30 April 2007

Burying the dead

On my last visit to Moscow some years ago I went with a friend to a church and the nearby graveyard. It was explained to me that the graveyard was now minute because of the huge construction efforts throughout the Soviet period but before that it had been a large military cemetery where many of the Russian and allied soldiers and officers were buried during the First World War.

In the post-Soviet years attempts had been made to put up monuments to various Russian officers of that period. It was an interesting experiment since the fate of the various men had been different. Some had joined the Red Army and some the White; some went abroad and died there or, possibly, were handed over for belated settling accounts at the end of the Second World War; some disappeared in Stalin’s purges in the thirties and some actually survived to die in bed to be buried with honour.

This applied to a few senior officers only. For the most part no trace was left of the several hundred Russian and allied soldiers who had been buried in that military cemetery during World War I.

This does bear some relevance to the present problems that surround the question of the Bronze Soldier and the Soviet soldiers buried in the nearby graves (though there is some talk of there being older burials there). Graveyards and cemeteries do not remain untouched for ever. Anyone who has ever worked on an archaeological dig would know that the dead had been dug up and unceremoniously reburied or simply dumped in the past. One may argue about the rightness of it but not about the facts.

The problem is not so much Estonia as Russia. As I have pointed out before, there was never any suggestion that the Bronze Soldier should be destroyed or that the exhumed soldiers should not receive proper re-burial. It would have been perfectly possible for the Russian government to insist on full military honours for them. Instead, this seemed like a good opportunity to stir up hatred against the West and particularly against the countries that have definitely got away, the Baltic ones.

The shrieks one gets instead of comments on various sites would be quite extraordinary if one did not know that what lies behind it is a serious ignorance of what really happened on the Eastern Front.

There was, in the early and mid-nineties, an attempt by historians to research and publish the truth about the immediate pre-war period, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the invasions of various surrounding countries, the savagery and incompetence of the Soviet war effort at the highest level, the unnecessarily huge casualties caused all too often by bad decisions and the presence of SMERSH troops behind the soldiers. Then there is the painful story of the Red Army’s behaviour in the occupied countries as well, of course, as the behaviour of the NKVD that followed the army.

All such attempts have now ceased. Documents are no longer available and difficult subjects are simply avoided. It is a good deal easier for most (though not all by a long chalk) to remain in denial about their recent history. The Soviet system has severely traumatized all those who lived under it and Russia more than any, as there it cannot even be blamed on foreign invaders.

Actually, that is not quite true. There were serious attempts to explain Communism as being an entirely foreign system, imposed on the Russian people by Jews, Letts (Latvians) and other suchlike foreign-blooded groups. While many of these groups were prominent in the Revolution, the Civil War and subsequent events, it is hard to keep arguing that the many millions of Russians were all simply victims.

This may explain a little why it seems to have been so easy to whip up hatred of Estonia (at least in the media and the internet) over an issue that is really not very important and certainly not insoluble. The removal of the Bronze Soldier and the suggestions that there were various aspects to the Soviet “liberation” of the Baltic and East European countries cuts at the very heart of the Russian self-perception.

The Great Patriotic War is the one shining glorious event that all can agree on and in his attempts to push the great nation agenda Putin needs that assumption. There must be no criticism, no complications, no grey area, no mention, even, of the fact that others had fought Nazi Germany as well. There is relatively little understanding in Russia that the war had started in 1939 and of the role of Britain and America. Hence the curious comments about the Russian army (they don’t like saying Soviet because that raises all sorts of issues) liberating Europe from Nazi occupation.

Curiously enough, there is no particular compunction in Russia itself about exhumating and re-burying military personnel from the Great Patriotic War and those who protest are treated with considerably more savagery than the Russian hooligans were in Tallinn.

One such example has just cropped up in Khimki, a small town just outside Moscow, where six Soviet airmen of the Great Patriotic War were dug up in order to make various changes in the area. These changes have been described variously as widening the Leningrad Prospect, building a new office block or, even, making sure that the local prostitutes find somewhere else to ply their trade.

The plan was that the remains would be dug up, taken to the local morgue and then reburied in a military cemetery before May 9, Victory Day in Russia. It seems from the reports [in Russian, so those who cannot read it will have to rely on the accuracy of my translation] that in a development reminiscent of the great Russian satirists like Gogol, Il’f and Petrov or Voynovich, the remains have disappeared.

