Putin at D-Day and other nauseating sights

Since we were first blessed with the advent of mass communications we’ve been cursed with a flood of horrifying, blood-chilling images.

Thousands of skeletal bodies bulldozed out of Soviet and Nazi concentration camps, uncovered mass graves filled by both evil regimes, Japanese children disfigured by radiation, people jumping to their deaths out of the World Trade Centre and so forth.

Some images, however, aren’t so much blood-chilling as puke-making: the England footballers raising their arms in the Heil Hitler salute at the 1936 Olympics, Martin McGuinness wearing white tie, a bearded sideshow winning the Eurovision song contest, happy homosexual couples kissing at the altar, that living argument against affirmative action Obama pontificating on the joys of European federalism (or anything else), Tony Blair whatever he does – the list is interminable.

It’s hard to decide how high or low Putin rubbing shoulders with Western politicians in Normandy should be on this list. But there’s no doubt he belongs there.

I don’t mean to keep banging on about this, but please let’s not forget that the Second World War was started by the alliance of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Both nations were seeking world domination, which eventually led to them falling out. Both suffered horrendously as a result, but then so does a man who kills a dozen pedestrians at random before turning the gun on himself. In both instances, the perpetrators’ horrendous suffering is self-inflicted, which is more than one can say about the victims.

This is something we ought to keep in mind as we shed a tear for the millions caught in the deadly spectacle or, come to that, for the lone murderer’s family. Forgive we may, but we should never forget.

Frau Merkel and Col. Putin, the leaders of the two erstwhile predators, are holding a meeting behind closed doors even as we speak. I doubt we’ll ever know exactly what they’re talking about because the get-together is likely to be strictly à deux: they speak each other’s language, so even interpreters aren’t needed.

The two share common interests and, to a large extent, common backgrounds. When Col. Putin did his spying in the Dresden rezidentura of the KGB, Frau Merkel held a nomenklatura position in both East Germany’s Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands, the Young Communist League working hand in glove with the Stasi, and in the ruling party Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands.

It’s not inconceivable that the two met in their professional capacities back in those unlamented days, which is why they use the familiar forms of address when takling to each other, du in German, ty in Russian. Yet what matters in this context is that since then the two colleagues have taken divergent paths.

Frau Merkel took over the leadership of a country that had unequivocally repudiated Nazi Germany’s criminal past and tried to make amends for it. That’s why, whatever we may think of her personally or indeed of her country’s persistent efforts to dominate Europe by subterfuge, as Chancellor of a repentant Germany she belongs among the world leaders coming together in Normandy to commemorate D-Day and those thousands who died on the beaches.

Col. Putin’s country, on the other hand, not only hasn’t repudiated her criminal past, but she’s proud of it. More important, she’s extending it into the present and doubtless the future as well.

That makes Putin, who regards the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century”, an active accomplice in Soviet crimes – including the country’s aggressive role in starting the Second World War.

That’s why his presence in Normandy is so utterly emetic: he doesn’t belong there any more than a proud ex-SS officer would. By welcoming this unrepentant KGB thug still acting in character, the leaders of civilised nations risk having some of the Soviet evil rub off on them.

Just imagine the stench and reach for a sick bag – you may well need it, especially on a hot day.











D-Day: glorious, heroic – and wrong (PART 2)

Germany’s pre-emptive strike on 22 June, 1941, effectively destroyed the Soviet regular army, with 4.5 million prisoners (my father, incidentally, among them) taken in the next two months. Many of those prisoners not only surrendered without a fight, with whole regiments marching into Nazi captivity to the sound of brass bands, but at least 1.5 million of them volunteered to fight against Stalin.

Comparing this shocking figure with the number of Russian soldiers bearing arms against their country in the Napoleonic war of 1812 (none), we may begin to realise the depth of hatred the Bolshevik regime had unleashed among its own people.

