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Max Hastings

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  1. The boss of a big private equity business told me last week that he had received an approach from a City grey eminence. "What your firm needs," urged this hopeful hustler, "is a seriously high-profile public figure up front, flying the flag for you. For £4m, we can get you Tony Blair." I disbelieve 50% of that story. Though I am sure the reported offer was made, Blair would not yet dare to authorise such an explicit advance in his name. But the proposal merely anticipated reality. A few months hence - or sooner if, as the Guardian reported yesterday, cash-for-honours charges against an aide prompt him to stand down early - he will be up there on the block, with an auctioneer demanding: "What am I offered for this dazzling ex-prime minister? Who will start me at £4m?" Every kind of business on both sides of the Atlantic will want Tony. Here is the finest political speaker of his generation, world statesman and legendary charmer, available to make the keynote speech at your convention, open your shopping mall, add lustre to your board meeting, open doors to national leaders. What is this, I hear you say, about tarnished reputations? Come off it. Even if half Blair's personal entourage wind up in Ford open prison for selling honours, such an outcome will not diminish by a farthing the former prime minister's marketability. He is a star. Just as evidence that Mel Gibson is a racist yob does not deter audiences from seeing his movies, investment bankers do not care if Blair has flogged Buckingham Palace to raise money for the Labour party. And not merely bankers. I question if more than a fraction of the British public, most of them Guardian readers, are seriously exercised about the cash-for-honours scandal. They take the view, sheepishly shared by the Conservative frontbench, that this is the sort of thing all governments do. They expect no better from their politicians. The moral, or immoral, of the Blair era is that a British leader can get away with almost anything if the pounds in voters' pockets keep jingling. If the economy holds up, if people's sense of wellbeing persists, their willingness to engage with what some of us pompously call "the great issues of the day" is pitifully limited. It will be supremely ironic if Blair ends up disgraced by the honours issue. This seems so paltry by comparison with the enormity of Iraq. It is hard to imagine a graver charge than taking the country to war under false pretences. Yet since Blair's conduct was exposed beyond dispute, on and on he has serenely sailed, unembarrassed by failure piled upon deceit. To be sure, down at the Dog and Duck they grumble about Iraq and Bush and the mess we are in But there has never been the visceral anger that causes governments to fall. The steady trickle of British casualties is too small to generate shock. There is a dreary sameness about the daily news of bombings and massacres of Iraqis, which deadens sensibilities more stimulated by Big Brother. Blair's astounding survivability owes much, maybe almost everything, to the equally astounding wealth of Britain today. He is able to ride out every storm and failure by writing huge cheques on the Treasury that continue to be met. Contrast this country's political experience today with that of the Attlee government in the late 1940s, or even that of Harold Wilson in the 60s. During both periods, the country lurched from crisis to crisis, precipitated by difficulties about sums of money unbelievably small by modern standards. In 1950, for instance, the financial demands of sending to Korean a smaller military force than Britain today deploys in the Gulf almost broke the Treasury. Under Wilson, foreign exchange seemed so precious an annual personal spending limit of £50 was imposed on foreign travel. Today, by contrast, for all the controversy surrounding Iraq, no one bothers to mention the billions that Britain's contribution has cost. Projections for the London Olympics bill have already soared above £3bn. There is talk of a £2bn overspend, yet nobody doubts that the money can be found. To think that in the 80s Margaret Thatcher made a fuss about Britain's EU rebate of a measly £500m. Even if that sum is adjusted to modern prices, it is the kind Gordon Brown leaves to the junior clerks. When Dominic Sandbrook and Peter Hennessy, writers of excellent histories of postwar Britain, get round to the first decade of the 21st century, recollections of the nation's prosperity will surely astound readers. The Blair government has been able to pour torrents of cash into public services without attempting structural reform: to fund every folly without prompting a taxpayers' revolt. If 30 years ago a government made a financial blunder in September, the public found itself paying the bill come the next budget in April - and took its revenge at the ballot box soon after that. Today, we are told that voters are starting to feel the pain of stealth taxes and rising interest rates. Yet if the economy continues to boom, I doubt that personal taxation will provoke a decisive uprising against Labour. A recent opinion poll showed that, while many people feel dismayed about Britain as a society, most feel amazingly content with their own existences. As long as this remains true, Gordon Brown has a fair chance of remaining prime minister past a general election. When Tony Blair embarks upon his great global lecture tour, he will be able to tell audiences that there are almost no limits to the follies a prime minister can commit. Of course, he will say nothing of the kind. He will deliver homilies about the responsibilities of a statesman in a social democratic society. His record will speak for itself, however. He will leave behind a country that has failed to solve the huge problems of its public services or Europe; he has entangled his country in an American clash with the Muslim world likely to persist beyond our lifetime; his programme of constitutional reform threatens the union of England and Scotland. In other words, he has failed in almost all his declared objectives of 1997. He has displayed a genius for retaining power, and has presided over a nation obsessed with personal wealth, to the exclusion of almost everything else. It is entirely appropriate that Blair should depart Downing Street to become indecently rich, because the record suggests that respect for wealth is the only constant in his moral universe. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1996549,00.html