The city authorities, who ordered the exhumation have no clear idea of where the remains were transferred, with the press secretary, Danilovsky, suggesting one particular morgue, which immediately denied that they had them. The municipal company, “Ritual” that is supposed to have carried out the work of exhumation and transportation refuses to talk to journalists.

As the article points out, the re-burial in the Novoluzhensk cemetery is scheduled for May 8, the day before Victory Day. There is very little time left to find the remains.

Meanwhile, defenders of the graves have submitted two complaints two the Moscow regional procurator’s office and to the military procurator. One has to do with the “inhuman” (how they love that word) treatment of the aviators’ remains during the excavation and bagging up. The other has to do with the treatment of the young people who had organized the meeting.

The young activists from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), whose own website seems to talk more about the horrors of Estonian “fascism”, which must be “stopped”, than about events in Khimki, were taken back to the train by local supporters. This indicates that the usual Bolshevik/Communist tactics of flying activists are still in place.

As soon as they got on the train the militia appeared and proceeded to administer a savage beating. One 15-year old girl, Masha Kolyada, is said to have been hit so hard that she lost consciousness and suffered concussion. A young man is said to have to wear a neck brace. It seems that other passengers, in particular some pensioners from Khimki, were also attacked by the militia.

The only person to be taken to hospital was the unconscious Masha and even she was transferred to the police station the same evening. Her comrades were already there.

The youngsters are due in court on May 2 though they are promising another meeting on May 9 by which time the re-burial may have taken place if the bones are ever found.

The Russian Federation Council has sent a letter demanding an explanation of what is happening to the remains of the airmen and the memorial to them though not, apparently, an explanation for the militia’s behaviour. No news yet as to whether the Speaker, Sergei Mironov has demanded a cessation of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Khimki.

As ever, the question one has to ask is why does the militia bother to react in this savage fashion to groups and events that are of very little significance. Youngsters who have joined the KPRF and see themselves as heroic fighters for the greater glory of Russia are not precisely a danger to anyone and do not deserve to be treated in this way, whether one agrees with their views or not.

The demonstrations of the motley group of oppositionists (the “Other Russia”) who were met by 9,000 heavily armed militia men and Ministry of Interior troops who proceeded to beat them up and arrest some of the leaders, were not a threat to Putin and his government either.

Meanwhile, the situation in Tallinn has calmed down a bit, despite the Russian newspapers foaming at the mouth, demanding that the country be called Es-Es-Estonia from now on. (Clever, huh?)

The Bronze Soldier has been hastily removed and is to be reinstalled in his new position a good deal sooner than had been anticipated. The authorities have insisted that the soldier is intact as is the plinth. That has not stopped at least one website [in English with a fascinating comments section] from publishing a clearly photo-shopped picture [above] of the wall and the soldier’s boots, supposedly left behind as the statue was sawn off at the ankles.

The only thing that this picture reminds one of is the famous boots that were left on the plinth in Budapest after the giant statue had been brought down by the populace. Here is a picture of a few jubilant people atop those infamous boots.

Thursday and Friday nights saw riots in Tallinn and Narva, during which a great deal of damage was done, more than sixty people were injured and between 800 and 1,000 arrested. One man was killed, according to the authorities in a knife fight between two gangs. It appears that he was a Russian citizen, though living in Estonia.

The picketing of the Estonian embassy in Moscow by the “Young Guard” and other youthful supporters of the pro-Kremlin “One Russia” party has continued and there is some boycotting of Estonian goods.

Boris Gryzlov, the Duma Speaker, has announced that a delegation from that body to Tallinn, to establish what was happening to the several score Russian citizens arrested during the riots. Information about the killed Russian has already been forwarded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The EU is pretending that absolutely nothing has happened though if Russia does break off diplomatic relations with Estonia there will have to be some reaction.

15 April 2007

Can't wait to see this one

Our readers might recall that not so long ago I wrote about the German film “The Lives of Others” that, contrary to expectation as it showed the East German Communist system in a bad light, won the Oscar for best foreign film, having won various other awards besides.

A week or so ago I was told by a friend who lives in the United States (for those who are interested in such matters, he calls himself English of Irish descent if he bothers to define himself at all) that the film was going to be remade, substituting Bush’s America for Honecker’s German Democratic Republic. We spent some time discussing as to who might play the Berlin Wall but came to no conclusion. Surely, I thought, this was just a rumour.

Alas, no. According to an article by Sheila Johnston in the Daily Telegraph last Saturday, the film has been acquired for remake by American movie moguls Harvey and Bob Weinstein. Well, acquired for remake does not mean being remade but it is an ominous message.

