Has World War 3 Started?

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Hitler and his disciple

President Biden doesn’t want to provoke WW3. But hasn’t it already started? Is the USA going to be a late arrival, as it was in 1917 and 1941?  The parallels with WW2 are so close that, if I were writing the story of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a novel, I would be open to a charge of plagiarism.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Mentally lay the history of WW2 out on a table. Now erase ‘Czechoslovakia’ and write ‘Crimea’. Erase ‘Poland’ and write ‘Ukraine’. Erase ‘Stalingrad’ and write ‘Mariupol’.

Turn your attention to the characters. Erase ‘Hitler’ and write ‘Putin’. Erase ‘Mussolini’ and write ‘Lukashenko’. Erase ‘Roosevelt’ and write ‘Biden’. Erase ‘Churchill’ and write ‘Zelenskiy’. Erase ‘Hirohito’ and write… well, Xi Jinping hasn’t yet decided if he wants to audition for that part.

Lukashenko
Mussolini

We already know how to deal with fascist dictators because we did it 80 years ago. We know they can be beaten – by force of arms and with the kind of heroism that the people of Ukraine are showing us, not with half-hearted economic sanctions.

Am I a war-monger? I consider myself a realist. War in one form or another is mankind’s natural state. In good times we engage in cyber-warfare, propaganda, economic competition and sporting contests. In bad times we have to kill people.

Cancelling Russia

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Dr Ann Jones

One of my favourite radio shows is called “What the Duck?”. The host is Ann Jones, a naturalist, and every week she addresses odd, extreme and downright quirky things in the natural world. In her most recent show she investigated whether any of Aesop’s Fables were scientifically as well as morally sound. Could, for example, a tortoise really win a race with a hare?

This moved me to pull down my copy of the book and browse at random. I came across the fable of The Wolf and the Lamb, which I offer below in condensed form. The moral is “Any excuse will serve a tyrant.” How apt at this moment!

The good guys (to lump a multitude of countries into one geopolitical category) have not reacted to Putin’s invasion very cleverly or courageously. The Ukrainian people’s own ferocious defence of  their national sovereignty stands in stark contrast, as does President Zelenskiy’s leadership.

Aesop’s Fables: The Wolf and the Lamb

But I am appalled by recent reports of Western institutions’ “cancelling” Russian books, music and art.  Putin and his coterie are our enemy, not the Russian people and certainly not Russia’s rich contribution to the cultural life of the world.  

Putin has lied to his people and to his own army.  True, he is mining a rich vein of nationalism and fear born of past invasions from the west, but few Russians would have supported the brutal assault on peaceable fellow-Slavs if they had known the truth.

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THE WOLF AND THE LAMB (CONDENSED)

A wolf is drinking at a brook and sees a lamb paddling a little way off. Wanting a reason to eat the lamb the wolf says, “How dare you stir up the mud while I’m drinking?!”

The lamb replies, “But I’m downstream of you.”

“Huh,” said the wolf, “I bet it was you saying bad things behind my back a year ago.”

“A year ago I was not born,” said the lamb.

“Then it must have been your father, which comes to the same thing!”

And the wolf leapt on the lamb, killed it and ate it.

History Repeats Itself

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Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “History doesn’t repeat Itself, but it often rhymes.”  Seeing and hearing President Zelenskiy addressing the world, pleading for meaningful help to resist Putin’s vicious assault on his country, I realised that this was a repeat performance of Emperor Haile Selassie’s plea to the League of Nations to save Ethiopia from MussoliniClick here to read a full transcipt.

That was in June 1936.  The League of Nations did nothing.  Mussolini created his colony of Italian East Africa.  Fast-forward to April 1945: Mussolini’s corpse was hung upside-down in a public square in Milan, and three days later Hitler shot himself.  But during those nine years unimaginable crimes against humanity were committed; millions died; and much of Europe and Japan lay in ruins.

This is more than a rhyme.

Tragedy of Ukraine

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The day after 9/11 I emailed George W Bush urging a moderate response. I was expressing the consensus view of my Saturday morning English conversation class in Bishkek. President Bush ignored that advice.

Yesterday I emailed Joe Biden with very different advice – too late for it to influence his State if the Union Address. Here’s what I wrote:

Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address

I am an Australia/British citizen with many friends in Ukraine and no rancour towards the Russian people.  I understand the strategy of putting economic pressure on Russia’s businesses and population in the hope that Putin will be disempowered from within.  But as we learned in WW2 the Russian people have the ability to withstand great hardship – as do the Ukrainians – and Putin has successfully mined a deep deposit of nationalism and perceived historical grievance.

