Monthly Archives: April 2013

Americans Attack York, Destroy New Legislation

Very informative blog post on the Battle of York on 27 April 1813, during the War of 1812 between the USA and Britain. York is now Toronto.

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In the early morning hours of April 27, 1813, the people of York, the capital of Upper Canada, were startled to hear gunfire.  American troops had landed on what is now Sunnyside Beach, and were fighting their way along the shore.

The Americans had sailed from Sackets Harbor, New York, two days before, but the only opposition on Lake Ontario had been rough weather.  General Dearborn, who was so stout that he had to be carried in a special carriage, became seasick and his second in command, General Pike, directed the landing of 1,700 men.

The garrison at York was commanded by General Sheaffe who had not expected an attack and so had spent the winter at Niagara.  Consequently, arrangements for defence were very poor.  The only new artillery guns were lying in the mud near the shore, where they had been…

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Fascist Scotland – Gavin Bowd – Aye Write

On Saturday 20 April I attended a talk by Gavin Bowd on his book Fascist Scotland, given at Aye Write! Glasgow’s Book Festival.

Gavin Bowd is a St Andrews University lecturer, albeit in French rather than Scottish or British history. He was introduced by the author Stuart Kelly, who pointed out that it has often been assumed that Fascism has attracted little support in Scotland over the years, a view contradicted by this book.

Bowd began by stressing that there were people sympathetic to Fascism throughout Scottish society. He then discussed a number of the individuals who appear in his book

He began by discussing Rudolf Hess’s flight to Scotland in May 1941. Hess intended to discuss peace terms with the Duke of Hamilton. Elements of the British aristocracy had shown themselves to be favourably inclined towards Nazi Germany before the war. The Duke denied having any sympathy with the proposed negotiations.

Archibald Maule Ramsay was the Unionist MP for Peebles and South Midlothian; the Scottish Unionist Party was legally independent from but closely allied to, the Conservative Party of England and Wales. At first he appeared to be just a good rural MP, but he then ‘discovered’ an alleged Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy. He was involved with Tyler Kent, a cipher clerk at the US Embassy in London who stole secret documents.

Ramsay was the only MP to be detained under Defence Regulation 18B, and was interned until late 1944. He then resumed his parliamentary seat, but  did not stand in the 1945 General Election as he had been de-selected by his party. His last act as an MP was an unsuccessful attempt to repeal nineteenth century legislation giving Jews full civic rights.

Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists had limited success in Scotland. He had previously attacked the excesses of the Black and Tans during the Irish War of Independence and supported Irish unification. This cost him potential support from Unionists.

The BUF did not believe in discrimination against Catholics, thinking that they could be as good Britons as Protestants. This led groups such as John Cormack’s Protestant Action in Edinburgh to oppose rather than support it. Bowd suggested that the BUF was too tolerant for some Scots; perhaps bigoted against the wrong minorities would be a fairer way of putting it.

Some Nationalists were impressed by Mussolini’s Italian Fascists and looked for a similar movement in Scotland. They were not attracted to the BUF because it favoured devolution, but not independence for Scotland.

The poet Hugh McDiarmid, who held a great variety of different views over his lifetime, admired Mussolini in the 1920s. He argued in 1923 for a Scottish version of Fascism, and in 1929 for the formation of Clann Albain, a Fascistic para-military organisation that would fight for Scottish freedom. In June 1940 he wrote a poem expressing his indifference to the impending German bombing of London, which was not published during his lifetime:

Now when London is threatened

With devastation from the air

I realise, horror atrophying me,

That I hardly care.

Douglas Young, a future leader of the SNP, wrote in January 1939 that:

If Hitler could neatly remove our imperial breeks somehow and thus dissipate the mirage of Imperial partnership with England etc he would do a great service to Scottish Nationalism.

Young also suggested that the average German stormtrooper was more honest than a British bourgeoisie.

However, other Nationalists, such as John MacCormick, supported the war effort. See this article by Bowd for more on Nationalist attitudes to Fascism; it is the source of the quotes above.

During WWII the Germans established Radio Caledonia  which carried broadcasts by Donald Grant, a native of Alness. He was a loner, who was attracted to extreme ideas. He travelled to Germany in July 1939, staying on after the outbreak of war. All that survives of his broadcasts is some illegible transcripts. He received a light sentence, perhaps because he was not captured until 1946, emigrated to South Africa and is thought to have died in the 1980s.

