V2

A fascist dictator is losing the war that he initiated. With one last throw of the dice, a brand new and unstoppable weapon, he aims to turn the tide, but it turns out to be one last defiant gesture.

November 1944, the Nazi armies are in retreat as the Allies advance across Europe. But the Germans under Werner von Braun have developed a rocket that can send bombs across the channel, but without accurate aim. A launch programme aims to terrorise the population of London.

In his book V2, Robert Harris tells the story of the ‘successes’ and failures, particularly from the point of view of an English woman trying to track down the launch sites, and a German man somewhat half-heartedly engaged in the launch processes. Their two stories are effectively interweaved in a compelling narrative – Harris is a great storyteller.

At the end of the war, the engineers under von Braun were of course transmitted to the USA, and became the core of the subsequent space programme, leading to the first Moon landing in 1969. They were always more interested in creating rockets to fly into space than they were in warfare.

The consequences of war are many and unpredictable.

Featured image is of a V2 rocket awaiting launch.

Fleeing Ukrainians – why does it never stop?

Jane Fritz gives insight into the history behind Ukraine’s current suffering, with some superb Chagall paintings included.

Robby Robin's Journey

When we think of paintings by the famous French painter Mark Chagall (actually Russian-French), we typically think of his dreamlike themes and brilliant use of colour.  Always imaginative.  Often free-floating.

But he also painted powerful paintings that didn’t dance and weren’t dreamlike.  Powerful, yes, but free-floating, no.  One such powerful painting has been posted many times on social media recently, and appropriately so.  It’s entitled La Famille Ukrainienne.  The Ukrainian Family.

UkrainianFamily

Only, of course, Chagall didn’t paint this work of art in the past 6 weeks, since the Russians invaded Ukraine and started unleashing such devastation, brutality, and death.  He painted it sometime between 1940 and 1943, when Ukrainians were fleeing the war and destruction brought about by another Russian, Stalin’s “Great Terror”.  It is uncanny – and heartbreaking – to realize that this scene could just as easily be depicting what is going on right now, 80 years…

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1965 Odessa

Another tragic atrocity is apparently beginning with Putin’s recent first shelling of Odesa, third city of Ukraine. I spent a couple of days there during our chess tour of Czechoslovakia and Russia in 1965, when the Russian name Odessa was used.

At the time this Black Sea resort was a playground for the upper echelons of then-communist Russian society. I’d never seen so many overfed people before we went on that beach.

The harbour at Odessa is linked to the city by the Potempkin Steps, created in 1841 and made famous in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin.

Potempkin steps

Look down the steps at the port, and you can see why this city might be regarded as strategically important.

I recall that this was an attractive city to walk around, all now at risk to Putin’s cowardly cruise missiles.

Opera House

These four photographs are the only ones I have from that trip. Such insanity that one man and his cabal could apparently be on track to destroy all this. For what? Some illusion of Russian greatness, a phantasm of Putin’s imagination? There is nothing great about destroying the work and life of millions.

Megalomaniac and lost soul?

One could argue that my posts about Iain McGilchrist’s books (see eg The Matter With Things) and the problem of today’s left brain dominance are of mere academic interest, or to do with the long term environmental threat. Yet suddenly it is upon us, threatening the world we know, live and love, in the form of Vladimir Putin. Putin is one of many leaders who exhibit a pathologically extreme form of left brain domination, where left brain rationality and abstract ideas override any consideration of the people and environment involved, whether in Russia, in Ukraine, or in the rest of the world. There is a lack of connection with reality – the death, destruction and psychological trauma being inflicted on millions of people. Only a person who has lost touch with the real lived world and their own moral sense could do such a thing. Putin has literally decided that the map is more important than the territory.

I’m not sure if this recognition helps us much in dealing with the inhuman threat represented by Putin, but it is useful to see where this person is coming from. There is only abstract rationality without compassion or recognition of common humanity, let alone community with nature. It is evident from clips in the media that he rules by fear, also evident from his threats to the rest of the world.

Can we have compassion for a lost soul, when he threatens us all?

At the National Memorial Arboretum

A sunny day was forecast, so we decided to visit the National Memorial Arboretum, near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The arboretum is part of the Royal British Legion, dedicated to passing on the baton of remembrance of those who served and suffered in Britain’s wars. We did not have any great expectations, other than for a pleasant day out in the sun at a memorial that is but 20 years old.

What a revelation, we were blown away by the rural setting, the trees and natural areas, and particularly the art works that have been created as part of some of the memorials, evocative of many of the less considered victims of war. Most are connected by tarmac paths. And the dog could go most places.

