“Sir, you look too Jewish”

Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Stephen House, has launched the national Police Race Action Plan with these rousing words: “The Met is committed to becoming an actively anti-racist organisation that can be trusted by everyone in London.”

Except, evidently, by the Jews.

One Jewish Briton found that out the hard way when he tried to cross the street in Aldwych, an area a few hundred yards from the Mother of All Parliaments. What unfolded then made a mockery of that proximity.

You see, a pro-Palestinian march was under way, and the marchers’ brittle sensibilities could be offended by the sight of a Jew. That’s what a police officer guarding the crowd’s right to parade its grievances explained to the man provocatively wearing a kippah:

“I don’t want anybody antagonising anybody,” said the cop, “… and at the moment, sir, you are quite openly Jewish. This is a pro-Palestinian march. I am not accusing you of anything but I am worried about the reaction to your presence.”

Being openly Jewish is thus antagonising (though mercifully still short of incurring criminal charges), whereas being openly pro-terrorist isn’t. I get it, but the pest in question didn’t, not straight away at any rate. Some people just don’t understand it when you try to be nice to them.

That’s why another officer had to explain the lie of the land in no uncertain terms: “You will be escorted out of this area so you can go about your business, go where you want freely. Or if you choose to remain here, because you are causing a breach of peace, with all these other people, you will be arrested.”

Lest he may be accused of blatant anti-Semitism, the policeman explained he was only threatening arrest to protect the interloper’s safety: “Your presence here is antagonising a large group of people that we can’t deal with all of them if they attack you… because your presence is antagonising them.”

‘Antagonising’ seems to be the current buzzword of the Met. The word seems to be peculiarly defined. The police are displaying epic forbearance at the sight of a mob chanting frenzied anti-Semitic invective and waving placards of the swastika superimposed on the Star of David. It’s only the presence of an “openly Jewish” man that’s antagonising.

Since we have the rule of law in Britain, we can’t rely on arbitrary judgement to decide who is transgressing against the new directive and who isn’t. Hence it’s necessary to formalise the antagonising features.

All Met officers should then be issued instructions defining openly Jewish appearance in detail. After all, not every Jew makes life easy for the police by wearing religious garments.

That done, every bobby on the beat should be equipped with a portable phrenology kit, making it easy to perform cranial and nasal measurements on the spot. One can just hear a Met officer saying to a pedestrian: “Awfully sorry, suh, but your nose is half an inch too long for this street, like.”

As to the concern for the man’s safety, let me make sure I understand. Sir Robert Peel, then Home Secretary, created the Metropolitan Police in 1829 for the express purpose of protecting public order and the safety of law-abiding individuals.

He bequeathed to his heirs not only the monikers based on his name (‘bobbies’ or ‘peelers’) but also a clear definition of their duties. Now they openly proclaim either their reluctance or their impotence to do the job. So what are the police for? They seem to be qualified or empowered only to enforce woke diktats, not the law.

In general, vigilantly as the police guard against every manifestation of anti-Muslim or anti-black bias (real or putative), they don’t seem to mind public displays of blatant anti-Semitism. Of course, it would be defying statistics to believe that the police force has a lower percentage of anti-Semites than the national average.

I don’t know what the national average is, but on this evidence it seems rather high. There’s no doubt that not only policemen but also indignant pedestrians would disperse any procession demanding that every black in, say, sub-Saharan Africa be killed.

Yet no one seems to mind when a crowd of fanatics marches through London streets screaming death to all Israelis (that’s what ‘from the river to the sea’ actually means). And the zealots don’t distinguish between Jews living in Israel or in Golders Green.

Policemen, being a captive audience, are easier to indoctrinate than the rest of the population. The public at large, at least some of its more recalcitrant members, can still resist constant brainwashing about ‘Palestinians’ being exterminated by genocidal Jews.

Cops, on the other hand, must follow the guidelines issued by their superiors. So even officers who are personally neither anti-Semitic nor pro-terrorist must enforce the rights of racist militants while denying the rights of people peacefully walking the streets.

The line between personal inclinations and official guidelines isn’t always easy to draw. Just look at the actions of another officer and tell me what his motivation was.

A woman took exception to the posters featuring swastikas at another such march last month. She complained to a policeman on duty, who in response gave her a lesson in both dialectics and history. That little logo isn’t necessarily a sign of anti-Semitism, he explained. The swastikas “need to be taken into context”.

Which context would that be? A sun-worshipping Hindu rite, where the swastika symbolised both the star and purity? If that’s what the cop meant, one has to applaud his erudition, which isn’t widely regarded as the core strength of our police force.

However, one suspects that’s not what he had in mind. He was simply fobbing the woman off by telling her to grin and bear it.

The cop knew perfectly well that, in the ‘context’ of today’s London streets, the swastika symbolises not the sun and not even purity, but the wholesale massacre of Jews. It’s just that he couldn’t see why a Jewish woman should be offended by the sight of the symbol under which half the world’s Jews were murdered just one lifetime ago.

His colleagues, on the other hand, had no doubt that the sight of a Jew was so unbearably painful to a frenzied mob that its feelings had to be protected.

How long before our mayor Sadiq Khan declares London a Jew-free zone (Judenfrei)? And authorises rallies like those so expertly filmed by Leni Riefenstahl? Nothing would surprise me. I’m rapidly losing the ability to be surprised.

Aptronym, if I’ve ever seen one

An aptronym is a person’s name that’s eerily appropriate to his occupation.

Star witness for the prosecution

Thus, I’ve known at least three financial people named Banks. Thomas Crapper invented… well, you know what he invented. Usain Bolt is a jolly fast sprinter. Swiss psychiatrist Jules Angst published books on anxiety. Rosalind Brewer used to be a director of the Molson Coors Brewing Company.

These are all amusing enough, but nowhere near as much as the name of one of the star witnesses for the prosecution at the trial of Donald Trump in Manhattan. That gentleman is the publisher of The National Inquirer, a tabloid known for its salacious stories fittingly illustrated.

His name? David Pecker – and do wipe that smirk off your face. That really is his name, I’m not kidding.

Apparently, Mr Pecker’s publication effectively served as the PR mouthpiece for the previous Trump campaign, constantly running stories detrimental to Trump’s opponents and spiking those detrimental to Trump. Allegedly falling into the latter category was the Stormy Daniels story and another similar one, involving a former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Let me tell you, old Donald was a busy boy, but by all accounts the American public doesn’t hold his virile exuberance against him. In fact, his core support holds nothing against him, certainly not the rapidly multiplying criminal charges.

