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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Big Bang ...

Yesterday a stretch of the A3 (Autobahn A3, not the UK one), was closed to traffic in both directions near Frankfurt-am-Main. The reason was the six metre (18 feet) wide and four metre (12 feet) deep hole in the southbound carriageway, the result of the detonation of a WW2 500kg (1,100 lb) bomb that was exposed during routine repairs.

Attempts to defuse it were stopped when it was discovered that the chemical fuse was so badly corroded it could not be done with any hope of safety. So the decision was taken to detonate the bomb and hope for the best. Traffic on the A3 was stopped overnight, the bomb prepared by the Bundeswehr Bomb disposal team and the area evacuated for a considerable distance. Then the thing was triggered. Reports say the nearby town of Offenbach felt the blast, flights had to be stopped at Frankfurt Airport as it was on the approach path and there has generally been a bit of a stir.

Now the dust has settled, from the blast, not the ramifications, the Autobahn is being repaired. The northbound carriageway has reopened, but the southbound one will not open until the repairs are completed. That is expected to be at the weekend. But now it begs a major question. THis is just one of the bombs found this week. Another, in Marburg, also had to be destroyed by detonating it, and it is well known there are hundreds more of these unexploded weapons buried, some of them in densely populated areas, in Germany.

The stretch of the Autobahn beneath which this particular bomb has lain since around 1944, is one the Monk has travelled more than once. So have millions of motorists over the years, and repairs to the carriageways regularly uncover these things. Recently, a widening of the A3 autobahn saw several workers killed and injured when a mechanical digger hit a similar bomb and it detonated. The Head of Bomb Disposal admitted on television and radio that a large part of the problem is the chemical detonators, used by the British in the 1,000lb bombs, frequently failed, is difficult to remove even when it is undamaged, but impossible when they are corroded. And that is what is now happening. The damned things are corroding quietly and can trigger a detonation without warning. He states that he knows of 40 'spontaneous detonations' occuring since he took office.

A part of the problem is that in the post war clear-up, a lot of these bombs were simply buried, some of them under concrete, many lie under roads, railways and car parks. More are under buildings and even new housing estates built since the 1970s on 'greenfield' sites are turning up unexploded bombs that missed targets by a wide margin. Scarcely a week goes by without someone digging one up, and though they are sometimes lucky, and the bomb can be defused and removed, often, as in Marburg and on the A3 at Offenbach, they can't be.

The reactions of people here to them 'turning up' is interesting. There is a sort of collective shrug, and well oiled preparations go into play in preparation for yet another big bang. I expect it is a result of knowing the danger and dealing with it. Many of my elderly neighbours actually lived through the events that made Germany the most heavily bombed country in history, and they are quite relaxed about it. The general feeling is 'Thank God it was found before ...'

It does make one grateful for the fact that, living well outside any of the target zones, we have no known ordnance beneath our feet!  

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Dealing With A Cult Of Death.

Recently I have read an article by a Jewish Rabbi who makes a very good point on the subject of religious fundamentalism. In essence, once a person becomes so fixated on attaining ‘heaven’ they lose contact with reality, and with the essence of almost every religious teaching  - which is to live THIS life to the fullest possible extent, no matter how impoverished or hard it may be. The problem is that if we focus to intently on our vision of ‘heaven’ we very quickly find that it is a justification for every kind of evil act - in pursuit of the ‘greater good’.

This is what drives groups like Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and, I suspect, some elements of groups like Hamas, the Taliban (an ironic title if ever there was - it is said to mean ‘scholars’), Al Qaeda and others. It certainly motivates some Christian groups as well, fortunately, at this time, not to physical violence. The ISIS group, at present, provides us with the most visible evidence of what a group motivated by such a self-righteous ‘vision’ can produce. They justify their actions by arguing that the ‘final days’ and the return of ‘heavenly peace’ promised in the Quran can only be achieved by the recreation of the Caliphate. They further argue that the original Caliphate ‘failed’ because it allowed ‘kufars’ to continue practicing their ‘false’ faiths and live among the faithful.

Their solution is simple - forcibly convert the ‘kufars’ or kill them. Each death in the name of this programme is presumed to earn them brownie points in the heaven to come. Plus, of course, since it is a ‘holy’ war, if you die fighting for this cause you are a ‘holy’ martyr and assured of a place in ‘paradise’.