In 1938 the Duchess of Atholl, the Unionist MP for Kinross and West Perthshire, resigned from her party and Parliament because of her opposition to appeasement. She stood as an independent in the subsequent by-election, but lost to the official Unionist candidate.

The Duchess opposed the British policy of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War, and published a pro-Republican pamphlet. In retaliation Charles Saroléa, a Belgian who was Professor of French at Edinburgh University, published a pro-Franco one. He had supported the rights of small nations before WWI, but later became obsessed with Bolshevism and Jews, and was part of a nexus of extreme right wing aristocrats and reactionaries.

Saroléa claimed that his pamphlet helped to defeat the Duchess, but Bowd notes that it was more significant that the Unionist establishment opposed her. There was also strong support from all classes for appeasement until Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

Jessie Jordan, a Dundonian hairdresser who had lived for many years in Germany, was arrested as a German spy in 1938. There were allegations that her late first husband was Jewish, so she may have been motivated by a desire to protect their daughter by showing her loyalty to Germany. Certainly, a large number of her customers in Germany were Jewish. She appears to have been a much better hairdresser than spy, making elementary security errors. She received a sentence of only four years, perhaps being lucky that she was caught in peacetime.

Lt-Col Graham Seton-Hutchison had a distinguished record in WWI, and was well known as an author of spy fiction, featuring the James Bond like Col. Grant, and military history. He became an anti-Semite and pro-Nazi, but later espoused Scottish Nationalism, believing in the clan system and attacking Jewish finance capital.

In the 1920s and 30s Italians were the largest ethnic minority group in Scotland. The Italian Consulate claimed that up to 40% of them belonged to the Fascist Party. Bowd says that it has been argued that many joined for social reasons, but he contends that there was a political edge.

He noted that there are remnants of neo-Fascism in Scotland, amongst both supporters of UK wide extreme right parties, such as the BNP, and extreme Scottish nationalists. He stressed that he is not accusing the current SNP of being Fascist, but thinks that it has failed to come to terms with aspects of its past.

This did not please SNP supporters in the audience, who criticised his assertions that some nationalists have espoused Fascism. For similar views see the negative reviews of the book on Amazon and the comments following an article that he wrote for 7 April edition of Scotland on Sunday. Bowd’s nationalist critics claim that his book is an attack on the SNP. They ignore the fact that he alleges that there were Fascist sympathisers in all parts of Scottish society, not just amongst nationalists.

An interesting talk on a book that brings a little known aspect of Scottish history to light.


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The Gatekeepers

The Gatekeepers is a documentary film about Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, made by Dror Moreh. It consisted of interviews with the six living former heads of Shin Bet, interspersed with archive film and some CGI graphics, and told the organisation’s story since 1967. Until then the main threats to Israel were external, so Mossad, the foreign intelligence service was more important than Shin Bet.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza after the 6 Day War in 1967 meant that it faced a security threat from territory that it controlled, so Shin Bet became the more important of the two intelligence services.

The film is divided into seven segments, which give it a roughly chronological order, but also discuss various themes and moral issues that have arisen since 1967, including political direction, torture, targeted assassinations and collateral damage.

The six participants are Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Avi Dichter and  Yuval Diskin.

The seven segments are:

No Strategy, Just Tactics:

This covers the initial stages of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel had no strategy for the future of the occupied territories; everything revolved round short-term tactics aimed at reducing terrorism.

These succeeded in cutting the number of attacks hugely, but did nothing to produce a long-term solution, although some Israelis, including Avraham Shalom, wanted a Palestinian state even then.

In order to carry out a census of the occupied territories, Israeli soldiers were taught a small number of relevant Arabic phrases, including ‘We want to count you.’ Unfortunately, a pronunciation error mean that many Israelis actually said that ‘We want to castrate you.’ Shin Bet subsequently set up a very rigorous programme of Arabic lessons for its personnel.

Forget About Morality:

This deals with the hijacking of the 300 bus in 1984. The four hijackers were killed, but it subsequently emerged that two had been captured alive, badly beaten and then killed. The film attributed this to the Israeli Army, but the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has published documents that blame Shalom and Shin Bet.

One Man’s Terrorist is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter:

This covers the peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO that culminated in the 1993 Oslo Accords. Opposition to them in both Palestine and Israel resulted in the growth of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and terrorist acts by Israelis.