So far Donald hasn’t been charged with the assassination of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy, but if that were to happen I wouldn’t be at all surprised. The difficulties encountered on the first day of the trial don’t surprise me either, as you can see for yourself by glancing at my yesterday’s piece.

There I used the example of this case to argue against the continuing validity of the jury system. I shan’t repeat myself, but the basic point was that the pool of humanity from which juries could be drawn has been poisoned by modernity. Thanks to instant access to information, prospective jurors learn every detail of any publicised trial long before being summoned. And their minds are firmly made up before Exhibit A is presented.

What’s true of any publicised trial is a hundred times truer of a politicised one. And the first ever criminal trial of a former president is as politicised as they come.

Reading today’s reports, I couldn’t help gloating in that ‘I told you so’ way that’s not my common currency. The jury selection has run into expected problems: 50 out of the first 96 candidates owned up to having a strong bias about the case. That means there were 50 honest people and 46 liars – none of them can possibly be impartial.

And if all Manhattanites have a bias, one can almost certainly guarantee it’s against Trump. After all, 86.4 per cent of the island’s population voted for Biden in the 2020 election, with only 1.4 per cent opting for Trump.

The very choice of Manhattan as the venue strikes me as prejudicial – that’s like trying the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in Beverly Hills or on the campus of an Ivy League university.

Even more of a travesty is the choice of the judge. Juan Merchan didn’t just support Biden but actually contributed to his campaign. Surely he should have recused himself, if only not to guarantee the success of a subsequent appeal if Trump is found guilty.

So far His Honour has made one ruling I find baffling. The prosecution wanted to admit as evidence the notorious tape of Trump explaining how grabbing a woman’s kitten can make her docile. That the judge declined to do, probably because it’s unclear what locker-room banter has to do with the case. If the aim is to show that Trump isn’t a choir boy, it’s superfluous: I don’t think many people are in doubt on that score.

But then His Honour undid his good work by allowing the prosecution to refer to the tape throughout the trial. That strikes a rank amateur like me as tantamount to admitting the tape: the jury will be getting constant reminders that Donald is a bit on the rough side.

 “Ms Daniels was living proof that the defendant wasn’t all talk,” said the prosecutor, trying to make the kitten tape even remotely relevant. But it isn’t. The subtle logic may escape me, but off the top I can’t see what Trump’s propensity for talking dirty has to do with the charge of cooking the books to conceal a hush-up payment.

Mr Trump and his admirers, among whom I proudly don’t count myself, claim that the trial is politically motivated. One has to agree: even if the accusation is true, the whole thing is too petty to warrant the cost of a trial.

However, no one can guarantee that the truth, whatever it is, will come out in a trial where the judge is a Biden activist (and therefore Trump hater – the two camps are bursting with mutual animosity), while the jury is guaranteed to be biased to begin with and made much more so by the media coverage generally hostile to the defendant.

I can’t think offhand of any real reason for taking this matter to court other than the desire to torpedo Trump’s campaign. If so – and every evidence suggests it is so – the trial represents a travesty of justice.

That is a far worse crime than any Donald Trump may or may not have committed. A country can survive a corrupt president or prime minister, but it can’t survive the rule of corrupt law. Justice is the cornerstone of a civilised commonwealth. Knock it out and the whole edifice will collapse.  

Twelve good men and politicised

The actual phrase is ‘twelve good men and true’, and it has been used to describe English juries since the early 17th century. In those days it meant something.

Now, any conservative certainly and any Briton probably has to cherish the English Common Law. And anyone who cherishes the English Common Law has to respect its integral part, the jury system.

It goes back to institutions that predate the Norman Conquest. And juries in more or less their present form were developed soon after 1215, when the Church abandoned trial by ordeal. Hence the institution is covered with a patina of age, which brings wisdom (for example, the realisation that making a defendant walk barefoot over red-hot coals doesn’t deliver a reliable proof of guilt or innocence).

However, age may also bring senility, thereby jeopardising wisdom. Has that happened to the jury system? Maybe. Maybe not. But the question is certainly legitimate, as are the implicit doubts.

Jurors are supposed to decide a case on its merits. They may consider the defendant a sorry excuse for a human being, a reprobate, even a monster. But as unbiased men of impeccable character and integrity, they must still acquit if they don’t feel the prosecution has made its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Such is the theory, and by and large it still works in practice. Yet there occur more and more trials, especially those with political implications, where it’s next to impossible to find twelve people untainted by bias.

As our world is getting increasingly politicised, politics barges into areas hitherto beyond its reach. Jurisprudence especially suffers from this tendency, with judges turning into political activists and using justice as an instrument of their activism. Jurors, meanwhile, tend to decide cases on extraneous, typically political, considerations.

One such was the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson, transparently guilty of a gruesome double murder. Yet Simpson’s defence team (assisted by inept prosecution) managed to make his negritude the central issue of the case, so much so that the predominantly black LA jury disregarded heaps of prima facie evidence.

When Simpson was acquitted, the columnist George F. Will wrote wittily that the verdict proved yet again that a black man couldn’t get a fair trial in America. Had the case been free of political animus, he added, any jury would have convicted – even if only ten per cent of the evidence had been used, and the defence had decided which ten percent to admit.

But enough history. Another politicised trial gets under way today, that of Donald Trump, who thus becomes the first former US president to stand trial in a criminal case. He is accused of falsifying his financial records to hide a hush-money payment made to Stormy Daniels, a porn star. This would normally be classified as a misdemeanour, but the prosecution insists on a felony charge because the payments might have affected the result of the 2016 election.

Since I’m not up on such intricate details of American legality, I’ll refrain from voicing a view on Trump’s guilt or innocence, one way or the other. But I do think he is perfectly capable of paying off a blackmailing lady of easy virtue to make her shut up.

Yet it doesn’t matter what I think of Donald Trump. What matters is how the selected twelve jurors will look at his case. I’m sure they are good men (and women, as one is obligated to clarify these days). But are they – can they possibly be – true, which is to say objective and unbiased?

The trial is being held in New York, where I maintain it’s impossible to find 12 people who don’t hold a strong, armour-piercing opinion of Trump. Most New Yorkers loathe him because they detest his politics. Some adore him with equal passion because they love his politics. Some see him as a saviour of America. Others see him as the embodiment of America’s perdition.

There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground – Trump is definitely the most polarising American president in my lifetime. Again, I’m not going to pass judgement on such strong emotions, although I distrust excessive political passions as a matter of general principle.

Strong feelings are in my view best reserved for one’s family and perhaps church. Politics should be a dispassionate affair, a rational weighing of pros and cons as a basis for choosing people trusted to convert public good into policy and policy into action. I do realise, however, that such expectations ignore human nature, especially what it has become these days.

That, however, isn’t my point. I have several others though.