Interestingly, both Judaism and Christianity (mainstream, not the sectarian versions) have a very ‘physical’ view of the life hereafter and that is shared by Islam. Mainstream Christian teaching since early times has suggested that the ‘second coming’ and the ‘resurrection of the dead’ will be a physical event - with everyone restored to their physical bodies at the age that Jesus was when he died. The Jewish view is similar, and in Islam this is the leading concept as well. The Bible probably has the least to say on exactly what form the ‘life to come’ will take. While it contains many defences to a life after death, it uses a lot of allegorical descriptions to illustrate to the point. The problem comes down to trying to describe something outside of human understanding or experience, in human terms and within parameters the human mind can grasp. It is my understanding that the Quran follows a similar route - many references to ‘paradise’ or a ‘new Eden’ and to ‘the faithful’ populating it - but not a great deal on the details. Most of the teaching followed by extremists in that faith comes from something called the Hadith - a collection of ‘sayings’ attributed to the Prophet. It’s provenance is somewhat open to challenge since it was first written down a long time after the Prophet’s death.

The problem with obsessing about attaining the ‘life hereafter’ is that you stand a good chance of becoming insufferably ‘religious’ and ignoring the real tenets of the faith you supposedly follow. This was Christ’s problem with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, both groups obsessing about ‘The Law’ or ‘The Ritual’ (the Sadducees were the Temple priests) to the point they forgot, or perhaps ignored, the real teachings of their faith, which is, as Augustine of Hippo put it, to ‘Love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your being - and then do as you please.’ The truth is that if you really do the first, it is impossible to do anything ‘evil’ in the second part. In essence, this is what Jesus meant when he gave us the ‘Great Commandment’ (which Augustine paraphrased) and the second to love everyone else as we love ourselves. Follow those two commandments - which actually sum up the Ten Commandments very succinctly - and you cannot do what ISIS, Hamas or any other terror group are doing.

So where has it all gone wrong? Why are we seeing these black clad jihadis shooting, bombing and beheading their way across the Middle East? 

In part we have to acknowledge that Islam has historically a pretty dire record of conquest and forced conversion. Many today do not know that North Africa, the Middle East, most of modern Pakistan and the southern areas of what are now independent states of the former Soviet Union and Russian Empire, were Christian. They were converted to Islam by force or coercion after being overrun by Arab, and later Seljuk, Ottoman and other Islamic conquerors. The Caliphate was centred on Baghdad and flourished - ostensibly liberally - until it was sacked by the Mongols in 1326 AD. While it is often described as ‘tolerant’ it depends on your viewpoint. Certainly it allowed alcohol and was fairly relaxed about the practice of other faiths - Jewish or Christian. But, what is less well known, is that Jews and Christians were banned from holding government office unless they converted, and that they paid a punitive ‘tax’ to retain their faith. Later this was extended to a requirement to provide the first born son to the Caliph as a ‘servant’. These boys were forced to convert, and in some cases were castrated as well. The Ottoman Empire was still practicing this in the late 19th Century in Bulgaria and the other Balkan states under their control. 

The Mongol invasion shattered the Caliphate, but the new rulers didn’t bring a new religion with them, and were themselves gradually converted to Islam. It is an unacknowledged fact that Islam has been the reason underlying more invasions and conquests than any other religion, and while Christianity has certainly had its moments - especially during the Reformation - it hardly holds a candle to Islam in this regard.

Why the difference? 

Judaism grew up in a world dominated by religions that glorified death. Some practiced human sacrifice, most practiced animal sacrifice, and some had some rather strange combinations of both. Perhaps the most shocking of all was the sacrifice of male infants by the Phoenicians (and some reports say the Philistines) by tossing the living child into the stylised maw of a furnace, still, according to the Roman histories, practiced in Carthage at the time of the Punic Wars. Many had fertility rites that today would shock even the most open minded ‘liberal’. This is where some of the Levitical strictures against certain practices and activities arise and though these are carried over into the Quran (which draws heavily on the Old Testament, parts of the New and on a huge amount of Gnostic literature now known as the Pseudepigraphica (False Books) - so called because they are not written by the claimed ‘authors’ and are even verifiably not from the period they are supposed to have been written in), their origin is not acknowledged by the adherents of the extremist groups - and sadly, by some of the ‘scholars’ who support them.

