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There are lies, damned lies and statistics. But people love stats. If the statistics are to be believed, then the Scots Guards are by far the bravest of Scottish soldiers; or at least they were during the First World War. The Scots Guards, the most English of Scottish regiments, netted five Victoria Crosses 1914-1918. Spread between only two frontline battalions, that gives an easily calculated 2.5 VCs per battalion. So, there you go. Whether you choose to believe the Scots Guards were truly the bravest of Scotland's fighting men or perhaps had better contacts when it came to the medals list is up to you. It is harder to work out where the other Scottish infantry regiments place in the table. The Guards had only two fighting battalions, which served throughout the war on the Western Front. The other Scottish regiments had numerous battalions, some of which fought throughout the war, some were disbanded or amalgamated , some were used as labourers, others were solely training or reinforcement units and some were shunted off to quiet theatres of the war such as Salonika in Greece. So, calculating a VC quotient for most of the Scottish infantry units during the First World War is far from straightforward. Including the labour battalions and those sent to Salonika, which did eventually see action, then the next best performer after the Scots Guards would have been the Seaforth Highlanders. But the Seaforths with seven VCs from the eight battalions I calculate could be considered "active" yields a quotient of only 0.87. So, not even half as brave as the Scots Guards. The Royal Scots Fusiliers and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders tie for third place in the table with a quotient of 0.66. The King's Own Scottish Borderers with 0.57 pipped the Highland Light Infantry on 0.53 for fourth place. The Black Watch and Gordon Highlanders took joint sixth place with 0.44. The Cameron Highlanders, Royal Scots and Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) all scored 0.43. Personally, I put little stock in these quotients but knowing how much people love statistics, and having done the work needed to undertake the calculations, I thought I'd share them with you.

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Several years ago I wondered in these columns who the mystery author of an odd little book called Tales of the R.I.C. might be. The book, which purported to be the memoirs of an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary during the Irish War of Independence of the early 1920s, bore a lot of hallmarks of being produced by a propaganda bureau. Too much supposedly happened to one policeman and the writing was a little too slick. I thought that perhaps it was one of the last kicks of the can from one of the propaganda units set up by the British government during the First World War to enlist the sympathies of the great American public and to a lesser extent in other "neutral" countries. I had never heard of the Public Information Bureau, a similar propaganda organisation set up by the British in Dublin to influence public opinion outside the Emerald Isle after the Irish electorate turned its back on Westminster in the 1918 elections. Well, apparently a retired Irish civil servant AP Magill  recently identified a former governor of H.M. Prison Belfast as the author of Tales of the RIC. Just what retired King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Major Aubrey Waithman Long did in the years immediately following the First World War and before he joined the prison service is a mystery. We know that he was a budding writer with at least one book to his credit and that he knew the County Clare area, where Tales of the RIC is set, very well. Some say that he did serve with the RIC, others say there is no record of this. The RIC certainly recruited former British officers as auxiliary constables in what was intended to be a crack anti-terrorism force but which quickly gained an unenviable reputation for ruthlessness, lack of discipline and brutality. But it seems more likely that Long put his writing skills at service of the Crown and laboured  in the British administration's Dublin Castle to confect his tales of republican atrocity from a variety of sources, including genuine Auxies. So, there you go, Aubrey Waithman Long and the Public Information Bureau.