Few were Soviet soldiers who hadn’t had next of kin shot, tortured or starved to death, sent to concentration camps or imprisoned. The morale in the army, especially after the 1937-1938 purges in which most officers from the level of regimental commander up had been wiped out, was below low.

 The terrorist methods used by Stalin and Beria to make the Red Army fight are best described in the book Stalin’s War of Extermination by the late German historian Joachim Hoffmann. But fight the army finally did, losing uncountable and largely uncounted millions on the way to Berlin.

 But already in 1941 Stalin knew that THUNDERSTORM, if it was to succeed at all, would have to have its objectives reassessed. Conquering the world, or even all of Europe, was no longer on the cards. He knew he’d have to satisfy himself with a slice instead of the whole cake. From the debacle of 1941 onwards Stalin’s sole aim was to make sure the slice could be as fat as possible.

Britain, thrust into an alliance with Soviet butchers, pursued more modest aims. Winston Churchill, who had devoted his whole life to the good of the British Empire, wished to have the Empire preserved. Also, alone among the Allied leaders, he wasn’t blind to the Bolshevik threat. For Europe to thrive after the war, he felt correctly, it wasn’t enough to defeat Hitler. Stopping Stalin was just as important.

Understandably, this put Churchill on a collision course with Stalin, a conflict that could only be resolved by the richest Ally and the greatest supplier of arms to both Britain and the USSR – the USA led throughout the war by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

However, Roosevelt’s war aims, and especially his post-war ones, differed from Churchill’s. Not to cut too fine a point, Churchill wanted to preserve the British Empire, while Roosevelt wanted to destroy it. His aim was for America to supplant Britain as the major Western power, and in this Roosevelt was continuing the American imperialist policy already pursued during the previous war by President Wilson.

Thus Roosevelt’s aims overlapped with Stalin’s who also saw Britain, and Churchill personally, as the main obstacle on the way to achieving his own objectives. This explains why Roosevelt consistently joined forces with Stalin to defeat Churchill’s proposals on war strategy.

A significant factor in Roosevelt’s decision-making was his entourage, densely staffed with Soviet agents, such as Harry Dexter White, who de facto ran Treasury, Alger Hiss, one of Roosevelt’s top diplomats, and especially Harry Hopkins, who effectively led the country during Roosevelt’s last term when the President was increasingly incapacitated.

These men were influential in steering Roosevelt’s policies towards Stalin’s, and away from Allied, interests, but their role must not be exaggerated. Roosevelt was a visceral American supremacist, and as such he knew anyway that his and Churchill’s bread was buttered on opposite sides.

Stalin desperately wanted the Allies to invade Europe through northern France, for this would leave Eastern Europe defenceless against Soviet conquest and subsequent domination. Churchill, on the other hand, was in favour of invading through the south, mainly Italy, cutting Stalin’s hordes off the Balkans and eastern Europe.

Understandably, if illogically, Stalin kept bleating about the need for a second front, refusing to acknowledge that it already existed. It was as if the Anglo-American troops dying in their thousands in North Africa and the Far East weren’t fighting on any front at all (incidentally, this is the impression most Russians have even today, largely thanks to the history books created by Putin’s government).

Most important, a second front had already existed even in Europe since 12 September, 1943, when 200,000 Anglo-American troops landed from Sicily at Salerno on the Italian mainland. Using their established bases in Italy as the beachhead, the logic of the war demanded that the Allies expand their operations from the Aegean and Adriatic Seas into south and central Europe.

This view was shared by Gen. Eisenhower who later said, “Italy was the correct place in which to deploy our main forces and the objective should be the Valley of the Po. In no other area could we so well threaten the whole German structure including France, the Balkans and the Reich itself.”

Yet the thrust through Italy was slowed down, with the invasion forces denuded in preparation for the utterly unnecessary invasion of northern France. Even in spite of that the Allies managed to liberate Rome on 4 June, 1944 – two days before D-Day.

None of that counted as a second front as far as Stalin was concerned, and Roosevelt agreed. Yet there’s little doubt that, had the Allies refused to play lickspittle to Stalin, they could have driven from Italy into Austria and then into Germany much sooner, conceivably ending the war a year earlier, and saving millions of lives.

