Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tehran Violence

Apologies for my lack of posts lately. I have had a hectic week. Its been just been one party after another since Christmas. Iran is the big story I have missed. Since the death of Ayatollah Montazeri last week violence has flared up big time in Tehran for the first time since the disputed June election. At least 15 are dead and there are some spectacular rumours flying about the place. I will do a detailed post about the crisis, the stability of the regime and what Obama should do in the next day of two. In the meantime, observe some of the footage that illustrates the extreme brutality that the regime is prepared to make in dealing with the demonstrators.

Below is a horrifying clip of the scum bag Basij Tehran Police driving over a protester.

And below is the astonishing scene in a Tehran street when demonstrators surround the Basij militia and ultimately disarm some of them. This clip really demonstrates to me the contempt with which the Basij are held.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas

I want to wish all my readers a very happy Christmas. But in particular I would like to wish it to the more than 750 members of the Defence Forces, or Óglaigh na h-Eireann that are serving overseas this Christmas. There are currently two hundred and forth-three troops serving in Kosovo while 43 are in Bosnia. There are a further four hundred and twenty-one troops helping to keep the peace in Chad. There are also smaller forces serving in the Lebanon, Ivory Coast, the DR Congo, Western Sahara and Afghanistan. To all these men and women I wish them a very happy Christmas and a safe return home.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dubai Fall Out Could Affect Iran

I came across a very interesting piece in Newsweek recently about the possible fall out that the financial crisis in Dubai might have on the Iranian nuclear issue. This perked my interest particularly because as my readers know I have lived in Dubai and still have a deep interest in what happens there for personal and political reasons. My readers also know that the fate of Iran is probably my favourite issue to debate having spent a significant amount of time in that country preparing for my dissertation. But most of all, Iran, its fate and the conclusion of the nuclear issue is the number one political issue facing the Gubu World that we live in today. The story is as follows.

When I lived in the UAE I became aware of the following facts. Only about %20 of the populations of Dubai and Abu Dhabi (the 2 most prominent of the 7 Arab Emirates) consist of indigenous Arabs, known as Emiratis. These people are exceptionally privileged. Also there has always been a great deal of tension between the two rival families in charge of both Emirates, these being the Maktoums in Dubai and the Zayed's in Abu Dhabi. They were in fact killing each other up until the modern UAE was formed under the leadership of the late Sheik Zayed in 1971. It should be stressed however that the UAE is a stable country and the experiment of the Arab federation ruled from the Capital in Abu Dhabi but with significant autonomy for the 6 other Emirats has proven to be a success. Having said that, one source of the tension between the two is that a large percentage, possibly as high as %25, of Dubai Emiratis are in fact of a Persian background, owing to the fact that in the 19th century many Iranian traders with Dubai ended up settling there. A consequence of this is that Dubai and its Persian Emiratis, many of whom speak Farsi as a first language, is the most Pro Iranian entity in the Arabian Gulf. This has caused tension with Abu Dhabi particularly because the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb are occupied by Iran but claimed by the UAE. However Dubai does not control its own foreign policy so its pro Iranian leanings manifests itself in its business dealings.

The UAE is a federal country. However unlike other federal countries like the USA there are few federal laws and the Emirates are free to govern themselves when it comes to everything except foreign policy. However, this may be set to change dramatically with the recent news that Dubai World, Dubai's flagship company is unable to meet its debts. International investors were stunned and held their breath for a few days until oil rich Abu Dhabi announced that it would come to Dubai's aid. However it was clear to all who understand the UAE that if Abu Dhabi are going to bail Dubai out of their massive debt, they are going to do so on their terms. One such term will likely be that Abu Dhabi will have a greater say in who Dubai does business with. This could be hugely significant when it comes to imposing sanctions on Iran over the nuclear issue. In particular it could have a dramatic effect on the attempts by Stuart Levey the US undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, and the focus of the aforementioned Newsweek article, to reign in the finances of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps IRGC. Many senior IRCG members have assets in Dubai as do other officials in the regime who see Dubai as a safe and friendly place to keep money, away from the reach of international sanctions. At an utterly crucial time in the Islamic Republic, When the IRGC may be required to suppress dissenters and possibly ultimately even the Iranian Army itself the Revolutionary Guards and other loyalist might find themselves being squeezed financially.

This story becomes all the more important with the recent death of reformist cleric Grand Ayatollah Montzeri whose funeral today has apparently sparked clashes.
This is the scene in Qom today where the spiritual leader of the reformist movement, Ayatollah Montazeri was buried. Might his death lead to a renewal of clashes between reformers and the Basij militia.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 17/12/39

Finland: The Finnish government have announced that the army have smashed two Russian divisions, taken 36,000 Red Army soldiers prisoner and have a further 20,000 surrounded.

Western Front: An increase in German reconnaissance flights is reported.

Liverpool: The first contingent of Canadian troops arrive in Britain since the war began. 7,400 troops of the First Canadian Division have arrived on five converted ocean liners.

London: The admiralty announced that 61 sailors were killed on board HMS Exeter during the previous days battle of the river plate with the German battleship Admiral Graf Spree

Montevideo: The harbour is like a football stadium as thousands of civilians gather at the port to observe the next step of the German battleship Admiral Graff spree. It was damaged earlier in the week during the The Battle of the River Plate and made its way to the Uruguayan capital Montevideo. A drama ensued as the Graf Spree was granted permission by neutral Uruguay to dock for 24 hours which was extended to 72 to allow for repairs. In the meantime the British light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles wait outside the Port along with the more powerful HMS Cumberland which replaced the HMS Exeter which was severely damaged during the recent battle and had to limp back to the Falkans. The whole world is waiting to see what Captain Hans Langsdorff of the Graf Spree will do. One option is to fight his way out but fearing it would be a futile battle that could lead to the deaths of his 1200 crew he opts instead to scuttle her. On this day 70 Years ago the huge crowds that the throng the harbour walls watch as the German crew board their lifeboats and row toward shore. Shortly afterward a massive explosion rocks the harbour and the Admiral Graff Spree begins to sink. It is a huge victory for the Royal Navy.

The Admiral Graff Spree sinking just outside Montevideo harbour. Today, a part of the German battleship is still visible above water.

