War Clouds: The Chilling, Brutal Reality Of Ukraine

WITH THE SITUATION in Ukraine continuing to deteriorate — and the prospect of Russian military intervention increasing in likelihood — there are a couple of chilling and brutal realities that so far have failed to dare to speak their name. I hope and wish the crisis in the Black Sea can be resolved peacefully and without appeasement; should the protagonists involved come to blows, the outcome is likely to be very, very ugly indeed.

Let me reassure readers that I haven’t taken leave of my senses: I’m not paranoid, given to conspiracy theories, a career pessimist or willing on defeat. But in this case, an astute reading of events means knowing what is said — and what is fact — even if it comes to nothing by way of an adverse outcome. In this case, I post today purely to provide readers with something to think through.

Among the many sources of information, intelligence and background reading I avail myself of, however, is an American columnist who is regularly accused of being all of those things. His name is Jeffrey Nyquist, and we have looked at one or two of his pieces during the time I have been publishing this column.

Back in 2008 (not coincidentally, by the way, in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion of Georgia under similar circumstances to those in Ukraine) he wrote an article that I thought at the time was a little on the far-fetched side, but there was just enough in the case he made for me to commit the piece to memory for possible future reference. I would suggest every reader of my article reads this and then come back: the pertinence of the Nyquist article will immediately become obvious, and especially when it is remembered that it was written more than five years ago.

Russia — for at least the time since it was first led by Putin as President — has been modernising, rearming, and militarising; the entire vision Putin has for his country lies in its reclamation of the status and prestige it lost when the USSR formally dissolved and its designation as a superpower — socially, economically and militarily — was forefeited. Putin is not so much a communist as a modern-day Tsar; Russia through the ages has been a peasant society governed by a small, all-powerful ruling elite. It was ever thus. In the absence of the Communist Party, Russia’s Tsarist tradition has found new expression through the totalitarian nationalism of its present President.

There are many, both in Australia and internationally, who pooh-pooh the idea of a militarily resurgent and aggressive Russia. Its armaments are in decay, they say. Its armed forces are subject to a desertion rate so high it is impossible to maintain troop numbers, they say. Russian democracy may well have started out with the best of intentions. But Russia is not a democracy (although many are naive enough to believe it is) and far from sinking into military disarray, Russia has been readying — both directly and through a well-orchestrated series of international allegiances — to reclaim what it sees as its rightful place in the world for some time.

Putin is on record as saying that the break-up of the Soviet Union was “a travesty,” and has made no attempt to hide the fact his objective is to reassemble the old order in this regard.

The invasion of Georgia was opportunistic, made possible as it was by an uprising in South Ossetia that was in Russia’s interests to crush and counter to those of the West for it to interfere. Nonetheless, Russia was able to annexe additional territory from the exercise. Beyond that, it had to wait: and Russians, famously, can be very patient indeed.

The situation in Ukraine, however, is vastly different to the one six years ago in Georgia.

For one thing, Ukraine sits wedged between Russia and the EU (in some respects as North Korea does between China and South Korea), making its strategic importance critical to an expansionist regime in Russia.

For another, the internal struggle in Ukraine between integration with Europe and the West or re-integration with Russia is one Russia cannot afford to “lose” the outcome of: for Russia to lose all effective control and influence over Ukraine would be to suffer a colossal blow to resurgent Russian prestige, and a strategic disaster that would permanently tilt the balance in Europe back toward the West.

And in any case, the concentration of ethnic Russians in Ukraine makes the entire situation impossible to draw black and white conclusions around: the Crimea, gifted to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 as a token gesture, is full of Russians, and ostensibly the pretext Putin is using to justify manoeuvres involving 150,000 troops ahead of almost certain deployment. If Russia’s interests extended no further than regaining the Crimean peninsula — ostensibly providing a safe haven for other ethnic Russians in Ukraine who did not wish to join the EU — there might be an acceptable case to be made for that.

But the latest reports are that an initial 6,000 Russian troops (at a minimum) are about to be sent into the capital, Kiev, and if that should occur, then all bets are off.

The interesting thing about the Nyquist article (which if you haven’t read, go back to the link now and do so) is that of all the Western European powers involved in the Ukraine crisis, it’s the Germans who are calling most loudly for the USA to get involved. It’s the Germans who are making the most noise about NATO. And it’s the Germans, who — the UK aside — are the most dependent on the natural gas supplies that flow through Ukraine from Russia that Russia has shown in the past its wont to literally turn off the tap as an economic and diplomatic weapon when it suits its agenda.

