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As the United Kingdom marks the centenary of the beginning of the First World War there is much talk of sacrifice and lost generations. But I can’t help noticing that all too often the focus when it comes to a lost generation is on the private school boys. With the British media dominated by the Chattering Classes perhaps this is not surprising. They are talking about their own great-great-grandfathers and great-grandfathers. In an economic system dedicated to the maintenance of privilege very few private school boys served in the ranks. They were junior officers and junior officers in those days led from the front. An officer in the First World War was twice as likely to be killed than a private. But the fact is that very few men who were involved in the early fighting came through to the end unscathed. The tidal wave of working class volunteers who mobbed the recruiting offices in 1914 and early 1915, which included a disproportionate number of Scots, were to die or be crippled in the scrub of Gallipoli or the mud of the Somme or Passchendaele. The working class volunteers were truly among the country’s brightest and best. Perhaps the loss to the country of so many proven natural leaders and skilled craftsmen hit Britain harder than the loss of so many potential lawyers, colonial civil servants and would-be poets. Perhaps the working class sacrifice was all the more remarkable because the men died to maintain an economic and social system which dictated that because they were born in an industrial slum their prospects in life were far grimmer than a child born to attend private school.The widows and children of the dead officers were certainly better looked after following the war. Was sacrifice of the officers and their families really any greater?

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There’s nothing worse when trawling the internet at work than landing on a site which insists on blasting out some audio – though I guess most people have learned over the years to have the sound turned down. There are hiatuses in the working day, say while waiting for an important phone call without which the task in hand cannot be completed, when folk might be tempted to have a quick gander at the internet. Of course, if a person goes to a site which crashes the entire computer system, that person could lose their job. Most companies also fire employees if they catch them visiting porn sites. I remember once at work doing an innocuous work-related search but instead of bringing up what I expected my computer began downloading, line by line on the screen, an obvious piece of porn. Nothing I did would stop the download. Eventually, I had to dive under the desk and pull out the plug which I reckoned fed my computer terminal. There were several plugs down there, including one for the giant printer used to print the full page proofs for the newspaper. Oh, I guess there was another time when an internet site’s ownership was allowed to lapse and instead of providing work-related information the site turned out to now host porn. Some of my colleagues were less scrupulous. Sometimes on the first shift of the day I’d come in to find the office printer jammed and when I got it running again, it would spit out sheet after sheet of homosexual porn for a couple of minutes. What kind of sad sack prints out black and white porn on the office printer when working the late shift? Anyway, the reason I was discussing intrusive and alarming audio is to explain why there’s no drum-roll to announce the winner of the Scottish Military Disasters 2013 Book of the Year. To find out who the winner was click Book of the Year

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The annual murder rate here in Canada is down. In fact, it’s at its lowest for something like fifty years. The same is true for three of the biggest cities in the United States. Sadly, this does not mean that North America has become a gentler kinder place. I’ve been out of the news business for a couple of years, so my finger isn’t on the pulse of society to the same extent as it used to be. The media has always been accused of scare-mongering and frightening people with tales of violence and mayhem outside their doors. When I heard the American news I thought that maybe society isn’t as violent as the media makes out. But then it turned out that what the Canadians call aggravated assault is way up. The murder rate is only down because advances in life-saving surgery and medical care are keeping people alive who used to be dead. An attack which 20 years ago would have resulted in a murder charge now attracts attempted murder, or even more likely, serious or aggravated assault charges. That got me thinking about Afghanistan. In the casualty adverse climate which exists in the western democracies, Governments hate to fly home body bags. It used to be that for every dead soldier, there would be about four wounded. But that rule of thumb has gone out of the window. Governments have been spending a lot of money keeping soldiers alive who not so long ago would have dead. The spectrum has jumped to the left. Soldiers who used die from their injuries are kept alive in a permanent vegetative state, soldiers who previously would have been vegetative are now in rehab and so-on. The good news is that guys who a couple of years back would never have had a hope of walking again are up and about. The rules have changed when it comes to calculating the human cost of war and it must be tempting for governments to fiddle the books. Few families will pull the plug on their loved one voluntarily.