  2. Max Hastings

    War Crimes in the Lebanon

    Morality in foreign policy is often subjective. The US administration is confident that it represents the forces of democracy and freedom, and thus feels free to do whatever it judges best to promote these fine things. Israel perceives Palestinians and Arabs as committed to its destruction, justifying any action taken against them. Some in the Muslim world see no prospect of frustrating western cultural, economic and military dominance on western terms of engagement, and so choose other methods - such as suicide-bombing - that better suit their weakness. Many Americans and Israelis believe that virtue is anyway unimportant, that the Arab world - and indeed the world at large - chiefly respects the successful use of power. Yet the weakness of this argument is laid bare in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere. The US, Israel and their backers - prominently including Tony Blair, if not the British people - are perceived both as behaving immorally, and using force ineffectually. In a recent article for the International Institute for Strategic Studies journal, Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the School of Public Policy at Singapore University, analysed the precipitous decline of perceived western legitimacy. His principal argument was that it is essential for the US and its allies to be seen to abide by the same rules that they seek to impose on others. He proposed a recasting of the post-1945 Truman consensus, within which most nations acknowledged that the US sought to exercise its might for the welfare of all. Urging the US to renew its commitment to making the UN a real force, Mahbubani acknowledged the justice of giving large powers large voices through the security council. He argued, however, that its members' special influence must be matched by a special sense of responsibility, which is today perceived as lacking. The world is unimpressed, he said, by US attempts to limit the rising power of China. Osama bin Laden has "successfully delegitimised American power in the eyes of hundreds of millions of Muslims ... One of the key factors in the growing delegitimisation ... is [uS] indifference to its impact and to how it is perceived in the eyes of the 6 billion people in the rest of the world." The principle of political and economic even-handedness is key, and is being flouted. Most of the above seems undeniable by any reasonable person. It is hard to overstate the practical consequences of the west's moral erosion. The 2001 Afghan invasion commanded widespread international support. Yet, in Afghanistan today, most Nato members are fulfilling their commitments to help stabilise the country in the most half-hearted fashion. American behaviour elsewhere has diminished willingness to assist American purposes anywhere. This is mistaken, but unsurprising. The British contingent is striving its hardest in Helmand province, but the leakage of moral authority from Iraq has impacted on the perceived legitimacy of military action in Afghanistan. British soldiers on the ground pay the price, as ever, for their political masters' misjudgments. Last Tuesday the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, delivered a shamefully complacent speech about Britain's proud record in upholding international law, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We in the United Kingdom," he said, "take great care to ensure that we comply with the rule of law ... We take legitimacy very seriously." Operationally, on the battlefield, this is true. But it seems astonishing that any member of a government that has joined with the US in inflicting frightful damage on western legitimacy should dare to speak in such terms. Goldsmith added: "International law cannot be a substitute for morality or political judgment." True enough. Blair, with the help of his attorney, has driven a coach and horses through all three. Morality alone cannot make an international order work. Few of us, however, want to be represented by governments that are perceived by most of the human race as pursuing policies which have no moral basis at all. Hizbullah is a profoundly unpleasant and violent movement, which has inflicted as much grief upon the people of Lebanon as the Israelis. But as long as Israel continues to deny justice to the Palestinians, Hizbullah's actions will be deemed by many to possess more legitimacy than its own. Higher standards are expected from a sovereign state than a terrorist organisation. It is understandable that George Bush should have endorsed the current Israeli campaign, for no more can be expected from him. It is almost incomprehensible, however, that Blair should also have done so, save in the context of the prime minister's wider loss of radio contact with Planet Earth. Israeli actions fail the pragmatic as well as the moral test. There is no possibility that they will suppress terrorist resistance to their polity. An Israeli academic chided me this week: "You