Incidentally, followers of Gubu World will know that I am compiling my Greatest War Movies List . The 1956 classic The Battle of the River Plate starring Anthony Quayle details the entire Graff Spree story and is well worth a look. It wont make it into my top ten but it didn't miss out by much.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Swiss Minaret Ban

I got back from Switzerland on Monday night so I thought it appropriate to do something on the recent Muslim Minaret controversy. The posters from the November 29th referendum were still visible over the weekend as I walked around Baden and Zurich. These images which were mounted on every street corner in Switzerland in the weeks before the referendum caused outrage among its opponents who claimed that the right wing anti immigration element in Swiss politics were using scare tactics to get their way. It is in any event a very interesting debate, one which requires further discussion.

There have been a handful of disputes in Switzerland since 2005 between Muslim groups attempting to build minarets attached to their mosques and local residents. However it soon developed into a highly charged political issue symbolising the growing concern at the high level of Muslim immigration into Switzerland. Between 2006 and 2008 two conservative parties in Switzerland, the Swiss People's Party and the Federal Democratic Union made several attempts to ban minarets in local districts or cantons. None of these attempts succeeded mainly because the cantons operated in a way that meant such a decision would be unconstitutional at a local level and could not be voted on by the people. When the parties failed at this they decided to aim higher and launched a federal initiative to amend the Swiss constitution itself by simply placing the words "The building of minarets is prohibited" into article 72. 100,000 signatures were collected which was required for a constitutional referendum and on the 29 of November it was put to the people. The campaign was contentious. The Swiss government and Parliament opposed the ban and recommended by 129 to 50 votes in spring of 2009 that the Swiss people reject the referendum. Religious organisations felt likewise as did the Trade Unions. However the people felt differently and approved the ban by %57.5.

I personally have mixed feeling about it. If I were Swiss, I found myself thinking, how would I have voted ?

My reasons in favor

1. There is an issue in Europe with our Muslim populations. It barely exists in Ireland so we could be forgiven for not noticing it but anyone who denies it outright is a fool. In recent years Muslim fanatics have murdered people like Dutch filmmaker Theogh Van Geogh for making a documentary, which he was perfectly correct in doing, on violence against women in Islam. They have issued death threats and attempted to murder many others such as Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the courageous Dutch Citizen from Somalia who has spoken out about the treatment of women in Islam. They have rioted in France and Sweden and called for all out war with Denmark over the cartoon fiasco. They have set off bombs that have killed 60 people in London and 190 in Madrid.

2. There is a minority of conservative Muslims who hate Europe, not because of Iraq, Palestine or Afghanistan but because Europe is liberal and they hate liberal societies. There is a minority within this minority who are willing to take violent action against these societies.

3. It was argued during the campaign by the Yes side that the Minaret is not that important in Islam. It is not mentioned once in the Koran. It was argued that the minaret is far more a symbol of religious-political power claim. I frankly agree. I think minarets are about Muslims making a statement saying, we are here. The sky line of a city says a lot about it. I know that Ireland's Muslim population have integrated exceptionally well into this country but I still would not like to see Muslim minarets dominate the sky line of the city. I simply think it would be inappropriate for a symbol of a foreign religion to share the stature of liberty hall (even though its an unforgivably ugly building) or the spire (even though I still don't understand its purpose).

You may wonder, well, what have points 1 & 2 got to do with Swiss minarets ? Nothing I suppose except they do indicate the greater influence of Islam in Europe and I think this is something that should be halted. Islam is not just a religion it is a political philosophy and as a result I am entitled to criticise it harshly as I would any other I disagreed with. As a political philosophy it is inherently undemocratic (if you need proof just ask yourself, why of the 40 Muslim nations in the world, are virtually none of them democratic) as it does not respect the right of the individual to be non conformist. Islam makes it clear that if there are those in society that are not sufficiently adherent to Islamic principles then this reflects bad on the society as a whole and action must be taken. In some parts of the Islamic worlds this is taken to the extreme. I am not suggesting that Europe's Muslims have such an agenda but it is conceivable that areas so heavily populated by Muslims such as in Britain and France are perceived by its inhabitants as Muslim areas entitled to be governed by Muslim laws. This could lead to an exceptionally troubling situation.

My reasons against the ban

1. There are only four minarets in Switzerland and I have heard no indication of a radical element among Swiss Muslims unlike Britain or France. In fact most Swiss Muslims are of Turkish background and not particularly devout.

2.The posters were I believe provocative. I don't like sensationalism in politics and the poster illustrating the minarets like missiles protruding through the Swiss flag were designed to be alarmist.

3. It is worth pointing out that other religious domination's opposed the minaret ban including organisations representing the Swiss Jewish community who rightly pointed out that they would be outraged if the construction of Synagogues were banned or limited.

4. The fact that minarets in Switzerland have been made illegal under the Swiss constitution strikes me as excessive. Whatever about a city council or a district implementing a ban, but for them to be made unconstitutional, something which is usually reserved for a crime or a violation of individual rights is a bit much in my opinion and I can understand why Muslims might be offended.

I also can't resist making the point that the conservative blogs have not discussed this issue. Mainly because it flies in the face of their theory that liberal and morally bankrupt Europe is allowing Muslims to literally take over their countries and are too week to do anything about it. A theory that I have long been stating is the right wing equivalent of "the world trade center was brought down by a controlled explosion". In other words, its too absurd to discuss.

If I were Swiss I believe I would have voted against the ban because my conscience would not have allowed me to vote for a referendum which makes a religious symbol unconstitutional even though I must confess, I liked the result of the referendum. Confused ? You should be. The truth is if I were Swiss I would be resisting the building of minarets and perhaps supporting action at a local level. But a constitutional change is excessive, particularly given the few reported problems in Switzerland.

70 Years Ago Today 16/12/39

Rome: Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italy's foreign minister and Mussolini's Son in Law attacks Russia in a speech to the fascist assembly.

Helsinki: It is being reported that the mobile Finnish Army operating on skis and in camouflaged clothing are inflicting devastating casualties on the Red Army.

Uruguay: The massive German battleship Admiral Graf Spree has sought refuge in Montevideo harbour the day after the Battle of River Plate in which ferocious fire was exchanged between the Graf Spree and British cruisers Exeter, Ajax and Achilles . Neutral Uruguay has allowed the Graf Spree to remain in the harbour for 24 hours in accordance with International law. The three British ships are waiting outside the harbour to engage the German ship once it emerges. This incident has captured the attention of the world as international media flock to Montevideo to cover the story.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gubu World going to Switzerland

I am going to Switzerland today along with the entire Leddy family to celebrate my eldest brother Feargal's 40th birthday. Parents, siblings, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and grandkids are all making the trip to Zurich to visit the brother, his partner and baby son who moved over there two years ago. As a result there will be no posts on Gubu World until Tuesday but in the highly unlikely event that you are intererested you can follow me on my twitter page. I am also conscious that I have not done a post outlining my firm views on Obama's Afghan surge. This has been due to indecision on my part. I simply haven't decided yet whether I support his plan. However I do intend to have some interesting discussions over the weekend with my anti war brother and conservative father which will I'm sure enlighten and inspire me to come up with a concrete stance.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 9/12/39

France: On this day 70 Years ago the British Army suffered its first fatal casualty on the western front. Corporal Thomas Priday of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, was killed in a skirmish with German soldiers.