What does the Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, he film’s writer/director think of that East German theme being transferred to Bush’s America?
For the first time in recent memory, the American government has been given a lot of power. And one of the first things a government will do then is to start spying on its citizens, especially when it feels it's using it for the good of democracy.

Sadly, these things that the film is about will happen all the time and everywhere.
To some extent he is saying nothing very much or positing a truism – governments want more power. But that last sentence, if he did say it, indicates that either he really is not all that interested in the subject of the remake or he has been imbued with the Hollywood luvvie psychology in the short amount of time he spent there.

Who is going to play the Berlin Wall? How will they show the all-powerful nature of the secret police? Not by that idiotic Valerie Plame story, as retailed to all and sundry by Our Val and hubby Joe, I trust. What of the fact that even the best known author cannot just up and leave the country? Or of the fact of there being no opposition and criticism of the party (except within certain limits) is not allowed? Above all, the very fact of making such a film, let alone the constant shrill anti-Bushism that those fruitcakes indulge in makes something of a nonsense of the claim that Bush’s America is similar to Honecker’s East Germany.

The story reminded me of one stay in Washington DC a couple of years ago. I came down to breakfast in my hotel and found that people sat around a big table and chatted. I was pleased as I was on my own and joined in. I must admit that national stereotypes played true to type. The Australian lady talked cheerfully about her travels and did not want to get involved in any other conversation. The quiet British chap excused himself as soon as there was the slightest possibility of a political discussion.

That left a lady who was in Washington either to look for a job or to lobby somebody, an aging hippy chap with a wispy beard, colourful t-shirt and beer belly and me. My two companions assured me that they were now living in a fascist society and I was visiting a fascist country and I had better know this.

Now, usually, my reply runs along the lines of “are you sure you want to tell me this as you don’t exactly know that I will not report it to the secret police”. This time, I thought, I’d play it straight. I was shocked and horrified by what they had to tell me and demanded examples.
Therein lay the rub. Their examples led nowhere. There was the case of the Hollywood actors who might have been blacklisted as people were under McCarthy (not so that you’d notice but that’s a separate issue) but, actually, were not. In fact, they were all making films and endlessly ranting about President Bush.

Then there was the fact that libraries could trace people through their tickets if they took out suspicious sounding books on making bombs or suchlike activity. Well, no, since I asked, the aging hippy did not know anyone to whom this happened and had heard of no concrete examples but it could have happened.

Finally, there was the professor who was picked up by the police because one of his students had gone on an anti-war demonstration. Oh my, I said, what happened to him? Nothing, it seems. He was released after a couple of hours. What we call helping the police with their inquiries.

Eventually, I excused myself politely as my interlocutors were beginning to look uncomfortable. This was truly depressing, I thought. Here were two people who obviously spent a good deal of their time thinking and talking about the fascist state of America under Bush and they could come up with no examples at all.

Any one of us who paid the slightest attention to the Communist countries and East Germany, in particular, can cite any number of clear and cogent stories.

What are they going to have in the American version of “Other People’s Lives”? The whole enterprise demonstrates something that is rarely acknowledged but is undeniably true: the Left in America may whine at great length about the international order, the need to be part of it and the terrible way in which the Bush administration has put America on collision course with it but, in actual fact, it knows nothing about the world. Its obsession with America and what happens there is so overwhelming that it cannot even envisage the possibility that some political systems might be considerably worse than the one they live under even if the Democrats are not in power.

Well, fine, I hear our readers say, but how does it affect Britain? This is, after all, a question of what is happening in the United States.

There are many reasons why this is important to us as well. The most obvious one is that the American film industry is very powerful and its images become the staple of many different cultures and peoples. Thus, a remotely successful Hollywood film (and, to be fair, there is no reason to suppose that it will be that, as too many of those left-wing propaganda ones have bombed) creates a certain image to be accepted by people without too much thinking or understanding. In this case, the image will be that Bush’s America, which will come to an end in January 2009, in any case, is no different from the GDR, which was brought down by a popular though bloodless revolt. The blood had flown earlier.

Furthermore, any discussion of the future requires an understanding of the past. A discussion of what is to happen in Europe and the world requires the knowledge that the twentieth century had seen two horrific political systems that, between them, were responsible for the murder to many millions, torture of many tens of millions and destruction of whole societies. In between there was a destruction of human relations, of love and loyalty. This is not the same as suggestions of security profiling or of Democrats losing the presidential election.

