Sunday, June 28

Welcome to Very British
(Political) Subjects
Editor Peter Troy

The Sunday Quote

"I have tried to lift France out of the mud. But she will return to her errors and vomitings. I cannot prevent the French from being French."

Charles de Gaulle - Leader of the Free French 1940 -45 and one time French Prisident.

(Editor - I love it ... I simply could not resist it!)

Saturday, June 27

Armed Forces Day

Max Hasting's in The Daily Mail picks up on General Richards' speech – and much else – using the topical hook of Armed Forces Day which is being celebrated today for the first time.

A very British Review

The odd thing about the American defeat – if such a word can be used – in Vietnam is that it came about through internal problems, not military defeat. The Viet Cong were beaten. The North Vietnamese Army was beaten.
The bombing of North Vietnam was shockingly effective (although this was not appreciated at the time.) The US effectively won the war. It was defeated by the home front and an astonishingly effective propaganda campaign. Not for the first time, the communists probably didn’t believe their own success.

The odd thing about the British "victory" in Southern Iraq is … well, it was a defeat. Worse, it was a defeat that came about because of flawed political and military decisions, taken not by the men on the spot, but men in Whitehall.

.The scale of the disaster was never understood by the home front – even I didn't know the half of it, and I am as well-informed as any civilian could reasonably hope to be – due to a compliant media and a sheer lack of comprehension. The British government preferred to believe its own "spin" rather than the truth. In doing so, they betrayed the British soldiers who went to war without the right equipment and no clear plan, and the country itself. Charges of treason would not be inappropriate.

That is the conclusion, of this remarkable book. There are actually relatively few British writings on the subject of Iraq, although Sniper One and Eight Lives Down provide some insight into the lives of the soldiers there. It should be noted that Sniper One paints a picture of Basra – and Iraq – that was at variance with the official government-promoted version of events. Ministry of Defeat provides an overall history of the occupation – something that has been sorely lacking – and details, in a very "take no prisoners" attitude, just went wrong in Iraq.

The core of the matter, Dr North writes, is that the British Government refused to recognise that it had a serious problem on its hands. As the militias gained power in Basra, the government preferred to believe that it wasn't a serious issue – little more than a public order issue – and convinced itself that Britain's expertise from Northern Ireland gave it an advantage over the US. That might have been true if the expertise had actually been used (it wasn't) … but in any case, Basra was not Northern Ireland. This little piece of self-delusion cost lives, Mr Blair!

The troops in Ireland had far better intelligence and much higher troop levels. Much has been made of the shortage of American troops after the Fall of Baghdad, but the British had the same problem and, unlike the US, the MOD learned fuck-all from the experience.

If that wasn't bad enough, the equipment procurement process was badly screwed up. When the RAF was being allowed to spend billions on the Eurofighter, the Army had to make do with the Snatch Land Rover – which Northern Ireland experience had shown was badly under-armoured – which caused the deaths of many British soldiers.
The issue was not that the British Army was under-funded – although soldiers were being underpaid for their role – but that the money was being spent on long-term programs that would not provide useful equipment (if that) in time to be useful.

It is quite typical, as Donald Rumsfield pointed out years ago, that countries go to war with an army that is unprepared for the task. It is rather less typical that a country would go to war, find itself in serious shit … and then continue blithely developing technology that was effectively useless, prepared for the wrong war. Instead of fighting the last war, the UK was looking towards a hypothetical European RRF, one of Tony Blair's pet projects. Billions have been spent – for nothing.

Common sense would tell someone of Blair's intelligence – surely – that a European force wasn't on the cards. When has the EU ever agreed on an enemy?

The British media also comes in for bashing. Not, it should be noted, for the largely American left-wing media army bashing, but for being the dog that didn't bark. The MOD generally tried to spoon-feed propaganda to the British TV, which largely ate it up and came back and begged for more. Early signs of trouble were ignored, or taken out of context, and even when the media did pick up on signs of trouble, they never understood the underlying factors behind the war.
The media did pick up on problems with the Snatch vehicles, but took the "under-funded military" line rather than realising the truth. Reporters who questioned the Army line, such as Christina Lamb in Afghanistan, found themselves blacklisted.
The core reason for British "success" in Iraq, Dr North notes, was that the UK never really had control over Basra. The Shia inhabitants of the area, after the events of 1991, preferred to organise themselves rather than trust the coalition. Iran was seen as a better ally by some, a deadly threat by others, but always as a far more significant player than the coalition. Under constant attack, the British forces were slowly withdrawn from the area, conceding control to the militias, who started to loot, rape and slaughter at will. The inglorious end to the story – the retaking of Basra by Iraqi forces with American support in 2008 – was barely a footnote in the British media.
The contrast between Iraq and the Falklands is staggering. The Falklands were another "come as you are" war, one fought by a far more determined PM for limited goals … and one that Britain came closer to losing than anyone would like to admit. After that war, the lessons were learned and incorporated into new developments. Iraq seems, instead, to be the forgotten war. If that wasn't bad enough, most of the mistakes are already being repeated in Afghanistan.