First, it’s infinitely harder these days than it was in the 13th century to keep politics out of the courtroom. People have been paper-trained to assign political significance to, well, everything: race, sex, music, clothes, literature, urban planning, traffic laws, you name it.

Above all, people are increasingly seen not as fallible beings capable of both good and evil, but as political agents whose personality and actions are invariably skewed or even determined by their politics. Someone who shares one’s views is a friend and a general good egg; someone who doesn’t is a foe and a general bad apple.

Second, jury selection in the distant past always included questions designed to ensure that the candidates knew nothing, or at least little, about the case. Yet our era of mass access to electronic communications has put paid to that practice whenever a case receives any publicity whatsoever.

When it comes to the trials of O.J. Simpson or Donald Trump, I doubt that even dwellers of the planets in the outer reaches of our galaxy would be ignorant of every detail. And even such aliens would enter jury service with an unshakable opinion already formed.

The upshot is that the jury system is inoperable in any publicised trial, especially since these days people don’t know how to separate their innermost feelings from the facts under consideration. Moreover, one is justified to have doubts about the jury system even when the defendants are less illustrious personages than a football star or a former president.

Are we sure it’s possible to pick 12 random people who really understand the concept of legal guilt and innocence? I’m not. In our time of politicised and ideologised psychobabble, it’s hard to persuade jurors that they are to judge the evidence, not the man.

That’s why wily advocates are known to secure acquittal by claims that the defendant had a difficult childhood, an impoverished family, abusive parents or next to no education. Belonging to a presumably oppressed minority is also routinely believed to be a mitigating circumstance, and everyone who isn’t a white, middleclass male can always find some oppressed minority he belongs to.

On balance, if we are to save the jury system, I think it requires a thorough revision. The trial of Donald Trump may be used as a test case – and please stop me before I say it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

The rockets’ red glare

Israel last night

Different time, different place, different rockets.

Last night, Iran attacked Israel with over 300 killer drones and missiles, both cruise and ballistic. Israeli air defences, assisted by the US Air Force and RAF, intercepted all the drones and cruise missiles outside Israel’s air space. A few of the ballistic missiles got through, and a full account of the casualties is forthcoming.

For once the attack didn’t catch the Israelis unawares. They knew it was coming as retaliation for their own drone strike on Iran’s diplomatic mission in Syria on 1 April, which claimed the lives of several Iranian officers, including two top generals. Forewarned is forearmed and all that, but such old maxims may not still apply as fully as they did at the time the line in the title above was written.

This was the first time that Iran attacked Israel directly, rather than through proxies. Since the scale of the attack far exceeded the magnitude of the raid that had provoked it, an Israeli counterstrike is coming. Unless of course the Israeli High Command became Quakers overnight.

That counterstrike will call for a counter-counterstrike and so forth. I suppose that’s what they call escalation. The Latin root of this word means ‘staircase’, but neither last night nor 1 April was its first step. Iran has been waging war on Israel for years, using Hamas and Hezbollah to do its fighting.

Probably only US pressure has so far stopped Israel from retaliating against Iranian targets. Such tethers have now been removed or at least loosened, and one hopes the Israelis will take out Iran’s nuclear facilities along with other military targets.

According to Mohammad Bagheri, the Iranian Chief of Staff, “Operation Honest Promise was completed successfully from last night to this morning and achieved all its objectives.” [Note to myself: Find out whether that’s his surname or nickname, and how to pronounce it without offending anyone.]

Since he didn’t specify what those objectives had been, it’s hard to judge the veracity of that statement. I’m afraid that the real aim wasn’t so much hitting particular targets as sounding the gong for a major war in the Middle East.

The other day I watched an interview with a retired Israeli general, Itzhak Brik. The interview was in Hebrew, and the only English word I could make out was ‘bullshit’, which Gen. Brik repeated several times and in high tones. The subtitles made it clear that he was referring to Israel’s lackadaisical attitude to her armed forces and their preparedness for combat.

If anyone has any doubts that Israel is a full-fledged Western country, the good general dispels them in no uncertain terms. Apparently, Israel has been as irresponsible as the NATO countries.

According to Gen. Brik, the government has let numerous military triumphs go to its head. Convinced that the IDF is by far the strongest army in the Middle East, Israel has been blithely negligent during every interbellum period, including the one about to come to an end.

That’s why, for example, the Arab states managed to catch the IDF sleeping in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and it took heavy casualties for the Israelis to hang on. In that war, Gen. Brik commanded a tank battalion, and only seven out of his 200 soldiers survived the war.

In the past several years, Israel has cut four full divisions, which would be a huge reduction for any country and especially one as small as Israel. The equipment of the remaining forces has been downgraded so much, said the general, that he wasn’t sure Israel could survive a full-scale confrontation even with Hezbollah, never mind Iran. And Israel’s intelligence has lost much of its erstwhile vigilance, which is why it failed to anticipate the murderous Hamas attack on 7 October.

Now, retired generals are notoriously pessimistic about their countries’ defences. Yet even with that proviso, the interview sounded ominous. One has to hope that Israel hasn’t lost her ability to rally quickly not only her troops but her entire nation – and that Israel’s allies don’t get cold feet, as they have been known to do on occasion.

President Biden has reiterated America’s “ironclad” commitment to the defence of Israel, which may or may not be a reliable assurance in view of the US seemingly going back on a similar vow to help the Ukraine.

Iran also has a powerful ally, Russia. The full scale of that touching friendship between two evil regimes hasn’t yet been divulged. Traditionally, it has been Russia supplying Iran with weaponry, including some of the doomsday variety. Lately, Iran has been repaying her debts by sending thousands of drones to Russia, which then level Ukrainian cities.

The media widely suspect, and Western intelligence services probably know for sure, that the Russians have been helping Iran to create a nuclear capability. Some reports suggest the country is only weeks away from acquiring her first nuclear warheads; others insist Iran already has them.

Evil is on the march throughout the world, and the situation is fraught with global dangers. Gen. Brik says Israel has failed to learn the lessons of past conflicts, but no country ever does. The West in particular has had many blood-soaked lessons in the advisability of pre-empting evil by early strikes – and has slept through all of them.

I just hope that Gen. Brik is unduly alarmist and, in this respect at least, Israel isn’t like all other Western countries. We’ll find out in the next few days, but meanwhile let’s pray for Israel, our only staunch ally in the region.  

US badgers Russia (and the Ukraine)

Secret US weapon

“Everything is new that’s well-forgotten,” goes an old Russian proverb.

Seeking to vindicate that folk wisdom, the Russians seem to have forgotten something they’ve always known: winters bring much snow and ice. These then melt in spring and, if the water isn’t properly contained, rivers and reservoirs may overflow.