Therefore I do not believe that sanctions alone will be enough to save Ukraine, the Baltic states (notwithstanding NATO Article 5) and perhaps other former members of Russia’s sphere of influence. 

Like Hitler, Putin has made his wider intentions clear.  If we choose to believe that he’s bluffing, or will be brought to his senses by non-military means, we are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.  Eventually we will have to fight him, just as we had to fight Hitler.  Now is the best time to do it, while a significant part of his military machine is engaged in Ukraine.

I spoke to a German colleague yesterday, who said that any military intervention to save Ukraine could precipitate WW3.  I replied that it’s already started.  Putin fired the starting gun.  If we (the ‘good guys’) dawdle he will only get stronger, and Xi Jinping will feel increasingly comfortable supporting him and fulfilling his promise to subjugate Taiwan.

My German colleague also pointed out the vulnerability of Europe to a nuclear attack.  The logic of that argument is that we should allow Putin to do whatever he wants, because he’s the only leader mad and bad enough to make a first strike.  That would mean that the MAD strategy has failed and we are living in a new world order in which freedom, democracy and the rule of law have no place.

Respect

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The English language is rich in words that allow for nuance, subtlety, shades of meaning and ambiguity. One of these words is ‘Respect’. 

  • In Australia it has been attached to the fight against domestic violence: the hotline for victims is 1800 737 732, or 1800 RESPECT (I suppose the T is redundant). 
  • Children are supposed to respect their parents and teachers.
  • In traditional societies, old people are automatically respected irrespective of their personal qualities.
  • After centuries of humiliation China is demanding respect from other countries, while doing all in its power to be undeserving of it.
  • In the Britain that I grew up in it was a middle class aspiration to be respectable.
  • As a boy I was taught to raise my cap to a woman as a mark of respect, even if I had no knowledge of the woman’s character.
  • We are all enjoined to show respect for the dead; to respect other people’s opinions and beliefs, however much we may disagree with them; and to respect the sanctity of a holy place.
  • But we also use phrases like “with respect to” meaning “in relation to” or “having regard to.”
  • And a sentence that begins “With all due respect” always ends with criticism or an insult.

I had a quick look at my copy of Roget’s Thesaurus (Old Boys’ Public Speaking Prize, 1962) and found ‘Respect’ listed under the following headings: Deference, Fame, Salutation, Observe and Reference.  ‘Respectable’ scored mentions under Repute, Upright and Tolerable.

According to the Bible (Acts 10.34) the apostle Peter said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.”  This was explained to my RI class to mean that God pays no heed to a person’s status – confusing to a classroom of boys who were forced to show respect to teachers merely because they were teachers.

All this is meant to demonstrate that one should never assume an understanding of what someone means simply from the words they employ.  I might even say that words are increasingly being used to distort and blur meaning. 

I say, what a great segue to a reminder to start hunting your nomination for the 2022 Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Drivel!  Deadline: 10 January.

Taliban

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Almost everyone in the democratic world feels the same way about what’s happening in Afghanistan. We went in uninvited, ousted a government and installed a new one, introduced a democratic constitution and oversaw elections. We poured billions of dollars into modernising the country’s infrastructure and institutions. Above all we set new standards for human rights and, in particular, the rights of women and girls. Afghanistan was set for a brighter future under the protection of the mightiest military alliance the world has ever seen – or so it seemed.

And then we said, “Nah. Sod this for a game of soldiers. We’re off.” Or, rather, that was said on our behalf by the US President. None of the allies was strong enough to stand alone, or even in concert if the mightiest of them left the field.

I do not need to dwell on the crimes that the Taliban has been guilty of. In our value system murder, genocide, kidnapping, rape, torture and slavery are heinous. For the Taliban they are standard operating procedure. Even after twenty years, their ideology and the wickedness that flows from it have not changed.

An uncomfortable thought crossed my mind this morning. What if Australia were invaded by the Taliban and we were subjected to the kind of brutal injustice that Afghans now face? How profound would be that shock? How devastated would be our way of life, our self-regard, our sense of place and purpose?

My next thought was even more uncomfortable. Would that devastation be anything like the impact that British colonisation had upon the Aboriginal inhabitants of this land? Were we (I mean my European forebears) the Taliban?

After Trump . . . Peace?

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There have been many celebrations about the overthrow of tyrants. We always expect that when the tyrant has gone there will be a flowering of righteousness; that good people will step into the light, take the vacant helm and steer the ship of state onto the right course.

The right course always means our own – of course. In the Western World the right course is towards democracy, capitalism and individual rights. We felt cheated when China adopted our technology and business models, moved into our markets and grew rich, but failed to adopt our politics and morals. That wasn’t the deal! And what about Russia? Iraq? Libya? Myanmar?

