Brandon Martinez interviews Hafsa Kara-Mustapha on a January 18, 2015 episode of the Non-Aligned Media Podcast.
Hafsa Kara-Mustapha is a London-based journalist and political commentator who has written extensively about the Middle East for publications such as Middle East Magazine, Jane’s Foreign Report and El Watan newspaper. She also appears frequently on Press TV and Russia Today.
Brandon Martinez is an independent writer and journalist from Canada who specializes in foreign policy issues, international affairs and 20th and 21st century history. For years he has written on Zionism, Israel-Palestine, American and Canadian foreign policy, war, terrorism and deception in media and politics. Listeners can contact him at martinezperspective[at]hotmail.com or visit his blog.
By John Chuckman | Aletho News | November 13, 2014
No matter what high-blown claims the politicians make each year on Remembrance Day, The Great War was essentially a fight between two branches of a single royal family over the balance of power on the continent of Europe, British foreign policy holding to a longstanding principle that no one nation should ever be permitted to dominate the continent.
It was also a war between the world’s greatest existing imperial power, Britain, and another state, Germany, which aspired to become a greater imperial power than it was.
To a considerable extent, it was a war resulting from large standing armies and great arms races, a telling indictment of those who preach the false gospel of ever-greater military strength to defend freedom. As with any huge, shiny new investment, great armies will always be used, and the results are almost invariably great misery.
The First World War was not a war to end all wars, as a slogan of the time claimed. If anything, it was a precursor for a great many wars to follow, and, most importantly, it was a powerful and important cause of World War II.
It also was not a war about democracy since none of the participants, including Britain, would qualify as democracies by any reasonable reckoning with their heavily limited voting franchise and government structures stacked in the interests of old and privileged orders, quite apart from their holding empires whose populations enjoyed no franchise at all.
The war was also one of history’s great instances of mass hysteria, particularly among the young men of several countries. In Britain, there have been many laments over the loss of some fine and promising young men who rushed to join up. In Germany, it was no different, and we note one young man, then of no importance, by the name of Adolph Hitler rushing to join up, much as his British contemporaries, to share in the “glory.”
Today, we pretend shock that young men sometimes go abroad to fight for a cause, religious or otherwise, but compared to the mass insanity of World War I, what we see today is truly petty. The authorities everywhere then made great efforts to push young men, using songs, marching bands, slogans, shame and social pressure in many forms, and countless lies. The nonsense about the Kaiser’s troops bayonetting babies was one example, a lie served up again decades later with a slight twist by George Bush the Elder’s government as it desperately wanted support to invade Iraq, the babies the second time around supposedly being ripped from respirators.
World War I made absolutely no sense. It achieved nothing worth achieving, and it did so at immense cost. Apart from killing about 20,000,000 people, the war left countless crippled and disabled and created a great swathe of destruction across Europe.
If Germany had been allowed to dominate Europe for a time, it would have made comparatively little difference to the lives of most people. Indeed, today, that is the situation we find in the European Union.
It is important to realize that large wars are always revolutionary in nature, and no one at the outset can possibly predict the outcomes of such chaotic storms in terms of social, economic, and political change. World War I very much set the stage, with huge losses of men and the incompetence demonstrated by Imperial commanders, for the Communists to take power in Russia, a development which led ultimately to the Cold War.
The War’s immense costs and the realization by millions of soldiers from abroad that they fought for a nation which gave them no rights provided the great first blow towards ending the British Empire. The approaching World War II would finish the work of imperial rot and collapse.
The First World War set the stage for the rise of Hitler less than two decades later and made inevitable the catastrophe of World War II, which would inflict at least two and a half times as many deaths again and would see such horrors as the Holocaust and the use of atomic bombs.
So why, about a century later, do we still treat The Great War with reverence and sentimental remembrance?
The act of remembrance actually contradicts the sound human tendency to forget terrible experiences. Of course, we hear repeated countless times the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” one of those glib and catchy sayings which seem at first hearing to carry some deep truth. Just the consideration that in real life no two events ever can be identical makes the saying a pleasantly-phrased nonsense, resembling the aphorisms on far lighter subjects from Oscar Wilde.
Those repeating the glib phrase as received wisdom from an unimpeachable prophet always neglect to remind us of the importance of scrupulously defining what it is that you are remembering. If we remember World War One for exactly what it was, and not for what we wish it had been, we see a vast, pointless slaughter that succeeded in setting conditions for still more slaughter. Never repeating it would be a blessing indeed.
But if we see it as moving and inspirational, if we associate its name with thoughts of ending war or protecting democracy or of great camaraderie and shared hardship, if we are emotionally moved by troops in uniforms and flags flying and bugles and drumbeats, then we most assuredly will repeat it, as we have already done more than once, and I’m pretty sure that’s what the arrogant politicians and jingoes want us ready to do.
