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I've been reading a book that came out in The Year 2000 which I feel should have been compulsory reading for British Army commanders before they went to Afghanistan. One of the biggest problems the British and Canadians faced in Helmand and Kandahar was that they were propping up a corrupt kleptocracy based in Kabul. Many Afghans preferred to deal with what most westerners refer to as the Taliban rather than the regime being imposed on them by the detested feringhee. Many British 20th Century counter-insurgency campaigns paired the stick of military action with the carrot of political and social development. That's not so hard to do in a colony. But in Afghanistan the British and Canadians had few tools beyond firepower. The book I was reading, Soldier Sahibs was about a previous encounter between the British and the tribal societies of Afghanistan and what became known as the Northwest Frontier in the mid-1800s. In the early years the British were operating in areas under control of the highly unpopular Sikh Empire. And the young Britons managed it. The book contains a lot of interesting pointers as to how to prop up unpopular administrations and how to deal with Pashtuns, the tribes which to this day make up most of the folk who live in Helmand and Kandahar. Did many Britons sent to Afghanistan this century read Soldier Sahibs. My bet is very few; if any.  

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What if the French had done more to support the Jacobites in 1745-46? I was recently reading a book of the World's 100 most decisive battles. I was surprised to see the 1746 Battle of Culloden on the list. The book was by an American university professor. So, no great surprise that it should not be trusted as a basis for the high school history exam. This professor believes, according to the book, that James VIII and II was a son of Charles II, not his brother, and it was Charles II who was deposed by William of Orange. I long ago ceased to be disappointed or surprised by the lack of a grip of the facts shown by the majority of US university professors whose books I've read. Anyway, the guy does pose some interesting points when it comes to what might have happened if Charles Edward Stuart had managed to tip German Geordie off the throne. That might have happened if the French had made more of an effort to send arms and troops to support The Rebellion. The restored Stuart monarchy would have repaid the French by allying the United Kingdom with France. Your man argues this would have meant the British would not have kicked the French out of Canada; the American colonists would have taken longer to kick their British protectors out; the French state might not have bankrupted itself supporting the American rebels; and consequently the French Revolution may never have happened. And the British under the Stuarts would have supported France against Prussia's Frederick the Great rather than bankrolling his wars in Europe. So, a completely different balance of power in Europe. Maybe no World war One and therefore no World War Two. A lot of interesting "what ifs". 

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Radio is probably not the best medium for Art Appreciation. You would think that is obvious. But not apparently to the BBC World Service. I recently heard a programme discussing a painting. Listeners were urged to go to a website to view the painting in question. Yes, in this multi-media universe this was an option. But it shows an ignorance of when people listen to radio. It's usually when they are doing something else; driving, cooking, laying bricks, tidying the house, etc. Not so easy to go to a website to look at a painting. And what about the millions of listeners who are so poor they don't have access to a website download? It is this kind of thinking, or lack of it, that gave us a programme which used to boast that it would feature only women and no men were involved in production. The programme still exists but has dropped that boast. I suspect that was more because it was felt dangerous to be seen to discriminate against trans-sexual radio-wannabees than anything else. The last trailer for this dreadful piece of tosh claimed that the participants were drawn from all over the world but most of those featured in it seemed to be from Africa. The fact is that way too much of what the BBC World Service puts out panders to the trendy and the gimmicky. Business Daily therefore has little competition when it expands the definition of "business" to include nutrition, politics, medical matters, media analysis and pretty much everything that the BBC used to do regularly and reasonably competently in terms of interesting content. 

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I came across an interesting take on the First World War recently. It discussed why the United States entered the conflict in 1917. Now, if the USA had been genuinely democratic there is no way it would have joined the British. The nationalist myths necessary to create a country meant that most US kids were taught to distrust, if not hate, the British, who had had to be driven out of their country around 1776 and 1783. Throw in the massive German and Irish immigrant vote and add the number of isolationists who wanted nothing to do with a conflict in far away Europe and I doubt there was a majority in favour of intervention on the side of Britain and France. So, why did America enter the war? Simply, the Germans made the mistake of pissing US industrialists off. The British had been very careful not to economically blockade Germany too thoroughly prior to 1917. American manufacturers had little real difficulty shipping goods to German customers via middlemen in the neutral Scandinavian countries and Holland. The same neutral middlemen, by the way, also shipped British goods to Germans. The British knew better than to interfere too much with American pursuit of the Mighty Dollar.The Americans were also making a fortune from selling to the British and its war effort became increasingly dependent on American arms and goods. The Germans decided to gamble in 1917 on severing Britain's trans-Atlantic lifeline through unrestricted submarine warfare. They hoped the British would collapse before the Americans could effectively react to their golden goose being throttled. They lost that gamble. America's war millionaires resented the interference with their right to make money from European folly. Germany must be punished for meddling too efficiently in free trade. Faced with the threat of large numbers of US troops being thrown into the fight on the Western Front, the Germans gambled on a massive spring offensive in 1918 and lost again. Its battered armies collapsed during the British-French-American offensives of late summer and autumn. And of course following America's entry into the war the British could finally take the gloves off when it came to an economic blockade of Germany. Germany's defeat owed more to brutal economic realities than to much belated Allied military brilliance.  It's an interesting take that merits further study and proper consideration. 

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Research costs money. When it comes to writing books, that money often comes from the advance paid by a publisher based on what the author claims the book will say. The problem is that until the research is done, there is no way of guaranteeing that there actually is the evidence to back up the claims that the author used to sell the book idea to the publisher. What if all that time tracking down participants in historic events and poring over paperwork in the National Archives fails to come up with the promised goods? Quite often the author cannot afford to repay the publisher's advance, which was not only spent on the research but also on day-to-day living costs. All too many writers might be tempted to package the thin evidence to make it look more substantial than it is and hope that enough readers don't notice the con and that his or her reputation is not too seriously damaged. I suspect that too many reviewers, often authors themselves, cut the errant writer too much slack when it comes to exposing the research flaws and inadequacies of books to potential readers.

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