after the fall of France, though no doubt it would have taken until 1941 to finish the job. Stalin may well have abandoned Spain even if it had become a Stalinist satellite. Speculation is  endless. The important thing is that nobody could have foreseen Spain's neutrality. Everybody fighting against Franco's fascists had to assume that they would cooperate fully with the Nazis.

In the event, Spain did cooperate to an extent. Everyone who has read or seen Das Boot will remember the episode when a u-boat puts into Vigo: 'But isn't Spain neutral ?' asks one of the German sailors.

It should also be remembered that there are two sides to the straits of Gibraltar. For what was happening to the South, I first looked here, but it was not very clear on the wartime situation. Looking at my copy of Collins Atlas of World History, Spain controlled the coastal strip. The Allies held the rest of Morocco, which was a French colony.

Update: Morocco was held by Vichy France until November 1942, when it was captured by  Anglo-American forces. ('Allies at Arms', - Part 2, BBC, 2001) Gibraltar was used by Eisenhower as his base for the operation.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


THE REVOLUTION WILL BE BLOGGED, after all, apparently. From FP's email. Having previously got into a comments thread argument with siaw, I will not be claiming copyright this time. Seriously, the blogs mentioned in the article could be worth a look (if you read French):; (in French).
I won a prize for a comment here. Actually, it was just for being the 1000th. But I thought it was quite good. Just to expand my remark - 'I don´t think ´fisking´is the right word.' I'm all in favour of new words, when they fill in a gap in the language. A "fisk" to my mind is when you violently disagree with something and want to pick apart its absurdity. To use the word when there are perfectly good existing words - critique, analysis - is pointless. More than that, it's a mystification.

Pulling the strings?

Bernard Guetta,  in a typical rant,  on British politics:  'Tony Blair marchait vers un avenir radieux mais ce rêve s’est perdu dans le chaos irakien. Il ne s’est, au contraire, jamais remis de l’aventure irakienne...'  Il ne faut pas exagérer... M  Cameron est également en faveur de l'intervention en Irak.

It did however get me thinking.  I wrote some time ago about his views on Iraq and how they 'evolved' shortly before he became leader of the Conservative party.  This is not often mentioned in the British media. We can only guess at the reasons for it.  It was also reported yesterday that Rupert Murdoch has given an interview to The Australian,  where he says he is thinking about supporting David Cameron.


France Inter is reporting that 'des dizaines' of top Hamas politicians have been arrested. The BBC, in its 8:00 (BST) bulletin reported that 8 Palestinian cabinet ministers have been arrested; a few minutes later it was 9 cabinet ministers and 21 officials (with some 'at least's in there somewhere).

I don't often blog about events as they unfold and I haven't said anything about Israel and Palestine for a while, but it's time to say something now.

This is an entirely disproportionate response by the Israeli state. The recognition of Israel by Hamas should be an outcome of negotiations, not a precondition. Calling those who captured the Israeli soldier "terrorists" solves nothing.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Revising History - 2

Antony Beevor's new book has certainly provided the occasion for various people on the Right to put their gloss on events.  The book is called 'The Battle for Spain:  The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939'.  This is a major revision of his 1982 book  (where I give page references below, these are from the Cassell Military Paperbacks edition,  1999).

Let's start with the Times Literary Supplement and Felipe Fernández-Armesto ('My uncle Ramón was a Republican through and through,  but fought on the same side as Franco'),  who writes,  ' “Aren’t we all socialists?”, asked Orwell during the Left’s internecine battles in Barcelona. It was like asking, “Aren’t we all Christians?” at the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre.'
foreigners miscast themselves as part of a war in which they were really intruders. For this was not a crisis of democracy. As Beevor points out, the Left started the war with shaky democratic credentials and rapidly forfeited even those.  Beevor imagines what might have happened had a democracy emerged. But there was no chance of such an outcome. A Republican victory after a long war would have turned Spain into a Stalinist satellite [..] A quick Republican victory would have provoked another civil war: not against the Right, [..] but between the warring sects and cults among which the Left was divided.
Similarly, Max Hastings, review in The Sunday Times :  'Beevor notes the significant point that had the Republicans lost the prewar election they, too, would almost certainly have resorted to arms to contest the democratic verdict, and that had they won the war, the communists would probably have seized monopoly power with their usual ruthlessness.'