Remembrance Day surely is not about the loss of life, as we pretend it is, because the only way to hold those or any lives sacred is not to send them off to war in the first place. The ugly truth is that governments, run by men with great egos – likely more often than not, actual narcissists – who are supported by privileged wealth wanting to keep or expand its privilege, make the decision for wars largely on the basis of fairly primitive instincts, instincts about being first or not letting a competitor gain an advantage, or just vague and meaningless stuff about being manly or resolute – standing your ground, keeping a stiff upper lip, putting up with no nonsense, showing your manhood, and so on and so forth.
One American politician, in a play on an infamous quote by George Wallace, said no one would ever “out-commie” him again in an election. Such was the thinking of Lyndon Johnson in making the fatal decision to start a major war in Southeast Asia. On just such hormone-laden considerations hung a decade’s brutal fighting and the deaths of 3 million Vietnamese.
The real reason for the ceremonies and parades and speeches is to keep young men keen to go and kill and die, there being no group of humans more subject to cheap emotional appeals about glory and heroism than young men, as we see, ad nauseam, generation after generation.
As I’ve written before, humans are little more than chimpanzees with larger brains, those larger brains enabling us to magnify immensely the power of our murderous instincts, a fact we seem determined proudly to display every Remembrance Day.
Britain’s domestic spying apparatus MI5 has been accused of complicity in torture.
A Dutch man of Somali origin, Ahmed Diini, accused the British spy agency of questioning him while he was being tortured in an Egyptian prison earlier this year.
Diini said during his eight-month imprisonment in Cairo that he was shackled, hooded, repeatedly beaten, and threatened that his wife would be raped.
The former British resident, who is also a grandson of the deposed Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, claimed that the alleged MI5 agents worked closely with Egyptian security forces, promising him his freedom if he agreed to work for the British intelligence service.
The Dutch man was imprisoned for unknown reasons following the ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
The claim comes as the head of MI5 told lawmakers in November that his officers would never participate in or condone torture, or take part in operations where a suspect is being illegally detained by a foreign state.
This is while the Constitution Project report last year slammed Britain for violating human rights through colluding with the US in the torture and rendition of terror suspects.
The dossier also claims MI5 agents under the last Labour government knew that prisoners were ill-treated at the hands of their captors
For years, Labour ministers denied involvement in rendition. But the report pointed out that the UK had paid out around £10 million to more than a dozen detainees after they were illegally rendered and tortured.
There seems little doubt that the arrest of Irish republican leader Gerry Adams this week over alleged involvement in a tragic murder 44 years ago is politically motivated.
The political interests pushing this agenda have no respect for victims of Ireland’s recent 30-year conflict. These interests are being selective in their focus on victims, cynically vying for political gain, and in particular to damage the rise of Sinn Fein, the Irish republican party.
Later this month, Ireland is heading into European Parliamentary elections, which up to now was promising to see major electoral gains for Sinn Fein, the party of which Adams has been president of since 1983.
In recent years, Sinn Fein has emerged has the fastest growing political party in both the British-occupied north and the independent southern state. It has become the second biggest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, while in the southern legislative chamber, Dail Eireann, Sinn Fein has seen its number of parliamentarians expand three-fold over the past three elections to become an increasingly pivotal force there.
Sinn Fein can rightly claim to be the only all-Ireland party with representatives and organizational structure that transcend the British-imposed border, which partitions the island into northern and southern jurisdictions. Sinn Fein is distinguished from all other political parties by its manifesto calling for a united, independent country.
That manifesto not only threatens the British interest of maintaining its political presence in the North of Ireland; the so-called Irish political parties in the South of Ireland also see their establishment interests challenged by the growing popular support for Sinn Fein and its calls to shake-up the stagnant status quo on both sides of the border.
This is the important context in which the Sinn Fein leader was taken into custody this week by police in Northern Ireland. Adams has not been charged but his arrest over the murder took many observers by surprise, coming seemingly out of the blue. The allegations will revive memories of a dark episode in Ireland’s 30-year conflict.
The murder in question is that of a Belfast woman, Jean McConville, who was abducted and killed by the Provisional IRA in 1972. McConville was a widow and mother of 10 children, aged 38 when she died. The IRA claimed that the woman was an informer to the British army during the conflict that saw Belfast plunged into chaos and violence for nearly three decades. The McConville family always vehemently denied their mother was an informer, and a police investigation conducted years later cleared the deceased woman of any such activity.
Sinn Fein is the political wing of the IRA, and Gerry Adams has long been alleged to be a senior member of the guerrilla organization, which laid down its arms as part of the Irish peace settlement signed in 1998. As an alleged commander of the IRA during the 1970s in Belfast, Adams is accused of overseeing the assassination of Jean McConville.
The Sinn Fein president denies any involvement in the abduction and murder. This week, before his arrest, Adams described the allegations as “malicious” and aimed at damaging his party politically, especially on the eve of European-wide elections.