This past winter put an extra emphasis on this concept by bringing in unusually large amounts of snow and ice. When they turned to water torrents this month, the jerry-built dams protecting the cities of Orsk and Orenburg burst, turning their streets into rivers.

While the two cities argue which should be twinned with Venice and which with Amsterdam, and concerned citizens in possession of rowing boats busily loot the abandoned houses, the government asks the lapidary Russian question: “Who’s to blame?” Bringing to bear on the task the forensic insights for which the Russians are so famous, they’ve identified the culprits: badgers.

Apparently, those evil rodents set out to harm Russian cities by burrowing holes in the dams, making them less structurally sound and causing billions’ worth of damage. That gave rise to the next lapidary question, this one of older provenance: “Cui bono?”

Given the current geopolitical situation, the question answered itself: American wirepullers of the Judaeo-Banderite Ukie Nazis. That hypothesis, nay certainty, has been widely mooted at the highest levels of the Russian government, both executive and legislative.

The answer was so self-evident that no specifics were deemed necessary. That’s a shame because the grateful public is hankering after a detailed description of the secret farms training rodent saboteurs. Yet even in the absence of such details, the dastardly nature of American imperialism is there for all to see.

The pernicious, power-hungry Yanks, explain the Russian authorities, will stop at nothing to create a unipolar world – whereas the Russians are making huge headway in their efforts to build a bipolar one, complete with every delusion known to psychiatry.

It has to be said that, other than training and deploying those attack badgers, the US has been doing little to help the Ukraine for six months at least. The Russians are currently enjoying a ten-fold superiority in artillery ordnance, which explains their microscopic but steady advances around Avdeyevka.

The Ukrainians ought to have a talk with the Hungarians, Vietnamese, Afghanis and other American allies initially supported and then abandoned to their fate. The US has form in that sort of thing, and I for one am surprised her support for the Ukraine lasted as long as it did.

Europe, in particular Germany, is doing its best, but it simply doesn’t have the wherewithal to keep the Ukrainian army properly supplied. Meanwhile, in a touching show of bipartisan accord, the US is reneging on her oft-stated commitment to stopping Russia’s aggression.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson is doing his level best to keep any aid bill off the agenda. Since the Ukraine and Israel are lumped together in the proposed aid package, the congressional Republicans receive support from the Democrats whose heightened moral sense balks at sending arms to those genocidal Israelis.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden and his merry men are holding back several billion in funds already earmarked and approved by Congress. One gets the impression, and I hope it’s a false one, that the US is ready to sell the Ukraine down the Dnieper.

Anything else risks that much dreaded escalation, goes the rationale. (In fact, such cowardice in the face of evil aggression doesn’t so much prevent as guarantee escalation. Study history, ladies and gentlemen.)

Now that I’m in a folklore mood, though America is reluctant to pay the piper, she still insists on calling the tune. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin showed how when speaking to the Senate Armed Service Committee the other day.

Here the double entendre in the title above is finally revealed. For Mr Austin shamelessly badgered the Ukraine, trying to dictate how she should deploy her dwindling resources.

Rapidly running out of expensive high-tech weaponry, the Ukrainians are increasingly relying on drone attacks aimed at downgrading Russia’s strategic potential. Specifically, they’ve targeted oil refineries, some of them deep in Russian territory.

The attacks have been spectacularly successful, mainly because the Russian air defences are concentrated on the front, with nothing left over to protect the oil facilities. As a result, Ukrainian drones have by some reports destroyed up to 15 per cent of Russia’s oil-refining capability, and they are only getting started.

That was Mr Austin’s beef. Teaching the Ukrainian grandmother how to suck eggs, he explained to the Ukraine how she should fight this war. Strategically, hectored Mr Austin, the Ukraine should focus on hitting tactical and operational targets directly influencing the conflict.

In other words, the Ukrainians should concentrate their meagre resources on targets best protected by Russian air defences. Even a rank amateur like me smells a rat, or a badger if you’d rather. One could be excused for thinking that Mr Austin’s badgering makes no sense.

If that’s what you think, allow me to offer a slight correction. His hectoring makes no military sense, but plenty of the party-political kind. You see, any significant damage to the Russian oil industry will cause a global increase in oil prices. That means it’ll cost Americans more to fill up their cars as they drive to polling stations in November.

First things first. Let’s do all we can to get Mr Austin’s boss re-elected – and never mind Ukrainians being murdered en masse and their cities razed to the ground. The boldfaced cynicism of Mr Austin’s badgering is most refreshing.

I have an idea. If the US administration wants the Ukrainians to hit more tactical and operational targets on the frontline, it should give them the tools to do that job. Then it will gain the right to issue requests – not demands! – on how the Ukrainians should go about the task of defeating the fascist aggression threatening Europe and potentially the whole world.

As things stand now, we can only hope that the US doesn’t send Patriot systems to the Russians, to protect their oil facilities. God forbid US voters will have to pay a few cents more for a gallon of petrol so close to the elections.

On the first day God created the Higgs boson

Prof. Peter Higgs, RIP

Peter Higgs, Nobel Prize physicist who died on 8 April, came up with some original theories of his own. He also vindicated an unoriginal one of mine, that minds shining bright in one area may be irredeemably dim in some others.

To the best of my understanding (which isn’t saying much), it has been known since Einstein that particles travelling at the speed of light have no mass. But how do they acquire it at lower speeds?

In 1964, using no computers to assist his fecund mind and no equipment other than paper and pencil, Higgs came up with a daring theory: the existence of the Higgs boson, a fundamental force-carrying particle associated with the Higgs field.

This is a quantum field that gives mass to particles existing throughout the universe. In the Higgs field, the Higgs boson acts as a wave that gives mass to other fundamental particles. According to him, when the universe came into existence, particles had no mass, but acquired it seconds later when they entered that magic field.

In 1993 another Nobel Prize physicist, Leon Lederman, referred to the Higgs boson as “the God particle”, suggesting it obviated the need for a deity as the cause of life. Yet both he and other scientists regarded the boson as merely a theoretical construct. Stephen Hawking even bet $100 that the Higgs boson would never be found.

Hawking became $100 poorer in 2012, when researchers working with the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, discovered the boson particle. A year later Prof. Higgs got his Nobel Prize.

The physics involved take me way out of my depth, but even a scientific ignoramus like me can appreciate the sight of a brilliant mind at work. Unfortunately, Prof. Higgs denied similar appreciation to people holding what he saw as objectionable views in areas where he too was out of his depth.