Also on the Western front King George V1 completes a five day inspection of British and French troops.

Moscow: The Soviet government accuses Italy of sending weapons to Finland via Germany.

Poland: 1,400 out of 1,800 Jews are murdered by the Nazis during a forced march across the country.

Helsinki: Bad weather has brought a temporary cessation to Soviet air raids on the Finnish capital which caused such devastation in the first few days of the war between Finland and the Soviet Union.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ted Kennedy's Memoirs

I have just finished reading Ted Kennedy's memoir True Compass, which was completed only weeks before he died. It was a fascinating read. He has written many books before on political issues but never has he so openly and honestly talked about his own life which had so many highs and lows. He goes through it all: the privileged childhood, the Harvard screw up, JFK 1960, the assassinations, Chappaquiddick, the senate, Jimmy Carter, its all there. I would recommend this book to anyone, even my conservative American readers who couldn't stand him. His life story is like reading a chronology of recent world history. He even writes clearly about his memories of living in London at the out break of the second World War where his father was posted as US ambassador to Britain. I also found it refreshing how he viewed the second World War not as a chapter in world history but as a personal tragedy in which he lost his own brother. He has his own personal angle of so many historical events but what makes it so interesting is that its usually from close up and sometimes from right in the center. The 1950's red scare, his brothers presidential campaign, the Vietnam war, Watergate, the Regan, Clinton and Bush years were all eras that he witnessed first hand and often played key roles in.

More than anything though this is a personal book about his life. He frequently reiterates that the tragedies in his life are no greater than those experienced by most large families. Quite a statement considering how by aged 36 he had buried four siblings. Not to mention the fatal plane and car crashes he was in. His relationship with his family is the best thing about this book. There was the complicated relationship he had with his highly driven yet sentimental father as well as his devout mother who died in 1995 aged 105. He goes into detail about his relationship with Bobby and Jack and his personal account of their deaths is intense. He writes frankly about his two marriages, one successful, the other less so. Then there is his children, two of whom barely survived cancer. It all makes for a very special read and one of those rare books that you can't put down. What makes it all so poignant is that it was written in the final months of his life when he knew he was dying. Its philosophical style in this respect is very thought provoking which I suppose is the point. I would give this book 8 out of 10.

Incidentally I have decided to review more books on Gubu world. I will try post one book review per week as I have read many over the last year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Greatest war movie no 5: A Bridge Too Far

Let me first point out that this list of war movies I'm compiling is not the definitive greatest war movies of all time. Its my list of my favorite war movies. The reason I am making this point is because Richard Attenborough's 1977 classic A Bridge Too Far crashed at the box office. This despite an unbelievable all star cast of Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Anthony Hopkins, James Caan, Ryan O'Neil, Elliot Gould, Dirk Bogard, Laurence Olivier, Edward fox and Denholm Elliot. The reason it crashed was probably because Attenborough methodically recreated the famous 1944 battle for Holland, code named Operation Market Garden, with historical accuracy that was almost documentary like, the only problem was that this proved to be boring to a wider audience. Not me though, as far as I'm concerned this movie has it all but what really pushes into the list for me is the topic itself. I have always been fascinated by this battle. I have read countless books on it and in 2004 while in the Netherlands I took a trip to Arnhem to view the battle site. I think a little historical back ground is probably required at this stage.

Operation Market Garden
It was September 1944, three months after D-Day. The Allies had won in Normandy and Paris had been liberated. The Germans had been pushed back into Eastern France and Northern Belgium. The question facing the allies now was, whats the next step ? Where do we land the next major blow against German forces in Western Europe. The Americans wanted General Eisenhower to divert all resources to General Patton's Third Army so that he could continue his race across France and punch straight through into Germany. The British had a different idea. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had a plan to drop 35,000 para troopers behind enemy lines in Holland to seize several Dutch towns after which the allies would break through the German line in Belgium and race north to relieve them. Montgomery claimed his plan could end the war in 100 days which would see the western allies march into Berlin before the Red Army. Eisenhower did not have the capability to provide logistical support for both plans so he had to choose, Patton or Montgomery. Perhaps to appease the British (and Montgomery who had always resented not getting Eisenhower's job of Supreme Allied Commander) Eisenhower gave Montgomery the go ahead. This has caused a great deal of resentment over the years between British and American leaders because as we shall see, the failure of Market Garden prolonged the war significantly and ultimately resulted in much of central and Eastern Europe falling under Soviet domination.

The movie begins with British General Browning, played by Dirk Bogard explaining the plan to the Generals of the Air born divisions. 10,000 men of the US 101st air born division are to drop into Eindhoven and secure its bridges. 12,500 of the famous 82nd air born division are to take Nijmejen further North and the British 1st Air born division, along with a Polish brigade are to take Arnhem. The film brilliantly depicts the battle for each town. The Americans successfully take Einhoven and Nijmegen. There are some memorable scenes with James Caan and Elliot Gould as they race to capture bridges. Most memorably perhaps is a scene with Robert Redford where he leads troops across a river at Nijmegen in a desperate attempts to secure a vital bridge. They all get slaughtered. The real focus of the film is at Arnhem where British troops have seized the town. Sean Connery is superb as the gritty Major General Roy Urquhart who sets up command of the operation at the Hartenstein Hotel (the original hotel which is now a museum was used in the filming) in Oosterbeek, a suburb of Arnhem. Anthony Hopkins plays Colonel Johnny Frost who desperately leads the defence of the main bridge in Arnhem, now appropriately named after him.

Below is one of my favourite scenes. Watch as American soldiers led by Elliott Gould race to capture Son bridge outside Einhoven. Quite funny.