Certainly, the accusations against Adams are not new. In recent years, two former senior IRA members, Brendan Hughes and Dolores Price, made separate claims that Adams ordered the execution of Jean McConville. Female IRA member Dolores Price said before her own death last year that she abducted McConville on direct orders from Adams and drove the mother to the place of her execution.
McConville’s body was found in August 2003, nearly 31 years after her murder. Her remains had been buried on a beach in Shelling Hill, County Louth, across the border in the South of Ireland. The IRA had already admitted to the murder in 1999, while still maintaining that McConville was an informer. It offered an apology to the family and provided information to locate her burial site.
The grief of the McConville family is surely poignant. Ten young children were left without a mother and the family was subsequently split up and taken into social care.
But there are thousands of other such family tragedies during the conflict that engulfed Northern Ireland between 1968-1998. Fathers, mothers, sons and daughters were shot dead by British army soldiers and pro-British paramilitaries who were directed by London’s military intelligence to instil terror in the civilian population and to deter its right to Irish freedom. Thousands of lives were ruined and traumatized by a conflict that the British government bears a heavy responsibility for but for which it has always evaded.
The southern Irish political establishment has a lot to answer for too. It largely turned its back on the plight of many citizens in the north when they were being subjected to ruthless British militarism.
Indeed, the southern Irish ruling class collaborated with Britain to suppress the freedom movement that re-emerged in the British-occupied northern state during the 1960s.
Today, the South of Ireland jurisdiction – which pompously and fraudulently refers to itself as “the Republic of Ireland” – is the apotheosis of the Irish republic that generations of Irish people have fought and died for.
It is a bankrupt state of huge social inequality and poverty, overseen by crony political parties who made their peace with British imperialism when the island was partitioned in 1920 – thus betraying the cause of Irish republicanism that sought to set up a unified, independent state free from British domination.
Sinn Fein, the original party that led Irish independence more than a century ago, is again in the ascendancy, both north and south. It is this political threat that most probably explains the sudden rekindling of interest in the tragic murder of Jean McConville more four decades ago. The place where her remains were found 10 years ago, County Louth, is the electoral constituency that Gerry Adams represents today in the southern parliament, having been elected to the seat in 2011.
Jean McConville’s family deserve the truth and justice. So do thousands of other Irish families. But for these other families, the British and Dublin governments and their lickspittle media show little interest towards. Both the London and Dublin governments continue to refuse the setting up an independent truth commission into all conflict-related deaths. The selective focus on one victim strongly suggests manipulation of a single family’s grief for cynical political purposes. That’s not justice. It’s grubby politicking.
Every schoolboy used to know that at the height of the empire, almost a quarter of the atlas was coloured pink, showing the extent of British rule.
But that oft recited fact dramatically understates the remarkable global reach achieved by this country.
A new study has found that at various times the British have invaded almost 90 per cent of the countries around the globe.
The analysis of the histories of the almost 200 countries in the world found only 22 which have never experienced an invasion by the British.
Among this select group of nations are far-off destinations such as Guatemala, Tajikistan and the Marshall Islands, as well some slightly closer to home, such as Luxembourg.
The analysis is contained in a new book, All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To.
Stuart Laycock, the author, has worked his way around the globe, through each country alphabetically, researching its history to establish whether, at any point, they have experienced an incursion by Britain.
Only a comparatively small proportion of the total in Mr Laycock’s list of invaded states actually formed an official part of the empire.
The remainder have been included because the British were found to have achieved some sort of military presence in the territory – however transitory – either through force, the threat of force, negotiation or payment.
Incursions by British pirates, privateers or armed explorers have also been included, provided they were operating with the approval of their government.
So, many countries which once formed part of the Spanish empire and seem to have little historical connection with the UK, such as Costa Rica, Ecuador and El Salvador, make the list because of the repeated raids they suffered from state-sanctioned British sailors.
Among some of the perhaps surprising entries on the list are:
* Cuba, where in 1741, a force under Admiral Edward Vernon stormed ashore at Guantánamo Bay. He renamed it Cumberland Bay, before being forced to withdraw in the face of hostile locals and an outbreak of disease among his men. Twenty one years later, Havana and a large part of the island fell to the British after a bloody siege, only to be handed back to the Spanish in 1763, along with another unlikely British possession, the Philippines, in exchange for Florida and Minorca.
*Iceland, invaded in 1940 by the British after the neutral nation refused to enter the war on the Allies side. The invasion force, of 745 marines, met with strong protest from the Iceland government, but no resistance.
* Vietnam, which has experienced repeated incursions by the British since the seventeenth century. The most recent – from 1945 to 1946 – saw the British fight a campaign for control of the country against communists, in a war that has been overshadowed by later conflicts involving first the French and then Americans.
It is thought to be the first time such a list has been compiled.
Mr Laycock, who has previously published books on Roman history, began the unusual quest after being asked by his 11-year-old son, Frederick, how many countries the British had invaded.
After almost two years of research he said he was shocked by the answer. “I was absolutely staggered when I reached the total. I like to think I have a relatively good general knowledge. But there are places where it hadn’t occurred to me that these things had ever happened. It shocked me.