For example, as a committed atheist, he resented the term ‘God particle’. Whenever the subject came up, Higgs refused to discuss it with believers whom he considered ipso facto stupid: “If they believe that story about creation in seven days, are they being intelligent?”

It would be tedious to deliver a roll call of great physicists who also happened to be practising Christians. Suffice it to say Werner Heisenberg, one of the principal founders of Higgs’s own field, quantum mechanics, was on that list.

What’s upsetting is that a man capable of startling revelations in one area can display rank vulgarity when dabbling in another. Heisenberg, one of those presumably dumb believers, could have explained to Higgs that Christian cosmology demands not less intelligence but a different kind. (Higgs was 47 when Heisenberg died, so that conversation could have taken place.)

My own lifelong observation suggests that even extremely intelligent atheists sound like blithering idiots whenever they try to justify their atheism by rational arguments.

One of their favourite tricks is to insist on taking Biblical allegories as literal facts and Biblical facts as figments of apostolic imagination. Thus they dismiss out of hand Christ’s miracles worked before hundreds if not thousands of eyewitnesses, while smirking at Genesis cosmology with its seven days.

They’d be on safer grounds if they simply said they don’t believe in God and left it at that. But the moment they start talking particulars, they enter another system of thought and, logically speaking, must operate with its terms and concepts. Otherwise they sound as crassly stupid as a scientific ignoramus would if telling Prof. Higgs that sub-atomic particles don’t exist because no one has ever seen one.

Now, in the system of thought so offhandedly dismissed by Prof. Higgs, God is ageless and timeless, meaning that any time units mentioned in reference to his activities can only have an allegorical significance. God’s day may be a year to us, or a century, or a millennium, or anything at all.

Using grammatical terminology, we live our lives in three basic tenses: Past, Present and Future. God, on the other hand, has only one tense, the Present Perfect. What may be ‘was’, ‘is’ or ‘will be’ to us, to God is ‘has been’. God isn’t contingent: he has no beginning, no end, and hence no time scale that we’d recognise as such.

An atheist doesn’t know how to walk through this intellectual edifice, and no one says he should. He is perfectly welcome to choose his own mental habitation. But if he chooses to enter this building, he should leave his cherished notions at the door.

If he smuggles them in and starts wielding them with conviction, he commits a vulgar solecism. And whenever he accuses the rightful owners of that property of stupidity, he brings to mind words like ‘teapot’ and ‘kettle’.

Not all atheists are Lefties, but this is the way to bet. Prof. Higgs certainly was: he championed the student riots of the 1960s, belonged to the CND and Greenpeace, supported ‘Palestinians’ against Israel.

As in the case of his atheism, I doubt he ever pondered the issues involved as deeply as they require. His mental plate was full with his physics, and there couldn’t have been much room left for other, unrelated sustenance.

Yet, unlike so many other Lefties, Prof. Higgs wasn’t a dogmatic zealot. Thus, when the CND started campaigning against nuclear power, not just nuclear weapons, he resigned. He also quit Greenpeace over its opposition to genetically modified crops.

There his extraneous political principles were helped along by his mind of a great scientist. Higgs must have seen that both the CND and Greenpeace had trespassed on scientific territory, where they revealed themselves as ignorant interlopers. Yet he had been comfortable in those ranks when they limited themselves to politics, an area in which Prog. Higgs himself was ignorant.

Such is the way of the world, and no mind shines an equally dazzling light on everything. Few of us manage to do so in even one area, and fewer still have ever shone as bright as Prof. Higgs did in quantum physics. For all his misconceptions in unrelated fields, his passing leaves the world diminished.     

My holiday in Mecca

Bristol Cathedral, 4 April

When I read the news of Muslims and non-Muslims getting together in Bristol Cathedral to celebrate the last day of Ramadan, my heart rejoiced.

Along with all progressive people I believe in universal friendship and unity between, well, everyone. Men, women, and members of the other 100 sexes. Different Christian confessions. Homo- and heterosexuals. Blacks, whites, other. Conservatives and liberals. People of different nationalities.

And certainly – especially! – exponents of the three great Abrahamic religions. Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all equal, especially Islam. All progressive people are ready to cast aside their trivial cultish differences and assert their transcendent accord.

If I’m being totally honest, some progressive people would rather exclude Jews from this triune love-in, which only goes to show that certain prejudices will take a while to uproot. But uprooted they will be! It’s only a matter of time – and if you disagree, I’ll denounce you to the Equality Commission and police at the same time.

To my eternal shame, I’m not quite up on the minutiae of Islam. For example, I only learned the word iftar by reading the announcement of the event on the Bristol Cathedral website:

“The Grand Iftar is an opportunity to celebrate Bristol’s diversity, with non-Muslims joining the breaking of the fast meal (iftar) and learning about the meaning and significance of Ramadan. This year, the unifying theme of the iftar events is ‘Peace and Hope’, giving people the opportunity to reflect on recent tragic events in the city and come together in solidarity and unity.”

The tragic events in question involved some of our Muslim brothers asserting their cultural identity by violent means. While acknowledging their just concerns, all progressive people would rather they addressed them more peacefully, but enough of that.

Peace! Hope! Solidarity! Unity! Let’s concentrate on those words in the message from the Very Rev’d Mandy “Amanda” Ford, Dean of Bristol Cathedral. Especially since they were echoed by Mohammed El Sharif, speaking on behalf of the organising committee:

“The annual iconic Grand Iftar event is one of Bristol’s festivals of togetherness that brings our diverse communities together, and we are excited this year to be hosted by Bristol Cathedral.” [I especially like the word ‘iconic’, coming from a Muslim.]

“We’re excited,” continued Mr El Sharif, “to see faith communities coming together and working together in this new way. It’s vital in the multicultural and multifaith Bristol we live in that we find ways of living well together, and living well with difference.”

Hear, hear! Words to live by – and I for one decided to live by those rousing words even though I don’t have the good fortune of living in Bristol.

Having read those messages, I decided to spend next Easter at the Muslim holy places. That’s it: Good Friday in Medina, Easter Sunday in Mecca. I could make a great holiday of it: first a few days in Israel, then on to Saudi Arabia.

Yes, I know next Easter is a year away, but nothing beats planning far in advance. With that in mind, I went to see my travel agent to iron out the details. And he immediately poured cold water on my enthusiasm. Apparently, I shan’t be able to go to Israel first. No one whose passport is sullied with an Israeli visa is admitted to Saudi Arabia.

That was a bit annoying, but I always like to focus on the positives. Good on the Saudis, I said. It’s their country and they are free to admit or bar anyone they want. Perhaps they can teach us a lesson in controlling national borders.

So not to worry, I said. Let’s do it the other way around: Medina and Mecca first, Israel second. And at that point, the travel agent said something that amazed me no end.