Christianity, for the first hundred or so years, remained closely linked to the Synagogue and the Jewish worship and even teaching. It did suffer, to an extent, from a ‘martyr complex’ in some areas, where, if one reads the history of some of the early martyrs, they deliberately sought martyrdom in the belief that Christ would return within their (curtailed) lifetimes. While this re-emerged during the Reformation, and is still marginally visible among the more fundamentalist branches of the Christian family who fixate on the prophecies they read into the Book of Revelations. Once again, the problem is the fixation on gaining ‘the next life’ and frequently a loss of the need to live the present one to the fullest extent.

One possible explanation for Islam’s more entrenched ‘martyr complex’ is that it has no ‘centralising authority’ structures like the ‘church’ hierarchies of Christianity. Thus everyone is able to place their own interpretation on the teachings they have inherited, and many are drawn to the question of bringing about the arrival of the promised ‘paradise’. It is this focus that gives rise to the unhealthy mindset that says no amount of suffering, no limit to the number of casualties, is too high to achieve the desired end. Thus Hamas can have no shortage of volunteers willing to sacrifice their lives in this world, to destroy the ‘enemy’ and attain ‘paradise’ where they can live in a state of bliss while awaiting the final call to rise with the faithful and take over the earth.

In focusing their thoughts on a ‘martyr’s death’ they lose the true message of faith which is, simply, to live, and to live well. Once again, turning to the teaching of Jesus and the Old Testament Prophets, the essence of the faiths they taught, is to live life to its fullest. Their teaching is simple, by following the simple instruction to love God, and to treat everyone you encounter with respect and kindness, you will reap the same treatment from them. Everything in the Bible - both Old and New Testaments is about living, not about dying, and, as I understand it, the same applies to the Quran. By turning that on its head, and focusing on death, those who do, create a ‘death cult’ whose purpose is no longer about love and life, but about power, murder and enslavement.

I would venture to suggest that this is one major reason we cannot hope to see peace in Gaza or the West Bank at any time in the near future. The Jewish state is founded on the ideals of Judaic teaching about ‘life’, while their opponents seek to destroy them, their faith and their state - and are prepared to die themselves to achieve it. Hamas, Fatah and the other factions are all members of what has become a Cult of Death. In their mindset death in achieving their aim will guarantee a place in Paradise. Their ‘holy’ struggle justifies anything and everything, even bringing death and destruction to those they love.

Islam has descended into being a ‘cult of death’ and, as such, sows the seeds of its own ultimate failure. The Huffington Post columnist, Mehdi Hassan, himself a follower of Islam, points out in a recent article (The Hand Choppers Of ISIS Are Deluded), that Islam as a ‘political’ movement has failed at every attempt to create an ‘Islamic State’. Look about you - all the ‘failed states’ causing problems in the world today are ‘Islamic’, and all of them try to impose the Sharia and the thinking of the 7th Century to government - with predictably disastrous results. In every attempt to create such a Utopia, all too rapidly power becomes entrenched in the hands a small and usually corrupt clique. Law and order break down as people find themselves compelled evade certain strictures and corruption spreads as policy is increasingly left in the hands of those who blind themselves to suffering or see only their own very narrow vision of 'heaven'. It is in this cesspit that the radical preachers, the haters and the violent find a ready field to develop and expand their perverted theology. 

It is the failure, among western ‘thinkers’, politicians and campaigners for ‘secularisation’, and their fellow travellers of humanism and atheism, to understand this difference between Judaism, Christianity and Islam that will bring hardship and disaster to us all. Their constant assault on Christianity, and their open bias against Judaism, has created a vacuum, the perfect breeding ground for this radicalised and twisted version of Islam. The demonstrations over the last weekend in the UK, with hate filled slogans being chanted, and placards waved that should, frankly, have resulted in arrests, are a warning. We are not dealing with a movement that promises hope, peace or love - we are dealing with a cult that sees death and destruction as desirable ways to achieve their aims. Peace doesn’t stand a chance against that mindset. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

When is a Terrorist not a Terrorist?

