Documentary about the incomparable Howard Zinn.
The others in the series are here.
In all those westerns you’ve probably seen, they tended not to mention the grave-robbing for profit.
Go here to listen to more.
This morning I came across this…
Be it Scotland or South Sudan, Kurds or Catalans, the nationalist dream of independence is often tempered by a harsh reality
Nobody would dream of suggesting similarities between supporters of Scottish independence and the crack-brained inhabitants of the anomalous “dukedom of Burgundy” in south London who secede from the UK in the uproarious 1949 Ealing Studios comedy classic, Passport to Pimlico.
Most importantly, the Pimlico palaver ended happily with a negotiated deal,… But as Alex Salmond and the Scottish nationalists are doubtless aware, past and present secession movements around the world have not usually enjoyed such cosy outcomes.
The author Simon Tisdall then goes on to list some nations which have separated or have separation movements and which had problems.
The thing I find puzzling about the article is the connection of any of these places to the current situation in Scotland and the reason for only selecting countries that have had problems for his article rather than looking at succesful ones too.
Why doesn’t he want to mention the list of countries that have gained independence from the United Kingdom, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, for example.
He could have also mentioned Norway and Sweden who split up and it didn’t seem to do them any particular harm.
Obviously looking for full marks in alliteration, rather than full marks for having a cogent point, he divides it all into 3 groups, Secession Successes, Secession Setbacks and Secession Successions, all of which seem to be a bit mixed-up.
For example, The Czech Republic and Slovakia are mentioned in passing in the introduction but he doesn’t even put that one in the “Successes” part.
The only point I can think he is trying to make is “Ooooohhh Independence Baaaaad”.
You’d probably expect better from an assistant editor of the guardian but hey-ho. He has written other articles about national international affairs in which he seems to misrepresent or not know what was actually going on.
For example, he seems to believe that it was Thatcher that convinced Bush Sr to attack Iraq in 1990. I’m dubious about that but there’s a (very) outside possibility that it is true. However, what he goes on to say…
Bush got the message eventually, announcing that he was “drawing a line in the sand”. Despite entreaties from Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, and others to allow an Arab solution, Bush told Saddam to get out or face military action. In the event, Saddam was evicted in 1991 in Operation Desert Storm – the first Gulf war.
…neatly skips over the fact that Saddam offered to withdraw but was ignored and the attack went ahead anyway.
He goes on…
In much of this, Thatcher’s Britain was often intimately involved. Despita4_booe the rhetoric of subsequent prime ministers, it was perhaps the last time that fading British power really did punch above its weight.
Now, nobody would dream of suggesting similarities between Simon Tisdall and the crack-brained loons at Fox News and their my-country-right-or-wrong rants, but I think that last part that I put in bold seems to be what he really worries about – the secession of Scotland probably won’t be too good for that fading British power.
That might well be why he wrote an article listing as many negatives as he could think of sticking “Scottish Nationalists” into it somewhere, however spuriously.
This “missing the point” episode is a little different from the others in the series in that this time, it was the majority of people who missed the point.
Giovanni Schiaparelli was born today in 1835.
Schiaparelli was an astronomer and a historian. His most famous discovery was of what he called “canali” on Mars and here is where the problem begins. “Canali” could mean “channels”, as in river channels, or “canals” is in man/alien-made. It was translated into English as “canals” – and that word implies something that has been constructed and is artificial.
People around the world took this as evidence of life on Mars and subsequently all kinds of theories sprung up, books were written, maps were published, and all of these, without meaning to exaggerate, were utter bollocks. Some of these were even written by astronomers who in other areas were extremely successful, such as Percival Lowell.
Nevertheless, in an age where telescopes were not yet powerful enough to disprove the outlandish theories that had been constructed around the mistranslation, there were many true believers.
The best part of this story is that it provides a good example to point to when we would like to show that our (sic) leaders have any better idea what is going on than anyone else.
This example came when the story was finally disproved by the Mariner missions taking photos of Mars from closer in. Apparently, when Lyndon Johnson was shown the first pictures the first thing he said was “But where are the canals?”.
It would have been rather interesting to watch the presidential aides trying to explain that without offending him.
The Scottish Independence Podcast is back after a little break and I hope to have the regular Wednesday = Scottish Independence Podcast, Sunday = For A’ That podcast up and running for the forseeable future.
For this 17th episode I spoke with poet Lorna Waite , author of The Steel Garden, and we had a few topics of conversation.
Firstly we speak about Lorna, herself and her work, and why she believes that any division between the cultural and economic reasons given for independence are false.
We talked about the role of women in the Indy debate and also the more unpleasant colonial aspects of the union, and how we might combat the lack of self-respect that those colonial problems have created in Scotland.
Lorna is also a Rangers supporter and in the second part of the conversation we moved on to talk about a topic that I began with Kris Kujawa in a previous podcast, and talked about how the debate is playing out among football supporters, this time specifically amongst Rangers fans.
We didn’t come up with the brightest prospects in that bit.
As usual this is direct download link (right click and “save as”)
Or you can listen on the show’s homepage.
Or you can subscribe and get it on itunes.
Something nice for Valentine’s day I think…
It is so often said that war is natural part of human behaviour that many people just accept it. Conflict or disagreement certainly might be, but full-on war is a different matter.
Most people know about the 1914 Christmas Truce in WW1 when the British and German soldiers played football and exchanged gifts (note for some American readers – WW1 started in 1914, not 1917 and WW2 started in 1939, not 1941).