Turns out non-Muslims, otherwise known as infidel dogs, aren’t allowed to enter Mecca or Medina, ever. That’s à propos those entrenched prejudices. Never mind that, I said bravely. Those places are always so crowded that no one will notice me if I just sneak in.

Yes, you could do that, agreed the travel agent. But beware of the risks: any infidel dog caught in those holy places must be put down immediately and not always quickly.

That offended my sense of fairness so much that I had to reread Mr El Sharif’s message, including the words “living well together”. Togetherness is a bilateral concept, isn’t it? We push our differences to one side and reconfirm the universal brotherhood of men (and even, under duress, women), isn’t that the point?

Suddenly I didn’t feel all that progressive any longer. The beautiful mental edifice I had constructed collapsed like the Twin Towers. Non-progressive words crossed my mind, addressed to the Very Rev’d Mandy Ford and her ilk: Chaps, are you out of your tree?

In the name of fashionable woke idiocies you are stamping into the dirt your religion, your civilisation, your society. Islam isn’t just different or ‘diverse’, but aggressively hostile to everything the West stands for, except the material goods it produces.

The leaders of that patchwork quilt of a religion openly call for a gradual takeover of the West by demographic and cultural colonisation. Our greatest weapon, they insist, is the womb of every Muslim woman – and presumably also every dinghy carrying burly, unshaven 30-year-old “women and children” to our shores.

Yes, we are an open society, but we can’t be so open that our very essence falls out. And no, I’m not advocating that Muslims should be barred from Britain the way non-Muslims are barred from Mecca and Medina. Certain – not unlimited – numbers of them are welcome to settle here, but with one proviso. When in Britain, they must do as the British do.

They come over here because they don’t like it over there, but then they try – with our acquiescence – to turn over here into over there. I smell a rat somewhere, not to say a pig. Britain must be fumigated, and let’s start by keeping Christian churches just that, Christian.

Muslims or anyone else are welcome, to pray or just look around. But using Christian cathedrals to celebrate the rites of a religion one of whose tenets is violent enmity to Christianity isn’t inclusive, multicultural or multifaith. It’s suicidal, and Christianity regards suicide as a mortal sin.

If the Very Rev’d Mandy Ford sees such abject and sinful surrender as part of her ministry, she must be summarily unfrocked. I’m sure that cassock weighs too heavily on her shoulders anyway. She’d be much happier as a social worker or perhaps a Labour candidate from Bristol West.

What’s in a word?

WANTED!

Shakespeare gave one answer to that question; Hamza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, another. At the risk of offending our great bard, Mr Yousaf’s answer is more replete with implications.

According to him, what may be in a word is criminal prosecution for ‘misgendering’, a term one will try in vain to find in Shakespeare’s vast vocabulary. Moreover, I’m sure he wouldn’t have been able to understand the term even if it had been explained to him.

But you do, don’t you? Of course, you do. After all, you haven’t been living on Mars all this time. Misgendering means using personal pronouns appropriate for a person’s sex at birth. That is, still describing a deranged man who suddenly claims to be a woman or a spaniel as a ‘he’ and not, respectively, ‘she’ or ‘it’.

Such stubbornness can be exacerbated by any attempt to rationalise Pronoungate (I’m proud of my neologism). If you argue that, since it’s impossible to change one’s sex, we are all stuck with one of the original two, each complete with its own set of pronouns, you’ve just graduated from misdemeanour to felony. And if, God forbid, you cite that reactionary book on the subject of “male and female created he them”, we’re talking capital crime.

Such is the upshot of Mr Yousaf’s addition to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, which appropriately went into effect on All Fools’ Day. This instantly became a global issue thanks to the tweeted comment by Scotland’s most famous and possibly richest resident, J.K. Rowling.

Being herself woke in every other respect, she voiced her opposition in characteristically convoluted terms: “In passing the Scottish Hate Crime Act, Scottish lawmakers seem to have placed higher value on the feelings of men performing their idea of femaleness, however misogynistically or opportunistically, than on the rights and freedoms of actual women and girls.”

I’m not quite sure what she meant, other than expressing some vague opposition to the Act. Miss Rowling thus issued a ‘come and get me’ invitation to the police, who have so far refused to take her up on it.

Then Ally McCoist, the former Scotland footballer, claimed that he and 48,000 other Rangers fans would breach the law at this weekend’s match with Celtic. At least that’s what I think he claimed: his accent isn’t always penetrable.

I’m happy to report that not all Scotsmen are so-o-o-o yesterday. At least 6,000 of them have got into the spirit of the times by either demanding that Miss Rowling be imprisoned or, more sinister, denouncing their friends and neighbours for the hate crime of misgendering.

Police Scotland are duty-bound to investigate all such reports, and the more they investigate the mightier the influx of denunciations. Since by all accounts Scottish police occasionally also have other crimes to contend with, they’ve responded to the challenge with the pragmatic ingenuity for which Scotsmen are so justly famous.

A network of over 400 ‘third-party reporting’ centres have been created, where irate people can report hate crimes. They can also do so anonymously, and where else did I observe that convenient possibility in my youth?

Moreover, 500 hate crime ‘champions’ have been trained to referee and filter such reports before they reach the police’s good offices. All in all, one has to marvel at how pragmatic people can be when dealing with institutionalised insanity.

Vindicating Newton’s Third Law, Mr Yousaf’s action caused a reaction. Some Scots got angry and, according to P.G. Wodehouse, “It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.” They demanded that Mr Yousaf himself be indicted under the Act for his 2020 speech in which he railed that almost all senior public posts in Scotland were held by white people.

By since claiming the top such post for himself, Mr Yousaf has done much to reverse that iniquity, but racial rancour in his speech was unmistakable. Fair is fair: if J.K. Rowling should be done for a hate crime, then she should be handcuffed to Yousaf.

Things haven’t gone as far yet, but the outcry has been loud enough. Everyone from the Catholic Church to the National Secular Society has voiced all the usual concerns about suppressing free speech and encouraging snooping. Hence Mr Yousaf felt called upon to issue a disclaimer.

Don’t you worry about free speech, he said: “people should have the right to be offensive and to express controversial views.” Alas, the treatment implied in that blanket statement just may be worse than the disease.

You might have noticed that levity creeps into my tone whenever I talk about the worst symptoms of modern lunacy. I don’t have in my psychological makeup the ability to discuss seriously which pronouns are appropriate for which of the 100-plus sexes supposedly in existence. If a man chooses to wear a skirt, he remains a man to me – and I don’t mean kilts here, as I hope my Scottish friends realise.