(As an aside, once this is all over, Western Europe must make fresh arrangements to secure its fuel requirements: the Russians simply can’t be trusted when it comes to energy security — a fact that, hopefully, has dawned on the leaders of the German government).

If friendship and partnership with Russia is a mistake — as Nyquist clearly asserts — then current events give every indication that the Germans have awoken to that fact. But it may be too late to benefit anyone.

If Putin wanders into Ukraine and a war breaks out, it will begin conventionally; after all, nobody — not even the Russians — wants to risk all-out war in which even the “fruits” of victory (to paraphrase JFK) would be the taste of ashes in their mouths.

Should such a war be confined to conventional means, it is likely the Russians would prevail; Putin could move hundreds of thousands of ground troops into Ukraine before Britain and the US could send their own deployments in numbers meaningful enough to influence proceedings. It is worth remembering that at a time of war, the Russians would also be able to shoot down aircraft or sink ships carrying NATO troops without fear of subsequent prosecution for war crimes.

In such a scenario, does the West sit back and allow Putin to staple Ukraine back onto Russia as a huge leap forward in his quest to reassemble the USSR? Or — God forbid — does David Cameron or Barack Obama order the unthinkable in retaliation, and launch a nuclear strike on Moscow?

Many will talk of wiser and cooler heads, of the uselessness and pointlessness of nuclear arms, and the guaranteed eventual extinction of humanity were they ever to be used on a widespread basis.

But the alternative, at that point, becomes an existential calculation of its own. If they do nothing, where will Russia stop? Are its territorial ambitions confined to Ukraine, and if not, how widespread are they? And if the Iron Curtain, in time, were to be re-established, what would remain to stop Putin then turning his sights on the enemies who put up a token resistance, but were just too weak to take the only measure that could stop him?

In short, should Putin be appeased over Ukraine, or is doing so just a recipe for eventual calamity on an even greater scale that should be dealt with sooner rather than later? Suddenly, parallels between 1930s Europe and the crisis today are too compelling to dismiss.

In case anyone thinks all of this is hypothetical, here’s another article: this time from Britain’s Daily Express. We may be nearer finding out answers to these terrible questions much faster than anyone ever hoped.

If Russian troops already in the Crimea advance further into Ukraine, or indeed into its capital, then any ambiguity around the question of whether Russia has “violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine’s borders” will be summarily dispelled.

And if argument over whether the so-called Budapest Memorandum — committing the UK, USA, Ukraine and Russia to protect the integrity of Ukraine’s borders — can be formally invoked on the back of a clear breach by Russia concludes that it can be, then Britain and America will find themselves at war with Russia.

From there, God alone knows what could happen.

But if Russian troops advance on Kiev today — and as things stand, the prospect of them doing so appears certain — then World War III may very well begin today too.

Wiser and cooler heads are very much needed at such a delicate time and in the context of such a delicately poised point in global politics.

It’s a fair bet, however, that as night falls on Europe, Britain’s Vanguard submarines — the operational vehicles for its Trident missile system, and the first line of the NATO nuclear strike capability — are nowhere near their base in the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, and it is to be hoped their whereabouts, in the context of the current situation in Ukraine, never become apparent.

 

POSTSCRIPT: As I publish (just before 1am on 3 March, Melbourne time) there are unconfirmed reports that Russia has issued a declaration of war on Ukraine.

 

Mein Kampf: Crucify It, Certainly, But Don’t Censor It

A FURORE has erupted in the German state of Bavaria — which owns copyright in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf — over the merits of publishing a new edition of the work for academic use. A reasonable person will find this tome repulsive, and the atrocities it portends and continues to represent can and should never be excused, justified or diminished. But censoring this book is pointless; attempts to do so could cause more harm than good.

Just to be clear: I’m really only writing this piece to share some thoughts on an article I’ve read from The Guardian, and those thoughts in turn represent views I have held about Mein Kampf for almost 25 years.

I have deliberately weighted my anecdotes to my formative years, which — after all — are key to the formulation (or propagation, which seems a better word to describe the objectives of Mein Kampf) of the views and philosophies we all carry with us throughout our adult lives.

I urge readers to peruse the Guardian article through the link I’ve shared, and then come back to me.