When is a murderous gunman a 'freedom fighter', and when is he a 'terrorist'? This is a question we need to sort out pretty quickly. It has often been argued in the past, that it depends on which side of the relevant 'cause' you support. Alternately, it depends on how big a crowd you can 'persuade' to attend a demonstration against whoever they are against. So a 'demo' of 150,000 in London apparently turns Hamas into 'freedom fighters' and makes Israel 'aggressors'. This allows the demonstrators to demand that Israel stop defending its citizens and allows Hamas and all the splinter groups hiding under its mantel, to bomb, murder and kidnap their way into possession of all of Israel. For those who hate Israel and wish to see it destroyed, Hamas are 'freedom fighters' and not 'terrorists'. Their every excess is justified by the 'cause' they fight for, the total destruction of Israel, and the subjugation of all its inhabitants to Sharia Law, or at least their version of it. For their supporters, no 'bad' deed can be laid at their door, everything is Israel's 'fault' presumably simply for existing and for defending itself.

It is noteworthy that these same demonstrators argue that they are justified in NOT demonstrating against, or renouncing the excesses of, ISIS and the suppression of all other faiths in most Islamic lands, on the grounds that they are the result of 'western aggression' and support for Israel. As ever, when one looks at terrorists, one is confronted with a double standard. The government/people/nation under attack are always, in the minds of the terror group's sympathisers and supporters, "aggressors" or "abusers" and the terrorists are branded "liberators" and "freedom fighters". As always, there is a refusal to accept that there may be some justification for the vigorous defence of the status quo, and a refusal to condemn the excesses of the terrorist group. The favourite canard of the supporters is "it is always necessary that some must suffer for the greater good ..." George Orwell certainly knew the mind of the idiots who trot that out in defence of any excess perpetrated by their favourite ideologues or 'freedom fighters'.

The situation in Southern Africa thirty years ago was similarly divisive. To their supporters the ANC were 'freedom fighters' as, forty years ago, Mugabe's Patriotic Front were. To their supporters, every killing, every murder of their own people as well as every 'white man/woman/child' was a justifiable killing in the name of 'freedom', and every black person killed by the same terrorists, was an 'unfortunate casualty in the name of the struggle'. Of course, if you were on the receiving end of this, then the ANC and the PF were 'terrorists' and remain so. It is very easy to shout slogans, wave banners and pontificate about the 'justice' or the 'justification' when you are not the target, and will not have to live with the consequences resulting from the triumph of your favourite bunch of terrorists. The trouble is that there is no clear definition of either term, no generally agreed situation that makes you one or the other - and there is no dirtier, more inhumane or genocidal 'war' than a 'civil war' conducted by masked or disguised fighters from within a population.

The western Media (mostly 'liberal/left') has, at various times, hailed as 'liberators' the likes of Che Guevara, Robert Mugabe, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Sukarno, Ho Chi Min and any number of others - most of whom have turned out to be nothing other than vicious psychopaths hell bent on attaining and keeping power at all costs, no matter how many people die so they can achieve it. I frequently wonder how many of those who wear the teeshirts emblazoned with Che Guevara's image know they are celebrating a classic psychopath responsible for bringing misery and poverty (and possibly creating the drug cartels) to so much of South America and the Caribbean today. Not many, I suspect. And those that do, don't care. It was, and is, all about being a 'rebel' and having a 'cause'. That last is, in my view, borne out by the fact so many of those who do wear that image, or display it in homes and offices, are 'single issue' campaigners for something.

The truth is there is no such animal as a 'freedom fighter'. Those that do join such 'armies' are often seriously misguided, sometimes psychopathic or psychologically disturbed. They are often brutes whose only 'cause' is advancing their own form of tyranny. The current group terrorising the Middle East, ISIS, are classic examples. Yet again, they were hailed, among others, by the western liberal media, as the 'freedom' fighters 'striving to overthrow the oppressive dictatorships' of so many of the Arab countries. And now their true colours are emerging, we hear no word of condemnation from the same 'liberal/left'. Instead they try to divert attention to Israel's supposed 'war on children' - quietly ignoring the evidence that Hamas has used schools as munitions dumps, fires their rockets from heavily populated areas, and hides their 'soldiers' among groups of women and children.