Nor do I acknowledge that simply stating biological facts can be construed as a crime. If lunatics decide to play that game, I can’t stop them. But neither can I be expected to join in.

However, I do have a serious problem with the statement that “people should have the right to be offensive”. This is at best a circular argument, at worst a foolish one.

Suppose for the sake of argument that a politician delivers a speech arguing that all Jews should be gassed and all blacks lynched. Does he have a right to be as offensive as that?

Obviously not. So let’s narrow the example down then. Suppose a passer-by says that sort of thing to a Jew or a black in the street. Would that be exercising the right to free speech?

Does the person on the receiving end have any recourse? A punch in the snout would come naturally but, first, not everyone is fit to deliver one and, second, that sort of thing is illegal. We aren’t supposed to protect ourselves; that’s what we have police for.

This is reductio ad absurdum, of course. The example I’ve proposed falls under the rubric of inciting racial hatred, and we’ve had laws against it for decades. So fine, think of your own examples of intolerable insults, those offending a person’s honour and dignity. Then think of the last time honour and dignity had any tangible meaning.

When a decade ago one footballer called another a “f***ing black c***”, only the middle word was deemed culpable. Calling an old man who accidentally jostled someone on a bus the other two words is perfectly all right. Nothing illegal there.

A curious dichotomy is observable here. On the one hand, people are ordered to be hypersensitive even to personal pronouns they consider misused. On the other hand, they are trained to think that words don’t matter.

Thus, when a politician utters something godawful, his fans wave objections away. It’s not his words, but his deeds that matter. Quite. So what if, say, a German chancellor tweets “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer”? Or, more realistically, if a US president describes an avowed enemy of his country “a genius”? Shall we agree then that, in some situations, some words are actually deeds?

Sorting those words out would take more than 500 Scottish ‘champions’. Add a few zeroes to that number, and we still won’t be able to come up with any objective criteria of legal or illegal offensiveness. And subjectively, anything can be classified as an imprisonable offence.

The issue is fundamental. We are observing hectic self-serving attempts to introduce absolutes into an inherently and institutionally relativist landscape. This reverses the old trend of overlaying hitherto unshakable absolutes with relativities.

Prosecuting someone for saying ‘he’ instead of ‘she’ is a logical development of the liberal mindset geared to destroy every last fragment of our civilisation. The old certitudes have been cast aside, with their place taken up by ersatz relativities serving as weapons in the hands of modern vandals.

When the Gestapo told Hermann Göring that one of his deputies was a crypto-Jew, he replied: “At my headquarters, I decide who is and who isn’t a Jew.” Applying the same logic, victorious modernity decides which relativity should be raised to an absolute and which absolute demoted to a relativity. In other words, which weapons should be commissioned and which decommissioned.

We may attack one modern perversion after another, don Quixote-style, only to find that those awful giants are actually windmills. It’s impossible to score any lasting victories without defeating the real ogre, the post-Enlightenment mindset that’s now ubiquitous.

The first thing the putative Age of Reason did was destroy reason and hence any sensible notion of reality. Madness descended, and we shouldn’t be surprised that it now speaks with the Scottish accent.

After all, the Church of England, speaking with the perfect received pronunciation, has just informed teachers at its schools that, if they say it’s impossible to change sex, they are breaking the law. And the prelates don’t mean the law laid down in Genesis and Matthew.

The last refuge of a scoundrel

Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen

That’s how Dr Samuel Johnson described patriotism on April 7, 1775.

Since Dr Johnson loved England with all his heart and still didn’t consider himself a scoundrel, he had to be talking not about patriotism as such, but about something else.

Sure enough, Johnson was specifically referring to William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, and his ‘patriot party’. The author of our first dictionary was scathing about “self-professed patriots”, not true ones like himself.

Like any true love, true patriotism is a quiet emotion, something whispered in private, not shouted off the rooftops. Wear it on your sleeve, and patriotism will get caked in grime.

When a man tells all and sundry how much he loves his wife, you can be sure he abuses her in private. His protestations of love are his way of saying: “See what a good, virtuous fellow I am, how the milk of human kindness is overflowing my heart.”

Similarly, when a man asserts his patriotism, insistently and out loud, it’s not his country he loves but himself. His patriotism is a form of self-aggrandisement. Unsure about his own virtue, or perhaps sure of its absence, he wants to bask in the reflected glory of his country, sensing that thereby he himself can become glorious.

That’s why I detest any public manifestations of patriotism, such as hand on heart, slogans, institutional symbols worn in the lapel or, mainly in the US, bumper stickers saying “My country, right or wrong”. If a man does that sort of thing out of sincere conviction, he is chronically lacking in self-confidence. If he does so for an ulterior reason, such as political gain, he is, well, a scoundrel.

Like any kind of love, patriotism always has two components, and only their ratio changes from man to man. One component is love offered to one’s country for free, the other is something a country has to earn.

The free component is visceral; the second, contingent. Dr Johnson loved England the way every native-born Englishman, and even a co-opted one like myself, loves her. We feel intuitive affinity with people who inhabit “England’s green and pleasant land” and the land itself. Why, even I have grown to prefer warm beer to cold vodka, although I may still compromise by using the former as a chaser for the latter.

That type of love is almost universal. Even the Cambridge spies who had worked most of their lives to harm England, felt pangs of acute nostalgia when they ended up in Moscow. They desperately missed English things: Coleman’s mustard, Jermyn Street clothes, a good pint and – incomprehensible today – The Times.

The earned component is what Edmund Burke, Johnson’s contemporary and friend, meant when he said: “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” In other words, we’ll offer some of our love for free. The rest must be earned.

If a country refuses to earn it, it forfeits its claim to our love, some of it, much of it or, in extreme circumstances, even all of it.

I’m sure, for example, that Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, whose Diary of a Man in Despair is among the most moving accounts of life in Nazi Germany I’ve ever read, still loved Bach, Goethe, the Black Forest, the Rhein and, for all I know, apple strudel. But he hated Nazism passionately and hence also Germany, which at that time was Nazi — at least partly because of her cultural inclination.

The Nazis hanged Reck-Malleczewen at Dachau a few days before the war ended. Their Germany had no need for Germans like him. I’m not certain that today’s England has any need for his cultural counterparts either. I doubt even France needs them, and I know the US doesn’t.

Reck-Malleczewen was an aristocrat by birth and, more important, by culture. The culture that was the flesh of his flesh was German, to some extent. To a greater extent, it was Western, which is to say European. He loved German culture not because it was German, but because it added a German glint to the light of a great civilisation.

He might have felt some affinity with the local burghers, but I’m sure a much greater one with those who shared his own culture, even if they didn’t have the good fortune of having been born German. Since European culture as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, belonging to it trumps any cultural particularism – and it precludes any cultural nationalism.