Nor is it the same as Blair or any other Minister and Prime Minister telling an easily disproved lie to Parliament. Reprehensible, of course, but hardly catastrophic. While the Bush Derangement Syndrome, so prominent in American politics, media and new media, is on the Left, the Right being content with criticizing without getting hysterical, the Blair Derangement Syndrome is both on the Left and the Right. If Bush’s America is just like the GDR of evil memory, then so is Blair’s Britain as far as many people are concerned. That shows a similar obsession with one’s own world to the point of complete exclusion of everything and everyone else.

This lack of understanding helpful in discussions of what is wrong with the European Union. If Blair is no different from Walter Ulbricht or Erich Honecker then what exactly is the problem with the European Commission? Why would its unaccountability, or the managerial, undemocratic way of European legislation be of any importance if the Labour Government or, for that matter, the Republican Administration, can be seen to be the same as the Politburo of a Communist state?

In the next few days I shall try to see “The Lives of Others”, as it has finally opened in the UK. Then I shall continue to wait for the film that will make nonsense of it and of the experience that lies behind it.

11 April 2007

Did France betray its principles?

Every country’s, every nation’s view of itself is illogical; every country’s dealings with other countries exhibits quirks and incomprehensible peculiarities. But it often appears that France is the least logical and most quirky of all the European states in its self-perception and its foreign policy.

Some of it is straightforward enough. It is not Britain that has experienced difficulties in finding a role after losing an empire so much as France. The end of its empire was prolonged and agonizing, involving as it did, two expensive and destructive wars that left deep scars on the country. (In the former British Empire the wars came after the British had left, which, one might argue, shows how sensible or, alternatively, how perfidious they are.)

Before that came the French defeat in 1940 and the occupation with all its moral and social problems that have not yet been worked out properly, as we have written on different occasions.

We have also written about French reaction to the political catastrophe of the Suez adventure and the American role in it. This is covered extensively in “The Great Deception”.

So, a good deal of French behaviour can be attributed to a desire to restore the country’s pre-eminent position in at least some parts of the world, a position that was last in evidence in 1814 despite subsequent French colonial wars. Coupled with it is that strong feeling of resentment against les Anglo-Saxes, the British and, particularly, the Americans. In fact, there are times when it seems that the sole purpose of French foreign policy is to annoy the government and people of the United States.

There are, however, complications. One is the European Union, perceived by many of the French elite as the weapon through which France will dominate European politics and become a great power again. Many of its political structures, economic policies and attempts at foreign policy appear to be largely French in their origins. But they are, as it happens, problematic. To a great extent EC rules can be ignored but not totally and France has been suffering economically from her own policies and from those enshrined in the European Union’s legislation. This has contributed to the rather vicious problems in the banlieus, inhabited largely by North African and Middle Eastern immigrants and their descendants.

Another complication is French self-perception, at least, as it manifests itself among the political elite (though, as we know in this country, what the elite thinks does percolate down to the people in one form or another). Part of that self-perception is French political superiority because of certain events in the second half of the eighteenth century. No need to argue about that here but, it is worth noting, that many of our ideas of equality and democracy grew out of those events. So the French do have a great deal to be proud of. But have they, themselves, lived up to those great ideals? David Pryce-Jones, the historian, journalist, novelist, expert on the Middle East, thinks otherwise and marshals his evidence in “Betrayal – France, the Arabs and the Jews”.

It seems that France’s pernicious meddling in the Middle East – the responsibility for restoring the late unlamented tyrant and terrorist Chairman Yasser Arafat to the position of leadership after the catastrophe of Black September, rests almost entirely with the French government, though other European ones went along with it – is rooted in more than just a resentment of the United States. It goes back to an older concept of France as “Muslim power” (une puissance mussulmane”), a whacky idea but one to which the French Foreign Ministry, the Quai d’Orsay, is addicted to, and has been ever since it was first promulgated as an antidote to the British Empire and its might.

Through anonymous helpers, David Pryce-Jones has managed to have access to numerous documents in the Quai d’Orsay (the only institution in the world that might make me think fondly of our own FCO) and has traced French meddling and politicking in the Middle East, whose result frequently was that any possibility of a peaceful settlement was pushed even further back.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this view of France is reciprocal and the ferociousness of the Algerian War (something of a surprise to the French, though predictable, given the treatment of the local population during and after the War) has complicated matters apart from landing a very large number of immigrants in France itself, where economic policies and a good deal of visceral racism has made it difficult for them to integrate.

