15 August 2006

On this day

Sixty-one years ago, on this day, the Second World War ended. I can still remember the unbridled joy, the huge sense of relief and pride that the freedom-loving nations of the world – which was how we thought of ourselves then – had triumphed over evil.

It wasn’t the war to end all wars. Since then there has been continuous warfare of some sort all over the world. I doubt if the current wars are about triumphing over evil.

On this same date, in 1950, Princess Elizabeth (the present Queen) gave birth to a daughter. Such were the values of the day that the event was headlined all over the US and the Commonwealth. News flashes appeared on cinema screens. Even in the land of Oz, in theatres and nightclubs, people stood and cheered.

The King was shooting (animals) on the Scottish moors and a special messenger was sent to inform him. Nobody bothered to tell me – I was labouring on a sweltering building site in Yugoslavia. But that’s another story.

The Westminster Registrar went to Clarence House to complete the birth certificate. After the Duke had signed, he was given his daughter's identity card, a ration book and bottles of cod-liver oil and orange juice. We were a very egalitarian society in those days.

In 1971 on this day we acquired an addition to the English language – a ‘Harvey Smith’ – after the famous horseman was stripped of his winnings for giving the V-sign (sort of) to the judges at the British Show Jumping Derby.

But on this day in 1998, at precisely 3.10 pm, the self-styled ‘real’ IRA detonated a bomb that killed 29 innocent people, including 9 children and a woman pregnant with twins. It maimed and burned over 200 others and destroyed the lives of hundreds more. The dead included two young Spaniards on a day-trip from a student exchange programme in Donegal.

The town of Omagh had entered the history books for the most tragic of reasons. The perpetrators finally stated that their bomb had exploded at its intended (commercial) location. It would appear that the commercial target was a small shop stocked with school uniforms for the coming term.

Much has been written about the mistakes by police North and South, both before and after the event. There has been unhappiness about the allocation of compensation, the inability to bring the killers to justice and the lukewarm official support for civil action in the courts. All this has added to the distress of the bereaved.

A significant factor has been the unwillingness of people with vital information to come forward.

Is it fear? I think I could just about understand that.

Or is it that old perverted sense of Irish loyalty to those who see themselves as patriots?

08 August 2006

Serious malfunctions

I should like to make it absolutely clear that I am very much against swearing – and only resort to it, on a purely private and personal basis, when I feel it necessary.

‘Yo Blair!’ said George Bush to his poodle Tony at the recent G8 Summit. He then followed with the (deeply shocking) S word with special reference to excremental supplies from Syria.

I hope his many followers were not too disturbed and that George has asked forgiveness of whoever he talks to when forgiveness and guidance are required. Clearly it was a malfunction.

A more memorable malfunction occurred at the Super Bowl in 2004 when the gyrating pop star Janet Jackson lost control of her apparel, and part of her anatomy made a fleeting public appearance. America was deeply traumatised, Britain was indifferent and the French nearly died laughing.

Following the subsequent ‘Nipplegate Investigation’ by the FCC (the Federal Communications Commission) the TV companies involved were fined $500,000. Meanwhile Janet was issuing a series of grovelling apologies and explanations. It was, she claimed, a malfunction. I sympathise with you Janet. These things are happening all the time.

I can report however that the American porn film industry, the biggest in the world, was not adversely affected.

Currently, the documentary film-maker Ken Burns is also running into trouble with the FCC over his film about the US Army in action, not because of its scenes of death and destruction but because soldiers are heard swearing. Burns has a beard, so is clearly an extremist.

Readers will already be aware that I am not absolutely at one with the British Countryside Alliance in its fight to preserve foxhunting.

Commendably however, it produced a series of posters, T-shirts and badges (seen fitfully on television) with the slogan ‘Horlicks to Blair’. Well it wasn’t actually Horlicks – it was much more alliterative to go with ‘Blair’– but I want to avoid this esteemed newspaper being fined $500,000. And besides, I have a beard.

At the Midlands Game Fair young Charlotte Denis was sporting a T-shirt bearing the said slogan and was arrested. The Police said the slogan was offensive. The young lady offered to remove her T-shirt but that opened issues of the Janet Jackson variety so she agreed to wear a coat. She was therefore released without charge. No action was taken against the giant posters.

Ms Denis had bought her T-shirt at the very posh Badminton Horse Trials a year earlier. ‘Horlicks to Blair’ merchandise, according to the manufacturers, ‘has been popular with all ages’ and they claim that some police officers wear the T-shirts under their uniforms.

Which just goes to show how the evil axis of global anti-democracy is lunging at the very breast of Western decency.

Oh dear. Have I said something offensive?

01 August 2006

Rules of war

One Israeli soldier is captured by Hamas, and two by Hezbollah. All hell breaks out.

To put matters in perspective, the number of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners held by Israel runs into many thousands. Some have been imprisoned for more than 20 years.

In 1985 Israel freed 1,500 prisoners in return for a handful held by various Arab groups.

Early in 2004, there was another deal. Israel released around 430 Arab prisoners plus some 60 Lebanese corpses in exchange for one abducted businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers. That reduced the total number held by Israel by just under 6%. The 7,500 or so still held at that time included women and girls, about 400 youths and an estimated 300 chronically ill.

Following that bizarre deal Hezbollah gained considerable credibility across the Arab world, having already won admiration in 2000 when it forced the Israeli army out of Lebanon – the only ‘resistance’ organisation to defeat Israel by military action.

Success brings its own reward. Iran, in its own mendacious interest, and with the connivance of Syria, keeps Hezbollah well supplied with increasingly sophisticated weaponry. Such coordination is seen by many as but one of the many predictable consequences of the invasion of Iraq.

Psychotic, reckless and fanatical it may be in the eyes of its enemies, Hezbollah has become an effective underground army and has the support of many Lebanese moderates who, rightly or wrongly, see it as their only means of defence.

Kofi Annan was quick to warn of a serious humanitarian disaster and called for an immediate ceasefire.

America, supported by the UK, did not agree.

We were in fact saying: let the collective punishment continue until Israel has out-gunned its enemies. Let the destruction of Lebanon and Gaza spread for a while longer. Let the death toll of the innocent rise.

While Israeli cities were suffering indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hezbollah, Israel was claiming credit for ordering Lebanese civilians to clear certain areas so that they could pound them with air strikes and artillery.

And even if the refugees could have picked their way through the blocked roads and survived air attacks while they did so, they were also having their homes and businesses destroyed with impunity. And what if they were too poor, too old or too sick to leave? They must remain behind and be buried in the rubble.

Meanwhile the Bush administration was rushing five-tonne laser-guided bombs to Israel and Condoleezza Rice was speaking glibly (if not insanely) of ‘the birth pangs’ of a new Middle East.

Soldiers taken by Hezbollah are ‘kidnapped’. Those held by Israel are captured ‘terrorists’, ‘gangs’ and ‘criminals’, entitled neither to trial nor the protection of the Geneva Convention.

Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay operate under the same ingenious patent.