columnists witter about proportionality - you should consider what the Israeli public demands from its government." This recalled to me the wise observation of that most brilliant of British strategists Professor Sir Michael Howard in the aftermath of 9/11. "We have just got to hope," he said, "that whatever retaliatory action the Bush government undertakes to satisfy its own people for the twin towers does the least possible damage to the struggle against terrorism." The defeat of terrorism is best achieved through an unglamorous cocktail of politics, diplomacy, intelligence, bribery, police work and special forces operations. Above all, a successful campaign offers the society from which the terrorists are drawn a just political dispensation. Contrary to widespread belief, the British did not defeat the 1950s Malayan insurgency by brilliant soldiering, but by shrewd politicking, which included a promise to quit the country. Northern Ireland today may not be a satisfactory place, but it owes its relative tranquillity to politics and economics rather than to 30 years of counter-terrorist campaigning. Israel's attempts to quell opponents by the use of superior force may briefly appease its own public opinion, but contribute nothing to the nation's lasting security - indeed the reverse. Bush deserves some sort of award from the erratic and incompetent leaders of Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, to name but three, because the force most helpful to sustaining them in power is the raucous hostility of the US. It is extraordinary to behold the loud, small people who direct US policy-making today, and contrast them with the towering figures who dominated in the late 1940s. Can Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld come from the same country that produced Dean Acheson, Averell Harriman, George Kennan and George Marshall? There was nothing limp-wristed about the latter. They forged the policy of containment of the Soviet Union and urged Truman to fight in Korea. Yet all were repositories of deep wisdom and generosity of spirit. When I once applauded their memories to Ray Seitz, then US ambassador in London, he dryly reminded me that none achieved elective office. The point is well made. But they wielded influence in a fashion that determined US policy, in an era when western command of the moral high ground was hardly disputed in any civilised society. Somehow, though surely not under the current US president or British prime minister, this is what we must regain. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1827328,00.html
  3. Max Hastings

    Battle of the Somme

    Captain WP Nevill of the 8th East Surreys was a complete ass. In the line in France, he liked to stand on a firestep of an evening, shouting insults at the Germans. Knowing that his men were about to participate in their first battle and keen to inspire, he had a wizard idea. On leave in England, he bought footballs for each of his four platoons. One was inscribed: "The Great European Cup. The Final. East Surreys v Bavarians. Kick-off at Zero." Nevill offered a prize to whoever first put a ball into a German trench when the "big push" came. Sure enough, when the whistles blew on July 1 1916, and 150,000 English, Scots, Welsh and Scottish soldiers climbed ladders to offer themselves to the German machine-guns, Nevill's footballers kicked off. One of the few eye-witnesses to survive described watching a ball arch high into the sky over no-man's-land, on its way to the German trenches near Montauban. No winner collected Nevill's prize, however. Within minutes the captain was dead, as were most of his men. Here is one of the enduring images of the Somme, which even after 90 years retains its fascination for a generation reared on Blackadder. In whom does not the spectacle of a field of poppies inspire a surge of mingled pity and rage? So it did, among those who were there in 1916. One of my great-uncles, like Nevill an officer in the East Surreys, described the wild flowers in front of the parapets in his unhappy letters home. I have them all, including one to my grandfather, begging him to use his supposed influence to get my great-uncle transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. He was killed before Nevill. The Somme is perceived as the great betrayal of innocents - and of the old working class in khaki - by Britain's ruling caste in breeches and glossy riding boots. It is thought to exemplify the futility of the first world war, and to represent the apogee of suffering in its campaigns. Like most such national legends, it would not have survived this long if there were not some truth in it. Revisionist historians, of whom John Terraine was the foremost in his 1961 biography Haig: The Educated Soldier, have tried to persuade us that its generals were not the unfeeling brutes which caricature suggested. They have failed. Haig was not a fool, indeed he administered Britain's huge armies in France with notable competence. But his own diaries present an image of an aristocratic Border Scot on the make; not much troubled by losses except insofar as these frustrated his military purposes; and preoccupied with royal intrigue. He often wrote privately to King George V, not least expressing disgust about politicians, the despised "frocks". No British general of the second world war dared to emulate Haig's practice of serving champagne in his chateau headquarters while his men were drinking mud out of shellholes. He shared with most of his subordinates a pathetic faith in the power of artillery bombardment, and an almost unlimited willingness to keep attacking, even when battle after battle demonstrated that his offensives were profiting only the manufacturers of headstones. The Somme assault was the most spectacular of Haig's