The American general Mark Clark, commander of Allied forces in Italy, understood this perfectly well. In his 1950 memoir he wrote, “We celebrated a victory when in reality we had not won the war.”

Indeed we hadn’t. Whatever was left of the British Empire was lost immediately after the war, as was Eastern Europe and much of Asia. The Soviet Union emerged as the immediate victor, and the United States the long-term one.

Still, this isn’t what we should mainly think about on Friday. Instead we should turn our thoughts and prayers to the Allied heroes who died on the beaches of Normandy exactly 70 years ago.

But once we’ve risen up from our knees and joined in the spirit of jubilation, we ought to remind ourselves that neither those 10,000 nor the subsequent millions had to die. Through no fault of their own, their heroism delivered half of Europe to the worst nightmare history has so far thrown up, probably adding years to the life of that foul abomination.

Happy D-Day!







D-Day: splendid, glorious, heroic, sacrificial – and terribly wrong

In this double feature I’ll try to comment on the event we’ll be celebrating on Friday: D-Day, universally and rightly seen as a pivotal milestone in the history of the last big war.

Yet not everything about it is clear-cut. The Second World War was a complex drama, with the plot played out in the proscenium while multiple sub-plots unfolded behind the curtain.

The general public, good folk who just get on with their lives without being excessively bothered about modern history, are probably familiar with the plot and the dramatis personae in the key roles, although, after half a century of comprehensive education, this might be an unsafe assumption.

The sub-plots, on the other hand, remain in the shadows, often invisible even to those who take professional interest in such matters. D-Day, the term normally used to describe the Allied invasion of northern France is one such sub-plot.

In history’s greatest seaborne operation on 6 June, 1944, 6,939 ships landed 156,115 allied troops on Normandy beaches. Contrary to the misconception prevalent in the USA (“we won your war for you”), only 73,000 of them came from the US. The rest mostly flew the flags of Britain and her dominions.

The landing succeeded largely due to the undercover preparation work, preceded as the invasion had been by a massive deception operation. Consequently the SS tank divisions deployed to protect the coast of Pas-de-Calais didn’t make it to the beachhead in time to wipe it out. Even as it was, 10,000 Allied soldiers died amidst the dunes.

The resulting triumph of Allied arms could easily have turned into a disaster. In fact, even the most optimistic members of the Allied High Command had rated the chances of success as 50-50 at best.

These weren’t the kind of odds on which Anglo-American generals typically risked potential casualties in the hundreds of thousands. So what made them push the button this time? What dire operational necessity was guiding their finger?

The answer is, there was no operational necessity, dire or otherwise, for the invasion of Northern France. It wasn’t the bellicose god of war that drove the Allies across the Channel, but the shifty god of political chicanery.

Here we ought to remember that the three main Allied powers, Britain, the USA and the USSR, while united in their common goal of defeating Nazi Germany, also pursued aims of their own – and these were at odds.

In the run-up to the war, the Soviets had built up the biggest invasion force known in history, far outstripping the rest of the world’s armies put together in both manpower and materiel.

Stalin had a seven to one superiority in tanks over Germany, with his machines being technologically two generations ahead of the Wehrmacht’s (or anyone else’s). Soviet fighter planes had demonstrated their superiority over their German and Italian analogues during the Spanish Civil War. Stalin boasted more submarines than the rest of the world combined. And as to the human resources, the Soviets could match Germany three times over.

It would be tedious to argue the point that ought to be self-evident to any historian other than fully paid-up apologists for Stalin: that gigantic force, assembled at a cost of millions dead and hundreds of millions enslaved, was put together not to defend Russia but to conquer the world.

The plan was to provoke Hitler’s assault on the West, wait until his troops got mired either in France or, ideally, in Britain and then drive the juggernaut across the central European plains.