There are two ways of looking at the problem. One is that France has always insisted that all those who come to the country must become French (not for them the follies of multi-culturalism). When this does not happen there is understandable resentment.

There is, however, another point of view (not necessarily contradictory, more complementary) and it is this that David Pryce-Jones describes and analyzes so lucidly. Jews have lived in France for a long time and were the beneficiaries of the early stages of the French Revolution. As Pryce-Jones says, the official French attitude to the Jews was crystallized in those days by the liberal aristocrat, Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, who declared in the Constituent Assembly:
Everything must be refused to the Jews as a nation and everything granted to the Jews as individuals.
This is perfectly logical from the stand-point of an enlightened nation: on the one hand no individual must be discriminated against because of race or religion, on the other hand, there can be no internal nations within the big one. If this had worked out, French Jews would not have objected.

The problem of strong anti-Semitism remained (the Dreyfus case being only the best known example) as well as a visceral fear of Jews and Zionism on the part of the French establishment. Jews were perceived as agents of foreign power: Germany and Russia at first (an extraordinary idea when one thinks of the way Jews were treated in Russia), then of Britain and finally of Zionism “whose core doctrine is that Jews are a nation after all”.

As against that, the Muslims who came to France, in keeping with the notion of the country being “une puissance mussulmane” (which was largely a glorification of colonization) were allowed to keep their own group identity. Often, they had no choice for the above mentioned economic and social reasons.

Not that they were treated as equals. The North African soldiers who fought in the French army in the two World Wars were not given equal pensions. The few remaining veterans will receive that as a result of Chirac watching a recent French film on the subject, “Days of Glory”. The terrible fate of the harkis, the Algerians who fought on the French side, has been described before.

Nevertheless, the outcome of all these different developments has been the existence of virtually self-governing Muslim communities in France with a combined number of votes that is enough to scare any politician (though some have declared that they are voting for Le Pen, because they do not want any more lay-about immigrants and dislike the degeneration of French society).

To make matters worse, the authorities have turned a blind eye to the growing number of anti-Semitic attacks by many of the Muslim groups, insisting well beyond the time it was possible to do so, that the burning of synagogues and Jewish schools, desecration of Jewish cemeteries, vicious attacks on Jewish children in schools and on others in the streets, were all simply hooliganism. Little punishment was doled out and in some cases the attacks well all but condoned by the authorities.

It was the horrific case of Ilan Halimi coupled with the extensive riots of 2005 that brought some sanity into the discussion. (Though, to be fair, few solutions have been proffered.)

In the meantime, France has been conducting her own foreign policy, which has consistently since the thirties, through the protection of the Nazi-leaning Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the patronage of Arafat, support of Khomeini and, later, Saddam down to the present day, has been anti-Israeli, even contemptuous of that country and of its people. (The one exception was a brief period of support before and during the Six-Day War.) At first this was countered by the Left, which was basically pro-Israeli and, also, pro-Algerian. That has changed. The Left is now more viciously anti-Israeli and, let us face it, anti-Semitic than the old-fashioned Right.

That is the situation, says David Pryce-Jones, that France, Europe and the West has to live with. In France it has caused a crisis:
The natural fulfilment of the historic contempt for Israel as a mainstay of Jewish identity is to call into question the position of Jews in French society. For an almost equal period of time, Arabs have been accustomed to the cajolery of the French state, and the expected privilege that goes with it. These two long-drawn but incompatible approaches have finally come to a head and collided.

Commitment to the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel incites the growing underclass of Arabs first to resent Jews and then to force into the public arena the contradiction whereby the French state claims to be protecting Jews at home while doing what it can to oppose Jews in Israel. Confusion that might have been contained at its origins in the Middle East is therefore exploding in the everyday violence experienced in French cities and towns.
Recently there have been some attempts by the French government to rectify the situation at home but the contradiction imposed on it by the continuing policies of the Quai d’Orsay are harder to deal with. There is also some evidence, says Pryce-Jones that French opinion is beginning to turn against traditional French policy in the Middle East. Both have a long way to go.

02 April 2007

Convincing only himself

One thing that has been absent from the media storm over the Iranian hostages is any significant input from the leader of Her Majesty's official opposition, the Boy King himself, David Cameron.