“Other countries could write similar books – but they would be much shorter. I don’t think anyone could match this, although the Americans had a later start and have been working hard on it in the twentieth century.”
The only other nation which has achieved anything approaching the British total, Mr Laycock said, is France – which also holds the unfortunate record for having endured the most British invasions. “I realise people may argue with some of my reasons, but it is intended to prompt debate,” he added.
He believes the actual figure may well be higher and is inviting the public to get in touch to provide evidence of other invasions.
In the case of Mongolia, for instance – one of the 22 nations “not invaded”, according to the book – he believes it possible that there could have been a British invasion, but could find no direct proof.
The country was caught up in the turmoil following the Russian Revolution, in which the British and other powers intervened. Mr Laycock found evidence of a British military mission in Russia approximately 50 miles from the Mongolian border, but could not establish whether it got any closer.
The research lists countries based on their current national boundaries and names. Many of the invasions took place when these did not apply.
The research covered the 192 other UN member states as well as the Vatican City and Kosovo, which are not member states, but are recognised by the UK government as independent states.
The earliest invasion launched from these islands was an incursion into Gaul – now France – at the end of the second century. Clodius Albinus led an army, thought to include many Britons, across the Channel in an attempt to seize the imperial throne. The force was defeated in 197 at Lyon.
Mr Laycock added: “On one level, for the British, it is quite amazing and quite humbling, that this is all part of our history, but clearly there are parts of our history that we are less proud of. The book is not intended as any kind of moral judgment on our history or our empire. It is meant as a light-hearted bit of fun.”
The countries never invaded by the British:
Central African Republic
Congo, Republic of
Sao Tome and Principe
Senior British politicians say the United States is “bullying” UK banks and is hampering legal exports from Britain to Iran.
The politicians, including former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and former Chancellor Lord Lamont, made the remarks at a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday.
British parliamentarians say the US threatens British banks with heavy sanctions and hampers the legal exports of food, pharmaceuticals and medical devices from the UK to the Islamic republic. They add that Washington is hindering UK’s legal trade with Iran.
Lamont said Britain “should not be bullied by the American authorities.”
Straw noted that as British banks fear US sanctions, they do not provide UK companies with banking services for legal exports to Iran.
“The pressure on our banks is intense,” Straw said, adding, “The impact of this unilateral, extraterritorial jurisdiction of the US is discriminatory, especially against UK-based financial institutions, given their multinational nature.”
Straw also said the US authorities would not accept the way that British banks and companies are treated if they were in the same situation.
“The US Congress and government would not tolerate this for a moment were the situation reversed,” Straw stated, saying the move by the US is a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the UK.
Straw, who is also the British head of Iran-Britain Parliamentary Friendship Group, visited Iran at the head of a high-ranking delegation, including Lamont, Conservative lawmaker Ben Wallace and Labor lawmaker Jeremy Corbyn as guests of Iran’s Majlis in January.
The British delegates held meetings with high-ranking Iranian officials. The three-day official visit was the first by a delegation of British politicians since 2008.
Earlier this month, in remarks meant to dissuade foreign countries from planning trade cooperation with the Islamic Republic, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran is not an open market for business.
“We have made it crystal clear that Iran is not open for business,” Kerry said, addressing US Senators on Capitol Hill on March 13. He warned that the core sanctions against Iran remain firmly in place.
Several delegations from across the world have visited Iran over the past few months in order to boost trade and ties with the Islamic Republic.
“All the assumptions on which… this policy [was]
based turned out to be wrong…. British domestic
opinion would prove hard to persuade that seeking
the return… of a fortress on the Black Sea merited
the risk of a war with Russia.”
William Hague on the Anglo-Russian Crisis (1791)
Oxford historian, Mark Almond, recalls the lessons from history once taught by Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in his study of Pitt the Younger’s mishandling of what he called the “Ochakov fiasco” in 1791.
The current imbroglio over Crimea may be America’s first crisis with Russia in the Black Sea, but it is not Britain’s. Even the Crimean War (1854-56) was not Britain’s first face-off with Russia. More than two hundred years ago as the French Revolution convulsed Western Europe (rather as the Arab Spring has sent shock waves across the Mediterranean), Catherine the Great expanded her hold on the Black Sea coast by seizing Ochakov, not far from the new city of Odessa. Under the supervision of the exiled French Duc de Richelieu who acted as governor, the Tsarina’s architects would soon erect as a naval base to match Sebastopol across the Black Sea in the Crimea which she had already annexed in 1783.
With her major rival, France, apparently rendered impotent by revolution since 1789, William Pitt’s Britain seemed the only superpower – at least to itself. Whitehall was as convinced in 1791 as the White House seems to be today that a combination of global reach via the Royal Navy with the City of London’s financial hegemony would both cause the Tsarina to back off and the other European states to fall into line behind Britain’s demand that Russia retreat from its southern Ukrainian conquests from the waning Ottoman Empire.
