Sunday, November 11, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 11.11.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here. Garish but informative.

Matters Hamburg/German
  1. Funny to watch a football match on German TV and hear English words cropping up regularly, seemingly at random.
  2. After only 2 small glasses of beer, I noticed a red squirrel running across a city road yesterday,  I guess the dastardly North American grey squirrels which have devastated the UK's red squirrel population haven't got this far. Yet.
  3. Here's one of those old Minis I mentioned yesterday. I suspect there are many more in the city, some of them even older. In fact, I can see 2 more from my bedroom window.
  • My host has corrected me on local shops. They do close, he says. But, in contrast to Pontevedra, all of them re-open in some other guise. Usually as caf├ęs, it seems to me.
Matters Spanish
  • This Spanish triumpth would interest me more if I liked cheese. The world is full of people who do apparently.
  • This is a story which didn't exactly surprise me. The unfortunate barrio is how cursed.
  • It seems that Extremadura has been waiting almost as long as Galicia for its AVE high-speed train. I wonder if it will ever arrive.
  • Are there really 11 reasons why the Spanish live longer than almost any others? Think Spain believes so.
  • I might well have understated, at 320,000, the number of 'pilgrims' reaching Santiago de Compostela this year. Unless you own a hotel, restaurant, bar or knick-knack shop, the really bad news is that the forecast for the Xacobeo year of 2021 is a mnimum of 500,000. I doubt I'll ever visit the city again.
  • As well as cheese, I don't do oysters. At least not these days, after an experience or two. But, if I were to eat them again, this might be the recipe to make tempt me. Except for the cucumber, with which I can't share a room, never mind an eating experience.
Matters (Un)Worldly
  • My favourite curmudgeon – Rod Liddle – has written on the subject of self-identification - stimulated by this week's madness of a Brit who insists he's a (gay) dog and a Dutchman who wants to lop 29 years off his official age. See this below. I'm now pondering my options. Incidentally, calling someone 'a gay dog' used to mean something entirely – and acceptably - different a few decades ago. In the UK at least.
Finally . . .
  • Today is Armistice Day. In the 2nd Sunday Times article below, British historian, Niall Ferguson, cites what he thinks are the several myths about WW1 that are being taught to at least British kids these days, and offers 10 points he thinks need stressing in refutation of these.
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 11.11.18


I’m identifying as a young, black, trans chihuahua, and the truth can go whistle: Rod Liddle, The Sunday Times

There is nothing that Tony McGinn, aged 30, likes more than being taken to the park and chasing sticks. While wearing his dog outfit. He loves it. He is known to his friends in Los Angeles as “Tony Bark”. He is transgender, of course, and perhaps also trans-species. He lives with his husband or (as Tony prefers to put it) “handler”, a man — I think — called Andrew. It is Andrew who takes him to the park every day. Andrew explains his role in the relationship: “I hang out and I provide him with lots of attention and tell him he is a good boy. That’s basically 90% of it.”

Yes, thank you, Andrew. It’s the other 10% that worries me, but then what you do inside your own kennel is entirely the concern of yourselves, and Jesus Christ. Worming tablets, the lot. Believing you are a doggy is a harmless enough activity, even if it is reasonably strong evidence of mental illness, to my mind. It does not impinge, unless Tony were to relieve himself copiously in the street, or rip off a toddler’s face with his teeth. It is arguably less of an impingement than pretending he is a lady (or a man — I haven’t quite got to the bottom of Tony’s psychosis). I don’t believe Tony should be locked up in the booby hatch for eternity, although I suspect he should seek psychiatric help for both of the pretences he adopts. But sooner or later someone will insist that Tony actually is a dog, and that mere tolerance and acceptance is not enough: he, or she, or it, must be empowered. We are what we believe ourselves to be, and there’s an end to it. You think I am exaggerating? I am not exaggerating.

Last week, a Dutch man called Emile Ratelband went to court in order to have his birth certificate amended. Emile is 69 but identifies as 49. His point is that the age on his birth certificate — ie, the truth — discriminates against him in many ways, such as in seeking a job or on the dating website Tinder, where he is not getting much action. Well, fair enough. A study a couple of years back showed that women stopped taking any notice of men once the men had passed the age of 55. Women don’t look at me at all any more, or if they do it’s with either disgust or pity, so I see Emile’s gripe.