The entire Soviet policy from about 1932 onwards is intelligible only in the light of this objective. It’s to achieve it that in a few short years Stalin turned the Soviet Union into a giant military-labour camp, starved millions to death, courted Hitler, first secretly, then – after August 1939 – openly, provided the raw materials without which Nazi Germany couldn’t have attacked the West, invaded Poland from the east 17 days after the Nazis had invaded her from the west, provided the bombs that German planes rained on London.

Two developments prevented Stalin from launching his offensive in 1940, as had been planned (that operation went by the codename THUNDERSTORM). The first was the Winter War of 1939-1940, in which Stalin threw against Finland an army almost outnumbering the entire population of that tiny country.

The Finns heroically fought Stalin’s hordes to a standstill, inflicting 500,000 casualties, against 20,000-odd of their own. Brilliantly led by Marshal Mannerheim, who had learned his trade when serving as Lieutenant-General in the Tsar’s Guards, the Finns gave Stalin a reality check: his army was poorly trained, ineptly led and incompetently supplied.

Still, the Finns could keep up their heroic struggle only for so long: a country whose population was smaller than Leningrad’s was running out of resources. Yet just as Stalin was finally ready to overrun Finland, he was given another reality check.

The British government hinted, not so subtly, that, should Stalin refuse to accept an armistice with a token gain in Finnish territory, the Brits would use the RAF Mosul base in Iraq to take out the Baku oilfields, then the only source of Soviet oil. Stalin took the hint, sued for peace and delayed the planned invasion of Europe.

‘Delayed’ shouldn’t be understood to mean ‘cancelled’: THUNDERSTORM was to go ahead, but a year later than originally planned, around July-August, 1941. When Hitler finally realised what was going on, he took the wild gamble of delivering a pre-emptive strike, thus accepting what every German schoolchild knew would be catastrophic: a two-front war.

What those precocious schoolchildren didn’t know, and some eminent historians still don’t, was that Hitler no longer had a choice. Stalin’s monstrous juggernaut had to be destroyed before it had a chance to roll.


Thank you, EU, for this lesson in sound economics

We should all be thankful to the EU for letting us partake of its economic wisdom.

As this august organisation keeps swearing on Karl Marx’s grave, it’s solely dedicated to ensuring that Europe is a rip-roaring economic success – no ulterior political motive anywhere in sight.

This single-mindedness of purpose has produced the kind of results the European Commission in general and Frau Merkel in particular can justly regard as revolutionary.

That’s why it’s churlish of all those Ukip (and even some Tory!) ingrates to bellyache about the Commission’s generous offer of sound advice. It’s sheer arrogance to refuse to listen to proven experts.

One must admit that at first glance, the EU’s diktat…, sorry, I mean constructive proposal, sounds insane. But that’s only if you listen to those who strive to stick a crowbar into the wheel spokes of progress.

Without overburdening you with excessive detail, the diktosal (if you’ll pardon a portmanteau neologism) boils down to the time-proven policy of ensuring economic progress: tax and spend.

Actually the details are irrelevant. What matters is the general philosophy. Once that has been absorbed into Europe’s bloodstream, it doesn’t really matter how the extra tax will be extorted and in what areas the spending will be increased.

In this instance, the diktosal calls for increasing our council taxes and slapping punitive levies on those who dare live in expensive houses. The money raised thereby ought to be spent on lowering the cost of childcare and presumably also on providing EU functionaries with the kind of housing they deserve. 

Predictably, some reactionary fossils, especially those racists-fascists-loons-sexists-homophobes-xenophobes in Ukip, are screaming bloody murder. They claim such policies will only succeed in hurting the economy, which will result in lower, rather than higher, tax revenue.

They don’t even notice the gross inconsistency of their own arguments, which isn’t surprising considering that so few of them live in Notting Hill, that hatchery of intellectual and, especially, sartorial excellence.

First the fossils bang on about the horrors of excessive immigration – even to the point of attacking the sainted Tony ‘Anthony’ Blair for daring to suggest – self-evidently! – that an influx of Somalis and Roma Bulgarians will resuscitate the Old Blighty, stimulating economic blood-flow through her sclerotic veins.