This is an angry book, written by an angry (and very British) genleman. It isn't pleasant reading for anyone with a British heritage, but it is necessary reading. God help us.
Ministry of Defeat by Dr Richard North is the first and only forensic examination of the political and military failures by the British during Iraqi Freedom.


Sunday, June 7

The Sunday Quote

"What a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place."-

UK - Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressing House of Commons, June 6, 1944.

It's War

It is an interesting reflection of the much talked about current political crisis is that much of the reporting is couched in bellicose terms, borrowing freely from the military vocabulary.
Thus, resort is being made to a "war", to "battles", "attacks", "campaigns", "coups" and other such terms, including reference to a "wounded" prime minister.
When it comes to the real war out in Afghanistan, however, the political classes are strangely silent, showing as Booker reports in his column today, almost complete indifference to the plight of our armed forces in that increasingly perilous theatre.
This picks up on Dr North's observation on Thursday, when at one point in the debate in The House of Commons when only ten MPs were in attendance.

Tuesday, June 2

The Voters

There has been a great deal of comment – also some huge "entertainment" – over the details of MPs' expence claims in the UK media. If the allowances are treated as a salary supplement and thus part of the overall remuneration package, the claims take on a wholly different complexion.
What it comes down to is that MPs, unable or unwilling to make a case to the public – their paymasters – for higher basic salaries, have gone round the back door and awarded themselves a covert pay increase.
That, in itself, is bad enough, but what is really offensive is that MPs then created a tax-free status which then puts them above all us mere plebs who must give their all to the tax man, on pain of fearsome penalties.
It is this cavalier arrogance of our political classes is a message that voters will not forget.

Monday, June 1

Wot No Queen?

This week the French Government will do what they do best - insult the British.
Monty addresses D-Day troops, June 1944
''D-Day'' is regarded by many as one of the most important military operations of all time. The Normandy beaches are famous for the part they played on 6th June 1944, when despite heavy losses, American, British, and Canadian troops broke through Hitler's Atlantic Wall defenses and began the long-awaited invasion of occupied western Europe, leading to the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany.
The Normandy Landings were the first operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy, also known as Operation Neptune The landings commenced on June 6, 1944 (D-Day), beginning at 6:30 British Double Summer Time (H-Hour). The D- Day assault was conducted in two phases: an air assault landing of American, British and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight, and landings of Allied infantry and armored divisions on the coast of France commencing at 6:30. The land forces were commanded by General (later Field Marshal) Montgomery, arguably one of most brilliant military commanders of the 20 th centuary.

The number of personal involved was enormous. The operation was the largest single-day amphibious invasion ever, with 160,000 troops landing the morning of June 6, 1944. There were 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved. The landings took place along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The eviction of the Nazi's from France was a huge operation by mostly British, US and Canadian troops.

Last week sections of the UK media picked up on the the French Government's amazing snub to the Queen by not inviting Her Majesty to the official 65th anniversary celebrations of the D-Day landings on 6th June is an insult to the British and Commonwealth Veterans who will proudly salute their fallen comrades as well as an insult to the memory of 17,566 British and 5,316 Canadian troops who died. in the battles for the liberation of France.

Rather than paying due deference to the surviving veterans of the forces that liberated France. President Sarkozy is making much political capital of the hugely popular US President Obama's attendance, yet French officials have been dismissive of suggestions the the Queen as head of State of the UK and Canada should also be included in the events. Massive media attention is to be given to the French and US Presidents jointly attending the key events. The French snub is particularly disrespectful when one considers that Queen Elizabeth is the only present Head of any State in the world to have served in military uniform during the Second World War and indeed personal met many of the troops prior to the invasion in the summer of 1944.

Britain will not be without representation at the official ceremonies in Normandy next week, the UK Prime Minister, the Junior Defence minister and other British politicians having at the last minute requested invitations from the French when they realized that they would lose out on the publicity opportunities when they were informed that Barak Obama and consequently most of the world's press corps will be attending; every one wants to be seen to be best friends with the most popular politician on Earth. One could be forgiven for thinking that the politicians are more concerned with their image rather than remembrance.

As arrangements stand though there are no plans by the French organizers for Gordon Brown to visit any of the three beaches that were stormed by British and Canadian troops, nor will the Prime Minister attend the final march of the Normandy Veterans Association prior to their disbandment. Shame on him and shame on the French government.

So there we have it, 65 years after the start of the liberation of Western Europe, at a huge cost in human lives, the most long standing and respected Head of State in the western world with direct personal connections with the events that are to be commemorated in Normandy is to be shamefully excluded. This is clearly because it is feared that Her Majesty's presence would upstage the overtly image conscious, self focused French and US Presidents. In that assumption the French Government is correct.