My views about this book were crystallised early in 1990, as a first year student at the University of Queensland; as sad an admission as some may find it, I went to the university on class-free days during the first term of my first year purely to explore the political books in the three main libraries on the campus, free of the constraints of timetables or deadlines: hungry to build information and divergent critical opinions onto a passion for politics and an already-formed conservative philosophical outlook, I was like the proverbial kid in a tart shop.

I stumbled across Mein Kampf in the Undergraduate Library by accident, but by virtue of a system that guaranteed I would find it: well aware very quickly that I would have to spend many similar days “exploring” to read even a fraction of the material of what interested me, I ended up scanning the books shelf by shelf, pulling out titles that looked interesting, and making lists of what I would borrow over the course of the year.

It was impossible to miss Mein Kampf: there were, literally, dozens of copies of it.

At the time, I had been (immaturely, hamfistedly and fruitlessly) chasing a girl who was half Polish and half English, and had acquired an acquaintance from two of my four classes (friend was far too strong a word for it) who was a Nazi-sympathising lunatic from a grazing family with links to white South African interests who thought she should be “eliminated” on the basis of mixed race; needless to say, this bloke was given as wide a berth very quickly as I was given by the girl, but out of curiosity, I picked up a copy of Mein Kampf.

It was printed in German (which was no bar in those days, as my German hadn’t yet rusted away) and I saw very quickly that the passage I’d randomly perused was obsessed with concepts such as the purity of race and other xenophobic notions. It also seemed rather excited, rather hysterical, and rather circumlocutory in its approach to its themes: in short, it was a rant.

History — and European history since the 18th century in particular, intertwining as it does with modern politics — has always been a great of interest of mine, and even by the time I was an 18 year old in 1990 I’d read vociferously about diverse subjects ranging from the French Revolution to the Battle of Culloden, and to British socialism during the post-war reconstruction. But even through years of learning German, reading modern history, and scouring local libraries for anything and everything to learn more, I had never seen a copy of that book until I went to the university.

Of course, we all know what happened prior to and during the Second World War; I don’t seek to revisit that episode here. But Hitler’s autobiographical account of his own prejudices and of his hatred of Jewish people in particular — with its attendant call to arms to his own people and to fellow travellers elsewhere — is abhorrent.

Over the years, I have made a lot of Jewish friends; these are people no different in reality to anyone else. They are certainly nothing like the wild, fevered rantings of Hitler imagine them to be. But as a community they rightly refuse to let the memory of the obscenities committed against them by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s die, and it’s here that the point I seek to make today begins to take form.

I made a couple of attempts to read Mein Kampf: I simultaneously found it so vile and so boring as to be unreadable. I never made it past the first fifty pages.

It now apparently seems the Bavarian government planned to issue a reprint of Mein Kampf as a “critical academic edition,” but has sought to backtrack: this is a great pity.

Whilst I understand why Holocaust survivors would complain about the Bavarian crest being included in the proposed academic edition, lest it effectively give sanction to its abominable contents, I can’t agree that that sentiment is well placed; and whilst I understand why the Bavarian government would then seek to backtrack on its plans for republication before its copyright in the work expires, I think to do so would be a mistake.

(Never mind the easy availability of Mein Kampf through other sources, as the attached article notes: this point is, to my mind, a red herring in the overall debate).

World War II was the most destructive human conflict in history; over 80 million people died, and of those more than six million people were Jews slaughtered by the brutal Nazi regime in Germany. Far from hiding the details of the atrocities perpetrated by that merciless junta, they must be taught, passed down, and remembered: there is a reason most civilised countries commemorate their war dead, for example, and the sacrifices their soldiers made. It is the same reason many Jewish events incorporate one kind of commemoration of the Holocaust or another.

It is to ensure people remember — especially those too young to do so, or increasingly those not born at the time — in an endeavour to ensure the same misdeeds can never happen again.

Modern mainstream Germany bears a national shame etched deeply into its psyche; appropriate, perhaps, although it is debatable whether subsequent generations of Germans born in the postwar years should carry any of that guilt. Yet even now, neo-Nazi organisations and adherents of Hitler have existed in Germany for decades, and grow stronger each year; similarly inclined Far Right groups exist across Europe, most notably in France, where the National Front — once confined to the lunatic fringe — has evolved into an increasingly mainstream political movement of the French Right.