Convinced of that the West could cow the East with its combination of advanced military technology and commercial wealth even in a theatre so far from its sources of power and so close to Catherine’s, William Pitt turned the Ochakov issue into a first-rate crisis by demanding Russia withdraw or else.
But when push came to shove, the British government’s assumption that everyone in Europe would fall into line behind its bellicose approach proved as illusory as the sanctions-first strategy-later approach of David Cameron’s government today. The echoes of today’s crisis are obvious – except it seems to the author of an excellent biography of the Younger Pitt described as a “fiasco”.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, set out a succinct account of Britain’s over-reach in 1791 back in 2002 when he was in the political wilderness. His diplomacy, albeit as the junior partner of the USA, suggests that he has forgotten everything about what lessons might be derived from Whitehall’s past performance in the great game for influence in the Black Sea region.
The EU summit in Brussels on 6th March, 2014, should have had painful echoes of Pitt’s brutal learning curve in 1791. Don’t trust the private assurances of “allies” that they will cut off their noses to spite Russia’s face, nor believe over-optimistic British diplomats telling you that everyone is on board and the Russians are too militarily weak and economically backward to face up to a Western challenge in their own backyard.
Looking back two centuries later, Hague described how the Old Etonian prime minister of the day presumed that his European partners would fall into line behind London’s publicly-proclaimed policy to sanction Russia for its occupation of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. But Europe’s capitals were far from firmly resolved to incur Catherine the Great’s wrath:
“While Prussia joined in pressing the British demands, the Dutch were unwilling to risk a war, the Swedes demanded a subsidy, the Spanish were not prepared to help and the Austrians became markedly less cooperative and were actually playing a double game with the Russians.”
Pitt’s majority in the House of Commons sank because he could not persuade MPs why they should risk a war “for a faraway fortress of which they had never before heard.” Because the Russians had not harmed a hair on a British head in 1791, public opinion like Parliament could not get its mind around the need for military threats. Pitt complained that emotions were not running high enough to overrun his MPs scepticism about war in the Black Sea. Raison d’état did not cut much ice in Britain: “They can be embarked in a war from motives of passion, but they cannot be made to comprehend a case in which the most valuable interests of the country are at stake.” Maybe, but the mercantilist elite which provided so many MPs then had a very good understanding of self-interest and could be ruthless about asserting Britain’s interests when they made pounds-and-pence sense. What they could not be won over to was a war for alleged strategic interests well beyond their commercial reach and in fact against a major trading partner like Russia.
Rather as phone intercepts have embarrassed Victoria Nuland – “F*ck the EU” – and Catherine Ashton over the apparently pro-opposition “snipers” in Kiev, so in 1791 the Russian acquisition of British establishment inside information from Robert Adair, an ally of Pitt’s bête-noire Charles James Fox, revealed to Catherine II’s government that – surprise, surprise – the British had been making contradictory promises to Austria and Turkey to keep them both on board – so both drifted away from London on the news.
Pitt had to back down, but, in a lesson for the blundering Bullingdon Club bully in 10 Downing Street today, a colleague noted, “He hoped means might be found to manage matters so as not to have the appearance of giving up the point.”
Diplomacy is often best when it provides a smokescreen for a retreating from a foolish policy. Maybe if William Hague could act like his hero Pitt, he could persuade the White House to declare Vladimir Putin’s permission of a referendum on the future of Crimea to be a triumph of Western ideals to spread democracy and so a sign of Russia’s climb-down! But don’t expect too much: Hague like his American patrons has approached real-time crises with an open mouth, so thinking first before shooting the West in the foot would require reflecting on his own experience as well as remembering the history which appears under his name.
 See William Hague, William Pitt the Younger (Harper Perennial: London, 2005), 285.
 Cameron’s main unilateral sanction has been to kick away the UK government’s crutch from our para-olympians going to Sochi for the Winter Games this weekend.
 Quoted in Hague, William Pitt, 287.
Military historian Max Hastings and education minister Michael Gove say we should should blame the Germans for World War I and celebrate the victory for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. Archaeologist Neil Faulkner disagrees.
Max Hastings has his new book on 1914 out already (Catastrophe: Europe goes to war, 1914). In it he pulls no punches. Even the dustcover proclaims the forthright revisionist message.
‘He [the author] finds the evidence overwhelming that Austria and Germany must accept the principal blame for the outbreak. While what followed was a vast tragedy, he argues passionately against the ‘poets ‘view’ that the war was not worth winning. It was vital to the freedom of Europe, he says, that the Kaiser’s Germany should be defeated.’
UK secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, writing in the Daily Mail, takes the same view:
The First World War may have been a uniquely horrific war, but it was also plainly a just war… The ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order all made resistance more than justified.