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I was intrigued to hear that the British invented poison gas warfare around the turn of the 20th Century. The claim was made on the BBC World Service – so it must be true. The BBC for some reason thought it might be a good idea to have a panel discussion in German city of Dresden about whether the Germans were to blame for the First World War. Dresden was an interesting choice of venue, having been heavily bombed by the British and Americans in the closing days of the Second World War. I would have thought Louvain in Belgium might have been a better choice as the historic library there was torched by the Kaiser’s men in 1914 and around 250 civilians murdered. The audience in Dresden were invited to participate and maybe it should not have been a surprise that at least one member believed the Germans could not be held responsible for either World War. Another announced that it was the British who first used poison gas artillery shells, during the Second Boer War, 1899-1902, rather than the Germans pioneering effective chemical warfare in 1915. That’s the problem with such radio events – absolute twaddle often goes unchallenged during them. I suspect that our little German friend was referring to the use of lyddite shells by the British. Lyddite is based on picric acid and the fumes can cause vomiting.  Not exactly on a par with the clouds of poison chlorine gas the Germans released on French and Canadian troops at Ypres in 1915. I got the impression that someone is teaching the Germans that every frightfulness they perpetrated in both World Wars was actually pioneered by the British in 1899-1902. There are those who will claim that the British pioneered concentration camps. The camps the British herded the families of Boer farmers into were a disaster and countless women and children perished in them. But the point of the camps was not deliberate extermination.  The deaths were due to British incompetence and indifference. The Spanish had a few years earlier herded the civilian population in several parts of Cuba into similar camps as they struggled against an independence insurrection. So, the British operations in South Africa were not even a very original solution to guerrilla warfare. And what pray what were the Indian reservations/reserves of North America but concentration camps without barbed wire? 

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I recently picked got some old episodes of an old British TV series called Tales of the Unexpected on DVD for a couple of dollars in the bargain bin at a local supermarket. I won't go into the fact that very few of the endings were actually that unexpected. One episode was very like a true story my mum told me years ago. She said a guy she was at primary school with attributed his later millionaire status to the fact that he was illiterate. He couldn't read or write but he was an excellent car mechanic. He parlayed mechanical skill into owning several garages which he then sold for a couple of million. Illiteracy's contribution to his millions was that because he couldn't read or write, he got experts in from the start to handle his accounting and legal needs. He thus avoided the rookie error made by many self-employed people of trying to do handle these things themselves. This meant the business was run on a rock-solid foundation from the beginning. The Tale of the Unexpected episode was about a former butler, played by Richard Briers, who lost his job as a church verger because he was illiterate but went on to own a tea-shop business worth millions. If he hadn't lost his job, he wouldn't have opened the tea-shops.The episode was apparently based on a short story by Somerset Maugham. I have no intention of reading that short story. You see, Maugham believes that I, my dad and my brother, my auntie, my uncles and cousins are all scum. I have two volumes of Maugham's short stories at home which I will now never finish. Life is too short to read everything and the author calling me scum is a good way to put his book at the very bottom of the “to-read” pile and keep it there for eternity. A number of family members benefited from going into higher education thanks to government grants. But according to Maugham, folks who go to university on a government grant are “scum”. I'm sorry he felt that way because I enjoyed the short stories of his that I had read before learning of the contempt in which he held me and my kin.

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Anonymity can hide a multitude of sins. The Crown Prosecution Service in Wales has announced that there is insufficient evidence to lay negligent manslaughter charges against two members of the Special Air Service following the deaths of three reservists during a mountain route march on one of the hottest days of last summer. I can understand why the two men are not being publicly identified - they are innocent until proven guilty and as they were never charged, the extent of their guilt, if any, cannot be established in a court. What interests me is not the names of the men but what their part in the events was. Are we talking about two instructors who failed to pull the men out of the march, one of the main tests would-be SAS troopers have to pass, when they were obviously in distress or are we talking about the senior members of the regiment who may have failed dismally to meet in their supervisory responsibilities. Say that the men at the checkpoints the three reservists had to pass through took rather too macho an attitude to what the three should be able to stand in the way of heat exhaustion, which may or may not be so. Are the men at the checkpoints to blame for that or does the blame lie with the senior soldiers who put those men on the checkpoints? Soldiers cannot be wrapped up in Health and Safety regulations, soldiering is inherently dangerous and until recently the British Army used to lose more members in training than it did in action. But one cannot help but feel that Lance Corporal Craig Roberts, Corporal James Dunsby and Trooper Edward Maher need not have died in July 2013. A Coroner's Inquest is to be held later this year which will no doubt make some systemic recommendations along the lines of more medics on the course with the power to pull people from the march against the wishes of both the candidates for selection and the instructors. It remains to be seen if the Army will hold those truly responsible for the three deaths to account. Anyone remember Teflon?