The tension gradually builds in the movie as it becomes clear that the British XXX Core tank division that initially breaks through the German line in Belgium are struggling to make the dash north to relieve the paratroopers. They do manage to relieve the Americans in Einhoven and Nijmegen but the road to Arnhem proves to be a bridge too far. The British fighting in Arnhem were told it would take 2 days for XXX Core to reach them. But one week later they are still fighting for their lives as they are pushed into an increasingly smaller pocket by the Germans, who just happened to have had an SS panzer division near by when the British landed. As desperate attempts to re supply the stranded paras with new men and equipment fail, including one harrowing scene where reinforcements are dropped from the air only to be met with German troops who slaughter them before they hit the ground, it becomes clear the mission is failing. On day nine the remaining Brits, on realising they will not be relieved make an attempt to break through to the British lines. About 2000 succeed in doing so. The rest of the 12,500 are captured or killed.

Many people do not like this film. It is very long and in truth it is made for the history buffs like me. Having said that the performances of Connery, Caine and particularly Edward Fox as the eccentric General Horrocks, commanded of XXX Core, result in some very memorable scenes that any movie lover would enjoy. In addition A Bridge Too Far is unique as it is a World War Two movie about defeat. Most WW2 movies are about victory over evil and ultimately portray war as a necessary thing. Attenborough has described this movie as an anti war film. I like this idea. Most anti war movies are set during World War One or the Vietnam War. Rarely are they set during World War Two. I have noticed how World War Two is often portrayed in popular culture as a glorious time. I even find myself thinking occasionally how exciting it would have been to have lived through it. Sometimes we need reminding that the second World War was probably the worst thing to ever happen the human race. This film rightly shows the suffering of the Dutch people. In fact a result of the failure of Market Garden was a Dutch Famine (inflicted on the people by the Germans in retaliation for their support of the allied paratroopers) in which thousands of civilians starved to death. This is one of the reasons A bridge too far has made it onto my list. Below are a sample of the photos I took when I visited Arnhem and Oosterbeek.

The Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek outside Arnhem. Major General Roy Urquhart took over this hotel and it became headquarters for the Arnhem operation for nine days. Attenborough used the same building for the 1977 film.

The graves of thousands of British and Polish troops killed at Arnhem

Yours truly posing with an American Sherman Tank

Saturday, December 5, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 5/12/39

Moscow: Stalin rejects a League of Nations proposal to end the war with Finland.

Finland: Red Army troops have reached the Mannerheim Line, Finland's main defensive position.

Washington: President Roosevelt asks for $1,319 million out of his $9,000 million budget to be spent on defence.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obamas Speech (updated)

Watch Obamas crucial speech from West Point military academy last night.

OK, I though this speech was a bit odd. My main issue with this speech is as follows. By dramatically escalating this war while simultaneously establishing a timetable for withdrawal the President is trying to please everybody. To put it simply, the hawks love troop increases and the doves love time tables for withdrawals. One thing I know about politics is that you can't please everybody so don't even try, you will just look foolish. Obama is a liberal. He was elected as a liberal and he has a mandate from the American people. I understand American politics and the need to build up coalitions and alliances but if he has a liberal agenda then he is entitled to implement it just as Ronald Regan was his conservative agenda. If he believes that there is too much of a risk of America getting bogged down in an unwinnable then he should withdraw the troops, focus on counter terrorism and ride the inevitable wave of criticism from the republicans who will call him weak. For now though, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he genuinely believes defeating the Taliban is vital for American security.

I, like Obama always believed that Iraq was the wrong war and Afghanistan the right one. But now I'm not so sure. Truthfully I'm becoming less and less convinced that defeating an uprising by Afghan peasants is vital to western security. Apparently there are less that 100 Al Quaeda members in the whole of the country. The Taliban to me appear to have a local agenda that goes no further than toppling the Karzai government. The truth is, right now I don't know where I stand on Afghanistan. I don't know if I'm for or against the war. I suppose I'll have to think about it for a while and get back to you all. In the meantime, here are a few random thoughts I have on Obamas speech and its fall out.

1. I don't buy the republican argument that a time table emboldens the enemy. The truth is you can never outlast an insurgency in their own country so why not set a time table, give it your best shot and leave.

2. I don't buy the argument that "Bush was committed to his surge", so Obama should committed to his. I'm not in the mood for spin today. The surge did work. But it was a change in strategy that chased Al Quaeda out of Iraq. It was not a case of the US increasing troop levels and militarily crushing the enemy.

3. I have more random thoughts, but I'm tired and I'm having an early night. Random thoughts 3 & 4 coming tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's Counter Insurgency

Obama will make an adress from West Point military academy tonight

Last month I posted on the options facing President Obama in the Afghan war and whether or not he is likely to adopt a counter insurgency or counter terrorism strategy. He has spent three months debating with his staff on whether or not to grant General McChrystal the 40,000 extra troops he requested in what would be a major escalation of the war and a definite sign that the President intends to pursue a counter insurgency strategy. He will announce his decision tonight in an address to West Point military academy although the White House has leaked in the last few days that the President will agree to send approximately 30,000 troops while pressuring other NATO allies to make up the final 10,000. The exact numbers will be known shortly.

The President has been the subject of fierce criticism from republicans claiming that he has hesitated on this issue. My instintcs tell me that in a long war like this, making the correct decision is more important than making it quickly. I'll be listening to his speech tonight. What I will be listening for is an indication that the President has an achievable goal. Afghanistan is simply the worst country in the world to get bogged down in. If it turns into a never ending battle against highly motivated Afghan peasants, America will lose.

Monday, November 30, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 30/11/39

Finland. The Soviet Union invaded Finland on this day 70 years ago. After months of negotiations between the two over a territory exchange in the bizarre new post Nazi Soviet pact world, negotiations between the two finally broke down. On this day Soviet ships bombarded Finnish ports, the Soviet Air Force launched a heavy raid on Helsinki and the Red Army launched an all out attack on the fortified Mannerheim Line. The Soviets have vastly superior numbers. However the result of this war, within world war two is far from certain. Soviet propaganda informed the Red Army that the Finnish proletariat would rise up and welcome Soviet troops as liberators from their capitalist oppressors. The war was less than an hour old when it became clear that this would not happen. The Finns were prepared to defend their homeland fiercely. In addition this is the first major combat that the Soviets have been involved in since the outbreak of the second World War and since Stalin's purges of the Red Army leadership in the late 1930's. They are leaderless and vulnerable and it is already showing.