So there you have it. Just as the rulers of Britain and France argued at the time, it was all Germany’s fault. Never mind that Britain had the largest empire in the world, ruling over one-fifth of the world’s land mass and one-quarter of its people. Never mind that Britain’s navy was almost the twice the size of Germany’s. Never mind that Britain had formed a military alliance with Russia and France, leaving Germany’s rulers feeling corralled and threatened in an arms race they were losing.
This is not to exonerate the Kaiser. It is simply to say that he was no worse than the rulers of Britain and France. All were imperialists and warmongers. All were prepared to plunge the world into an industrialised war for the power and profit of a few. The vast majority of humanity – the vast majority of the people these rulers were supposed to represent – had no interest in the war. The conscripted workers and peasants of Europe were the victims of a millionaires’ war.
‘No poet,’ says Hastings, ‘ever identified a route by which the British, French, and Belgian people could have escaped the conflict, save by accepting the Kaiser’s domination of Europe.’ This claim appears in a Daily Mail article in June this year headlined Sucking up to the Germans is no way to remember our Great War heroes, Mr Cameron‘.
But this is nonsense. There was a Europe-wide movement against war. Just days before Germany’s declaration of war there were 100,000 anti-war demonstrators on the streets of Berlin. Across Germany, during four days of mass protest in the final days of peace, there had been no fewer than 288 anti-war demonstrations involving up to three-quarters of a million people.
Across Europe that last summer of peace, as millions of people took action against their own rulers, there was a widespread mood of internationalism and solidarity. But when the leaders of all the mainstream parties lined up in support of the war effort, they reinforced a tide of jingoism that the killed the anti-war movement and swept the people of Europe into internecine carnage.
But that mood would resurface, and when it did, beginning in 1917, it would be charged with bitterness at the slaughter and impoverishment, becoming a giant wave of revolution crashing across the continent, ending the war, toppling tyrants, and shaking the foundations of the entire social order.
‘Far from dying in vain,’ continues Hastings, ‘those who perished … between 1914 and 1918 made as important a contribution to our privileged, peaceful lives today as did their sons in World War II.’
And Michael Gove agrees:
‘For all our mistakes as a nation, Britain’s role in the world has also been marked by nobility and courage. Indeed, the more we reflect on every aspect of the war, the more cause there is for us to appreciate what we owe to our forebears and their traditions.’
These are extraordinary claims. The British and the French used their victory in 1918 to re-divide the world, helping themselves to German colonies, hacking off chunks of German territory in Europe, and imposing crippling reparations payments on the German people.
Meantime, to control their enlarged empires in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, they gunned down protestors demanding democracy and independence. This imperialist carve-up – ‘a peace to end all peace’ – created the preconditions for the Second World War two decades later.
The cost of the First World War was 15 million dead. The cost of the sequel was 60 million dead. More human beings have been killed by war in the last century than in the whole of the rest of human history put together.
The immense potential of industrial society to provide the goods and service we all need has, again and again, been turned into its opposite: means of destruction and waste on an unprecedented scale.
This is not something to be rationalised into a choice between ‘good’ empires and ‘bad’ empires; a choice between ‘democratic’ Britain and France as against ‘autocratic’ and ‘expansionist’ Germany. This is to trivialise historical events, reducing them to little more than a banal discussion about who sent the final ultimatum, who mobilised first, who fired the first shot.
Max Hastings and Michael Gove want us to side with one empire against another. He wants us to wave a Union Jack, celebrate a British victory, and promote the lie that the 15 million dead of the First World War were ‘a necessary sacrifice’.
What is required is an analysis that roots tragedies like the First World War, and all the other imperialist conflicts of the last century, in the madness of a world divided into competing corporations and warring nation-states.
No Glory – the real History of the First World War
Neil Faulkner’s new pamphlet published by No Glory in War
More details and how to buy…
Neil Faulkner is a First World War archaeologist and editor of Military History Monthly. He is one of the founders of the No Glory in War campaign.
The effect of the Parliament’s decision not to attack Syria last year is still reverberating through the Western military establishment.
Let’s not forget that the decision was forced on the political elite. In the days before the vote the BBC was openly speculating that any such decision would re-ignite Iraq war levels of protest. They cited opinion polling going back a decade to show that anti-war opinion had become entrenched in the UK.
Many MPs in the lobbies did not hide the fact that they were embarrassed at the Iraq vote in 2003 and were unwilling to follow the government into another deeply unpopular conflict.
More recently the Guardian has reported that the Ministry of Defence is worried that multi-culturalism in Britain has made the country systematically averse to war: ‘The MoD is still taking stock of the surprise decision of the House of Commons last summer to reject military intervention to punish President Assad of Syria for the use of chemical weapons against rebel forces’.
In fact the situation is so serious that it is impacting on the defence review, ‘A growing reluctance in an increasingly multicultural Britain to see UK troops deployed on the ground in future operations abroad is influencing the next two strategic defence reviews, according to senior figures at the Ministry of Defence’.