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Shock-horror – small children allowed to look through army sniper sight near Stirling! How long before they turn into killing machines? Apparently, the Army had some of its equipment on show at the recent Armed Forces Day in Stirling and it let some kids touch it. Any tacky journalist can see a chance of generating a story here. There must be someone out there who thinks this is a bad idea. Why yes, there’s at least one so-called Human Rights lawyer and a spokesman for the Quakers who will speak out against this outrage.  I wonder how many Human Rights lawyers and Quakers survived Dachau or Bergen-Belsen.  That’s of course providing that looking through the sights of a sniper rifle or an anti-tank missile launcher will indeed start children on the slippery slope to becoming a mindless mercenary killers in the pay of an evil British government.  Perhaps we should stop children from learning to read – that way they will be unable to take in the war pornography that is an army recruiting leaflet.  I myself remember that it was seeing an army parachute display team dropping into the carpark at East Kilbride Town Centre that came close to setting me on the road to ruin. The news that I had 12 ½ years to wait before I would be allowed to take the Queen’s Shilling didn’t discourage me in the least. The wife of one of my mates wouldn’t let her sons have toy guns. They made their own out of Lego.  Somehow I don’t think their dad lives in fear that this means that they will quit school so, in Winston Churchill’s words, “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm”. Thank goodness there are brave journalists out there prepared to take a stand.  We can all sleep better knowing we can never do too much to discourage interest in our own defence.  Never remember that if you want peace, prepare for war.

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I just listened to some BBC World Service mischief making. Its United Kingdom reporter Rob Broomby went to a Glasgow bar for the World Cup game between Uruguay and England and asked the patrons who they were shouting for. He expressed surprise that they declared themselves firmly in the Uruguay camp. If he was genuinely surprised, that only adds to the red flags already flying high regarding his suitability for the job. The English throw their support behind the Irish, Welsh or Scottish if their own team do not qualify and are hurt to discover that this is not reciprocated. And to be frank, the guys Broomby interviewed came over as boorish and ignorant. But I have no way of knowing how many sensible people he taped who gave a more rational explanation for their choice - sensible people to not make "good radio". One of the reasons is the BBC itself. Before the English Football Association killed off the oldest international football fixture in the world because they said the Scots were too crap to be worth playing, Scottish fans were subjected annually to the most obnoxious English partisan punditry by the so-called national broadcaster. The BBC more than lived up to its reputation as the Home Counties Broadcasting Service. I have avoided discussion of the Scottish Independence referendum because I do not live in Scotland and may be missing some of the nuances of the debate. I have plenty of friends and family members to keep me up to date. But one thing I will say, every time Prime Minister David Cameron opens his mouth he puts his foot in it and displays a lamentable lack of awareness of how things stand in Scotland. Perhaps he is relying too much on the BBC World Service for his information.

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I've often thought that it might be better if people had to pass their motorcycle test before they could sit the test for a full driving licence. When a car and a motorbike collide, the car usually comes off best. I don't know if there are any figures to back this up; but my feeling is that the car driver is usually to blame. Motorcyclists are not stupid and they know they will end up paying for car drivers' mistakes. This makes them more aware and safer drivers than their counterparts on four wheels. And the good driving habits they learn on two wheels can be carried forward when the graduate to four. As a teenager I had a motorbike and attempts to teach me to drive a car did not go well. I felt sitting in a steel box divorced me from the realities of what was going on on the road. Looking through the windscreen was like looking at a television screen. But maybe that was just me. Of course, insisting on folks sitting the motorcycle test before they can sit the car test would not be a smooth process. Those learning in the winter would face greater challenges. I had to give up my motorbike and switch to four wheels when I was a reporter on Tyneside. When I was heading to work in the early hours of just too many winter mornings there were two things on the road - black ice and big lorries. It was only a matter of time before I ended up being crushed in the middle of a road junction when the bike slid from under me as I tried to stop at a red traffic light. Of course, the real answer is to make the driving test more demanding. But in a democracy, no government is going to deprive the majority of the electorate of their cars.