Our Own Flesh and Blood:

This dealt with terrorism by Israelis who opposed the Oslo Accords. Shin Bet investigations resulted in the arrest and conviction of many of them, but most were released after serving only part of their sentences. On 4 November 1995  Israeli Prime Minister Yithak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Israeli.

Victory is to See You Suffer:

The title of this segment comes from a comment made by a Palestinian to Ami Ayalon during Israeli-Palestinian talks during the Second Intifada. It means that the Palestinians would regard it as a victory if they could make life for the Israelis as bad as it was for themselves.

Collateral Damage:

This covered the targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders, and the risk that innocent civilians would also be killed. At one point Shin Bet discovered that the senior command of Hamas would be meeting in a particular building. The Israeli Air Force could have dropped a one ton bomb on it, killing all of them, but also some innocent civilians. The politicians insisted that only a quarter ton bomb should be dropped. This reduced the risk of killing innocents, but meant that the Hamas leaders would be killed only if they were in the upper floor of the two storey building; they were not and survived.

The Old Man at the End of the Corridor:

This came from a belief held by Ami Ayalon when he was a child on a kibbutz that Israel was run by a wise man (David Ben-Gurion) who sat in an office behind at the end of a long corridor and made decisions after thinking things through carefully. When he entered the government, he found the corridor, but there was no door at the end of it.

In this segment the six men reflected on Shin Bet, its activities and the implications for Israel. They all thought that it was necessary for Israel to talk to its enemies, and did not seem to have been impressed by the politicians that they had worked for, apart from Rabin; he was described as understanding security issues so well that they did not have to be explained to him.

A fear was expressed that Israel may end up winning all the battles but losing the war because of stubbornness. The occupation has embittered the occupied and brutalised the occupiers. Avraham Shalom suggested that Israel is treating the Palestinians as the Germans treated the non-Jewish subjects of the countries that they occupied in WWII.

A very powerful film. All six men came across well, speaking openly and honestly. They were aware of the problems that Israel’s actions had created, and feared that its strategy was flawed, but had been in positions where they could only carry out the strategy laid down from above.

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North Korea Undercover – BBC Panorama

On Monday 15 April 2012 the BBC broadcast a documentary in its Panorama series featuring an undercover report on North Korea from John Sweeney. The programme was controversial before it was broadcast because Sweeney, posing as a professor, joined a party of LSE students who were on an eight day tour of North Korea.

The students were told that the party would include a journalist, but at least some of them thought that this meant a single print journalist, rather than a three person TV crew. Some of the students have complained, claiming that the BBC put their safety at risk, and that they have received threatening emails from North Korea. The programme did obscure the identities of some members of the party.

The LSE and other academics have attacked the programme, alleging that the affair may damage their reputation for independence and transparency. See the websites of the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the BBC for more details of the controversy.

UK viewers can view the programme online via the I-Player. Panorama documentaries remain available for 12 months on the I-Player rather than the normal one week.

The most interesting part of the programme turned out to be a series of comments from Western experts and North Korean defectors filmed elsewhere, rather than the undercover film. The programme showed what Sweeney described as a ‘landscape bleak beyond words’, but did not add a great deal to our knowledge of North Korea because the tourists were closely supervised by two guides.

The tour featured numerous power cuts, including one when the party was visiting a factory that made electricity generators. They could not go further than the visitor’s centre because the factory has switched over to making military equipment because of the threat of war.

Other visits included a bottling plant where no bottling was taking place and a collective farm that lacked fields, crops and animals. In the words of The Independent’s TV critic, ‘North Korea is so poor that it can’t even build a convincing Potemkin village.’ For part of the tour, they stayed at a spa hotel that was surrounded with barbed wire.

One afternoon the party visited a hospital that had some impressive medical equipment, but no patients. It was explained that they are treated in the morning, and work or carry out social activities in the afternoon. The tourists could not meet the patients without their permission, and could not obtain their permission without meeting them,

The BBC crew did manage to take some photos of signs of poverty witnessed from the tour bus, despite being told not to do so by one of the tour guides. They included a women doing her washing in an icy river, people scavenging in mud and a market that appeared to lack any produce.

There were some interesting snippets from the tour. Posters of Marx and Lenin had disappeared from Pyongyang over the previous year, suggesting a focus on Nationalism rather than Communism.

