Search

Paul's Blog

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.

Uncategorized

Posted by on in Uncategorized

I have been reading a lot of histories written in the late 1960s and early 1970s recently. They say as much, if not more, about the late 60s and early 70s, as they do about the events they supposedly cover. The pre-occupations and prejudices of the historians and British, the books are mainly British, are to the forefront. All history is to a large extent political. About the only thing historians seem to agree on, and even not always, is the date of the event. Even deciding who really won can be a matter of debate. History as an academic subject is about the interpretation of events rather than a simple recounting of the facts. What is highlighted and what is swept under the carpet by historians is often a political choice. The same is true of Remembrance. What precisely is being "remembered"? Different people are actually remembering, honouring or commemorating different things in the days around November 11th each day. Is it only "our" dead or everyone's war dead? Should veterans who fought against us be part of the parade? Which conflicts are involved? Which recent ones? Only Just Wars? Some of these questions are matters of personal choice. Others are definitely  political. Australia's ANZAC Day started out as a celebration of those who volunteered to fight and in some communities the noses of those who had not were rubbed in the dirt - those of Irish descent have sometimes proven laggard when they regarded a conflict as "England's War". And in another twist, the Ozzies don't do much for November 11th, preferring their own Anzac Day for commemoration to the day selected elsewhere in much of the former British Empire for such events.  Here in Edmonton I remember the Italian veterans marching in the Remembrance Day Parade a few years back but not the Germans. I don't think anyone insisted that the Italians involved had fought alongside the Allies after Italy's surrender. Certainly there were Germans in the Second World War who were in much the same boat as the British, ANZACs and Canadians and basically were the same kind of guys whose uniform was a matter of chance. But the Nazi system promoted and even celebrated tremendous cruelty and inhumanity. Should "Good Germans" be given a place in their former foes' commemorations? How does one identify a "Good German"? And not all the British and Commonwealth dead were exactly angels when it came to how they treated defeated foes. Others want to remember on November 11th but cannot face the pomp and parade. There are those who feel that some ceremonies spill over from commemoration to celebration.  Some people like the parades. Others prefer to observe an individual two minutes of silence at 11am on the 11th. No-one should be forced to do anything they don't want to do, or prevented from commemorating the dead. Were these not two of the things "we" were supposed to be fighting for and purportedly still do? It's all politics with a small "p".

Continue reading
Hits: 116
0

Posted by on in Uncategorized

When the Canadian media wants to have a go at the Canadian military there are a couple of dial-a-quotes who will usually feature in the story. No matter the issue, these characters will have something critical to say. It doesn't matter how much or how little they actually know about the matter being discussed, they will be disgusted and/or outraged. Most are former members of the Canadian armed forces. Some are very former, in that they haven't worn a uniform for decades. But journalists are guaranteed a quote for their story which is highly critical of the Canadian forces. My guess is that British journalists have a similar call list. But sometimes there are reasons, very good reasons, why these pundits are former members of the military. Privacy rules, particularly when it comes to medical records, mean that the public cannot properly judge their credibility and impartiality. I suspect many of the "journalists" are just as ignorant about these characters' backgrounds as the public are; though whether that's down to a lack of professionalism or something more sinister I would hate to speculate. I have worked with, and for, some people who decide what the story is before they've spoken to a single person involved and know exactly what quotes they need for it. Those who fail to deliver the required quote just don't get quoted. And some of them are real publicity hounds.