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Well, I for one am glad that those two sad losers who killed Private Lee Rigby outside Woolich Barracks in the summer did not get their wish to become martyrs in their own private  jihad. Thank goodness the London police had the discipline not to kill them in a hail of bullets, as I have little doubt their American counterparts would have done if the murder had happened on the streets of Washington DC. I suspect these two clowns pled not guilty in order to use their trial as a platform to spout their pathetic misguided rantings. Instead, they showed themselves to be total mental and moral degenerates. If the situation had been reversed, would Pvt Rigby have murdered these two fools? I don't think so. One of the questions I have is how could they be so sure that the man they attacked was a soldier. Yes, he had short hair, a military charity hoodie and was in the vicinity of an army base with a rucsack in camouflage colours. But some might call that circumstantial. I remember a short haired you man standing at a bus stop which was sometimes used by soldiers returning to the old Ritchie Camp near my home town. The local thugs had about the same level deductive powers as tweedledum and tweedledee exercised in London. The thugs put the young guy in hospital. It was the same hospital where he worked as a porter.

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When I was a young beer-drinker, if you spilled someone’s pint in a pub, you bought them a fresh beer. It didn’t matter if the spilled pint glass was almost empty, the victim of your clumsiness got a full pint as compensation. But then I was brought up in a macho culture in the depths of Scotland's Central Belt - the part rarely seen in postcards and picture calendars. There were a lot of angry frustrated people around who were just looking for an excuse to punch someone else’s lights out. This meant that folks were actually more polite and respectful than in some other places I’ve lived. When I was in Newcastle upon Tyne, if someone spilled your pint – tough luck. Canada was even worse, drunks catapulted around the bars tipping over other people’s beers willy-nilly. At first, being used to the Scottish way of doing things, I took each spill in Canada as a personal insult and challenge. Actually, it wasn’t the spill, it was the lack of a compensatory pint that was the insult. Macho-Culture gets a bad press. But a least in central Scotland a fellah knew for sure if he was being treated with contempt. In many cases, machismo is the oil that lubricates a polite and respectful society.

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Somewhere out there on the interweb, the Book Briefing section on this website bills itself as “Book Reviews You Can Trust”. This claim is based on the fact that it’s not beholden to anyone. The books that are reviewed I pay for. I’m not reliant on buckshee copies from publishers and don’t have to worry about a bad review meaning no more free samples. The number of other writers I know is tiny and if I’m reviewing a book by one of them, I declare an interest. But I’ve been lucky in that the writers I do know are nearly all at the top of their game at the moment and I’ve not been tempted to give any of them a poor review yet. It will be interesting to see what happens one of them writes a duff book. A couple of prize winning authors have been in touch with me to agree with my concerns that many book reviewers. One recent prize winner e-mailed me to describe the majority of reviews as “BS” and added “the system of reviewing and blurbs is totally corrupt - so much mutual back-scratching”. He is not the only one who feels that way. But here I have a confession. I’ve been sitting on three reviews for several months. In one case that’s because I have serious doubts that the book is what it purports to be. That’s OK. But the other two have not been posted because they are highly critical of two super-stars in the field of military history. In one case, I know someone who had to edit the guy’s work and my friend shares my reservations about his writing style and standard of research. So, why haven’t I posted the reviews? It’s because I have high hopes of following up Scottish Military Disasters with another book. While it’s unlikely either of these two superstars would be asked to review the new book, it’s not impossible. People can be really petty. Why take the risk?  Anyway, I thought you might be interested in my experience next time you read a review in the mainstream media. 
Why not check out Book Briefing?

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The appeal against a High Court decision that there were no legal grounds to order a public, and proper, inquiry in the 1948 massacre in Malaya of ethnic-Chinese rubber plantation workers by the soldiers from Scots Guards does not appear to have attracted a lot of attention. The appeal itself is rather technical and involves Human Rights law. In 2011 the families of the 24 men killed in cold blood at Batang Kali had their day in court when they asked the High Court to order the British Government to hold a proper inquiry into the massacre. The judges refused, but did agree that the evidence pointed to the 24 men being massacred and to a subsequent British cover-up. On Friday I noticed some “wag” demanding an inquiry into the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. I suppose his point is that it’s all ancient history and sleeping dogs should be allowed to lie. But the British Government has just agreed to pay compensation to Kenyans who claim they were tortured by the British in the 1950s during the suppression of the Mau Mau. So, when does ancient history begin? The children of those massacred in Malaya are still alive and the loss of their fathers must have been life changing. If torturing Kenyan terrorist suspects is wrong, so executing almost the entire male population of a village suspected of sympathising with insurgents must also be wrong. By continuing to attempt to hush-up the Batang Kali Massacre, the British Government allows a bloody stain on the reputation of British people to fester and gives ammunition to the country’s detractors. This was no random massacre by some out of control squaddies. The real story would appear to be far more complex than that and the time has arrived to come clean.