In the wake of the Syria vote, Robert Gates, US imperial Grandee and former Defense Secretary and director of the CIA who served under both Bush and Obama, has said the defence spending cuts in the UK mean that the ‘special relationship’ is over and that Britain ‘won’t have full spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past’.
This combination of a crisis in public support for military adventures and the usual push-back from the military over defence cuts is casting a new light over the debate about the 100 year commemoration of the First World War.
David Cameron has long made it clear that huge set-piece public spectaculars are part of the government’s way of getting through the recession. The Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics were part of this ‘no bread and circuses’ strategy.
The First World War commemoration was initially thought of mainly in this register, although it was always also going to be about refurbishing the standing of the military as well.
But now, as neo-con Michael Gove’s recent intervention into the debate has made clear, it’s become an ideological offensive bound up with the post-Syria vote crisis of interventionism. Remember Gove was incandescent at the loss of the Syria vote, publically and abusively bawling out Labour MPs in the House of Commons corridors because the vote, he said, had ‘got to him’.
So make no mistake, this will be a full scale British establishment operation.
The Queen will be at a special event at Glasgow Cathedral on 4th August because the city is hosting the Commonwealth Games which end the day before. The plan is that across the country, flags on public buildings will fly at half mast on the anniversary of the outbreak of war. The day will end with a vigil at Westminster Abbey to be ‘attended by scouts, cubs and brownies’ as well as members of the Armed Forces. This will be replicated around Britain in churches, town halls, and other venues.
Ministers hope this will allow people to mark the conflict which ravaged the continent ‘with sorrow and with pride’ and have set aside £10 million just for funding art, drama and music projects linked to the war, from a total government funding for the commemoration of £50 million. According to the Daily Telegraph, a government source said ‘We are keen to ensure that this [will be] a centenary programme that the country can come together on’.
The BBC are planning major, all year coverage. There will be 1,000 books published this year alone on the First World War.
The anti-war movement must meet this ideological operation by the government just as it has met its previous pro-war propaganda efforts. The No Glory campaign, initiated by the Stop the War Coalition, has made a great start. Its initial letter is approaching 15,000 signatures, its website is drawing thousands of visitors every week, the No Glory pamphlet, The Real History of World War One, is a best seller and thousands of pounds were donated in the first few hours of its financial appeal to help fund its events and activities.
But we need to do more. No pro-war article, speech or event should go unchallenged. We need to get into the colleges and schools where these commemorations are being planned. We need to sustain the cultural events that are critical of the war.
The image of the First World War has been established in the popular mind as the most disastrous war ever. The Tories and the establishment hate that fact. And they are out to reverse it.
We cannot let that happen. The more the dead and injured of the First World War are forgotten in a rush of chauvinistic nostalgia, the more likely it is that dead will pile up in future conflicts. This is not just a battle to remember the past correctly. It’s about political priorities in the present. It’s about keeping the peace in the future.
It is sometimes instructive to learn a bit of history to reflect on current events because if we do not learn from history, we are bound to repeat the tragic history of useless wars. This came to me as I read about the escalating situation in Ukraine, where the US and western countries invested heavily to dislodge the Ukraine (strategically located on the Black Sea) from Russian influence. The coup that toppled the elected government in the capital and Russia’s strong influence in the mostly Russian Speaking Crimean peninsula of the Ukraine threatens to ignite another Crimean war (a prelude to many more European wars).
The Crimean war 1854-1856 was a devastating and useless conflict that was started with a with an incident here in Palestine (then under Ottoman Rule). The British were in the midst of an industrial economic boom (at least for the elites, the workers were essentially enslaved). To fuel this industrial boom, Britain (and to a lesser degree France) were aiming to expand their empires. The weak Ottoman empire seemed a target. Russia’s influence on the religious Holy Places was high. This was understandable considering that most Palestinian Christians at the time and even still today are Orthodox (especially around the holy sites of Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem).
Russian intellectuals had gone through a period of Westernization before the 1850s and then grew disillusioned with the west and its hypocrisy. Those who considered themselves Patriotic Russians thus became increasingly oriented towards Czar Nicholas and the Orthodox Church and increasingly opposed to the Western Encroachments on the borders of Russia.
When France instigated a provocation by Catholic supporters challenging long standing Orthodox traditions at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, a fury of high level diplomatic lobbying ensued with threats and counter threats that escalated to the Crimean war. Alyce Mange wrote that “The Crimean War (1854-1856) was a war fought ostensibly for the preservation of the Ottoman Empire but actually for the curtailment of Russian encroachment.”
The war was costly to all sides concerned even though the Russian empire lost to the alliance of the three empires (Britain, France, Ottomans). But the origin of the problem remained here in Palestine where competing Russian, British, and French interests remained until the first draft of the Sykes-Picot agreement (which divided their influences). Russia withdrew and so it remained for Britain and France to divide the spoils of WWI in the “Near East/Middle East” (I prefer the term Western Asia to these colonial terms). In parallel, there was the growth of the world Zionist movement that got from France and Britain the infamous Jules Cambon and Arthur Balfour Declarations (1917) partially as quid pro quo for the Zionists lobbying the US to enter the war.