The Red Army invaded Finland along the above fronts.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ebadi Medal confiscated

Shirin Ebadi has had her Nobel Peace Prize confiscated by the Iranian authorities. The 2003 winner has not been back to Iran since the disputed election last June due to fears for her safety. I have read several of Ebadi's books and admire the lawyer and former judge greatly. I heard her speaking in Trinity College Dublin last year. She is not just a Human Rights activist. She is a passionate pro democracy campaigner who has lobbied aggressively for the core characteristics of a democratic state which extend far beyond election. She is the leading campaigner in Iran for a free press and most importantly an independent judiciary. She naturally took exception to the decision of the regime to remove her from the bench because of her gender. What a ridiculous stunt this is by the mullahs in Tehran. As if nicking her medal is going to de-legitimize her in the eyes of her followers in Iran and around the world. I can tell you from reading her biography, she is tougher than that.

Shirin Ebadi receiving her Nobel Peace Prize in 2003

70 Years Ago Today 27/11/39

Moscow: The Kremlim claims that Finland has fired artillery shells into Soviet territory. Stalin demands a withdrawal of Finnish troops Karelian isthmus, near Lenningrad.

Helsinki: The Finnish government has denied the soviet claims saying the artillery fire has come from the Russian side of the border. The Soviet Union and Finland are effectively at war with each other.

Germany: Anti Semetic regulations were stepped up on this day. All "Aryan" Germans were warned to divorce their Jewish spouses or face the consequences.

Oslo: The Nobel Laureate Committee have understandably announced that there will be no peace prize this year. This is poignant considering todays news that the 2003 winner, Iranian Human Rights activist Shirin Ebadi who has not returned to the country since the post election turmoil in June, has had her offices raided and her medal confiscated by the Iranian authorities. Pretty low I would say.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ivory Coast V Republic of Ireland

Ok, I have been getting a lot of abuse on facebook and elsewhere because of my inability in Paris to distinguish the Irish flag from that of the west African country of Ivory Coast.

Below is the Irish flag

Below is the flag of the Ivory Coast

Note my unforgivable blunder in Paris

I would like to offer an unconditional apology to the Irish nation for disrespecting her sacred flag. In my defence though I was jarred at the time and the mirror was telling me that the colours were the right way around.

Some photos from Paris.
Myself and some of the boys at the pre match party under the Eiffel Tower

The magnificent Stad De France

The Magnificent Green Army

Myself and Colin looking a bit glum afterward.

Monday, November 23, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 23/11/39

Krakow: The Nazi Governor General of Poland Dr Hans Frank orders all Jews over the age of ten to wear arm bands with the mark of the star of David.

Berlin: Adolf Hitler summons his generals to the Reich Chancellery in order to criticise them for their opposition to war on the western front. It is believed that he fiercely argued with his senior generals over their lack of faith in his ability to wage war.

North Atlantic: Just North of the Faroe Islands the armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi engages two vastly superior German battle cruisers,the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau as they were attempting to break through into the North Atlantic. In a battle that has gone down in British Naval folklore the Rawalpindi fought bravely against two of Germany's most powerful vessels for forty minutes before she was sunk. The Rawalpindi was however able to contact the admiralty and inform them of the location of the German ships forcing them to retreat. 275 of her 312 crew were lost. The German ships retrieved the 37 survivors.

The HMS Rawalpindi (above) was sunk by the German battleships Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst (below)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sarah Palin on Jewish Settlements

Sarah Palin is asked about Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

I have a problem with what Sarah Palin is saying here for obvious reasons. But the sheer bizarreness of her advocating the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the west bank in a blatant attempt to deny the Palestinians a viable homeland is not the main thought I first had on hearing this interview with Barbara Walters. It was quite obvious to me that this was a ridiculous attempt to impress the Christian Zionists and other pro Israeli elements in America by taking up a stance on the conflict that could never be sustained once in a position of power. Jewish settlements in the West Bank are hugely controversial. The reason being that there are many hard line Zionists whose agenda is not the security of the Israeli state. Their goal is to fulfil a biblical prophecy by creating a greater Israel in the holy land by expanding the Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinians. In order for this to happen the Palestinians must be denied a state. Otherwise the greater Israel can never happen. Most Israelis however and all normal thinking people the world over recognise that this should not happen and that the most viable solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict is for a secure Israel and a workable Palestinian state to exist side by side. By advocating the expansion of Jewish settlements Sarah Palin is committing the cardinal sin of being more Israeli that the Israelis themselves. It always hurts the peace process when people not directly connected to the conflict like European leftists or American conservatives take a more hard line stance than those they support. In any case her support for the Jewish settlers is completely unsustainable. If she ever does become President she would have to drop it immediately. I don't think the 22 Arab nations out there, many of whom are American allies would take too kindly to the US abandoning one of the primary conditions required for a permanent settlement. I find it so nauseating to listen to such blatant pandering to constituents, particularly when it could never be followed through with.

Oh it does feels good to be blogging about the Middle East again. I am still a bitter man after our Parisian nightmare but the best way to get over things is to just get back to normal. I'm not sure what it says about me that the conflict in the Middle East makes me feel better.

Friday, November 20, 2009

France Part 2

The above picture is the only point about the game I want to make.

I am disgusted. I am bitter. I am broken. Watch this space for anti French sentiment because you will see lots of it. I was already pissed off at the French before Thierry Henry conned the referee and robbed us all of a dream summer in South Africa by acting like he was a Harlem Globe Trotter. On Wednesday morning myself and the boys Qued for an hour to go up the Eiffel Tower only to be refused entry at the last minute. As we were quite aggressively man handled out of there we requested an explanation. The reason ? One of my mates had an Irish flag with him which is apparently against the rules as they don't want any foreign flag raised above the tower. Funny, they pretty much welcomed the Nazis into Paris and allowed them raise the swastika over the Eiffel Tower for five years. I should also mention the disgraceful behaviour of security staff at the Stad de France who I witnessed assaulting several Irish fans as they were clearing the stadium. As if we hadn't been insulted enough by the French nation. Anyway I'm ranting and I'm wrecked. I am very tired and emotional. I'm back home now and I'm off to bed. I will get back to posting about the Middle East and war and all that soon but I also intend on having a serious go at the French whenever I can. De-legitimising their history will be comforting I hope. God knows I need some comforting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gubu World is going to France

Things get a bit heated at the end of Saturday's game. In my opinion Richard Dunne should have head butted him.