It doesn’t have to preclude patriotism, but it may diminish it by practically obliterating its earned aspect. Cultured, conservative Europeans like Reck-Malleczewen these days feel homeless wherever the home is, England or America, France or Germany, Holland or Italy.

Do they still love their countries, where they no longer feel wanted? Yes, probably, perhaps. To some extent. But they feel more at home with those who share their culture, wherever they come from.

Cultured Englishmen have more in common with cultured Frenchmen or Dutchmen than with their own tattooed football lovers who welcome supporters of visiting teams by a rousing chorus of “If it wasn’t for England, you’d all be krauts”.

Loudmouthed patriotism, especially when it degenerates into blood-and-soil nationalism, is alien to our culture and hence to the very essence of our civilisation. From its first steps it asserted much higher loyalties than love of one’s country: “neither Jew nor Greek”.

Once we’ve established this pecking order, we can take delight in our own country – if not always as it is, then at least as it was in the past and, we hope, can still be in the future. And we can smile when reading the words of another great European, Joseph de Maistre (a Frenchman who never lived in France):

“Now, there is no such thing as ‘man’ in this world. In my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on. I even know, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be Persian. But as for man, I declare I’ve never encountered him.”

Why was France so useless in World War Two?

This was the title of a video I stumbled on while surfing the Internet. The film was short, only about 30 minutes, but it was good enough.

The author covered the Ardennes breakthrough, one of the most daring and successful operations of the Second World War. Getting an airing was the irresponsible negligence and incompetence of the French high command, with every general certain that no modern army could advance through those hills densely covered with impassable forests.

The French expected an attack through Belgium, the traditional route of northern armies into France. It was there that they (and the British expeditionary corps) concentrated most of their resources. The German advance through the Ardennes and towards the Channel cut those troops off, and their desperate attempts to break through the encirclement ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Quite a few names, both French and German were mentioned, but two were inexplicably left out: Gen. Manstein who planned that operation and Field-Marshal Rundstedt who commanded the Nazi troops. That was an innocent omission though: 30 minutes isn’t very long and there was a lot of ground to cover.

One error was less innocent but more understandable. The author described the German Pz-IV tank as ‘heavy’. Such classification came directly from Stalin’s historians, who had a vested interest in grossly exaggerating the strength of the Wehrmacht, explaining thereby the catastrophic routing of the regular Red Army during the first few months of its war.

In fact, the Germans had no heavy tanks at all until the Panthers and the Tigers made their appearance at Stalingrad in late 1942. The Pz-IV weighed 25 tonnes, which was lighter than the Soviet T-34 (26.5 tonnes) that’s universally described as a medium tank. At the same time, the Soviets started the war with a real heavy tank, the KV (50 tonnes), for which the Germans had no analogues until almost two years later.

Sorry, did I say catastrophic routing? That’s how the defeat of the French army during the six weeks starting on 9 May, 1940, is normally described, including in France herself. That defeat still rankles as a national shame, when, according to de Gaulle, “the shaken nation was totally paralysed”.

Yet that’s not how the official Soviet, and now Russian, history treats the period following the German attack on the Soviet Union (22 June, 1941). Yes, there were original setbacks, admit those historians. But the Red Army was fighting heroically, making the Nazis pay dearly for every inch of Soviet territory.

That version of events effortlessly migrated into the works of most Western historians as well, the German scholar Joachim Hoffmann being a notable exception (his seminal book Stalin’s War of Annihilation is a masterpiece). While praising the heroism of the Red Army, those same historians are openly derisory about the performance of the French during those fateful six weeks.

That version has become part of folklore. The video I’m talking about helpfully provided a sequence from an animated film, in which the French are described as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”. While most French people I know would resent such vulgarity, they wouldn’t take exception to the general view of their six-week debacle.

So there we have it: Germans enjoying a cakewalk through northern France, with the French army routed without putting up any meaningful resistance – on one side. On the other side we have the valiant Red Army heroes irrigating every patch of Soviet territory with German blood, the early setbacks notwithstanding.

However, Descartes taught that all knowledge is comparative. So do let’s compare those French six weeks with the same period in the war between Stalin and Hitler, roughly until the end of July, 1941.

The Franco-German war unfolded in Flanders and Normandy, on a territory about 300 km long and 150 km deep. That area was about the size of Lithuania, which the Wehrmacht Army Group North, the weakest of the three attacking the USSR, occupied in a week.

It took the Germans 14 days to reach the Channel, with their panzer divisions covering 350 km. During the same 14 first days of the other war, the German Army Group North covered 470 km, and the Army Group Centre 425 km.

During the French campaign the Wehrmacht suffered 156,000 casualties (killed, wounded, MIA). In the Soviet Union, the Germans suffered similar casualties by late July, 1941, but they were advancing along a frontline 1,450 km long, having covered an area 100 times as large as the part of France they occupied.

By 9 July, 1941, the Germans had exceeded in Russia every marker of victory achieved in the entire French campaign (the numerical strength of routed enemy troops, depth of offensive penetration, weaponry captured). By that time the Wehrmacht suffered about half the number of its losses in the entire French campaign.

Looking at the same first six weeks, the Germans lost 640 tanks in France and 503 in Russia – this though, unlike the Red Army, the French were desperately short of anti-tank weapons, and even those they had were poor. In air combat the contrast is even starker.

During the French campaign from 9 May to 24 June the Luftwaffe lost 1,401 planes, with another 672 badly damaged. In Russia, the similar six-week numbers were 968 and 606 respectively.

This is especially remarkable since the combined air forces of France and Britain only had 700-750 fighter pilots, whereas the Russians had about 3,500 just in their western military districts (and about four planes per pilot). Moreover, the Luftwaffe had twice the number of warplanes in France that they had at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa.

You may say that after the first few weeks and months, when the Nazis took over four million Soviet POWs (more soldiers than the Wehrmacht had altogether), the Soviets regrouped, remobilised, rearmed and eventually ended up on the winning side.

True. But so did the French, although their contribution to the Allied victory wasn’t as significant as the Soviet one. Still, the French reclaimed Paris on 25 August, 1944 – which by no means excuses their performance in 1940. By the same token, the Soviets’ entry into Berlin in May, 1945, shouldn’t make us forget about the defeat they suffered in 1941, perhaps the greatest military catastrophe in history.

If such is the story, what’s the moral? Simple. Whenever you read history books, make sure you have a bag of salt and ideally a bottle of tequila within easy reach.

And if such history emanates from official Russian sources, start downing shots before opening the book. That may prepare you for the retrospective political propaganda that passes for historical scholarship in Putin’s Russia.