To a degree this is also foreshadowed by a review Beevor himself wrote in the TLS in March 2005 (see Oliver Kamm, Clash of totalitarianisms):  'Largo Caballero boasted that “the difference between [the Communists] and us is no more than words” ... political violence in the street and workplace came almost entirely from the Left. The Right did not start to retaliate until early 1936'.

First of all,  the Right was retaliating against being,  narrowly,  defeated in the democratic process:  'The first main Falangist attack, had come immediately after the general election results were announced, when they started to shoot at wives and friends hurrying to release the political prisoners.' (Beevor, 1982, P61)

Then,  we should remember the nature of some of the 'violence' on the Left.  In March 1936,  60,000 landless peasants took over unused land in Estremadura and started ploughing.  In another incident at Yeste, 'the civil guard arrested peasants gathering firewood.  When they resisted, the civil guard shot 20 dead and wounded many more.' (Beevor, 1982, P60). 

Regarding Max Hastings' hypothetical scenario,  there had been uprisings on the Left in 1933 and again in 1934  (in Catalonia, Madrid and Asturias). They were put down rapidly  (and in some cases brutally).  A rising against a victory of the Right in the 1936 election would have been just as much of a footnote in history.

As for Largo Caballero's boast,  Beevor tells us in his 1982 book that he was 'intoxicated by rhetoric stronger than his intentions.' (P61)  In the summer of 1936, Largo Caballero and his 'left' socialists favoured a complete amalgamation of the socialist and communist parties. (P65)  The 'right' socialists opposed this,  but ironically it was they, under Prieto and Negrín,  rather than the 'left' socialists, who later were more prepared to go along with the Communists'  ruthless policies towards their opponents on the left.

The passage from Fernández-Armesto's review,  quoted above,  bears careful reading.  While not factually inaccurate,  it is a complete distortion. A civil war on the left could only have happened after a quick Republican victory.  Since the Stalinists had already crushed their opponents on the revolutionary Left,  they would obviously not had to perform that task again in the event of the Republic winning after a long war (increasingly unlikely after 1937).

But this is to miss out huge chunks of the story.  Britain and France provided no help to the Republic. In fact,  in some ways they supported the forces fighting against it.  This left the Republic reliant on the Soviet Union for its war materials.  The Communists, who were numerically much weaker than the socialists and anarchists before the war,  then became increasingly powerful.  If the Republic had been victorious,  the Communists would have faced a struggle with the 'liberal',  or bourgeois,  forces,  that had acquiesced in their purge of the Left - in Orwell's eyes, at the time, the PCE hardly qualified as part of the Left.

I don't know to what extent Antony Beevor has revised the overall impression he gives of the war.  I've not read the new book yet.  Fernández-Armesto criticizes him for not going along with the Right's line on the anti-religious excesses of the Republicans:  'romanticization', he calls it. (I must return to the aspect of religion later.)  Not all the reviews are by right-wing hacks. Jeremy Treglown in the FT,  I've mentioned in Part 1. Paul Preston, in The Times, says that  'Beevor is altogether more balanced' than the 'Cold War historiography, emanating from the US and using Soviet documents, [which] has endeavoured to portray the Republic in sinister terms'. Miranda France's review in the Daily Telegraph is also reasonably fair.

(To be continued)

Update: some earlier posts on Spain: Chomsky's view; Peter Tatchell's remark (I must say that later he was kind enough to reply to my e-mail and apologize).

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Revising History

Not here though - Jeremy Treglown reviewing Antony Beevor's new book on the Spanish Civil War (read it while it's still free). But many others have been. More to follow.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Human Rights and Parking

A quick flick through the Daily Mail today. On page 4, the government is attacked for backing down from scrapping the Human Rights act, which is causing chaos. On page 17, "motorists are being screwed into the tarmac". On page 8, "stop the unfair war against car parkers"; another piece is headlined "towing cars away could breach Human Rights". Hmm, tricky.

It reminds me of the David Kelly affair: whether to attack the BBC or the government?

South-West Uzbekistan

There was a report on Channel 4 News a couple of days ago from Uzbekistan. About six weeks before the events of May 2005 in Andijan, there were also major disturbances in another town in the south-west (if it was not actually Bukhara, it was in that region). This was not reported at the time. I could not find anything on their website, or anywhere else.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

S Korea  2, Togo 1

It was reported that many countries, especially in 'football-mad' Africa, cannot watch the World Cup on free-to-view television. South Korea, however, is providing the coverage free to the North. The mind goes back forty years to when North Korea played in England. At that time, I saw somewhere, North Korea's economy was stronger than the South's...