failures. It was launched at the urgent behest of the French, to relieve pressure on Verdun, where a million "poilus" and "fritzes" were slaughtering each other. The July 1 assault was preceded by weeks of British bombardment, which failed to achieve most of its purpose: much German barbed wire remained uncut; sufficient German machine-gunners survived in deep dug-outs. In some sectors, attackers reached the first and even second German lines. "While we were rounding up prisoners," wrote Captain Herbert Sadler of the Royal Sussex, one of the successful British units, "I came upon one of the Fusiliers being embraced round the knees by a trembling Hun who had a very nice wristwatch. After hearing the man's plea for mercy the Fusilier said, 'That's all right, mate, I accept your apology, but let's have that ticker.' " Yet, before British commanders could exploit such local successes, the Germans were able to shore up their lines. Haig's armies lost almost 60,000 dead and wounded on the first day. They continued to suffer through the months that followed, in increasingly grotesque attempts to reinforce failure. Some units, ordered to launch assaults from the second line, were slaughtered by the Germans even before reaching the British front. This was the sort of tactical folly for which posterity justly declines to forgive Haig and his "donkeys". Yet, in some important respects, popular legend errs in its understanding of what happened in 1916, and indeed between 1914 and 1918. First, our idea of the mindset of British soldiers is wildly over-influenced by the writings of soldier-poets, men like Frederic Manning, who wrote: These are the damned circles Dante trod, Terrible in hopelessness But even skulls have their humour, An eyeless and sardonic mockery Infinitely more characteristic was the view expressed by the veteran HEL Mellersh, writing in 1978. He deplored the delusion that most combatants thought the war "one vast, futile tragedy, worthy to be remembered only as a pitiable mistake. I and my like entered the war expecting a heroic adventure and believing implicitly in the rightness of our cause; we ended greatly disillusioned as to the nature of the adventure, but still believing that our cause was right and we had not fought in vain." As to the merit of the cause, it is striking to perceive the number of modern historians, some of them German, who perceive the Kaiser's Germany as an aggressive military tyranny of the nastiest kind. They argue that its victory in the first world war would have been a catastrophe for the freedom of Europe. I am aware of no responsible historian who believes there was a way to break the stalemate of the western front, even with tanks. The technologies of killing and destruction had advanced vastly faster than those of mobility and communication. In battle after battle, defenders proved able to reinforce a threatened place faster than the attackers could exploit success there. The obvious answer was to stop attacking. The allies might have sat tight in their trenches, and waited for blockade, starvation and the Americans to force the Germans to quit. Because the Germans occupied a substantial part of France, an overwhelming political and strategic onus rested on the French and British to sustain the offensive. And yes, there was also a stubborn belief on the part of Haig and his subordinates that to abandon a commitment to attack would be unsoldierly, unBritish, wet - what we might characterise as the spirit of Captain Nevill. One further issue should be considered. The allied generals of the first world war have been damned by posterity for their faith in attrition. In the second world war, British strategy and tactics were overwhelmingly influenced by a determination that there should never again be a battle as costly, and as repugnant to popular sensibility, as the Somme. Yet such fastidiousness was made possible by the fact that between 1941 and 1945 the Red Army did the attriting on behalf of us all. During that war, British and American ground forces killed about 200,000 German soldiers. The Russians killed about four million. Stalin's armies experienced a hundred Sommes, and Russia lost 27 million lives. Somebody, somewhere had to suffer to wear down Hitler's Wehrmacht. It was Britain's good fortune that this time it was not us. As the bugles sound at the ceremonies in northern France today, we can mourn the hundreds of thousands they recall, and cherish a bleak gratitude. The scale of sacrifice remains unique. But the great poppy fields of the second world war lay in Russia rather than France and Flanders. http://www.guardian.co.uk/military/story/0,,1810320,00.html
  4. The triumph on bestseller lists of the novel Suite Française restores one's faith in popular taste. It is very moving to see Irène Némirovsky's near-masterpiece achieve success more than 60 years after its Jewish author perished in Auschwitz. Her tale of occupied France in 1941 is all the more chilling because it is written with such generosity of spirit, not only towards the French, but even the Germans who were to murder her. Many British people who read narratives of that period find it hard to avoid complacency. The French quit, Britain fought on. Most of their people collaborated with the Nazis; French policemen dispatched Némirovsky to a death camp. It is not a pretty story, which explains why France, almost alone of the combatant nations, has never published an official history of that experience. Even in the 21st century, it would be impossible to achieve a consensus about the truth. Suite Française has prompted renewed debate about societies' conduct under occupation. Hearing a recent conversation about collaboration, I made myself unpopular by suggesting that, if Britain had succumbed to Nazi rule, our own people