But then they fail to realise that the EU’s breakthrough idea will correct the very problem that riles Nigel Farage so – that of immigration. This obtuseness betokens their inability to follow elementary logic.

What’s the opposite of immigration? Correct. It’s emigration. If Farage sees immigration as a problem, he should logically either welcome emigration or else shut up. Are you with me so far?

Now imagine a pipe through which fluid flows in a certain direction. How do you reverse the flow? Any hydraulic engineer knows that you do so by installing a check valve.

What those homespun economists in Ukip and the lunatic fringe of the Tory party don’t realise is that the EU’s diktosal is tantamount to installing exactly such a device. A device, may I add, whose unfailing efficacy has been proven everywhere it has been tested.

Just look at the success the check valve of tax-spend has brought to France. Keeping his finger on the EU pulse, my friend François introduced – or rather expanded – the use of such policies. The success has been resounding.

The check valve clicked into action, bankrupting the country and reversing the flow much to everyone’s satisfaction. French people began to run away at an ever-increasing speed, mostly, by the looks of it, to West London, making it the fifth largest French conurbation in the world. Job done.

It’s not just immigration either. What about the traditional and much-vaunted English virtue of fair play? One may be forgiven for getting the impression that it has left these shores to settle somewhere near Brussels.

It’s blatantly unfair that the British economy is growing faster than any other in Europe. Actually, the comparative is inaccurate here, for other economies in Europe aren’t really growing. They’re either stagnating or contracting everywhere but in Germany.

If all those Little Englanders really understood England’s rich tradition of equity and fairness, they’d welcome any measure manifestly aimed at redressing this imbalance.

Britain has no business growing while others aren’t. Hence the EU’s idea, universally proven to put paid to economic growth. Since the Brits don’t seem to realise the fairness of it all, we must thank the EU for trying to get us in touch with our inner selves.

Not only are all these Eurohaters trying to poison the continent’s healthy body, they’re also injecting their venom into the veins of normally sound politicians, such as my friend Dave. This worthy man is being blackmailed into opposing the elevation of Jean-Claude Juncker to the presidency of the European Commission.

Scared by the current advent of racism (otherwise known as Ukip electoral victory), Dave has even threatened Frau Merkel that Britain will leave the EU if Jean-Claude is appointed. So fine, Dave doesn’t really mean it, but the very fact that such seditious words could cross his lips is grounds for concern.

We ought to support Jean-Claude’s candidature on the strength of his name alone. The amalgam of a French Christian name and a German surname proves that my new friend embodies in his very person the true spirit of the EU: the fusion of German and French bureaucracies first achieved when the two countries were more or less one back in the early ‘40s.

Add to this Jean-Claude’s exemplary record of leading that European powerhouse Luxembourg, a dazzling career only interrupted by an electoral defeat brought about by a wee bit of scandal, and you’ll see that the EU can’t find a better candidate to promote its founding values.

Rejecting life-saving economic advice. Campaigning against the walking embodiment of the EU. Attacking my friend Tony, whose only fault is that he wants to bring to all of Europe the same triumphant policies that benefited his own country so much.

Really, how truculent can they get, those Eurohaters? But don’t get me going on that.













Grand Theft Auto: the playing fields of Eton it ain’t

It’s generally believed that games have a formative influence on children’s upbringing. They probably do, though I suspect the influence games exert is mainly indirect.

Thus I don’t think that a boy playing rugby at school will necessarily grow up throwing flying tackles in Piccadilly. But he may learn to grin and bear it when things are tough, depend on others and let them depend on him, play fairly by the rules whatever the situation, not shy away from a challenge and so forth.

This is perhaps what the Duke of Wellington meant when revisiting his alma mater Eton towards the end of his life. Pointing at a playing field, the Duke is reported to have exclaimed, “It is here that the battle of Waterloo was won!”