Fast forward from 1854 to 2014 and we see again the beating of war drums for hegemony with triggers in Palestine. The circumstances differ but I am afraid this could also degenerate into a useless devastating war.
The Zionist movement was unhappy about the lack of progress in their efforts (using others) to destroy the Iran-Syria-Lebanon axis. A big part of their failure to achieve success in pushing for more conflicts (as they did with Iraq) is due to the fact that Russia (and China) refuse to go along and realized that the end-game is total Western hegemony in Western Asia (with Israel assuming even more power over Western foreign policies). The Russians and Chinese also took lessons from the disastrous US attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan and NATO attacks on Libya which had terrible consequences (including spreading radicalism and terrorism around the area). They calculated that they must draw a line.
The Zionist movement became involved (as they do frequently) because their key members are in the US State Department and also heavily influential in France and Britain. They thought that we must break Russia’s will to resist encroachment in Western Asia.
Ukraine seemed like an ideal “soft belly” for Russia. It seems possible that reports such as this one on Israelis involved in the protests in Kiev may have some basis. But most Israeli meddling is not done via Israelis but via their now obedient people working for the US government.
It is not a coincidence that protests escalated in Ukraine and Venezuela. I do not know what will happen, but suggest that all wars are useless and counterproductive (to all sides); the history of the 1854 Crimean war should give us pause.
What I suggest is that the talk about democracy by Western leaders like Kerry, Obama, Hollande and company is wearing thin. Most people know that democracy is not achieved by coups against elected governments (whether in Egypt or Ukraine) and certainly not done on behalf of countries who support dictatorships everywhere that are friendly to their interests (see Saudi Arabia as a glaring example).
For the good people of Ukraine (both in the East and the West), do not let your country be used for power politics again. But also I suggest that they remember who their neighbors for the next few hundred years will be (hint it is not Israel or the US or England). But even those countries will not remain immune from destabilization and change if they do not learn to share this planet earth and respect other people. Remember might does not make right and even great empires fell before. This brings me back to the point I always emphasize” READ HISTORY (objectively and not tribally).
A report says that the flood-stricken areas in the southern coasts of Britain have been left without planned defenses due to the UK government’s austerity cuts.
The report, published by the Guardian on Sunday, said that the flood-affected areas, including Somerset Levels and Yalding in Kent, have not received planned defense measures, which total many millions of pounds, due to the funding cuts.
Among the undelivered defenses are protection schemes near the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset and also on the stretch of Devon coast at Dawlish, where a part of a railway fell into the sea earlier this month due to the severe weather conditions.
In addition, a 2.2-million-pound project was halted in the flood-stricken Somerset Levels. The project aimed to improve flood management on the Parret River, the main waterway draining the area, and the nearby Sowy River.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is under fire for cutting flood defense spending by almost £100 million a year since it came into power four years ago.
Cameron’s government has also been criticized for its poor handling of the flood crisis.
A poll published on Sunday by the Independent revealed that six out of ten British voters believe the government has failed to get a grip on the flooding crisis.
Large parts of Britain continue to remain on high alert, with severe flood warnings still in place along the Thames and in Somerset.
Heavy rains have inundated villages in Britain’s southwestern area of Somerset Levels, with thousands of acres having been underwater for more than a month.
According to the estimates by the Environment Agency, it will take 26 days to pump all the water out of the Curry Moor area of the Levels once it stops raining.
LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande agreed Friday to beef up the two countries’ cooperation in defense, nuclear energy and climate policy.
Britain and France inked the cooperation deals at the UK-France Summit 2014 held in British royal air force station RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire of southeast England.
The two countries issued a communique setting out plans for joint investment in the procurement of defense equipment, joint training of armed forces and continued development of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, an Anglo-French joint military training and operation program.
“Britain and France are natural partners for defense cooperation,” British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said, adding that the agreements reached at the summit would enhance the “interoperability” of British and French forces.
According to the agreements, the two countries are set to launch a two-year-long joint feasibility study program with an investment of 120 million pounds (about 197.4 million U.S. dollars) for a future Anglo-French combat air system.
Britain and France also agreed to invest in Britain’s major nuclear weapons base, the Atomic Weapons Establishment, to carry out safe testing of British and French stockpiles and achieve greater sharing of technical and scientific data for joint research.
The two nations pledged to join hands in tackling security issues, such as terrorism and drug and arms trafficking, in north and west Africa, as well as building on international peacekeeping missions in Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic.
In addition, the two sides declared their commitment to developing safe nuclear energy, collaborating on new nuclear power stations, combating climate change and pushing for European Commission’s domestic emissions reduction agenda.
“We reiterated our resolve to work together towards achieving an ambitious and legally-binding agreement at the next COP (UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change) in Paris in 2015,” said Edward Davey, British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.