would have behaved pretty much as the French did. Anthony Eden is seldom quoted with respect these days. Yet the former foreign secretary made an impressive contribution to Marcel Ophüls' great film on wartime France, Le Chagrin et la Pitié. He said, in impeccable French: "It would be impertinent for any country that has never suffered occupation to pass judgment on one that did." Here was wisdom. It is extraordinarily difficult to resist tyranny ruthlessly enforced, especially in a densely populated country with little wilderness. In order to eat and provide for one's family, it is necessary to earn money. All commerce and industry must be conducted according to the will of the occupiers. A man who owns a business will find that he has no business, his employees no work, if he does not accept dictation. Members of a family that owns a house are liable to find it burnt about their ears if they commit, or are even deemed to have acquiesced in, acts of resistance. Some people may feel brave enough to accept such consequences for themselves, but would they inflict them on their children? In the 1930s many prominent British aristocrats, like their French counterparts, developed a morbid terror of the left. This caused them to be less frightened of the Nazis, who did not threaten their material interests, than of communist revolutionaries, who did. It is a bleak truth, highlighted by French experience, that the greater one's possessions, the more painful it is to risk their loss. The French aristocracy collaborated almost wholesale. The names of honourable exceptions are remembered because they were so few. Their British counterparts would probably have done likewise. Great proprietors believe their highest duty is to transfer inheritances safely to the next generation. Many British grandees fought bravely in the second world war but would, I think, have bowed to the Germans under occupation rather than forfeit the likes of Chatsworth or Blenheim. "We hate the Germans," they would have said, "but we must face the fact that they are masters now." Most of France's "haves" collaborated not willingly, but in the face of perceived necessity. The bourgeois classes allowed their view to be determined by law-and-order arguments, which possess even greater force in war than in peace. Sabotage provoked murderous reprisals upon the innocent. Surely, people said, it is in the interests of the community that we behave in such a way as to be spared killings and confiscations, when daily existence is harsh enough already. Resistance, confined to a small minority until 1944, was dominated by what middle-class people would categorise as "the awkward squad": teachers and unionists (many of them leftists), young mavericks, communist activists, journalists, peasants: in short, little people. All this, I think, would have applied equally in a German-occupied Britain. A harder question to answer is whether British people would have dispatched their own Jews to death, as did the French. There was considerable anti-semitism in prewar Britain; it is sometimes remarked that "the biggest favour Hitler did the British upper classes was to make anti-semitism cease to be respectable". British anti-Jewish sentiment, however, was less virulent than that of the French. It is pleasant to suppose that a fundamental decency might have rendered ordinary people unwilling to denounce their Jewish neighbours, even had a British collaborationist government urged them to do so. The Gestapo noted with relish that each morning the letter box of its Paris HQ in Avenue Foch was jammed with anonymous letters from citizens accusing each other of black-marketeering or resistance activity. Most British agents captured during the occupation were betrayed by Frenchmen. Would the British have likewise turned on each other? Humility of the kind displayed by Eden is the only sensible course in judging another nation's behaviour under circumstances that we have been spared. Némirovsky's great novel paints a portrait of a society that did not conduct itself with conspicuous courage or honour. I am doubtful, however, that we would have done much better. http://books.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1760893,00.html
  5. Max Hastings

    QCA History Report

    Most of the coverage given to last week's report from the government's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority focused upon the decline of school language studies. Because I am a historian by background and inclination, my own attention fell upon its remarks about history. It expresses concern about the overwhelming Nazi focus. It argues that schools "undervalue the overall contribution of black and other minority ethnic peoples to Britain's past, and ... ignore their cultural, scientific and many other achievements". History, says the QCA, plays "an increasingly marginal role" in both primary and secondary schools, because of "a perception that it has only limited relevance to many pupils' future working lives". On the first of these points - the Hitler obsession - few thinking people will disagree. Even to me, who has written half-a-dozen books about the second world war, it seems quite wrong to allow teenagers to make that period their only encounter with the past. It should not be difficult to broaden the agenda for pupils who want to specialise in modern tyranny. They might, for instance, undertake comparative studies of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot, the 20th century's great mass murderers. Stalin and Mao command less interest than Hitler because no pictures exist of their crimes comparable with movie images of the Holocaust. In an age dominated by visual images, many find it hard to acknowledge any reality unless they see it on screen. There may be a second reason for