This is usually presented as a one-off – a freak occurrence, but that simply isn’t true. It also happened in 1915 with the Germans and the French and in 1916 there was a truce on the Eastern front.
When I was at school and computers were in their 64k stage we were given a programme to play around with in one history lesson. Extremely basic though it was, the idea was that you were the British General deciding what tactics you could use to defeat the Germans in World War 1 given the tactics and equipment of the time.
The trick was that although it was possible to win the game, it wasn’t possible to do it without a bloodbath on both sides. I think it in its own way, it was meant to be a little anti-war statement.
However, the game didn’t give you the option of simply not attacking and not attacking was the way that many people survived in World War One.
In the earlier stages of the war informal truces sprung up all over the place. Both sides would aim artillery far and wide, this was understood as an offering of peace and reciprocated. In many places it then became a kind of game. Snipers would aim to miss but in a showing-off ‘look what I can hit’ way. This was partly to pass the time and partly to warn that if the truce was broken then there was a capability of reprisal. Contrary to popular belief the conflict was very low-intensity in many places at different times. There are many eyewitness accounts of the soldiers apologising to each other for firing too near.
This changed of course when the officers – the ones far removed from the front line that is – heard about it. They were appalled by this sort of behaviour and devised new tactics like surprise raids and so on which destroyed the fragile trust that opposing soldiers had built up.
After the war of course it was the generals that had insisted on the continuation of mass random slaughter that were awarded medals and had statues of each other erected. Of the officers in the field who insisted on pressing on, well, many of them were shot in the back by their own side as they advanced toward the opposing army.
In many societies around the world in pre-industrial times the object of war was not the genocide of the opposing group but rather the humiliation. From some of the Native Americans to societies in Africa, actual fatalities were very unusual. Some sources even describe what is essentially a high-intensity game of tag (involving a smack with a stick). In other places a tit-for-tat, one of yours for one of ours kind of conflict often persisted over a long time but without an eruption into absolute warfare.
It may be that there is a part of our genetics that leads us toward conflict but it is certainly not the cause of the mass slaughters that have happened through history. Rome wanted to conquer, other groups wanted to live and let live. Genghis Khan would wipe out thousands, other groups at the time didn’t.
It is demonstrably untrue that the Romans and other groups throughout history that have and are conducting mass slaughter and conquest on the genocidal scale are genetically diverse enough from those living next to them to have a different set of genetic imperatives, so it must be societal conditions that lead to this kind of behaviour. And as we all know, societal conditions can change.
Why mention all this today?
Today is an anniversary. Not valentines day, but the anniversary of an atrocity carried out by British and American forces in World War 2 – the bombing of Dresden which occurred on the night of the 13th/14th February 1945 when the war was nearing its end. Dresden was not regarded as a strategically important city, which is why it hadn’t been bombed up until then. Russian troops were also closing in on the city.
The BBC, in their ‘On This Day‘ section are showing the report from 1945 and there is a little section which says..
The Dresden raid caused a public outcry. Even Winston Churchill, who had urged Bomber Command to attack east German cities, tried to dissociate himself from it. However, they miss an important part out. They say that explosives and ‘incendiary bombs’ were dropped, which is true. What they don’t say is phosphorus was dropped – a chemical weapon. Eyewitnesses reported that the temperature was so hot in some places that in the wreckage of homes were found puddles of metal that had once been pots and pans.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote brilliantly about this in his book Slaughterhouse 5. He was a prisoner of war in Germany at the time.
Oh, and the BBC neglected to mention for a long time that white phosphorus was used recently in Fallujah. This was despite the fact many people were giving them evidence and urging them to. Even when they did mention it it was very brief and swiftly consigned to the memory hole.
I recently downloaded A Short History of Scotland by Andrew Lang (free audio book version, get it here).
Firstly, there are definitely many things in there that the modern historian would take issue with in terms of how it is framed. Secondly, it is an outdated style in the subject, in that large sections, particularly in the early parts, tend just to be names of rulers, dates, treaties and so on and how titles changed hands over the years. This makes it somewhat dry. Thirdly, when the traditional story or legend played a part in the story this is just given as fact without analysis e.g. (though I’m paraphrasing a touch) “…and then this miracle happened with St Thingummy and consequently this next thing happened.”
However, given the recent discussion about the differing legal points of view on the actual existence of Scotland, there was a little passage I found rather interesting that I’ve decided to show you…
In 924 the first claim by an English king, Edward, to the over-lordship of Scotland appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The entry contains a manifest error, and the topic causes war between modern historians, English and Scottish. In fact, there are several such entries of Scottish acceptance of English suzerainty under Constantine II, and later, but they all end in the statement, “this held not long.” The “submission” of Malcolm I to Edmund (945) is not a submission but an alliance; the old English word for “fellow-worker,” or “ally,” designates Malcolm as fellow-worker with Edward of England.
This word (midwyrhta) was translated fidelis (one who gives fealty) in the Latin of English chroniclers two centuries later, but Malcolm I held Cumberland as an ally, not as a subject prince of England. In 1092 an English chronicle represents Malcolm III as holding Cumberland “by conquest.”
I am pointing all this out not to claim that Lang or other historians are right or wrong on the matter, but rather to show that legal jiggery-pokery and the importance of defining terms is not a new thing in the history of the struggles between Scotland and England.
Maybe Salmond was right when he said the Edinburgh Agreement is a very important document because it sets out certain rules that must be adhered to both before and after the referendum.
Then again, if they lose, the UK state might just ignore or reinterpret it however the hell they want, as is the norm for aggressor states in these circumstances.