We rejoiced as Libya was torn apart and Gaddafi overthrown. We rejoiced as Tunisia was riven, then Egypt, and finally Syria - and we poured money and arms into funding and supplying the 'rebels' of the 'Arab Spring'. The Muslim Brotherhood were beneficiaries, and through them, ISIS and Hamas got the latest weapons and munitions. Yes, we made a good call there then. ISIS is now said to have a 'fighting fund' of over $2 billion, and it's major funders are the State of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and - oh dear - the Muslim Brotherhood which has been enjoying funding from the US among others. Again and again, the liberal/left make the mistake of falling for their own prejudice. We loathe the government or the leader of a state - so those who seek to overthrown him must be good guys. They must be friends - and we throw resources at them.

Then we are surprised when they turn out to be worse then the 'devil they cast out'. We never seem to learn that a man with a gun, a bomb vest strapped to him, and a mortar or a rocket launcher in his hands is NOT a 'better' person than his 'enemy'. Above all we never seem to get it into our heads that 'the enemy of my enemy' is NOT necessarily a friend. He may well be an even worse enemy. A terrorist is a terrorist whatever his cause, however 'justified' it may be. A man who tries to shoot or bomb his way to power is filled with hatred, and hatred is a poison which eventually extends that hatred to everyone who doesn't agree with the first man's 'vision'.

There are some shocking images emerging from Syria and Iraq, images the majority of western governments and media seem determined to ignore. President Obama has authorised 'bombing' of ISIS groups and forces, but how does he propose to identify them? Not all of them are wearing anything identifiable as a uniform. So, like all terrorists - they hide among civilians. Bomb them and you kill civilians. Kill civilians and the liberal/left media scream 'murder' at the western military (or Israel), but justify Hamas, ISIS or any other 'terror' groups' campaign of murder.

ISIS brings us a further dimension. Children as young as 10 are being 'encouraged' to swear 'allegiance' to the new 'caliph'. Video footage they are putting out shows children declaring they want to 'die a martyrs death for the Caliph'. Where are the sensible heads in all of this? Ah, adorning fences after ISIS made examples of them for daring to oppose their vision of Paradise. As is often said, for evil to triumph, it is necessary only for good men to do nothing. And this is the fruit of the ideology that has driven the west for the last five or six decades. We are now afraid to speak out; to say what is obvious, because to do so will result in our being accused of Islamophobia, racism, or 'cultural ignorance' - which is ironic, because those who use that last, are generally utterly ignorant of the 'culture' they seek to defend.

Terrorism, in all its forms, is a cancer that erodes liberty, personal freedom and ultimately the nation state. Like cancer it requires radical treatment. There are NO half-measures. Either surrender to the terrorist immediately, or be prepared to embark on a campaign as vicious as theirs. There is no negotiation with them. We have to accept that they are fanatics, and you cannot negotiate with a fanatic, since they deal only in absolutes. We have to stop playing the semantic card, make up our minds, and suppress terrorism. Plant a bomb in the name of a 'cause' and you are a terrorist. Join up with others, and take up arms against a legitimately elected (which does not necessarily mean it has to be by what you or I consider 'democratic' process) government - and you are a terrorist. Terrorists cannot, and must not be tolerated, no matter what the cause.

Those who truly want to see peace in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank have to stop supporting kidnapping, shooting, stone throwing, bombing and rocket firing targeted at Israel and Israelis or any other state and ts people. They will retaliate, just as any of our nation states would. If you want 'peace' in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza or anywhere else, stop supporting those who think they can achieve their aims through the bombs, stones and bullets you are supplying through your donations. If Hamas, ISIS, or anyone else want peace, they must go to a negotiating table with no weapons and no preconditions. Otherwise they must be seen as terrorists.