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I once crossed the Atlantic trying to sleep on a giant packing crate containing a jet engine being carried in the belly of a Hercules transport plane returning from Europe to Canada. Believe it or not, that was not my worst transit of the Atlantic. That honour has to go to a commercial flight from Boston to Glasgow. I was reminded of it a couple of days ago when I saw that one of the airlines is getting rid of reclining seats on its planes. Big deal, said many in the comments section of the website that I found the story on. What's the big deal about two inches of headroom, asked the posters to the website. If they had been on that accursed Boston-Glasgow flight they would know that some of the seats go back more than two inches. When the fellah in the row in front of me put his seat back, two inches was the distance it stopped from my forehead. OK, maybe it was four inches - but not much more than that. The flight was the stuff of nightmares. The plane had 20% more seats squeezed into it than was wise. Legroom was minimal and when the seats were reclined, headroom was completely inadequate. The air recirculation system was not up to processing all the carbon dioxide the cramped passengers were breathing out. The body heat they were generating pushed the temperature up to hot-house proportions. Then someone had the bright idea of supplying the passengers with limitless free alcohol. Normally, I would have thought this was welcome development. But with sweltering temperatures, inadequate oxygen, and seats reclined into people's faces, well, tempers were easily frayed. The men drank too much and their wives loudly nagged them for drinking too much. My idea of Hell would be that flight going on in perpetuity - a sort of airborne Flying Dutchman. Give me sprawling out on a giant packing in the belly of a piston-engined plane shuddering its way across the Atlantic any day.

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When the 3rd Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were sent to Kandahar in Afghanistan in early 2002 I was still a newspaper reporter and I put together a story about the equipment they would be taking with them. One of the officers said an interesting thing - "The most important thing is my weapons delivery system - my body". He may well have been repeating something he'd read in Soldier of Fortune magazine but I liked the quote and used it in my story. It was an interesting way of putting things. But I have to wonder if it's a view shared by the men running the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Apparently, the regiment has a major fitness problem. Over a three year period something like 630 of its soldiers failed the British Army's fitness test. Some would say that comes to one-in-five members of the regiment. When I first read that the army had an fitness problem, with almost half the troops overweight and one-in-five judged obese, I thought the fatties would be concentrated in some of the more sedentary army trades. So it was a bit of a shock when it was revealed that the RRoS has fitness issues. And I would suspect that it's not the recruits from overseas who are the problem. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that a regiment that recruits from the country that brought the world the deep-fried Mars bar is experiencing fitness problems. But anyone who knows anything about Scotland would have grip on the situation. There are Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. The bare figures never give the full story. But it does seem there is cause for concern. A little more PT may be the answer but the worry has to be that this is a symptom of a more deep-seated leadership problem within the RRoS.

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As I get older, I get grumpier. One of the phrases that increasingly gets my goat is "investigative journalist". Surely all journalists are investigative?  Otherwise they would just be shorthand typists. Or even just typists. Of course, some stories do take longer to put together and involve more digging than others. But all stories involve a bit of thought and, dare I say it, investigation. I don't know if the sort of investigations that say the Sunday Times Insight team used to do are becoming rarer or not.  One of the biggest problems with Insight-style journalism is that the reporters have to get a result and that result has to be legally water-tight. Cops don't lose their jobs, usually, if an accused walks free from court after a jury of his or her peers finds them not guilty. But losing a libel case can bring a journalist's career to a sudden and irrevocable halt. The chances of a journalist managing to get his or her hands on irrefutable evidence are not good. A lot of what passes for Insight-style journalism these days seems to rely on making mountains out of molehills found sitting in files available via an access to information requests lodged with some level of government.  I used to have a boss who thought that he was entitled to describe any story he wrote that the competition didn't have as an "exclusive". Technically, that was true and he had a lot of "exclusives". Sadly, he failed to grasp an important thing about true exclusives - that competitors had to want the story. I can't remember a single one of his "exclusives" that a competitor actually followed up. Regrettably, he was typical of a lot of people who call themselves "investigative journalists". When I hear someone describe themselves as an investigative journalist I often also hear the words "pompous" and "egotistical" echoing around the extensive caverns of my mind.  Can I add "pretentious" as well ?