There are now a million mobile phones in North Korea; they are not supposed to be used for international calls, but Sweeney got a South Korean signal on his i-phone when near the border.

A bank was being built next to the party’s Pyongyang hotel by a joint venture with a Chinese bank, showing continued Chinese investment.

The party visited the De Militarised Zone between the North and South on a day when North Korean TV was stepping up its threatening rhetoric against the South and the USA. There were no South Korean guards at the Joint Security Area, which Sweeney said was unusual. Perhaps they had been withdrawn to avoid an incident that might escalate?

Overall, however, the film from inside North Korea added nothing to a previous BBC documentary that was made openly a couple of years ago. The most interesting parts were the brief interviews with three Western experts and, especially, three North Korean defectors.

Professor Brian Myers of Donseo University said that the North Koreans were not planning a nuclear war, but one could come about due to some disastrous miscalculation. A higher proportion of population is in uniform than was the case in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy before WWII. He argued that it is a far right, ultra Nationalist state, not a Communist one.

John Everard, the UK Ambassador to North Korea in 2006-8, describes it as being a  ‘deeply racially biased’ society. He said that Kim Jong Il was an admirer of Hitler and copied him, eg North Korean rallies are modelled on the Nuremberg ones. He commented that ordinary North Korean people would admit to him that their country was poor and backward, but blame this on outside pressures. He pointed out that the growth in the use of mobile phones means that news can now spread round the country far more quickly than in the past.

Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Security Studies, explained that Kim Il Sung, still head of state 19 years after his death, is regarded as a ‘kind of god.’

The best part of the programme was the brief interviews with three of the 25,000 North Korean defectors living in the South. Sweeney could have avoided the controversy and made a better programme by staying in the South and showing more of these.

Ji Seong Ho said that saying the wrong thing would mean being sent to a political prison camp; ‘disagreement means death.’ There was a famine in 1990s after North Korea lost of support from the USSR. He lost a leg and a hand after he fell under train whilst trying to stealing coal to pay for food. His grandmother and neighbours died of starvation, and he saw lots of corpses in cities at alleyways, markets and at railway stations. Two years ago the UN estimated 6m North Koreans (25% of population) needed urgent food aid.

A female doctor  who declined to be interviewed, presumably because she still has family in the North, said that the people of the North do not rebel because they are brainwashed from an early age. Doctors who asked for more money for medicines would have been killed regardless of their ranking.

Defector Jung Gwang Il was formerly an inmate of one of North Korea’s concentration camp, Camp 15. He said that the dead were not buried in winter because of the hard ground, but were left in a warehouse until April, by when the corpses were decomposing. They were then buried, 70-80 bodies per hole. Defectors say that the concentration camps getting bigger under Kim Jong Un’s regime. The programme showed brief footage of the Yodok Camp, which is available on You Tube.

Sweeney’s conclusion is that Kim Jong Un is an untested leader, who feels that he must threaten war to establish his position, but could take it too far and cause a war.

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Royal Navy Too Small?

A recent article in Warships: International Fleet Review, written by Francis Beaufort, its political correspondent, argued that the Royal Navy risks losing critical mass. A pdf of the article can be downloaded from the UK National Defence Association’s website.

The strength of the RN, measured in ships and people, has fallen by two-thirds since the end of the Cold War; in 2004-5 it was about half its Cold War strength.

In 1982, it had two carriers, two assault ships, four ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), 12 nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN), six diesel powered submarines (SSK), 15 destroyers and 46 frigates.

It now has no aircraft carriers, although two are under construction, two helicopter carriers, 2 assault/command ships, three landing ships, four SSBNs, five SSNs in full service with two on sea trials, five destroyers in full service with two more coming into service and 13 frigates.

The number of sailors and marines was 73,000 in 1982 and 36,000 in 2004; there are now only 29,000.

The modern ships are far more capable than their predecessors, but can only be in one place at a time, making it hard for the RN to cover all its responsibilities. Beaufort points out that there is a rule of thumb that only a third of a navy’s warships will be available at any time.

Britain is an island, dependent on overseas trade, and with global responsibilities. We live in times of austerity, but the RN is now at a level where it cannot be cut further, and probably should be expanded, or else its number of tasks must be reduced.

Still, it does not look as if the Argentinian navy is any threat; the mothballed destroyer ARA Santisima Trinidad capsized in harbour earlier this year. Click here for a report and picture.

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