Recently Gerry Doyle, a US based Radio and TV commentator, made the point that, with the support of gullible western 'liberal' sympathisers, terrorist groups have come to believe that they can win. Hamas think they can beat Israel no matter how many of their own civilians die in the attempt. ISIS believe they can overthrow every government in the world and impose their 'Caliph' on everyone. Both get  support through all manner of third parties, such as the state of Qatar, elements of the Saudi government, 'humanitarian' agencies who provide goods and materials they can trade for weapons, 'supporters' who raise money for them (often under various guises which conceal who it is really supporting) and the benign ignorance of politicians whose 'multi-cultural' ideology blinds them to what is really happening. Such as traffic being stopped in Bradford and 'donations' demanded, with threats implied, for the support of the 'Palestinian Resistance'. They will continue to thrive and to advance their cause as long as we are prepared to 'tolerate' their continued existence and activities of both the 'fighters' and their supporters.

It is said there are some 500 British 'fighters' with ISIS, a similar number from Germany, and from the US. There are others from France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands - from every European state in fact. We are told the police 'know', or suspect they know, who they are. Fine, but then, when they eventually return to their home countries they must be arrested and charged with the crimes they have committed in the name of their cause - and preferably subjected to the same 'sentence' they have handed out to those they have killed or captured in the course of their 'war' on the people of Iraq and Syria. Sadly, I doubt they will be - because the armies of 'human rights' lawyers are probably already lobbying and lining up to make sure these psychopaths are not subjected to any legal actions for their campaigns of murder.

I do not believe anyone can be called a 'freedom fighter', whether he is a Ukrainian 'Russian', a Chechen, a Pushtun Taliban or a Nigerian tribesman who thinks he should be in control of all the other tribes in his homeland. In my view they are all terrorists and must be captured and either executed, or put away in a place where they and their evil poison can never be imposed on anyone else. Frankly, those who support them should be treated the same way.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Hiroshima 69 years on ...

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the dropping of the first Atomic Bomb, the 5,000kg (roughly 11,000lbs) 'Little Boy' bomb. It contained about 64kg (140lbs) of Uranium and detonated about 600 metres (1800 feet) above the centre of the city. Estimates vary, but about 80,000 people died in the initial flash, and a further 20,000 of radiation and injuries in the ensuing three years. Since then about 1,900 people have died of ailments that may be related to the effects of radiation. Today, Hiroshima is a thriving city, completely rebuilt on the original site (the city dates back to the 14th Century) and is deemed to be free of radiation.

At the time the bomb was dropped, the city had a population of about 420,000 people and almost all of them suffered some form of injury or exposure to radiation. Post war studies showed, however, that the majority recovered fairly rapidly with treatment. The rebuilt city is now home to around 1.3 million people, with the total for the metropolitan area being around 2.2 million. There are a number of monuments to the bombing, among them the iconic Commercial Museum building shell near the city centre. This is the building seen in so many post bomb photos - the only standing structure in a sea of debris.

The contamination of the area was fairly low, largely because, being an 'airburst' most of the contaminants were carried into the stratosphere by the thermal column and mushroom cloud. Only about 2kg of the Uranium actually 'reacted' in fission, the rest being 'vapourised' in the process. It is a little mentioned fact that many of the survivors lived to great age, despite their experience and exposure. That said, theirs is an experience no one should have to undergo again.

As we mark this anniversary, let us pray for peace in the world.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Final Dominoes Fall ...

Today, one hundred years ago, Britain and France declared war on the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, the French striking into Alsace, and the British moving the BEF to France. Reading the newspaper accounts of the time, the expectation was that the Fleet would steam across the North Sea, destroy the German High Seas Fleet in a 'second Trafalgar' at sea, or in their anchorage at Wilhelmshaven. The BEF was going to put the Germans in their place in Europe and the whole thing would be all over in a matter of months.

There would be no 'second Trafalgar', nor a 'Glorious First of June' at sea. In fact the Royal Navy suffered several disastrous losses in the early days of the war. The old cruisers, HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue were torpedoed by U-9 in an almost comical series of blunders by the commanding officers, taking with them hundreds of Reservists. At the Battle of Coronel, Admiral Cradock's squadron was destroyed by Admiral von Spee's East Asiatic Squadron, and the raiders, SMS Königsberg, operating out of the Rufiji River in East Africa, and the SMS Emden in the East Indies, played havoic with Empire shipping. Jutland is best described as a 'draw', and the idea that the High Seas Fleet never again played a decisive part in the war is a myth. Their actions in the Baltic continued unhindered and would eventually play a large part in creating the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian collapse.