I liked the way the BBC World Service reported this morning: for the second time a former colony is playing its former masters. This refers of course to Trinidad & Tobago v England. The first time was Angola v  Portugal.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The starting point

Channel 4 hasn't mentioned the Euston manifesto yet, as far as I am aware. However, I found some favourable responses on their forum, here: Euston Manifesto: A path out of denial (esp. re 'the war'). Here is my response to one of the points raised:
jjb: The vast majority of that agenda would be supported by people of almost any mainstream political affiliation, right and left, so why is it claiming to be a new vision for left wing politics?
The manifesto says: 
'A. Preamble
We are democrats and progressives. We propose here a fresh political alignment. Many of us belong to the Left, but the principles that we set out are not exclusive. We reach out, rather, beyond the socialist Left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment.' (See also Section 11. A critical openness)

But the main focus is on reclaiming 'the Left' from those who think it begins and ends with opposing the war in Iraq, being anti-American and anti-Israeli. In general terms,  it is a fight against a climate of opinion in which people will believe any report, any interpretation of history, as long as it is anti-American, etc. People are right to say that the manifesto does not say much on bread-and-butter, economic issues; but, however corny it sounds, we must start by telling the truth, or trying to find out the truth.

As Norman Geras and Nick Cohen wrote in the New Statesman, 17th April 2006, 'our discussion focused on our common sense of discord with much current left-liberal thinking. We talked of how the prevailing consensus [the dominant anti-war discourse, etc]¨had ample representation in the liberal press, on the BBC and Channel 4, whereas the viewpoint of our own segment of the left was significantly under- represented in the mainstream media. We had, however, found a place on the internet and in the blogosphere...'

I would love it if we could spend more time seriously discussing the issues paulio mentions - 'demographics, peak oil and climate change'. Maybe, one day we can.

The visit

Hugh Sykes said that Iraqis he had spoken to thought Bush's visit was insulting, given the short notice that the Iraqi PM, Nuri al-Maliki, had received (PM, BBC Radio 4, 13 Jun 2006).
The trip was Mr. Bush's second to Iraq, after his trip here at Thanksgiving in 2003, when he remained at an American military base at the Baghdad airport, and arrived and departed under cover of darkness. This time, he landed in midafternoon and left the safety of the airport for the 10-mile journey by helicopter over some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baghdad, including predominantly Sunni Arab districts on the city's western edge that have been a haven for insurgents.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bush left the palace at 9.20 p.m., and boarded an American military helicopter for Baghdad's international airport and Air Force One, which had carried the president and a small party of White House aides from Washington on the 11-hour journey on Monday night. Aides said that the return trip would involve a refueling stop at an American air base in Mildenhall in Britain, and that Mr. Bush would be back in Washington by dawn on Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


For all the focus on holding terrorist suspects without trial for a (proposed) period of 90 days and anti-religious hatred bills, the most illiberal measure introduced by the Blair government is surely the Anti-social Behaviour Order.

There was an excellent report on this on the BBC on Sunday (The World This Weekend). There is "Mission creep": for example, ASBOs have been used as a way reintroducing custodial sentences for prostitutes.

ASBO concern argue that the standard of evidence required by an ASBO is much lower than that required by the courts - hearsay evidence etc is allowed. You can get an ASBO for something that's not a criminal offence, but breaching an ASBO is a criminal offence, so many go to jail for this. Poor, working-class areas (like Gorton in East Manchester) are the most affected. There's nowhere for young children to go, so they hang about on street corners, but the police enforce dispersal orders to prevent more than three doing so.

Complain, complain, complain

More Sykes

You may have seen The New York Times report on the consequences of the bombing of the Palestine Hotel. You may also have seen that I mentioned Hugh Sykes in a recent post.  Another report of his has occasioned the following complaint to the BBC.
I am writing concerning Hugh Sykes' report from Baghdad (PM, BBC Radio 4, Monday 12 Jun 2006). He reported from the area around the Palestine Hotel, noting how the journalists and local businessmen who used to frequent the place are now virtually absent, following the terrorist/insurgent attack on the hotel (on 24 Oct 2005).