Whatever verdict is delivered will be interesting. If a transgender person can insist that their gender, as reported on their birth certificate, is false, then why should someone else not be able to challenge their “given” age? We are what we believe ourselves to be. And I could make a strong case for arguing linear time is more of a social construct than gender, which can be defined very easily by the immutability of chromosomes.

And then there’s the theatre director Anthony Ekundayo Lennon. Anthony identifies as black despite, as he admits, not remotely being so. And he has, as a consequence, hoovered up plenty of grants reserved for people who actually are black — or at least, not white. And there’s Rachel McKinnon, a man who decided to become a woman at the age of 29 and is currently winning women’s cycling races across America and Canada looking like Mr T from The A-Team (except not black).

The left would argue that these are outliers, anomalies, and that they should not dissuade us from allowing people to be whatever they want to be, which is a liberating thing and rather marvellous. I don’t think so. They may be outliers at the moment, but not for long. The rapid procession of transgendered men onto women-only Labour Party shortlists suggests otherwise. And the McKinnon case presages an end to women’s sport. When you abolish truth and reality, as a consequence of wanting everybody to be happy, the whole shebang begins to unravel, the whole confected, deluded edifice. It is — as Marx once said of a rather more enduring ideology — torn apart by its own contradictions. All power to Tony, then, wagging his non-existent tail, and Emile, swiping right like billy-o, for demonstrating the absurdity of where we are now.

2. Remembrance is hollow without brutal honesty: Niall Ferguson, the Milbank Family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford, The Sunday Times

The young are being taught dangerous nonsense about the Great War

To my 19-year-old son, the First World War — which ended 100 years ago today — is as remote an event as the Congress of Berlin was to me when I was 19, Lloyd George as distant a figure as Disraeli. To my generation, the First World War was not quite history. My father’s father, John Ferguson, had joined up at the age of 17 and fought on the western front as a private in the Seaforth Highlanders. He was one of more than 6m men from the United Kingdom who served. Of that number, 722,785 did not come back alive. Just under half of all those who lost their lives were aged between 16 and 24 — a fact that never fails to startle.

John Ferguson was one of the lucky ones who survived and returned. But, like more than 1.6m other servicemen, he did not come back unscarred. He was shot through the shoulder by a German sniper. He survived a gas attack, though his lungs suffered permanent damage.

My grandfather’s most vivid recollection of the war was of a German attack. As the enemy advanced, he and his comrades fixed bayonets and prepared for the order to go over the top. At the last moment, however, the command was given to another regiment. So heavy were the casualties in the ensuing engagement that my grandfather felt sure he would have died if it had been the Seaforths’ turn.

As a schoolboy, reading the poetry of Wilfred Owen, learning to shoot an antiquated rifle in our school’s Combined Cadet Force, I could readily imagine the raw fear of awaiting that order. I wonder if my son knows that sensation.

His generation is not only more distant from the war than mine. It has also been exposed to a great deal of nonsense on the subject. Here are just a few examples I have encountered in recent weeks.

1) Despite the enormous sacrifices of life and treasure, the war was worth fighting. (No, as I argued in my book The Pity of War, an unprepared Britain would probably have been better off staying out, or at least delaying its intervention.)

2) The peace of 1919 failed and was followed just 20 years later by another world war because there wasn’t enough European integration in the 1920s. We learnt our lesson after 1945 and that’s why we haven’t had a third world war. (No, we haven’t had a third world war mainly because of Nato.)

3) The peace failed because of American isolationism. (No, it failed because Woodrow Wilson’s belief that Europe’s borders could be redrawn on the basis of national “self-determination” was naive.)

4) Today, 100 years later, politics in both Europe and the United States is afflicted by the same pathologies that destabilised Europe after the First World War. (No, populism isn’t fascism.)

Let me counter with 10 points that I would like all my children to understand about what happened to their great-grandfather’s generation.

1) The war was not “for civilisation”, as claimed on John Ferguson’s Victory Medal. It was a war for predominance between the six great European empires — the British, the French and the Russian against the German, the Austrian and the Ottoman — that broke out because all their leaders miscalculated that the costs of inaction would exceed the costs of war.

2) It was not fought mainly by infantrymen going over the top. It was fought mainly with artillery. Shellfire caused 75% of casualties. The war-winning weapons were not poison gas or tanks so much as improvements in artillery tactics (the creeping barrage, aerial reconnaissance).