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Thanks to online search engines and such sites of Wikipedia, reference books are going cheap at second hand bookshops these days. In fact I might go so far as to suggest that the book dealers are almost giving dictionaries of biography, atlases, and encyclopedias away. These books may be going for a song but are they worth even that? I guess a lot depends on how much reliance can be put on the information a person finds on the internet. Even Wikipedia has problems. Self-appointed guardians of the truth, often former lecturers at such hallowed halls of academia as Coventry University, can wreak havoc. Oh, don't get me started on how Margaret Thatcher kept her promise of widening access to a university eduction by allowing technical colleges to call themselves universities. But back to how reliable the internet is. When I was researching Scottish Military Disasters, book after book named a Commando regimental sergeant major who took charge after all the officers in his raiding party in 1941 were killed or incapacitated as Campbell. But I also stumbled across a website set up by the son of one of the soldiers who fought in the same battle and it named the sergeant major as Tevendale. That was a red flag that I paid attention to and further research found the website was correct and the books were all wrong. It turned out that one author had got the name wrong just after the Second World War and his mistake had been repeated again and again by nearly every subsequent author. As a young newspaper reporter I soon became aware that just because a dozen people all said the same thing, that didn't count as corroboration of the facts if they all got their information from the same single source. Anyway, the moral of the story is that while those who supply words to usually reputable sources of information are often held to a higher standard of fact-checking than some enthusiast writing for their own website, they are not infallible. A copy of the BlankBlank Dictionary of Biography for a pound is a good deal, but run the relevant entries through an internet search engine too. That's what I think anyway.

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Apparently, the Ministry of Defence doesn't trust British Members of Parliament. A House of Commons attempt to investigate just how much British officers were to blame for a disastrous 2012 Taliban attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan found the MoD "obstructive and unhelpful". It would appear that the MPs ended up relying heavily on a censored US report that they found on the internet when they prepared their report into the attack. The Americans sacked two generals after six Marine Corps Harrier jets were destroyed by 15 Taliban raiders. The commander of the Harrier squadron and a US sergeant were killed. The incident failed to put a brake on the careers of any British officers. Of course, one can understand why the MoD decided the MPs could not be trusted. I mean, everyone knows that Prime Minister Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent. Don't they? Statistically, Harold Macmillan was more likely to have been the traitor. Nearly all the damaging and grotesque British traitors that we know of came from privileged backgrounds - Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess and Kim Philby. By pretending to be a fascist sympathiser, Philby managed to become head of first of all the anti-communist counter-espionage and then MI6's liaison with the American CIA. He was able to pass on the secrets the Americans thought they were sharing with their British allies direct to the Kremlin. Speaking of stupidity, I can only hope that the members of the RAF Regiment photographed posing next to the body of one of the Taliban raiders at Camp Bastion will find themselves on civvie street sooner rather then later. Posing with the bodies of dead enemies is juvenile in the extreme. Perhaps with adrenalin pumping through their veins the RAF folk weren't thinking straight. But being photographed suggests a degree of stupidity that should mean they should not be allowed to carry guns ever again. We will obviously have to be more careful about to whom we give guns.