I'm off to Paris tomorrow for France part 2. I'm flying to London and getting the Euro Star to Paris. Its all or nothing now. Its as simple as that. I still believe we can do it because frankly I think the French are a pathetic people. Not like me I know to get so personal but fuck it. This is the World Cup we are talking about so emotions are a bit high especially since that scum bag Diarra apparently insulted the Irish nation at the end of the game. I have never wanted Ireland to beat a team more. Not just to win but because I can't stand the arrogance of the French. And it would mean so much more to a recession hit Ireland than it ever could to France. They don't even care about their national team, mostly because so many are black. There I said it, hardly surprising really from a nation where 25 Per cent of the electorate voted for a fascist in the Presidential election before last. France, nation of 65 million people could only send 5000 people over to Dublin for a crucial world cup qualifier where as Ireland, a nation of 4 million are sending 20,000 over to Paris. Where is the patriotism Mon Ami ? No wonder they have never been able to stand up for anything in their dismal history except that is for slaughtering Algerians and Vietnamese in a pathetic attempt to hold onto their empire like and ageing rock star trying to be cool and hip. Anyway, I think I need to calm down a bit. I'll get over it if we beat them on Wednesday. I will try to do a post from Paris but if not you can follow my adventures on twitter.

Monday, November 16, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 16/11/39

Romania: King Carol's offer of mediation between Germany and the western powers is rejected.

Helsinki: War between Finland and the Soviet Union is inevitable after the breakdown of negotiations between the two. The Finns have rejected Soviet demands for an exchange of territory that will ultimately place the Scandinavian country at the mercy of Joseph Stalin.

London: Spy fever has gripped Britain. More than 6000 people have been arrested since the outbreak of the war on suspicion of being Nazi sympathisers or possibly spies. Huge amounts of mail that leaves Britain, even for neutral countries is being examined and censored.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

France Part 1

Tonight Ireland play France in the first of a two leg playoff for a place at next summers World Cup in South Africa. Its winner takes all. This is a big as it gets. We have no injuries, we have a seriously hyped up nation and we have a French team who, while they do have all the big stars also have a reputation of not being that up for it when it comes to international football. Anyway I'm Off to Croke Park shortly as I am to Paris next week. May Jesus, Allah Buddha and anybody else whose listening bring nothing but good fortune to the Irish and help the French live up to their tradition of being a nation of surrender monkeys. Cmon Ireland !

And just to get in the mood watch a few clips of:

Ireland doing the Dutch

And getting one over on the Italians

And the Germans

Some memories from 1990


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 11/11/39

Berlin: The German foreign office assures the Belgian and Dutch governments that their neutrality will be respected.

Europe: The allies exchange friendship messages to mark Armistice Day.

London: Queen Elizabeth makes an Armistice Day address to the women of the nation urging them to do their part for the war effort.

The Queen Mother, seen here with female members of the Mechanised Transport Corps (Mobile Ambulance Unit) at Buckingham Palace tries to motivate the women of Britain.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Berlin 20 Years On

Twenty years ago today the Berlin Wall came down. Germany was reunited soon after and the following year the communist governments of Eastern Europe were consigned to history. By December 1991 the USSR would cease to exist and 14 counties would gain their independence from Moscow. Today Europe is entirely democratic with the possible exception of the former Soviet republic of Belarus. The reason that Europe is a free continent today is that the US led NATO alliance was willing to stand up to the Soviet Union and ultimately wrestled it to the ground. This is a fact that many left wingers have trouble accepting but it is an indisputable fact of history. And thanks to those who stood up for democracy the average Eastern European citizen can visit a relative in Germany, go on holidays to Spain or move to Ireland for work. A far cry from the Eastern Europe of old with its barbed wire and high walls. Below are some photographs I took in Berlin in 2006 of various cold war relics.

A section of the Berlin Wall remains in place as a symbol of the city's dark past.

On closer inspection

More of the wall

The famous Check Point Charlie where US and East German troops faced each other for over 25 years. The check point with the mock troops remains as a tourist attraction.

This image of the US soldier is a well known Berlin land mark

A view of Check Point Charlie from the museum above the site of the former East West flash point. The souvenir sellers are a constant presence at this location.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

70 Years Ago today 8/11/39

Westminster: 1st Lord of the admiralty Winston Churchill gives a rousing speech in parliament predicting victory in the war at sea.

Munich: Hitler survives an assassination attempt. On this day Hitler gave a speech at the Burgerbraukeller beer cellar to commemorate the anniversary of his 1923 putsch. Shortly after leaving for his train back to Berlin a bomb exploded on the podium where he had been speaking. Eight people were killed and over 60 were wounded. This would be the first of many war time assassination attempts on the Fuhrer

The Beer Cellar was serverly damaged by the explosion but Hitler was unharmed

Saturday, November 7, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 7/11/39

London: An allied double agent named Paul Thummel passes details of the planned German invasion of Western Europe to the Czech government in exile.

Germany: The invasion of the west, planned for November 12th is postponed due to bad weather.

Poland: It is estimated that 5000 Jews have already been killed in random attacks during the month long old German occupation of Poland. On the 4th of November the Jews of Warsaw were ordered into a section of the city which would soon become the Warsaw Ghetto.

The Jews of Warsaw are forced into a Ghetto. Most will die of disease, starvation and murder over the next 5 years.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hostage Crisis Anniversary

I took this picture of the old US embassy in Tehran during a trip in 2004. The US seal on the front gate is the only US marking that indicates this was once their embassy.

On the 4th of November 1979 Iranian students who were followers of Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the US embassy in Tehran. They were angered at US President Jimmy Carter's decision to allow the ousted Shah of Iran into America on medical grounds. They would occupy the embassy and hold its 52 staff hostage for 444 days. Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of this event. Every year Iranian hard liners commemorate the event by organising a "Death to America" rally. This year however the demonstration was hijacked by students of a different political persuasion who were chanting "Death to the Dictator" instead. This time the chants were directed not at the Shah or the White House but at Ayatollah Khameini and President Ahmadinejad. The reformers, those not imprisoned after Ahmadinejad's fraudulent election last June used the occasion to rekindle anti government demonstrations that were crushed in the weeks following the election. Below is a short clip form yesterdays anti regime demonstrations which were once again met with brutal force.

I walked all the way around the massive former US embassy. There are anti American murals on all the walls. This one above mocks the attempted rescue of the hostages by US marines. President Carter ordered the rescue but it eneded in disaster when two helicopters collided on route killing eight marines.

Plain and simple, Down with the USA

This mural depicts Iraqi bombers attacking Iran with missiles supplied by the USA

The above mural mocks the Arab world for being stooges of the US.