3) The Germans were not doomed to lose. If the French had collapsed in the first six months of the war — when 528,000 French soldiers were permanently incapacitated — it could have been 1870 or 1940. French resilience was one of the surprises of the war. Even so, by mid-1917 the French were finished as an attacking force. German submarines were sinking frightening numbers of the ships supplying Britain. With Russia consumed by the revolution, American investors saw a German victory as possible as late as the spring of 1918.

4) True, the Germans were handicapped in many ways. Their allies were weak: Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria. Their generals used methods — submarine warfare, in particular — that made American intervention likely, if not inevitable.

5) Economically, too, the German side was at a massive disadvantage. Britain and her allies had bigger empires (the population ratio was 5.3 to 1), bigger economies (3.6 to 1) and bigger budgets (2.4 to 1). Moreover, even before the US entered the war, Britain had access to Wall Street.

6) However, the Germans were formidably superior at killing (or capturing) the other side. Overall, the Central Powers killed 35% more men than they lost, and their average cost of killing an enemy soldier was roughly a third of the other side’s. The German soldiers were effective enough to win their war against Russia in 1917.

7) The Germans ultimately lost because the British Army proved more resilient than theirs. Men such as John Ferguson simply would not give up, despite all the hardships they had to endure. Was it patriotism? Did they simply believe in the official war aims? Or was it because British propaganda was so effective — and British military justice so harsh? Perhaps all of these played a part. But it also mattered that British officers were generally competent; that the average Tommy’s lot was made bearable by plentiful “plonk” and fags[cigarettes!]; that, despite high casualties, the bonds between “pals” and “mates” endured.

8) The German army finally fell apart in the summer and autumn of 1918, after it became clear that British tenacity and American intervention made a German victory impossible, and after Bolshevik ideas began to spread westwards from the eastern front. Beginning with the Battle of Amiens (August 8-11, 1918), the Germans lost the will to fight and began to surrender in droves.

9) The war was followed not by peace but by pandemonium. The dynasties toppled: Romanovs, Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, Ottomans — all gone. Their great multi-ethnic empires also disintegrated. The Saxe-Coburgs survived by renaming themselves “Windsor”, but still lost the lion’s share of Ireland. Not only in Russia but all over the world, red revolution seemed unstoppable. To cap it all, an influenza pandemic struck, killing roughly four times as many people as the war had.

10) Not until the advent of a new generation of nationalist strongmen — starting with Jozef Pilsudski, Kemal Ataturk and Benito Mussolini — was it clear that belligerent nationalism was the best antidote to Leninism. Some called it fascism. However, few of the interwar dictators regarded the peace treaties drawn up by the wars’ victors as legitimate. Most of the treaties were dead letters long before war resumed in 1939.

Today, please do observe the two-minute silence, at least, in memory of all those whose lives the Great War ended prematurely. But don’t just zone out, as it’s easy enough to do. If only for 120 seconds, just think of your grandfather or great-grandfather as a boy, in a trench, mortally afraid. And ponder how he got there.


Perry said...

25 years ago I had an original book "Tunnellers" written by Captain W. Grant-Grieve, which I loaned & did not get back. It's about the Tunnelling Companies during WW1. I found it difficult to read, because it described one occasion when large tunnels that could accommodate large numbers of troops two abreast were dug within 50 yards of the German lines. They went unused & the soldiers had to cover 400 yards of devastated land & facing the German machine guns.

My son Elliott purchased me a reprint from Amazon. Reading it is just as difficult today.

Anonymous said...

Ferguson, as the imperialist apologist that, at heart, he is, fails to mention the real cause of WWI: the unavoidable need for capitalist empires to expand and conquer markets. That was the real cause of that hideous crime, that today the same capitalists elites try to conceal and distort with their bland poppy appeal ...

Anonymous said...

Recommended reading: "Hidden History: The Secret Origins of the First World War"
Book by Gerry Docherty and James MacGregor. Hidden History uniquely exposes those responsible for the First World War. It reveals how accounts of the war’s origins have been deliberately falsified to conceal the guilt of the secret cabal of very rich and powerful men in London responsible for the most heinous crime perpetrated on humanity. …

Anonymous said...

Also recommended reading:
"Armistice Day & the Resurrection of the Old Lie":

"World War I Homage – A Triumph of Lies and Platitudes":