Now we rejoice in Joe Biden’s victory. Another tyrant has been overthrown. Will we be disappointed again? Will the unhealthy miasma that produced the phenomenon of Trumpery be blown out to sea by the Bidon/Harris breeze? Or will it linger? Will the honest efforts of good people be brought to nothing by an infection that they barely understand and lack the tools to fight?

Let me change the subject, but only slightly. I have tried to think of an instance where bitter fighting has been brought to an end without a clear victory and decisive defeat. I cannot. Can you?

It was not the US presidential election that prompted me to think along these lines, but the outbreak of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is not a new fight. Wikipedia has a good account of its dismal history. Can generations of genuinely-felt grievance be ended at a conference table? Can some outsider mediate a lasting peace? Will a signed piece of paper stop the bloodshed?

I think not. I think one side must win and the other side must lose. Clearly and decisively. Like Donald Trump, the loser will have to surrender before the fighting can stop. Usually this means fighting until one side is too exhausted, broken and broke to carry on. Then a kind of healing can begin. Some of the closest allies were once the bitterest of foes.

And this brings me to a conclusion that surprises me. For all the things that Trump did wrong, history may judge him well for siding uncritically with the Rogue State of Israel, climaxing in a deal with the UAE. Much as one weeps for the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinian people, perhaps they have to accept and acknowledge defeat at their oppressors’ hands before they can heal and rebuild – helped by generous gazillions from Israel’s friends.

Citizenship

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I live in Australia, where we have a Prime Minister (Scott Morrison, pictured) who is admired for winning an election against the odds and almost single-handed. But few people like him and fewer trust him. Like Boris Johnson, he won because people couldn’t stomach the alternative.

We were recently visited by the Prime Minister of our smaller, poorer sister-state New Zealand (Jacinda Ardern, also pictured). I’d hazard a guess that if the Australian electorate were given the choice they’d vote overwhelmingly for Jacinda to replace Scott. She comes across as sincere, principled, compassionate, straight-talking… the qualities that seem to be disqualifications for high political office in Australia.

Now I’ll come to the point. As well as making amicable noises about our common values and regional interests while she was here, Jacinda raised in public a very sharp-edged issue. Many New Zealanders live in Australia and some run foul of the law. If they are imprisoned for a year ior more, and have not obtained Australian citizenship, they are expelled to New Zealand on their release. Most of these people are long-term Australian residents and have little if any connection with New Zealand; in some cases they came here as babies. Jacinda Ardern asserts – reasonably in my view – that these people have made Australia their home and should be accepted as Australia’s problem. She threatened to introduce a reciprocal law in New Zealand if we did not change ours.

Scott Morrison stood firm, as he is wont to do (unless radio shock-jocks tell him not to). But there is another, equally hard-edged issue that undermines his intransigence. There are Australians among the ragged remnants of Daesh/ISIS held as prisoners in Syria. They are not wanted there, but are considered too dangerous to release. If citizenship is the criterion, surely Australia has a moral duty to take these people back, charge them with crimes, re-educate them, hand their children over to foster parents, keep them under surveillance, or let them go. But the Government says, “No.”

Scott Morrison likes to talk about keeping Australians safe. That’s fine, but as one of the world’s richest and most stable countries I’d say we have a bigger responsibility than that. Am I wrong?

Brexit

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So Brexit has happened: the folk
Of Britain are free of the yoke
Of the Brussels Beast.
Meanwhile to the east
Mr Putin’s enjoying the joke.

Travel and Terrorism

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First, I offer a big apology to my fans, for not having posted for such a long time. In inadequate recompense I give you this link to a brilliant article by Waleed Aly in the Sydney Morning Herald. Waleed is a writer and broadcaster, and one of the most thoughtful and articulate blokes in Australia today.

The article is about Brexit, which makes me stroppier than almost anything outside the Middle East. But I’ve written so much and so often about Brexit, and none of it seems to have touched the hearts and minds of the decision-makers who matter, so now I’m going to push other people’s views and analysis with which I agree. Certainly Waleed expresses what I think better than I can.

But all that has nothing to do with either travel or terrorism. I’m in the UK at the moment, having travelled from Adelaide via Dubai – not my favourite transit hub, I have to say. On the way I was moved to compose the following limerick, which I throw to you, my readers, much as a rock star might throw an item of clothing into the audience…

While waiting in airport queues,
Then taking off watch, belt and shoes,
I imagine Osama
Bin Laden (the charmer)
Laughing – he didn’t lose!