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Is it too early to comment on the centenary of the First World War? Perhaps not. Many of the books being published to cash in on it have been on the shelves for more than year now. It must be a delicate balancing act for publishers. They want to be among the first to take advantage of the interest generated by a centenary but they also have to wait until the centenary generates some interest. Books these days literally have a short shelf life. If they don't sell, they're gone pretty quickly. Most publishers and organisations certainly haven't waited until the centenary of the outbreak of the war arrives in August to get their contribution out there. I just wonder if the centenary is going to catch the public imagination. Here in Canada the bi-centenary of the War of 1812, in which an American invasion was repelled, was a bit of bust. The First World War may be too controversial. The slaughter of the cream of British manhood on the battlefields of Europe, Turkey and the Middle East was followed by something almost as painful - a war on the poor. Before 1914 the poor were seen as people who needed help. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the poor of Britain were seen as potential Bolsheviks. Was it really necessary to put tanks on the streets of Glasgow in 1919? So much for the promised Land Fit for Heroes. It will be interesting to see if the bi-centenary of Waterloo next year generates more interest than say the centenary of the battles at Neuve Chapelle or Loos.

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Is the Geneva Convention a bad thing? Can war ever be civilised, with codes of conduct and rules? War is brutal and brutalizing. It's not fair. I remember as a kid that when I complained that something wasn't fair I was told that "Life isn't fair". To which the answer should have been "Maybe, but that's no excuse for making things worse". There is an argument which says that by pretending that there can be rules and laws in War we actually make it more likely. Those who argue in favour this point of view point out that War should be known to be so terrible that it will always be a last resort. In the really olden days, those who led their people into war also led their people in war - literally. Leading meant being in the lead in those days and the guy in front was often the first to die. War was not undertaken lightly. But in the West these days the people who declare a war are actually the least likely to die. They can retreat to secure well guarded bunkers if things go pear-shaped while the rest of us on the surface face oblivion. Perhaps the only rule of war that we need is that whoever declares one should literally put their life and the lives of their family members in prime position on the chopping block. But somehow, I don't think that's going to happen.

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I owe some of you an apology. Believe it or not, the Ask Me section of this website is one of the most popular features. The answers seldom appear on the site because the information people seek is usually only of interest to them, ie which unit wore the same uniform as my great-grandfather is wearing in this old family photo? Then a couple of weeks back the flow of queries dried up. That sometimes happens. It's sometimes a feast-or-famine thing. I tested the "contact me" feature and got a confirmation that the email had gone through. I suspect a lot of people in recent weeks received the same automated confirmation. The problem was that the messages were not actually going through: I messed up. I always personally acknowledge a query. So, if you sent a query and got no acknowledgement, then I didn't get receive it. Sorry. I just sent myself another message and the system appears to be working again. So if you sent me a message and haven't stopped visiting this site in disgust at my ignoring your query, feel free to send it in again. And if you don't get a personal acknowledgement, I still have a problem.

*I'll be running a daily check to make sure the "contact me/comment/ask me" button is working. I'll let know if there's a further problem.

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What do you do when your boss tells you to do something you know is stupid and can only lead to disaster? If you don’t obey their instructions and they find out – well, not so good. If you do what they say and as predicted it all goes pear-shaped; well the blame usually somehow doesn’t end up where it should go. Suppose you somehow, knowing the probable consequences of what you’re being asked to do, manage to mitigate the worst of the damage. This could be the worst option of all. People don’t like being rescued from the consequences of their actions. Often, the rescuer is the only witness to someone’s craven cowardice, deceit, or blatant incompetence. Folk don’t generally appreciate having such witnesses around. More often than not, they will do everything they can to destroy their rescuer and remove them from the picture. Not so good.