He concluded his piece by saying that this was due to the lack of planning for the period following the invasion of Iraq (in March 2003), leading to a vacuum of power.  

The concluding remarks go beyond legitimate analysis and explication. They are a polemic for a particular point of view on the intervention in Iraq.

That is the main substance of my complaint. However, if you would like to see to what extent the BBC has become a propaganda machine for this point of view, perhaps you would care to look at my analysis of Broadcasting House, 11 Jun 2006 - see the link below.

Monday, June 12, 2006

When Melanie met Harry

A comment here asks, "i can't wait to see what melanie philips's first blog at harry's place will be about". How about this:
What drives the euthanasia lobby is the view that some people’s lives aren’t worth living – and that others are entitled to make that judgment. Professor Doyal says that the lives of some patients are ‘of no further benefit to them’ on account of their mental incapacity, illness, shortness of life or distress and suffering. So they should be killed instead.

However noble the professor’s intentions may be to relieve intolerable suffering, this is the road to barbarism. It opens up the appalling vista of the wholesale killing of people because they are deemed too inconvenient, useless or expensive to keep alive.

Who is entitled to judge that a life has no value? Life should be respected in itself. That is our most basis protection against the kind of inhumanity that lay behind the eugenics movement and the ideology of the Nazis, who made precisely this distinction between those whose lives were valued and those who were considered worthless and who were thus murdered.

Unfortunately, our society has generally lost that sense of the innate worth of every human life which is rooted in the Judeo-Christian heritage. Valuing only what is ‘useful’, we have lost our respect for the absolute — and with it, the greatest defence for the vulnerable against the abuse of power.

It has also resulted in widespread moral confusion. Professor Doyal lumps together withdrawing food and fluid, stopping the giving of antibiotics and switching off a ventilator. But this muddles up people who are dying with those who are not.

If someone is dying, continuing treatment such as antibiotics may not be in his or her best interests because it merely prolongs the dying process. Indeed, trying to feed someone who is a few hours away from death may be positively cruel.
('Killing medical ethics', Daily Mail, 9 June 2006 )

OK, we're isolated

There are sometimes some reasonably balanced reports on the BBC, like the one on the Euston Manifesto , but  Broadcasting House, on Radio 4 on Sunday mornings, is a case study in relentless one-sidedness. Yesterday's programme was one of the best examples.

For starters we had Clive Stafford-Smith on the remarks from the American military describing the suicides in Guantanamo as 'acts of  asymmetric warfare', telling us that these were 'outrageous and offensive'.

Next, Martin Bell on Iraq: 'we don't seem to be any further from getting out of the mess'. Then, Hugh Sykes reporting from Baghdad ... 'It's time to say goodbye and thank you (hubbub in Arabic and applause). They're thanking me - despite the fact that I come from one of the countries in the coalition which helped to create this situation ?'

The main course, though, is the review of the press (about 43 minutes into the 'Listen Again'). Martin Bell on Iraq again - 'one long disaster'. Then, they come across someone who disagrees with their cosy consensus:
Female (probably Jackie Ashley): Interesting piece that Nick Cohen, who of course was a lefty who supported the war, he asks in The Observer today, um, he says the real question is not why so few people cried on news of  Zarkawi's death, but why so few cheered, um, sort of implying that the liberal left, he says, has a lot to live down: we ought to have been cheering Zarkawi was killed. Well, I think that sort of totally misunderstands the point. I mean Zarkawi may be dead, but the war in Iraq goes on, thousands of people are losing their lives, I mean this is one tiny move along the way. I think it's a fairly, err, stupid question, to say the least.

Bell: He's always been very strange on the war from the start. It's taking the Nick Cohen line: there were very few people, I doubt, I think, among his own readers who will agree with this, it's just dear old Nick he bangs on about this week after week; err, he's very isolated.

Male (Presenter Patrick O'Connell): Well, I mean a lot of readers won't know, you know, they follow the coverage, but  perhaps don't know all the individuals in broad journalism so much as this whole issue of where next. Do you believe it both of you, that it's a breakthrough or that it's just another step along the way.

Ashley: I can't believe it's a breakthrough at all. I think the question goes much deeper than the matter of Zarkawi and I think that sooner or later we're going to have to find an exit strategy. Whether we're going to do that as long as (spits out the next 3 words with disgust) Blair and Bush are still there...
Accusing Cohen of constantly banging on about it is a rich irony.