See Batang Kali Revisited

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Viewers of British television news should rejoice that they do not share a common language with their European neighbours. If they did, they might find they get more news from abroad than do from home on the evening news. News is expensive to gather and many Canadian news broadcasters find it easier and cheaper to fill their programming with trash and trivia from the United States. Recently a runaway train carrying volatile fuel exploded in the middle of a small Quebec town killing more than a dozen people and devastating the main shopping street. But what did one of the news broadcasts here in Edmonton use for its out-of-town news item? A plane crash in California that killed two people. Almost nightly the poor viewer of the TV news is bombarded with crap from the United States that the local Canadian station probably wouldn’t even bother sending a film crew to itself. But thanks to news affiliate deals, the American trivia is free.  American TV viewers have depressingly little interest in overseas news, so broadcasts there are filled with navel-gazing, mind-numbing, local dross. The sad thing is that the internet has pretty much killed print media and is starting to make inroads into television advertising revenue. This means even less money will be spent on the gathering of TV news.  Trivia and celebrity so-called news, both of which are dirt-cheap and often even free, will become more prevalent. TV news was already suffering because many of their news stories, the ones that took some digging out, had been scalped from that morning's newspaper. But newspapers do not have the news gathering resources they once had thanks to internet sites which gave the news they had gathered away for free. What is going to happen now that those real journalists are becoming rarer than hens’ teeth? Someone told me yesterday that they can get all the news they need from blogs.  To my mind blogs are not that reliable. Many of the bloggers have hidden agendas and some "insider" bloggers are not even who they claim to be.

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How much time and money should be spent on discovering the obvious? There are of course some surprises involving startling counter-intuitive facts that can be revealed by careful research. But it wouldn’t have taken a genius to cotton onto the fact that Territorial Army soldiers are more at risk from combat stress than regulars. They don’t have the all important peer support network. And when they come back from Iraq or Afghanistan, the return to normal work-a-day life is far more jarring than it would be for a regular going back to a military base in the UK, Germany, or Cyprus. The Ministry of Defence did not need studies to get out well ahead of the curve on this one. I sometimes wonder if paying for study doesn’t seem cheaper to the bean-counters in Whitehall than seeing the blinking obvious and spending money on avoiding the problem getting out of hand in the first place. By the way, the study showed that TA members were twice as likely to suffer some form of deployment-related stress than regulars. The Ministry of Defence is dead set on shifting more of the burden for Britain’s defence from regular soldiers to part-timers. But has anyone who actually knows what they’re doing conducted a proper cost analysis? I’m not even talking about ruined lives, I’m talking about cold hard cash. If the Ministry of Defence is serious about looking after reservists properly, that might cost twice as much as it does for a regular. I guess a lot depends on who is counting the beans.  A lot of "savings" in departmental budgets are achieved by simply offloading the spending burden on another agency.

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Some people have been asking what Scotland’s military forces would look like if next year’s referendum should come out in favour of independence. Would the old historic names come back? I would say; why not? But that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that the battalions of the Scottish Defence Force, let’s call it, are well funded and well trained. They could even be well-paid. Scotland will never win a war on its own – but then again neither will the British. The British Military has become an auxiliary force to the United States – much like the German spearmen and North African horsemen who served alongside the Romans. At least a Scottish Defence Force might have chance of defending Scotland to some extent. No-one in their right mind believes the tiny Canadian military can defend their country without American help. So, what Scotland needs is a defence force which can be easily integrated into larger force – be it American, NATO or even with our former United Kingdom partners. I would suggest looking to the Republic of Ireland or New Zealand when it comes to a model for the SDF’s land force component. Perhaps Norway for naval capacity and a token air force, possibly heavily integrated into a joint airspace defence pact with neighbours.  It has been suggested that a Scottish Defence Force might have problems recruiting enough men and women to sustain itself. The critics point to the problems the British Army is having at the moment recruiting enough men for the Royal Regiment of Scotland. But perhaps recruitment for the SDF might actually be easier because it would treat its military personnel better than the present-day London-based Ministry of Defence does at the moment. That, sadly,  would not be difficult.