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A couple of years back I heard someone being interviewed about Afghanistan on a Canadian radio current affairs programme. What the woman had to say was both balanced and sensible. Last Friday that voice came very close to being silenced. The woman being interviewed turned out to be Associated Press journalist Kathy Gannon. What she had to say in the interview was in such contrast to most of the nonsense peddled about Afghanistan that in a case of "praise where praise is due" I contacted her to say how much I appreciated hearing a voice of reason among the general ill-informed babble. I've been to Afghanistan a couple of times.  Kathy turned out to be a really nice woman. So, imagine my feelings when I switched on the radio on Friday morning to hear that she had been badly wounded in a shooting that had claimed the life of her photographer colleague Anja Niedringhaus. A well informed public is a crucial component of what passes for western democracy. Perhaps if the world had paid more attention to events in Afghanistan after the Soviet pull-out the past 14 years might well have been very different for a lot of us. Sometimes gathering and bearing witness to events involves an element of personal risk. The people of Afghanistan have few better friends than the likes of Kathy Gannon who work hard to shed a light on what is really happening in their benighted country. I wonder if the Afghan cop turned gunman who tried to murder her, apparently in revenge for the death of family members in a NATO bombing raid, appreciated that.

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The Americans apparently believe they didn't lose a war until Vietnam. What then, it has to be asked, was the War of 1812 when the United States tried to take advantage of the Napoleonic War to annexe Canada? The war ended with the 1814 Treaty of Ghent restoring the pre-1812 status quo. The US failed to annexe Canada, therefore it suffered a defeat. I have a real problem understanding what present day Americans believe the war was about. I suspect many think the British invaded the United States and were driven back. The Americans at the time tried to justify the invasion of Canada by complaining that the arrogant British had been kidnapping their sailors for service in the Royal Navy. Putting aside the number of deserters from the Royal Navy who were crewing American ships, the Atlantic states were by far the least enthusiastic supporters of the war. That suggests "impressment", as it was called, was an excuse for war rather than a reason. Which brings us back to national myths. The real reason the United States failed to sweep aside the skeleton British force in Canada, aided by local volunteers,  was that the war was unpopular. The bulk of the US troops were militiamen who had signed up to defend their own homes, not invade other countries. The American invasion was half-hearted, if not quarter-hearted, and that is why it failed. Sadly, the lessons of 1812 were not learned.  Well, one lesson was learned: when a large part of Mexico was annexed by the US in 1848, the job was put the hands of the regular army. Just over 150 years later, it did not take long for the American public to work out that their sons were being sent to die in Vietnam to prop up a deeply unpopular, and often downright criminal, regime. One of the lessons here is that the United States cannot win prolonged wars overseas that are unpopular at home. It is a lesson that has been plain to see since 1812.

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You have got to love the way the BBC puts quotation-marks around the word massacre, as in Batang Kali Massacre. I guess if Her Majesty's Government says the Scots Guards did not gun down rubber plantation workers in cold blood in Malaya in 1948, then it's important that the BBC should cast doubt on claims that 24 men were murdered. The BBC spent a lot of money in the 1990s making a television documentary which concluded the massacre did happen. But I suppose the BBC can't be expected to take the word of its own journalists when their claims conflict with the Government's official line. Last week an English court condemned the government's continued cover-up and said the confessions of some of the Guardsmen involved that the ethnic Chinese workers were indeed shot in cold blood and not, as was and is still claimed by HM Government, shot while attempting to escape should have been properly investigated in the early 1970s. But the judges declined to order a public inquiry, on a technicality which they felt might well be challenged successfully in a superior court. Much of the BBC's coverage of events last week was careful to put quotation-marks around the word massacre.  I just wish the BBC showed the same caution, evidenced by the use of quotation marks, when it comes to other stories involving Her Majesty's Government. I don't recall any quotation marks around what the Government claimed were old military flares washing up on the beaches of south west Scotland in the early 1990s. They were not flares; they were the extremely flammable phosphorous cores of Second World War incendiary bombs. They were supposed to have been dumped far out in the Atlantic after the war ended but some were thrown into the sea between Scotland and Northern Ireland. They burst into flames, which could not be quenched, as soon as the phosphorous dried out. That doesn't sound like any flare I've come across. And yet the BBC insisted on continuing to refer to these potentially lethal and destructive left-overs from the war as flares long after they had been tipped off about their true nature. But given a choice, the BBC seems to prefer the Government's word to the facts.
See Batang Kali Revisited

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