Here’s a small selection showing favourite images from our walk.

Particularly sobering was the large memorial (top left), containing the (around 16,000) names of all those who have died since 1945, in the many wars that the UK has engaged in over my lifetime. Was this all really necessary?

Yes, the experience does bring home the reality and the futility of war.

We will go again.

Featured image is a detail of the police memorial (bottom left), rotated 90deg.
Looks pretty ordinary until you catch the sunlight at the right angle!

VE Day

It’s VE day, marking the 75th anniversary of the ending of the Nazi regime and its attempt to take over Europe.

European countries are each celebrating in their own way. Yes, we should thank those whose sacrifice made this possible, and reflect on their achievement. It is a shame that they cannot do this together at this time.

Yet also this is a bitter-sweet moment. In our reflection, should we consider why Europe fell apart into two major wars between 1918 and 1945?

Should we consider the irony that this is happening just as Brexit and economic strains are apparently in the process of destroying that long post-war project (EU) of bringing the European nations together to end the scourge of war that had scarred the continent for centuries?

Should we consider the irony that populist leaders are again controlling many of the world’s major countries? The nazi leader was one such, who believed that he alone had the right prescriptions for his people. How wrong he was, and how wrong they all are.

Yes, a bitter-sweet moment.

 

What causes War?

I was intrigued by Ferdinand Mount‘s article in the recent issue of London Review of Books. His basic premise is that countries go to war because of economic and related resource issues. WW1 was really about Germany’s lack of natural resources which were available in neighbouring countries. This festered on into WW2 which continued the argument. The same is true of most wars, often a reaction against ‘imperial’ exploitation by a stronger power. The EU and the supranational European Court of Justice were established to provide an arrangement whereby such conflict would not happen again in Europe.

Of course I’ve oversimplified, but the essence is there. Brexit will inevitably increase the probability of a future European war. If there were a no-deal Brexit, the resulting arguments about unwinding the hugely complex relationships between UK and EU will probably go on for decades, probably with ill will.

The UK will also go into negotiations with US, China, India etc, with the relatively weak negotiating position of desperation, resulting in more conflict and ill will.

Of course, in general democracies do not go to war, but with the threatening rise of populism who knows? War and conflict are historically favoured tactics of populists to get the people behind them.

Those of us who believe Brexit to be a total disaster should not cease saying so. We know that the Brexit vote was ‘won’ one lucky day three years ago. It can be changed.

Featured image of German troops entering Sudetenland 1938 from Bundesarchiv, via Wikimedia Commons

 

D-Day Dissonance

I’m not the only one to notice a certain cognitive dissonance between the current D-Day celebrations in Normandy and the actions of our leaders.

Out of the experience of World War came a determination that such an event should never happen again, never again would European and other major countries resolve their differences by war. This led to the creation of international institutions including the UN, NATO, WTO, and ultimately the EU.

So there we have the leading politicians of France and UK, M Macron and Mrs May, pledging future cooperation, while in the process of the appalling Brexit negotiations that have signally failed to produce cooperation. While at home the ‘colleagues’ who have connived in removing Mrs May, due to their failure to support her, argue over the minutiae of negotiating positions with the EU – like monkeys arguing over scraps of food. Supported by M Macron, the EU has concluded negotiations and is determined to ‘give’ nothing of substance. The two sides appear determined to not agree.

And of course, there is Mr Trump, determined in his course to undermine all those collaborative institutions, because America can be great again by bullying every country individually in one-to-one negotiations. And the Brexiteers are willing lambs to this slaughter, in the supposed name of making UK great again.

Sometimes current politics seems like Alice in Wonderland!

Graves are at the American Cemetery, Colleville su Mer, Normandy

The Business Plan for Peace – Building a World without War

For many years Scilla Elworthy has been putting forward her ideas for a plan for peace. Here Bruce Nixon’s excellent post reviews her recent book. It’s about time the media took more notice of the need to invest in peace, rather than in war.

Bruce Nixon

Scilla

As I begin to write, it is Armistice Day when we honour the dead on both sides of the conflict. The best way to honour all those who lost their lives in the Great War and subsequent wars would be to commit to end war for good. In her book Scilla Elworthy shows us how this can be done. Her key message is: War is past its sell-by date.

 

This is a marvellous book both visionary and, as the title implies, hard-headed and pragmatic. It’s based on years of practical experience of peace-making and the prevention of violent conflict.

Key Themes

 

At the heart of this book is the belief that humans have the capacity to evolve and become more humane. There is a growing change of consciousness centred in Europe and much of North America. Thus peace and a future without mass violence is possible. Journalists on…

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