Largely, this is because the Boy has nothing worth saying but, if a further demonstration was needed of how far "project Cameron" has lost the plot on defence issues, one can go out and buy a copy of the low-circulation Sunday Express for an authored piece by the Great Leader. You will search in vain for it on the paper's website for it is not even important enough to place there.

Headed "why I will do more for our Armed Forces", the Boy starts with a "topical sob" about the hostages and then moves sharply into girlie mode, where he stays for the whole piece, barring one solitary paragraph.

There, "derivative" is the new black. The Boy's contribution to defence policy is to tell us that "our troops aren't always sent into battle with the proper equipment", then adding:

Last July I saw for myself the crying need for more helicopters to cope with the harsh conditions of Helmand province in Afghanistan.
In terms of timing, this has to be one of the worst calculated claims in political history – not that anyone will notice – for only last Friday, universally ignored by the media, the secretary of state for defence, Des Browne, announced that fourteen additional helicopters would be made available for use on military operations.

These include six new Merlin helicopters, obtained from the Danish who have agreed to wait for their batch, which will be available within a year. The other eight are the existing Chinook Mark 3 helicopters which, at the moment are languishing unused after botched "improvements" to make them suitable for the special forces. These are now to be retro-fitted with Mk2 equipment to allow them to be deployed on operations.

The saga of these Chinooks was outlined here (on the forum, strangely enough) and, faced with junking the aircraft altogether, this – at a cost in the region of £50m-£60m - was probably the best option.

Anyhow, for a complete package cost of around £230m, the RAF is acquiring a very substantial addition to its tactical transport fleet and, in the process, the Labour government has completely shot Cameron's fox when it comes to complaining about helicopter capabilities. Just to rub it in, the government's press release added:

Operational commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq have consistently and publicly confirmed that they currently have sufficient support helicopters to do the tasks required, although we can always do more with more. For example, Brigadier Jerry Thomas (Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan) has said, "Our success on operations would not have been possible unless our forces were properly equipped and supplied. To be clear, I have not asked for additional helicopters and the supply system is working well."
Cameron might have felt, therefore, that it was just as well he added insurance, also pointing out that the House of Commons Defence Select Committee "has highlighted the need for more heavily armoured vehicles to protect our troops from roadside bombs". But there again, with a substantial number of Bulldogs (pictured) already in service and the Mastiffs coming on stream, there is little force behind such a complaint.

That leaves one other – the Boy highlights the fact that, unlike personal weapons, body armour is not a permanent personal issue (it is allocated according to role). Big deal.

That, however, really is Mr David Cameron's sole contribution to any discussion on the equipment of the Armed Forces. Had he been more cute, he could have taken on the inadequate protection from mortar and rocket attacks on British bases – on which the government is still weak – and he could have taken on the issue of the provision of light assault helicopters.

That is a battle that the government has actually lost, yielding to the lobbying power of the RAF, which is reluctant to see the Army reduce its dependence on the boys in blue-grey, and the reluctance of unimaginative senior Army officers who are incapable of fully understanding the potential of organic air power.

The leader of an opposition party, though, might have been better off taking the high ground, commenting adversely on the government and military obsession with equipping the forces for the mythical European Rapid Reaction Force, instead of devoting energy and wealth to kitting them out to deal with the wars this nation is actually fighting, and needs to win. He could even have asked why the Navy in the Gulf was not equipped with patrol boats that can operate in the shallow waters of the northern continental shelf.

Apart from the fact that the Boy doesn't do "Europe", such a line would have actually required thought and understanding, and he doesn't do those either. Instead, we are back, for the rest of the article, to the retreat from defence.

For sure, what the Boy wants is good stuff, better medical facilities, for instance, better housing and his "Forces Families Manifesto". But it is also secondary. He writes glibly about the "contract" (not a covenant?) between the Armed Forces and the nation, but the most important way of keeping the bargain is to ensure that personnel are properly trained, suitably equipped, well led and operating to realistic rules of engagement, with good tactics and in formations structured to meet operational requirements.

By all means ensure that injured troops are properly looked after but, in the first instance, we need to focus on ensuring that as few as possible get killed or wounded. That is not only good sense, it is good politics.

But then, the Boy doesn't even do that. He finishes off his piece with the peroration, "Quite simply our forces are the best. And they and their families deserve the best". Interestingly, emerging from a discussion on the unofficial Army forum, not even our own Armed Forces thought they were the "best". As for deserving the best, most would be entirely satisfied with good accommodation, good wages and reasonable conditions.

In offering hyperbole instead of practicalities, Cameron convinces no one, except perhaps himself.