Here is Nick Cohen's weblog and the post containing the article in question.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Madame la Présidente... ?

From recent news reports, Ségolène Royal sounds like a French Tony Blair - questioning the 35 hour week, tough on crime, ... Interview with her this morning on France Inter. (QUESTION DIRECTE ). She was not asked the tough questions, like about the 35 hour week: the focus on crime (délinquance) seems to have taken attention away from the economic issues.

The parties to the left of the PS - the PCF, the LCR and Lutte Ouvrière may agree on a single candidate for the Présidentielle next year. It looks like the first round could be crucial again. The far-left candidate is unlikely to get through, but, after 2002, it could be the centre-right against the FN or the PS (with Mme Royal the favourite to be candidate) against the centre-right or the FN. Of course, any far-left candidate(s) could drain support from the PS.

Update: This is what The Economist had to say:
WHEN Britain's Labour Party chose Tony Blair as leader in 1994, left-wingers held their noses. Despite their distaste, he felt fresh, looked good and was popular enough to offer Labour its best chance of regaining power after 15 years in the wilderness. In France, where the Socialist Party has not had the presidency for 11 years [...], a similar hunger has taken hold. The difference is that party grandees are putting up stiff resistance to the candidate who feels fresh, looks good and has conquered public opinion: Ségolène Royal.
Hardly had the outcry [over her proposals for delinquents] died away before she broke another taboo, the 35-hour week, introduced by a previous Socialist government. This time, she veered leftwards. Her criticism was not that it stifled the work ethic or burdened companies, but that it had bred too much insecurity: bosses had won flexible working practices in return for reducing the working week with no loss of pay. “Managers have benefited from extra days off and workers have had to work on Saturdays,” she wrote on her website [...].

At first glance, she seems guilty of ideological incoherence. In one breath, she criticises—however counter-intuitively—the 35-hour week for being too liberal; in another, she praises Mr Blair's employment record.
'The irresistible rise of Ségolène Royal', 8 Jun 2006

More Revelation$$$sss...

...on Clearstream? 'The hatred [between de Villepin / Chirac and Sarkozy] surpasses anything that we could imagine?'

Denis Robert has another book out shortly: "Clearstream, l'enquête". Interview with  him, Thursday evening on France Inter. (I may update this post when I have had the chance to listen to the interview again.)

Update: a couple of points from the interview. The death of EADS boss, Jean-Luc Lagardère (see here), was said to have been 'in mysterious circumstances'.  Denis Robert said he found it 'troubling', without following Jean-Louis Gergorin into speculation as to who was responsible.

Secondly, Denis Robert was assisted in his researches by Florian Bourges, a former auditor with Arthur Andersen. Imad Lahoud claimed to have hacked into Clearstream's systems. In fact, he used information from Florian Bourges. This was shown by the fact that he left 4 columns containing Bourges' analysis in the files that he passed, anonymously, to French judges, having added the names of Sarkozy etc (see also 'Imad Lahoud mis en examen dans l'affaire Clearstream', Le Monde, 09 Jun.2006).

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Women and Football

'Offside' again - Frances Harrison reports from Tehran, on BBC Radio 4 (around 7:40). You heard it first here (or in The Economist).

Also, a video and ,serendipitously, a podcast - Shirin Ebadi, the 'first Muslim woman and Iranian to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize', on Woman's Hour, 05 June 2006.

Update: another link to Frances Harrison's report.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

MP3 for 2

I recently acquired an MP3 player for £8. I know you can get more advanced ones, with LCD screens and so on. Boys listen to these things with their heads down, in a world of their own. Girls share the players, one earphone apiece.

Monday, June 05, 2006

classic British methods

According to the new head of NATO operations in Southern Afghanistan, they are going to use classic British anti-insurgency methods (interview on BBC World Service, Sunday).  We are told that the security forces withdraw into their bases at night, leaving the Taliban in control and able to demand food from villagers. One of the British methods, in the Malay situation, was to set up enclosed area for the population. I don't know how well this would go down in Afghanistan.

The other obvious point is that this is all happening four and a half years too late.

Update: BBC report, today (9 Jun) - 'British soldiers involved in a six-hour battle in southern Afghanistan last Sunday killed many more Taleban fighters than first reported.'