When queried on this later, Wellington repudiated his own maxim: “The battle of Waterloo, Sir,” he said, “was won by the scum of the earth!” Presumably his two statements referred to different groups of people, though sometimes one wonders, especially when observing our PM in action.

Be that as it may, George Orwell who, apart from writing, dedicated his life to atoning for his Etonian childhood, put his customary socialist spin on the Iron Duke’s statement: “‘Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there.”

Without disputing this statement, or indeed trying to understand it, let’s just say that one way or the other both men clearly believed that games are valuable educational tools.

Hence it’s interesting if futile to imagine what they’d make of Britain’s top-selling video game Grand Theft Auto.

What brought the game to my attention was a complaint by a friend who’s blessed (or, depending on your point of view, cursed) with having a small son. Since these days little tots can’t survive without computer games in general, and Grand Theft Auto in particular, she felt compelled to buy a version of the game.

One fine evening, however, she peeked over her son’s shoulder and immediately confiscated the DVD. This of course may be regarded as child abuse in some quarters, and my friend is lucky that her son seems to be too young to contact the authorities. Anyway, I decided to have a look.

The game unfolds in three cities, Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas, transparent aliases for New York, Miami and Los Angeles. Even though the game was put together mainly by British designers, the US flavour, apart from being essential to sales ($30 million so far), is usually seen as aspirational in Britain.

So what should the little ones aspire to? The principal character of the game either steals or, more typically, carjacks a vehicle.

In the latter case, the original owner is either shot point-blank with a sawn-off shotgun or else thrown out of the car once our hero has cranked it up to a speed guaranteed to cause serious injury, possibly death.

He then goes on a high-speed slalom compared to which the celebrated car-chase scene from The French Connection looks like an old woman driving her Morris Minor to a supermarket.

In the process the carjacker kills uncountable pedestrians, knocks babies’ prams up in the air, bounces off trees, pylons, other cars, ambulances and groups of schoolchildren.

Since such fun can’t be had in silence, he tunes the car radio to his favourite station, featuring mainly rap or some such. The words of his chosen masterpieces are hard to make out, except in one song, where the same line is repeated ad nauseam: “What the f*** is the problem?”

The question sounds rhetorical: the problem self-evidently is the stupefying tune that has none of the lyrics’ subtlety and aesthetic refinement. It’s good to see that music, or what passes for it nowadays, isn’t impervious to progress.

Moving right along, our hero’s rather eccentric driving (at times animated by the alcohol he consumes with relish) draws the attention of police, who give chase.

Undaunted, the children’s role model drives some cop cars off the road, where they explode with a satisfying bang, and fires his shotgun at others. His sawn-off doesn’t seem to need reloading, but this is a game after all – some poetic licence is to be expected.

In one instance the role model shakes his pursuers, stops by a phone booth and calls the police, reporting a fictitious crime and giving his address. When a police car arrives, he shoots the officers, hops into their car, turns the siren on and resumes the fun, with more pedestrians and pieces thereof hit 20 feet up in the air.

What I find especially attractive is the absence of any obvious pecuniary motive. By the end of the spin, the car is in no fit state to be sold for anything other than scrap. But our hero doesn’t care: no heartless materialist, he.

His payoff isn’t fiscal but amorous: he picks up a prostitute and consummates his pent-up passion in a refreshingly graphic way. One sequence features full-frontal male nudity; in another our hero saves himself some cash by killing the prostitute afterwards, as one does. Now I’ve heard of post-coital aggression, but this seems to be a bit excessive.

And so on. Grand Theft Auto continues its upward march through, and beyond, all the sales charts. This in spite of numerous lawsuits filed against the game in all sorts of countries – and variously imaginative crimes believed to have been inspired by Grand Theft Auto.

As I said before, I’m not sure if games or TV programmes can have such a direct effect. But even if Grand Theft Auto only has an indirect one, lock up your children, tell them to play hide and seek instead – and keep your fingers crossed that the social doesn’t hear about this.