Continue reading
Hits: 131
0

Posted by on in Uncategorized

I was listening to a radio documentary about former British soldiers and the problems they have suffered since they left the army after serving in Afghanistan. The programme billed itself as being about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But listening to what the ex-soldiers had to say, I was left unsure how many of them actually had PTSD. PTSD is a very specific diagnosis with definite symptoms and treatment. The media as a whole has only recently discovered PTSD, though it is as old as warfare, and tends to bit a cavalier when it comes to the use of the term. Some may even be rather cynical in its use as a headline grabber. While anything that highlights this debilitating condition is welcome, I am not sure this kind of mislabelling is entirely helpful. The ex-soldiers appeared to have a wide variety of problems, ranging from psychological trauma to simply having trouble adjusting to civilian life after several years of a highly structured lifestyle which happened to include several unforgettable adrenalin highs. Dealing with, and preventing, the wide variety of problems this collection of ex-servicemen suffer from will require a number of different approaches. Sticking them all in a box labelled "PTSD" could mean that a number of easily rectified problems end up not getting the attention they deserve.

Continue reading
Hits: 168
0

Posted by on in Uncategorized

In what I believe to be his latest book, the American-English writer Bill Bryson has some very harsh things to say about the Scots after he found out that many of them subscribe to the ABE attitude to football - Anyone But England. His ill-wishes result from a visit to a pub Aberfeldy when he found himself the only patron shouting for England and the Scots clientele applauding goals from whoever they were playing. The English only recently discovered ABE and have been very hurt to find out about it because most of them support the other British national teams if England does not make it into an international competition. However, I suspect that Bryson did not ask any of his fellow patrons in that Aberfeldy bar why they behaved the way they did. I don't know what answer he would have been given but here is one: The English Football Association killed off the oldest international football fixture in the world in 1989 because they said Scotland were so crap that they just were not worth playing on an annual basis. I would say that is reason enough for Scots to take a delight when the Football Association's team gets hammered. There was also the BBC's coverage of the old international when it did take place. The so-called national broadcaster served up a recipe of chauvinism, bias, English nationalism and arrogance in the guise of unbiased coverage of the game. The far more fair and balanced coverage of the Rugby Union Triple Crown suggests that the football commentators' approach was not inevitable. And this was from an organisation that claimed that its commitment impartiality meant it could not describe the Argentinians during the Falklands War in 1982 as "The Enemy". It is not great leap to transfer anger and frustration at the Home Counties Broadcasting Corporation to the football team it so lauds. ABE has deep roots and while it is unfortunate, unpleasant even, it is understandable amongst people who live north of the border.

Continue reading
Hits: 127
0

Posted by on in Uncategorized

Halloween is a big deal for adults here in Canada. Halloween costume parties are very popular and I suspect a lot of money gets spent. I was never that excited about Adult Halloween. To me, Halloween is kids' thing and all about guising. Here in Canada the kids go out Trick or Treating - which doesn't seem to involve doing anything like singing a song, telling a joke or anything like the things we used to have to do when I was young. By the way, did you know that it seems the first written reference to Trick or Treating was in a Canadian newspaper, an Albertan one in fact, in the 1927?  I had imagined that the concept of Trick or Treat was an Irish-American innovation. That it was an American perversion of a Celtic tradition.  But it could be that Trick or Trick is truer to Tradition. I remembered that many years ago I read a book by the son of a Strathpeffer crofter which mentioned Halloween mischief in, I think, the 1890s. The book wasEchoes of the Glen by Colin MacDonald. In his tale MacDonald recounted how when one crofter who incurred the displeasure of the local youths a bucket was placed over her chimney to smoke her out. Acts of mischief, if not outright cruelty, involving less popular members of the community seem to have been the order of the day.  There were no mentions of joke telling, singing or dancing to earn a reward from householders. That got me wondering if the Presbyterian Church had perhaps subverted what had once been a childhood once-a-year extortion racket into a life lesson about not getting something for nothing, hence the guisers' need to sing, dance or tell a joke before they could be rewarded. As very few ordinary working people were encouraged to writer about their lives, beliefs and traditions before the 1960s we may never really know the origins of the Trick or Treat approach to Halloween. Many of the folk "traditions" we know of were in fact captured through the lens of affluent outsiders who did not always ask the right questions and who sadly even when they did were not always given honest answers.  

Continue reading
Hits: 136
0
Go to top