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When the Victoria Cross was first instituted in the 1850s several of the first recipients were selected by regimental vote. Maybe it’s time that the modern British Army reserved a couple of medals per tour which would be awarded based on a secret company/battery/squadron ballot. I’ve said before that gallantry medals can go to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Many regiments now proudly boast of the number of VC winners who have served in their ranks. But this ignores the fact that some excellent fighting regiments had far higher expectations of what constituted outstanding gallantry. What the Camforth Highlanders believed was a soldier simply doing what was expected of any member might well be regarded as outstanding bravery in the ranks of the Royal Blankshire Regiment and worthy of a VC. The only awards that are worth anything are those that come from a peer group. The most qualified peer group is often the opposing side – but they seldom send in bravery commendations for their enemies. Many bosses, in this case the officers, have little idea of what’s really going on lower down the food chain. Some bosses use awards to reward toadies and sneaks. There’s nothing like a Military Cross for boosting a mate up the promotion ladder. Of course there are exams to be sat but there are a lot of people passing those exams and a little extra boost from a crony does no harm. I can’t help feeling that the danger involved in making a couple of awards on the basis of what some might say is a popularity contest still beats the somewhat political way in which they are sometimes handed out at the moment. I can think of at least one reasonably recent VC that was awarded for something that wouldn’t even have earned a mention-in-dispatches during the Second World War. That’s not to say the winner was not brave, just no braver than many others who received no recognition at all.

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The British military is now investigating whether stimulants or body building steroids played any part in the July deaths of three Territorial Army Soldiers - Corporal James Dunsby, Lance Corporal Craig Roberts and Trooper Edward Maher -who collapsed while trying out for the Special Air Service in the Welsh Mountains. If true, this would be a very scary development. How long before British soldiers going into action start throwing away ammunition to make more room in their webbing pouches for pills? If folk need pills to get them through the selection test, they’ll probably need them to meet the physical demands of the job as well. And if steroids are involved, then there’s a danger of soldiers suffering from psychotic ‘roid rage. It’s probably not a good idea to give people prone to psychotic episodes weapons. A US Staff Sergeant, Robert Bales, is claiming that steroid use was contributed to him going on a murder spree in Afghanistan which cost 18 people their lives. Of course, I always take the claims made by US defence lawyers with a pinch of salt. Their clients’ actions are always someone else’s fault. The first thing these folks do is blame the victim. When US pilots bombed a Canadian training exercise in Afghanistan in 2002, killing four soldiers and maiming several others, it was claimed that stimulant pills provided to them by the air force were to blame, or even better, the Canadians had opened fire on the US F-18s. The Canadians say that they were unaware that the American planes were even overhead until 500lb bomb hit the ground. But back to the steroids. The shame of what is going on is that there use by British soldiers has more to do with personal vanity than building strength. Perhaps now that soldiers will no longer be dealing with the mind numbing boredom of off-duty life Afghanistan by pumping iron this fad may die out. But sadly I doubt it.

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Two weeks ago I commented on the sacking of two United States Generals as a result of a Taliban attack last year which pretty much put a squadron of Marine Corps Harrier jump jets out of action at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. I suggested that it was unlikely that any British officers would suffer a similar fate. According to the Independent on Sunday, not only were none of the British officers responsible for overall security at Camp Bastion fired, they have actually been promoted. In the United States military mistakes and incompetence have consequences – even for those high up the food chain who probably had no direct involvement. US President Harry Truman, supreme commander of the US military, had a sign on his desk reading “The Buck Stops Here”. Someone must be to blame for only 50 British soldiers being asked to guard 37 kilometres of perimeter fencing around Camp Bastion. Someone must be accountable for the refusal to put out more wire around the perimeter after the fence had already been breached three times. Someone decided putting British troops in five of the 24 guard towers would be sufficient. When the attack occurred just over a year ago I warned that it was foolish to underestimate the military capabilities of Terry Taliban. It would seem that it was far easier to get into Camp Bastion than I realised and perhaps I’d over-estimated the Taliban’s abilities. I’m puzzled as to whether the British do not accept that bad mistakes were made or whether they just don’t care. The British squaddies risking their lives in Afghanistan and our allies all deserve better.