this relative lack of interest. More than a few academics harbour a visceral reluctance to acknowledge that what was done in the name of communism should be judged by the same standard as the deeds of fascism. The QCA further urges a need to give more positive attention to the part of minorities in Britain's history. The authority's thinking is easy to understand: to a teenager of West Indian or Muslim background, medieval exchequer practice or 19th century poor law seem remote. Surely we can offer such children knowledge that strikes a chord with their own heritage. Yet how is it possible to do much of this in a British school without distorting the western experience, which anyone living here is signed up to? Pupils in modern African or Indian schools obviously focus their historical studies on the experience of subject races under foreign rule. But, as a profound sceptic about multiculturalism, I can't see the case for such an agenda, unless the vast majority of British people are to pretend to be something they are not. It may justly be asserted that - for instance - the Muslim peoples of the Middle East sustained much higher cultural values in the 12th and 13th centuries than the European crusaders they fought; that many Indian peoples possessed more impressive heritages than our own. But the world's development in the past 500 years has been dominated, for good or ill, by what westerners have thought and done. Other societies, again no matter whether for good or ill, have been losers whose power to determine their own destinies, never mind anyone else's, has been small. History is the story of the dominance, however unjust, of societies that display superior energy, ability, technology and might. If one's own people were victims of western imperialism, it is entirely understandable that one should wish to study history from their viewpoint. But, whatever the crimes of our forefathers, this is the country of Drake, Clive and Kitchener, not of Tipu Sultan, Shaka Zulu or the Mahdi. Finally, there is the QCA's alarm call about the perceived "lack of relevance" of history to pupils' future working lives. This echoes the notorious remarks of Charles Clarke, when education secretary, dismissing medieval and classical studies. At the weekend, I glanced at some of my old school essays. The questions seem interesting: "Should one think of Henry II as a lawless and arbitrary monarch, or as the founder of an orderly legal and administrative system?"; "Why did Edward I succeed in Wales and fail in Scotland?"; "Can anything be said in favour of James I's foreign policy?" Even in 1961, one could scarcely argue that familiarity with such themes contributed much to employability. They were no more "relevant" to middle-class white teenagers then than to schoolchildren of West Indian or Muslim origins now. We addressed them, first, because education is properly about learning to think, and objectively to assess evidence; second, so that we knew something about a broad sweep of the history of the society to which, whether by birth or migration, we belonged. We were developing a sense of British cultural identity, which no amount of social engineering can honestly relocate far from Crecy and Waterloo, Pepys and Newton. The British educational establishment is today defeatist about reconciling new Britons to this. Yet a Washington historian told me recently that he often sees tears in the eyes of young Korean and Mexican Americans when he reads Lincoln's Gettysburg address to them. Why not likewise here? British education is increasingly perceived as a utilitarian process: all disciplines seeking to rouse the enthusiasm of pupils as if they were fugitive birds, to be tempted out of trees with nuts. The logical outcome of this policy is that children will eventually learn only how to handle computers, change the wheels of cars and submit applications for credit cards. Even some upmarket schools offer curriculum options that allow pupils to sidestep anything difficult. This is crazy. Real learning cannot be easy, except to a few prodigies. Of course, inner-city schools have little use for Simon de Montfort. But the relentless pruning of aspirations for history teaching even in good secondary schools should dismay us all. Most of the QCA's thinking represents appeasement rather than remedy. http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/co...1674044,00.html
  6. It is a good question, whether being poor in the 21st century is a worse experience than at any other time in history. For sure, however, there has never been a better time to be rich. Great gushers of money are flooding through the tributaries of the financial and commercial worlds, and thence into the pockets of a few million lucky men and women across the world. At the head of the stream, in Britain this week, it was revealed that Sir Martin Sorrell, chief of the WPP advertising group, collected £52m last year. The Guardian survey of executive pay shows that 230 executive directors - mere corporate managers - earn more than £1m apiece. In the US, security firms have paid their staff £4bn over the past four years, more in bonuses than they have declared in profits. A top American corporate boss can expect to accumulate tens of millions of dollars in a few years' work, without risking a penny of his own cash in investment. In the superleague, inheritance levies have become voluntary. I know a tycoon who recently passed to his son, tax free, a business worth more than £300m. This is commonplace. It seems remarkable that any high roller these days resorts to fraud to enrich himself. It is possible to bank such huge sums legally that criminality seems redundant. Many of us do not grudge cash to real wealth-generators such as Sorrell, who have created their own businesses and a lot