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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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