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I have complained before about the increasing tendency to encourage broadcast journalists to engage in banter between news items. Quite frankly, I don’t care if the weather forecaster has two children. I’m interested in the weather. Full stop. Weather forecaster, if you’re not forecasting the weather, you’re wasting my time. I don’t know if broadcast bosses are encouraging this tendency to spout trivia because it is a cheaper way to fill a programme than actually seeking out real news. I feel sorry for many of the folk involved in the banter because when they go off script they show themselves to be inarticulate, boring, shallow and sometimes rather stupid. Things get worse when they give their ad hoc opinions on news items. I recently heard a presenter on the BBC World Service, oh let’s name names – Razia Iqbal – expressing great satisfaction that four of the six finalists in the Man Booker literary award were women. If that’s not a blatantly sexist comment, I don’t know what is. As far as I am aware, women writers are not at a noticeable disadvantage when it comes to the Man Booker. Suppose all the authors on the shortlist had been men and I said on the radio that that was “just as it should be”. Do you think I’d get to keep my job on the airwaves? Do you think I’d be hounded off of the radio? Sexism and racism are sexism and racism no matter the gender or ethnic background of the source.

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Back in 1950 when Mustang fighter-bombers napalmed the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Korea, United States air force commanders freely admitted they would have lost their jobs if the attack had been on American troops. The Americans are still prepared to sack generals when things go wrong. Two US Marine generals have just been bowler-hatted over the Taliban attack at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan just over a year ago which saw six Harrier jets destroyed and the commander of the Marine Corps squadron that operated them killed. Camp Bastion is basically a British base. One of the mistakes the US generals carried the can for was trusting the British to protect the base. I don’t recall any British generals losing their jobs over this sorry affair. It turns out that the Americans had already carried out a review following an earlier incident and warned both their own commanders on the ground and their British colleagues about security short-comings at Camp Bastion. Despite this, 13 of the 24 watch towers at Bastion were unmanned at the time of the attack. That includes the tower closest to the point where the Taliban commandos got onto the base. That section of the perimeter was manned by soldiers from Tonga. If British troops, instead of two Americans, had died in the attack, I wonder if a senior British officer would have bowler-hatted. Hindsight is always 20/20 and no-one ever plays a perfect game. Everyone makes mistakes. The blame may well lie high up in the chain of command with whoever allocated insufficient troops to defend the perimeter at Camp Bastion. But I can’t help feeling that the American reaction to events there suggests they take these matters seriously and don’t regard their career military as a glorified  job creation scheme for public school boys.

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I wonder what’s going to happen when it comes to the nuclear submarine base at Faslane if Scotland does vote for independence. The Scottish National Party has made it clear they want no truck with nuclear weapons. Setting aside the debate over the real value of possessing a nuclear deterrent, an independent Scotland could not afford its own nuclear navy. And sharing one with the rump of the United Kingdom would mean the English would have effective control of it. Few independent countries would want another national calling the shots, literally, like that. Actually, I’m not sure the present-day UK does have an actual independent nuclear deterrent. The missiles are American and I just have a nagging doubt as to whether the United States would really surrender complete control of those missiles. Would one nation really trust another with that kind of mega-death capability? I think without US approval, we’re talking about Failure to Launch when it comes to those missiles. Which brings me back to Faslane. It all depends what the Americans want. I’ve got a feeling that an independent Scottish government would have its arm twisted in allowing the English (sorry Wales and Northern Ireland but you’re going to have next to no say in these matters) to keep the base. It would be a Sovereign base similar to those that the Cypriots agreed to when the Brits granted the Mediterranean island independence in the 1960s but wanted to keep its military presence there.

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I guess as long grannies have their own air forces, the grandkids will get to play with the helicopters. It’s The Queen who puts the “Royal” in Royal Air Force; though I’m not sure she actually pays for the aircraft. Anyway, I guess the price of the “Royal” brand is that if one of her grandkids wants to be a chopper-jockey, then the British tax payer should pick up the full tab for the heir to the throne’s training, regardless of whether he fulfills his entire contract. Most of Her Majesty’s subjects might find themselves having to guarantee before beginning their taxpayer-funded helicopter pilot training that they would put in at least six years on the job. Otherwise, the poor subject might find themselves being asked to repay part of the cost of their training. A deal is, after all, a deal. So, if someone agreed to spend six years flying military helicopters and then left after three; and it cost  £800,000 to train that person, then they would owe £400,000. Wrong. Not if the air force is “Royal” and your granny is the Queen, one of the richest women in world. I am sure if one of the Duke of Cambridge's RAF fitters decided to walk off the job before fulfilling his or her contract, the Ministry of Defence would take the same relaxed attitude to the repayment of training costs. To those who have, shall be given more. Your Taxes at Work. Rejoice.