The caption reads, "We will make America suffer a very severe defeat"

I think this one is accusing America of being a gun of the Jews

I just had to put this one up. Nearby the former American embassy is the current British embassy located on, believe it or not, Bobby Sands Street.

This massive mural was not near the embassy but I had to put it up regardless. Amazing !

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 3/11/39

Britain: After complaints from employers and Trade Unions the duration of the black out is reduced by an hour. It now runs from half an hour after sun set to half an hour before sun rise. Clearly a phony war headline.

Moscow: Talks continue between the Soviet Union and Finland. The Finns are refusing to give in to Soviet demands for more territory. War between the two appears inevitable.

South Africa: Prime Minister General Smuts promises the British that he will defend their African colonies if they are attacked. The one time Boer commander is now a staunch British ally.

General Smuts who fought the British during the Boer War is now an allied leader. He is pictured here with Churchill (who was taken prisoner by the Boers in that war) and other common wealth leaders. They are Left to right: standing - General Smuts, Peter Fraser (New Zealand); seated – Mackenzie King ( Canada), Winston Churchill (Great Britain) and John Curtin ( Australia)

Father Ted Innocent

Father Ted has claimed at his war crimes trial in Den Hague today that the money was just resting in his account. Bock the Robber reports on Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly carrying on with a MILF. Also, its good to see the Irish defence forces up on twitter.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Counter Insurgency or Counter Terrorism

Later this week President Obama will definitively respond to General McChrystal's request for 40,000 additional troops to fight the war in Afghanistan. The Presidents answer is not simply about whether the General will get the troops he wants. His answer will signal whether Obama intends on pursuing a Counter Insurgency (CI) or a Counter Terrorism (CT) strategy in the war against Al Quaeda and the Taliban. So, whats the difference ?

Counter terrorism in Afghanistan
If President Obama opts for this strategy then there will be no need for any additional troops. In fact he could afford to gradually decrease troops levels as under this method there will be little of no conventional engagements on the battle field between the Taliban and the US Army or Marines. The CT approach relies heavily on deploying special forces teams and Predator UAV (unmanned areal vehicles) to hunt down Taliban commanders and assassinate Al Quaeda leaders. The main benefit of this approach is that there will be few casualties among NATO forces. In May President Obama replaced General McKiernan with General McChrystal as commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. General McChrystal had famously used the UAV to great effect in Iraq when in June 2006 it was used to kill Abu Musab Al Zarqarwi, probably the most murderous man in the Middle East. It is believed that Zarqarwi caused a rift within Al Quaeda such was the level of violence he unleashed in Iraq. When you're too violent for Bin Laden you really have some anger management issues. The UAV approach which McChrystal used so successfully in Iraq relies entirely on Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and CIA networks to locate targets. Mchrystal was brought into Afghanistan to do to Taliban leaders what he had done to Zarqarwi in Iraq.

However since he began his new post in May he seems to have come to the conclusion that CT, special forces and UAV's are not sufficient to defeat the enemy. I can think of two main reasons why this is. Firstly the enemy can adapt to SIGINT by deploying its own counter intelligence. By operating in cells, leaking false claims on locations and rooting out informers the Taliban and Al Queada leadership have become quite successful at avoiding drone strikes in recent months. Secondly, when the UAV strikes go wrong they go very wrong. There have been several high profile instances where scores of civilians have been killed. General McChrystal seems to believe that the damage these strikes are doing to NATO's image in the country is doing more harm to the overall effort than good. For this reason General McChrystal has requested 40,000 more troops to implement a Counter Insurgency Strategy.

Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan
The CI strategies core principle is to protect the civilian population from insurgents by military and political means. This will require more troops to occupy large population centers in order to avoid the common situation where NATO forces oust the Taliban from a town only to leave and have the Taliban re establish their influence afterward. This has resulted in many tribal leaders being reluctance to cooperate with NATO forces out of fear of Taliban retaliation. The CI approach is a political statement as much as anything else to say to the Afghans we are ready to commit and we are prepared to take risks to protect you. Some would call this nation building, a concept that many conservatives in the US are hostile to. This is a highly ambitious strategy but there seems to be a confidence in the US military at present that believes the successes in Iraq post surge can be replicated in Afghanistan. There is a political corollary to this approach which was illustrated recently when Obama sent Senator John Kerry over to Kabul to make it clear to the Karzai government that the US is not going to go to all this effort just to keep him in power. He promptly responded by agreeing to a re run of the recently disputed presidential election.

General McChrystal and President Obama met last month on board Air Force One to discuss the new strategy for Afghanistan.

The debate over CI and CT is interesting because it falls outside the predictable political discourse that we normally see between conservative republicans and liberal democrats where the former accuse the latter of being weak on national security. On this issue we are seeing hawks and doves, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals be in favour of both CI and CT with no obvious political pattern emerging. There are those on the right that fear Americas long term ability to stay ahead of China and India economically could be seriously jeopardise by a ten year Counter Insurgency campaign in Afghanistan. They fear that such a campaign in a country that probably has the worlds most inhospitable terrain could bleed the US to such an extent that it might never fully recover. Many like minded people also feel that putting more boots on the ground is fighting the war on the enemies terms. More troops means more targets for the Taliban and it certainly means more casualties. This is why some hawks are arguing that they should stick to fighting the Taliban by eliminating its leadership with special forces and UAV drones. But don't worry, the usual band of republican cheer leaders are filling the right wing talk radio and Fox News calling Obama a weakling who doesn't have the stomach for a war. They have reached this conclusion simply because he hasn't made a decision yet. They conveniently ignore that less than a month into his presidency he sent a further 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, a larger troop increase than anything seen during the Bush years. Apparently making a decision quickly is more important than making it correctly. However there are some more respectable figures on the right arguing for a CI escalation. These people are reasonably arguing that a commander in Chief should always listen to his generals (didn't General MacArthur want to nuke Korea?)and if McChrystal wants more troops then he should have them. Fair point but the danger as I see it is if CI goes wrong, it will go spectacularly wrong.

The Liberals also appear all over the place on this issue. There are clearly plenty of Obama lovers who will support him no matter what he does. The anti war crowd want all US troops out of Afghanistan but if pushed on the issue they would prefer to see CT adopted as CI will inevitably be an escalation of the war. Moderate Democrats appear split. This became most evident when Vice President Biden publicly criticised the McChrystal plan fearing that America will get bogged down in an un-winnable war. His stance on this led to praise from all sides which indicates how this issue has fractured the political status quo. Other Democrats are in favour of CI out of a sense of optimisms, a belief that Afghanistan can be rebuilt like the Balkans. Maybe they are getting a bit too carried away with the "Yes we can" rhetoric if they think that Obama can turn Afghanistan into a western style democracy.