That is always the danger of propaganda replacing reality. Far from being 'all over by Christmas' and a nice tidy demonstration of the superiority of British forces, it turned into a rout within days in France and it was only the professionalism of the British 'Tommies' that checked the French retreat once the German onslaught was unleashed. That check condemned the Germans to a slow and agonising war of attrition, and everyone else to a slow bleeding away of their young men, and a serious drain on economies that the pro-war parties cannot have foreseen.

The 'Great War' swept away the 'old' European systems and borders, re-alligning territories and moving vast numbers of people - or marooning them in 'new' host countries where they were treated as 'foreigners'. It would, in the draconian 'reparations' demanded by the French among others, sow the seeds for a second global conflict and the rise of Nazism and Fascisim - and, ironically, in attempting to destroy the German economy - it brought on the Great Depression.

We can only speculate on what the world would be like today had Britain refrained from rushing into war and cooler heads prevailed elsewhere.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Germany Opens Fire on Russia

As the German ultimatum to Russia expired, the SMS Augsburg set sail from Königsburg to carry out her orders. On this day she opened fire on the Russian garrison town and the Naval Base of Liepaja (Libau in German) in what is today Latvia, but was then a province of the Tsarist Empire. In a very brief engagement demonstrating some remarkably accurate gunnery (something we, in Britain, should perhaps have taken more note of) she destroyed batteries, munitions dumps and ships in the harbour, steaming away from the scene unscathed and leaving the city on fire.

It was a taste of things to come on this front, Liepaja being just the first city to get a taste of modern war. Many others on this front and in the west would soon be given the same treatment from both sides of the conflict. There was no distinction to be drawn then between 'civilian' and 'military' targets - everyone was an enemy.

In the West, the Royal Navy was already at its 'War Stations' thanks to Winston Churchill. Parliament had sent its Ultimatum to Germany, as had France. Belgium had cast its lot with France and Britain, and the Dutch, Danish, Norwegians, Swedes and Swiss declared their neutrality. Austria-Hungary, already engaged with the Serbs and the Russians, was not doing well, and Italy, with their eyes on Austria's Aegean territories was hesitating.

The storm in the west was about to break.

Friday, 1 August 2014

The First Shots of the Great War

One hundred years ago today, the Russian forces completed their mobilisation, and the first of Germany's Reserves mustered to join their Regiments. The Ultimata had begun to be circulated, and Germany itself was divided over the prospect of the conflict. We are often told of the 'patriotic fervour' and the 'rush to join' by the official history taught in most schools, but reading the 'Zeitungs' of the period a slightly different story emerges. Yes, there were those who saw the war as an opportunity, but they were far from being the only voices on the streets and in the corridors of power. The whole thing was still, even at this point, on a knife edge.

We are told of the mass demonstrations that greeted the Kaiser's supposed statement that henceforth he 'recognised no Patries, only the German people', but it transpires that this is a myth built around the real events. There were demonstrations of a patriotic nature in Berlin and other major cities, but the Kaiser's actual words have been paraphrased, presumably by newspaper editors. His actual words were much longer and a bit more guarded. What the papers (and subsequent historians) were a little less entusiastic about reporting was the mass demonstrations in many more cities and towns against joining the war. Even in the Reichstag - the Kaiserreich Parliament - and in the various Landestags, voices were raised in heated debate both for and against the coming conflict. There was, at this point, no united will to go to war.

Now enter 'hubris' and the fear of invasion. At some point Russian forces fired on German villages and troops in East Prussia. Coupled with this came the intelligence that the French were sending troops into Belgium to reinforce the Belgians (though this appears to have been a misleading report) and planned to occupy Luxemburg, a German affiliated independent Duchy. These events became the game changers, though there were still dissenting voices, the majority swung behind the demand to defend German territory and the die were caste.

Ambassadors began packing, diplomatic telegrams flew back and forth, and deadlines for avoiding conflict began to pass. Luxemburg was occupied without a shot fired. Indeed, one gets the impression the Luxembourgois preferred German occupation to a French one, and the armoured cruiser SMS Augsburg was despatched to Königsburg with secret orders to be executed if the Russians did not respond to the Ultimatum resulting from their having fired on Germany.

The Great War was now inevitable.