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I heard a reporter from the BBC World Service, Rob Broomby, announcing he was going to the Barr-Ass Market to quiz folks on their attitude to Scottish Independence. I couldn’t help by wonder where this exotic market might be. It turned out that he was he was going to The Barras in Glasgow. I’ve said it before, but I’m happy to say it again; proper pronunciation in the electronic media is as important as spelling in print media. Mispronouncing names shows a disgusting, nay disgraceful, contempt for both the people who live or have business in the place in question and the listener. It’s like saying “I don’t care how you peasants say the name of where you live, I’m from the BBC and I’ll say it anyway I bally-well choose.” It may seem ironic that someone so guilty of cultural imperialism would be attempting to get to grips with the issue of Scottish Independence. But it is not just Scots who are treated with contempt by the Home Counties Broadcasting Service. I remember the first result in the last British General Election was declared in Houghton le Spring near Sunderland. The cream of the BBC’s journalistic talent insisted on pronouncing the name “Howton”, when it’s actually “Hawtan”. I wonder how long a reporter who insisted on repeatedly calling the self-proclaimed Mother of Parliaments “Wast-meen-star” would last at the BBC. I can only imagine that the BBC’s Pronunciation Unit has been closed down. While I didn’t expect Mr Broomby to mimic some inhabitants of Scotland’s biggest city by pronouncing it “Glesga”, neither did I expect him to make one of the city’s institutions sound like a Middle Eastern souk. Mr Broomby, if you should read this; please note I took the trouble to find out how you spell your name.

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How do you recognise a third or fourth rate country? Well, perhaps claiming territory where the inhabitants want nothing to do with you is one clue. Things seem to have gone quiet over Gibraltar and Spain’s outrageous claims of sovereignty. If proximity was good grounds for annexing territory, I guess Canada would have seized St. Pierre and Miquelon years ago. The islands lie just off Canada’s Atlantic shores but remain thoroughly French. And everyone seems happy to leave it at that. But if the Spanish, or their sad cousins in Argentina, were involved, I guess things would be different. The people of Gibraltar and the Falkand Islands have both made it clear they have no desire to come under Hispanic rule. And as long as the British taxpayer is prepared to indulge them or they change their mind, then I guess they should remain out of the clutches of Hispanic imperialism. And just how good is Spain’s claim over Gibraltar? The Rock has been British for longer than it was Spanish. It was part of what is now Morocco from 711 until 1462 when it was conquered by the Spanish. It was signed over to the British in 1713. Do the maths senor! And on the subject of North Africa; just when are the Spanish going to abandon their remaining enclaves on the Moroccan coast, the so-called plazas de soberanía? Claiming places where you’re not wanted is to enter some very murky waters. And of course, the wishes of the local people are not always paramount. Military and political reality meant that although Hong Kong island was ceded by treaty to Britain forever in 1842 when the 99-year lease on New Territories on the Chinese mainland expired in 1997, the whole caboodle and its worried population was turned over to the People’s Republic.

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Would you be prepared to die in order to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria? Would you be prepared to risk your children or other family members dying if that would end the civil war in Syria? Politicians in the West seemed to be very casual when it comes to some form of military intervention in Syria. They seem to believe that “surgical” air  strikes in which only Syrians die will somehow result in Assad throwing up his hands and retreating into exile. The UK Parliament recently stepped back from the abyss but the Cameron Government may still find a way to intervene.  The fact that Assad has managed to remain in power surely suggests that the issues in Syria are far from clear-cut. Recent intervention in Arab countries has not gone well. Most now accept that life for the majority of Iraqis was actually safer before the 2003 invasion. The intervention was botched. The Libyans repaid the Western powers for their air support during the overthrow of Ghaddafi by smashing up the Commonwealth War Cemeteries and murdering the US ambassador. I don’t recall any reports that the perpetrators of anti-western acts have been punished. Libya has become a fiefdom of war lords. While there was no armed intervention in Egypt, there can be little doubt that Hosni Mubarak would not have been overthrown without the approval of Western governments. Now we see those same governments tacitly approving a military coup against a government which, by prevailing standards in the world, was democratically elected. The only way that the desired outcome, from the West’s point of view, can be assured in Syria is to put boots on the ground. And boots on the ground mean body-bags on the plane home. There is also the possibility of “terrorist” attacks on home ground. Western politicians should not be talking about starting something they don’t have the guts to finish.

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