of jobs from scratch. It is managers, middlemen simply creaming a percentage of everything that passes through their hands, who provoke resentment. Yet nobody seems able to check them. Corporate CEOs need only a studied indifference to shareholders' bleatings, or to harsh words from newspaper City editors. A financial PR recently asked one of the latter sardonically: "If you had a choice between earning, say, £100,000 with nobody paying attention, or a million at the cost of a bad morning in your column, which would you choose?" In remarking upon all this, I am not working up to a denunciation of the wickedness of capitalism. Rather, I am reflecting in wonder upon a modern phenomenon. For much of history across most of the world, being rich was a precarious predicament. Where civil turmoil was endemic, incurring the displeasure of the ruler of the moment could cause one to forfeit the lot. Revolutions could wipe out a family's riches at a stroke, and often cost heads as well. By contrast, in today's western democracies, once someone has acquired money, there is every chance of keeping it. Even African dictators have found that if they can transfer cash looted from state treasuries into the safety of a Swiss bank, their prosperity is secure, even if they lose power. The same goes for Russian oligarchs. The might of western political and judicial stability will protect them, with an effectiveness a private army could not match in the Middle Ages. More than that, modern wealth offers its possessors every chance of living to a ripe old age. Until the 20th century, disease was no respecter of purses. The wife of a Victorian financial colossus was almost as vulnerable to the perils of childbirth as a maid in his household. The tombstones of the great reveal how many died long before their natural spans were exhausted. Today, medical science can do extraordinary things for people able to pay. There has never been a wider gulf between the remedies available to the rich and those on offer to most of the poor, even in societies with advanced public healthcare systems. Some modern Croesuses like to flaunt their cash. Many, however, prudently conceal it under a bushel. It has never been easier to do so. In the past, a man's or a woman's status was immediately defined by clothes, or lack of them. If revolting French peasants in 1789 were unsure whom to dispatch to the guillotine, they needed only to seek out powdered wigs, silks and satins. Nowadays we all look pretty much the same, millionaires or paupers. The man in front of you in the airport security queue, whether in a dark suit or trainers and sweatshirt, might be a shop assistant or a software millionaire. Which of us can tell? I greeted an acquaintance in a New York elevator a year or two ago. When he got out, a colleague with whom I was travelling asked who the man was. I answered: "A happy tycoon. He's worth maybe £300m and nobody outside the City has ever heard of him." Michael Caine memorably remarked: "The idea that money doesn't buy you happiness is a lie put about by the rich, to stop the poor from killing them." It is not quite as simple as that. There are plenty of melancholy millionaires. People who make their fortunes as investment bankers endure such ghastly working lives that some of us find it impossible to be jealous. Those 14-hour days, peering mesmerised at numbers on screens, attending meetings with fellow suits, catching overnight planes to meet foreign suits in featureless conference rooms, offer little to covet. American bankers are a grey, grim crew. Any attempt at humour - or worse, irony - in their company sinks without trace into a glassy pond. What do they spend the money on? Some buy or build palaces. Most eat and drink sumptuously, holiday lavishly, buy pictures. Yet, by comparison with the rich of the past, this generation are less conspicuous consumers, seldom seen in Rolls-Royces. Divorce is their most conspicuous extravagance, servants their biggest domestic problem, in Britain especially. These are almost invariably foreign, because British people dislike providing personal service. A 21st-century Jeeves is probably Filipino. It is fascinating to speculate whether the present flood of wealth into private purses can continue. I do not mean this year or next, but taking a historic view. Will the great mass of less affluent people indefinitely tolerate such rewards at the top of the heap? Even in the western democracies, could there again be popular revolt against the super-haves, storming of palaces, draconian taxation, or a wholesale assault on commercial greed? The haves' most powerful weapon is globalism. Once one passes a certain corporate threshold, taxation becomes voluntary, as Rupert Murdoch's accountants can testify. Confronted with any fiscal or even physical threat, it is easy to move cash or oneself elsewhere. Recognising this, few national governments have the stomach to risk alienating wealth-creators by attacking their bank accounts. This seems true despite the warnings of such sages as John Ralston Saul (The Collapse of Globalism) and James Howard Kunstler on these pages on Thursday. For the foreseeable future, only a meltdown of the financial system on an unprecedented scale could threaten the security of the rich, and the freedom of the corporate and banking community to continue rewarding itself on a staggering scale. The old joke had it that the most popular slogan in a revolution was: "Let's kill all the lawyers!" If barricades get stormed in 21st-century western democracies, the cry will be: "Let's kill all the bankers!" But, until our world changes out of recognition, this looks the perfect age and place to be a fat cat. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1543747,00.html
  7. Max Hastings

    Hiroshima: A War Crime?