I think that this is not only the toughest decision Obama has been confronted with so far as President but will ultimately turn out to be the most difficult one of his entire Presidency, whether it lasts another 3 or 7 years. The one comfort I think he has is that he is taking it from a politically sound position. If Obama goes against McChrystal and opts for a CT strategy, are the republicans really going to accused him of not being committed to Afghanistan. Hardly a wise thing to do since George Bush first invaded back in November 2001 and kept less than 30,000 troops in the whole country for most of the following seven years. Having said that, I cant help thinking of the movie "Thirteen Days" about the Cuban Missile Crisis which I watched recently. In one scene President Kennedy says to his advisor Kenny O'Donnell, played by Kevin Kostner "I woke up this morning and for a minute, I wished somebody else was President". No doubt Obama has had a similar moment over the last few weeks. In any event, Gubu World will report on Obamas decision.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 1/11/39

Europe: Germany formally annexes Western Poland including Danzig and the Polish corridor, the dispute over which triggered the second World War.

Netherlands: The government proclaims a state of siege in frontier areas and flood zones.

Switzerland: Contingency plans are laid out in case of an invasion.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bloodiest Month Yet !

The only other President that I have ever seen do this is Jed Bartlett in The West Wing. Some time after mid night last night President Obama flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for the arrival of the bodies of US soldiers killed this week in Afghanistan. It was the bloodiest week in the bloodiest month for US forces since they invaded Afghanistan eight years ago. It is crunch time for Obama on Afghanistan. There is a fierce debate going on in the US as to whether NATO should adopt a counter terrorism approach in the war which would mean focusing on air strikes and the use of special forces or counter insurgency which would require at least 40,000 additional troops to protect the civilian population. Naturally Obama is being called a weakling by the republicans and the conservative media for stalling. However the President has stated he will not be rushed on the issue which is without a doubt the most important decision he has been faced with so far. As you can see from the picture above he knows what is at stake. That is why to his credit he does not appear to be listening to the polls and doesn't care what the media think. He has said he will listen to all his military advisers, some of whom favour counter terrorism, others counter insurgency and implement the strategy most likely to succeed. His decision is expected within the next week. I am working on a detailed post about the merits and flaws of the two different strategies at the moment. Will post it over the weekend.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

70 years Ago Today 28/10/39

Prague: Six months after the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia the Czechs are seeing the full ferocity of the occupation. Today is the 20th anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia which has prompted demonstrations from nationalists and students. This led to violent clashes with German troops in which at least one Czech student was killed and over 3000 were arrested.

Bratislava: Joseph Tiso, becomes the Fascist leader of puppet Slovakia.

Scotland: A German bomber has been shot down in what is thought to be the first enemy plane shot down over mainland Britain. The Heinkel He111 was shot down by RAF fighters. Two of the German crew were killed and two have become prisoners of war.

France: It has been reported that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which has been sent to France to fight the Germans, is equipped with food and equipment for its 200,000 troops to last 46 days. Although they have not yet fired a shot the British appear confident that they can handle an any attack from the German army.

Whats the big deal ? Just wear the poppy !

Its that time of year again when the inevitable debate arises about the poppy and whether it should be worn in Ireland. The debate is usually led by Kevin Myers who believes that all Irish should wear it proudly to honor the Irish who fell fighting in the British Army during World War One. I'm going to be blunt here. I don't even understand why this is a controversial issue. To me, a historian and a passionately proud Irishman wearing the poppy seems entirely natural. Although it is difficult to be precise the generally accepted figure Of Irish killed in the great war is 49,000. Yet for some reason the Irish people still do not feel comfortable honoring the dead more than 90 years on. Only in recent years have the Irish government officially recognised the 1914-1918 war dead and although this was a positive step there is still a reluctance to do something as simple as wearing a poppy. This Armistice Day, no member of the political establishment will wear a poppy.

Conventional thinking on the matter is that it is wrong to honor the men who fought for a country that Ireland would later be at war with. Furthermore the poppy is a British symbol and no Irish politician would risk such an unnecessary self inflicted wound by wearing it. First things first, the Irish state did not even exist during the great war years so I don't see how anyone can be accused of betraying it. In fact opponents of the poppy conveniently ignore that many prominent Irish leaders of the war of Independence including hard liners like Tom Barry had served in the British Army during the war. Is anyone going to argue that Tom Barry was a traitor. But this isn't even the issue. I don't care who they fought with or why. The poppy is merely a symbol of remembrance. 49,000 dead is a massive number. Nothing in our modern history compares. Not to trivialise these events but if you add the number of fatalities from the 1916 rising, the war of Independence and the Civil War the combined total killed is about 7000. Those killed in the political violence of 1916-1923 which resulted in an independent state are rightly remembered and honored. Yet the 49,000 killed barely get a mention.

I am a sentimental type. I have read many books on the Irish that have fought in foreign wars and often get a lump in my throat when reading about young men who left their native land to go to war. The reality is that in most cases they only did so for an adventure and a change of scene. Sometimes they got it, sometimes they did not. In the great war they were killed in droves at the Somme, Verdun, Ypres, Galipolli and Mesopotamia. Refuing to remember them because it doesn't sit well with a nations interpretation of its history stinks of ignorance and a lack of confidence. Its just a flower. 49,000 Irish people died. Just wear it !

Monday, October 26, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 26/10/39

Britain: The Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps is formed.

Krakow: Hans Frank, the Nazi lawyer who was appointed governor general of occupied Poland two weeks ago has begun to put his plans for the Jews into motion. He issues an order on this day that all Jewish men between 14 and 60 are obliged to work on official labour projects. The concentration camps have not yet been opened so the Jews are being transported daily to factories in the cities where they are forced to work in the war industries. It is not only Polish Jews being subjected to this treatment as most German, Austrian and Czech Jews have at this stage been transported in cattle trucks to Poland. The Nazis will overcome the administrative difficulties involved in this process by creating a concentration camp in Auschwitz which the following year.

Hans Frank, the Governor General of occupied Poland pictured below right along side SS chief Heinrich Himmler. Frank would eventually see justice at Nuremberg and be hanged for his crimes as in 1946.