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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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There is much debate at the moment about the impact of the First World War. For a long time I believed that it had made my life tougher than it needed to be. Neither of my grandfathers met their fathers. Both of their fathers, who would be my great-grandfathers, were killed after volunteering to fight in the First World War. The two men left behind widows with three children a-piece. The lives of the families they left behind were hard; very hard. One of them had a good job on the printing presses at Glasgow-based book publisher Wm. Collins before he joined up. It would not have been unusual for his sons, grandsons, and even great-grandsons to follow him into the skilled and unionised world of commercial printing. And I could have been one of the afore-mentioned great-grandsons. I always liked and admired the print and production folk at the papers where I worked as a young journalist. I particularly liked the fact that they had a strong union. Media employers only needed to find people who could read and write to fill the columns of their newspapers or the short amount of broadcast airtime devoted to news. Even that’s a qualification they seem to have dispensed with. The BBC World Service told me this morning that Crimea had voted to split from Russia. Its Canadian equivalent informed me that the last words heard by the crew of the missing Malaysia Airlines 777 jet had been “Alright, good night”. I suspect those were the last words known to have come from a crew member, in this case the last message broadcast by the co-pilot. Anyway, back to great grandfathers. I always thought great-grandpa’s death in Gallipoli had killed any chance of skilled unionised berth for his descendants. But recently I found out that Wm. Collins went out of its way in the 1920s and 30s to find jobs for the children of its workers killed 1914-19 when they themselves reached working age. I have no idea why my grandfather did not take up that offer. Perhaps his own service in the Second World War took him off in another direction. Maybe the hiring policy changed. But what modern day employer would even dream of having such a hiring policy?

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I was tempted to use this column to wonder why when the British Army is facing some many problems, one of the more senior officers was taking time to instruct his officers on how to behave at dinner parties and the correct use of a knife and fork. The Ministry of Defence insists that Major General James Cowan's letter to the "Chaps" at 3rd Division was intended to be light hearted. I'll take their word for it. Instead, I think I lament the fact that Cowan, a former commanding officer of the Black Watch and the first commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, has 2,500 commissioned officers and 20,000 other ranks under his command. Even with my poor maths skills, that seems to work out at more than one officer for every ten men. And as a lot of the real work is done by the senior non-commissioned officers who are included in the figure of 20,000 the number of commissioned officers might strike some as excessive. A very quick look reveals that the 2nd Highland Battalion in 1757 had 41 officers in a unit totalling1,088 men. Now, granted, in 1757 the Army didn't have as many much-needed administrators or planners as it does now. Nor did it include the number of technical specialists who are granted officer rank these days. But I think questions have to be asked as to whether the Army is heading towards a too-many-chiefs-and-not-enough-indians scenario. Some may believe that the weight of the present cuts to the Army is being borne by a disproportionate number of  highly experienced senior non-commissioned officers while leaving the Officer Corps relatively intact. Perhaps the answer is to cut admissions to public schools such as Eton, Winchester and Ampleforth. Then the Eton dominated British Cabinet would not need to find so much work on the public payroll for their less talented brethren. The British Army is the biggest employer of Old Etonians on the planet. And I'm sure the Old Etonians would not require instruction from Maj-Gen. Cowan on dinner party etiquette or to be chastised by him for eating sandwiches in the mess with one's bare hands.

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I do not usually approve of trial by media. When I was a young reporter in Scotland once someone was arrested and charged with a crime, little more than the name of the accused and the charges were published. Very little else appeared until after the accused until after the trial and verdict. Pre-trial coverage in England seemed a little more relaxed and material would appear in the papers that would have landed a journalist working in Scotland in the dock in front of a judge. American justice is a contradiction in terms because trial by media is interpreted as a freedom of speech issue. Canada’s criminal law is based on England’s but court coverage is heavily influenced by the example set by the American media. So, some of the material in the Canadian media causes me concern when it comes to a fair trial. But to my point; I think showing a bloodied knife killer addressing the a cellphone camera  to explain why he had just murdered an off-duty British soldier on a London street last year was a good thing. In most cases I would have regarded the on-camera confession as evidence that should only have come out at the trial. And, I would usually question the wisdom of promoting the idea that if you feel your views are being ignored, why not get on national TV by murdering someone. But the cellphone footage revealed the killers to be a pair of misguided clown inadequates. I am not sure if the dim duo were smart enough to hope that their stupidity would spark a wave of attacks on British Muslims but if that was their intention, they pretty much failed. There were some foolish attacks on mosques but common sense prevailed. Such attacks could only have acted as recruiting drives for the extremists. You will have noticed that I have not named soldier Lee Rigby’s killers. They don’t deserve the recognition.

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