    The 60th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. The occasion will be marked by a torrent of prose from those who regard the destruction of Hiroshima and of Nagasaki three days later as "war crimes", forever attaching shame to those who ordered them. By contrast, there will be a plethora of dismissive comment from pundits who believe the nuclear assault saved a million allied casualties in 1945, by causing Japan to surrender without an invasion of its mainland. Plentiful evidence is available to both schools. In the spring of 1945, Americans fighting in the Pacific were awed by the suicidal resistance they encountered. Hundreds of Japanese pilots, thousands of soldiers and civilians, immolated themselves, inflicting heavy US losses, rather than accept the logic of surrender. It was well-known that the Japanese forces were preparing a similar sacrificial defence of their homeland. Allied planning for an invasion in the autumn of 1945 assumed hundreds of thousands of casualties. Allied soldiers - and prisoners - in the far east were profoundly grateful when the atomic bombs, in their eyes, saved their lives. On the other side of the argument is the fact that in the summer of 1945 Japan's economy was collapsing. The US submarine blockade had strangled oil and raw-materials supply lines. Air attack had destroyed many factories, and 60% of civilian housing. Some authoritative Washington analysts asserted that Japan's morale was cracking. Intercepts of Japanese diplomatic cables revealed to Washington that Tokyo was soliciting Stalin's good offices to end the war. The Americans were also aware of the Soviets' imminent intention to invade Japanese-occupied China in overwhelming strength. In short, the 2005 evidence demonstrates that Japan had no chance of sustaining effective resistance. If America's fleets had merely lingered offshore through autumn 1945, they could have watched the Japanese people, already desperately hungry, starve to death or perish beneath conventional bombing. Oddly enough, Soviet entry into the war on August 8 was more influential than the atomic explosions in convincing Japanese leaders that they must quit. In some eyes, this adds up to a devastating indictment against President Harry Truman, who launched the most murderous weapon in history against a nation already doomed. How is it possible, in the light of such facts, for students like me to retain sympathy - enthusiasm is impossible - for Truman's decision? The foremost answer is that much we now know was then uncertain. Amid their defeats in 1941-42, the allies had developed an exaggerated respect for their enemy's might. They did not comprehend in 1945 how close was Japan's industrial collapse. Second, although Tokyo plainly wanted to escape from the war, its terms remained confused. There is little doubt that if Washington had explicitly promised that the emperor might retain his throne, Japan would have bowed. But so faltering and divided was Japan's leadership that the US still possessed grounds for real doubt about Tokyo's intentions. And why should Washington offer guarantees for Hirohito's future when he had been at least the figurehead for Japan's terrible deeds? Many Japanese generals bitterly opposed surrender even after the Soviet invasion, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was not that they deluded themselves that they could win. Rather, they preferred death to humiliation. All wars brutalise all participants, but both sides in the Pacific had become exceptionally desensitised. The great war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote shortly before his own death in combat: "In Europe we felt that our enemies, horrible and deadly as they were, were still people. But out here I soon gathered that the Japanese were looked upon as something subhuman and repulsive, the way people feel about cockroaches and mice." Japan's occupation of China had cost 15 million Chinese lives. Civilians had been raped, tortured, enslaved and massacred, while British and US prisoners were subjected to hideous maltreatment. The Japanese had been waging biological warfare in China. Their notorious Unit 731 subjected hundreds of prisoners to vivisection. Many captured American airmen were beheaded. Some were eaten. A B-29 crew was dissected alive at a Japanese city hospital. Americans, in their turn, showed themselves reluctant to take prisoners. They subjected Japan's cities to the vast fire-bombing raids which began in March 1945, killing half a million people. Lawrence Freedman and Saki Dockrill, in a powerful analysis, argue that the nuclear assault must be perceived in the context of the deadly incendiary raids that preceded it: "Nobody involved in the decision on the atomic bombs could have seen themselves as setting new precedents for mass destruction in scale - only in efficiency." More people - 100,000 - died in the March 9 Tokyo incendiary attack than at Hiroshima. We may dismiss conspiracy theories that Hiroshima was a first shot in the cold war, designed to impress the Soviets. Rather, the use of a "total" weapon reflected the inexorable logic of total war. Amid a conflict in which 50 million people had already died, those who dispatched the Enola Gay viewed the judgment with gravity, but without the sense of uniqueness that posterity perceives as appropriate. Uncertainty persisted in August 1945 about whether the bombs would work. This was one reason for Washington's reluctance to stage an offshore demonstration, though more potent was a desire to administer to the enemy a devastating shock, such as only city attacks were thought able to achieve. The decision-makers were men who had grown accustomed to the necessity for cruel judgments. There was overwhelming technological momentum: a titanic effort had been made to create a weapon for which the allies saw themselves as competing with their foes. After Hiroshima, General Leslie Groves, chief of the Manhattan Project, was almost the only man to succumb to triumphalism. He said: "We have spent $2bn on the greatest scientific gamble in history - we won." Having devoted such resources to the bomb, an extraordinary initiative would have been needed from Truman to arrest its employment. Those who today find it easy to condemn the architects of Hiroshima sometimes seem to lack humility in recognising the frailties of the decision-makers, mortal men grappling with dilemmas of a magnitude our own generation has been spared. In August 1945, amid a world sick of death in the cause of defeating evil, allied lives seemed very precious, while the enemy appeared to value neither his own nor those of the innocent. Truman's Hiroshima judgment may seem wrong in the eyes of posterity, but it is easy to understand why it seemed right to most of his contemporaries. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1539275,00.html
  8. Max Hastings

    Biography: Max Hastings

    Max Hastings was the first journalist to enter Port Stanley during the Falklands War. He has also distinguished himself as a military historian, and was editor of both the Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard. A keen proponent of the countryside, he was made President of the Council for the Protection of Rural England in 2002 - and in the same year received his knighthood.
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