It is figures like Hitler, and books like Mein Kampf, that underpin all of these.

Some readers might get a giggle from the story of unrequited love badly mishandled by a belligerent kid. I tell it because the subject of that ill-fated pursuit, for no crime other than being Polish and Catholic, qualified for “elimination” in the eyes of a very intelligent, surprisingly charismatic young adherent of Hitler’s “teachings.” And the guy wasn’t exactly lacking a following, either, despite the stupidity of his views.

To put the example into a more realistic and malignant perspective, look around the world: brutal conflicts in the years since Nazi Germany in the Baltic, the Middle East, in Africa and elsewhere — all with race and/or religion at their epicentre — share fundamental common ground with the demented philosophies espoused by Adolf Hitler.

The only difference is the weight of numbers, or the critical mass of people in each instance who subscribed to them, combined with the concerted will to follow through on them. Making that observation in no way diminishes the Holocaust, or denies that it occurred. In fact, it merely adds to the rationale for the determination of Jewish people to ensure it is never forgotten.

It is an almost unrivalled truism that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Censoring books and wishing offensive history out of existence will not make it go away; on the contrary, it will simply embolden those who find such repugnant material inviting, and remove an important barrier to restraining the weak, and the impressionable, and the gullible, and the stupid.

This post makes no pretensions to be an analysis of any intellectual rigour whatsoever: on the contrary, and as I said at the outset, these are purely personal thoughts with a skew to late adolescence and early adulthood, and some ties to the personal relevance those years connect to a deep aversion to fruit cakes like Adolf Hitler and his so-called “teachings” that was already well formed.

Mein Kampf is an odious, evil book, and the ideas that lie within its pages are truly noxious and offensive.

But trying to stop people accessing it and reading it won’t achieve anything; in fact, the sin of omission is sometimes the worst sin of all, and driving evil sentiment underground will only legitimise it: especially for those seeking a cause in a misguided — and mistaken — quest for legitimacy.

 

 

Euro-Zonk: Why David Cameron And The UK Must Stand Firm

There’s a lot of chatter presently that Europe is headed into a “double-dip” recession that will take Britain with it. The Conservative-led government of David Cameron must stand firm; the alternative is a disaster of — well, frankly, of European proportions.

It’s been a little while since we’ve had a video clip here at The Red And The Blue to lead into an article; we have one tonight, however.

Watch this, especially from 1:30 in (it’s pivotal to the basis of my argument, the pivot of which will become clearer as we go), and then let’s talk about it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TOgB3Smvro

If you’re British (as many people close to me are) — or if you’re a devotee of British politics (as I am) — then two worlds are about to collide; indeed, this “collision” has been brewing for decades.

And there’s no romanticism, in either the classic or contemporary sense, about it.

We all know Europe is in a complete mess right now; Greece and Italy and Ireland are all on the brink of collapse, and there are whiffs of decay about a number of the other so-called “Eurozone” countries as well — and not least that France and Germany might be starting to stagger, too.

If France and Germany are beginning to stagger, it isn’t much of a surprise; after all, those with money can only bail out those with none for so long.

But all of them — all of them — are up to their eyeballs in sovereign debt.

The Germans and the French because they’ve funded the bailout programs; and the rest of “Europe” because they were stupid enough to join the single currency project in the first place, which was cooked up by…yes, the Germans and the French.

I have opined previously that the Euro was the single greatest act of economic lunacy of the 20th century, and it was; after the rapid appreciation of member-state currencies to qualify for Euro membership, and the subsequent ceding of various fiscal policy levers to a central bureaucracy in Brussels, borrowing money has been the only way poorer European countries have been able to keep their economies afloat.

Now, that equation has reached critical mass.

The “borrowers” have bankrupted their countries; and the countries publicly listed in the “borrower and broke” column is set to be augmented in coming months with at least two and perhaps as many as six others who are faced with sovereign default.

And the “creditors” — namely, France and Germany — are staggering under the weight of a series of monetary bailouts to their “European partners” which, inevitably, has seen both countries borrow heavily abroad to fund their lavish commitments to their “European partners.”

Even so, the rights and wrongs of the goings-on in financial circles in Europe are of limited concern to me; yes, I would like to see all countries involved sort the quagmire out, and no, I don’t actually want to see Europe — collectively or on a country-by-country basis — slip back into recession.

But my primary concern, I have to say, is for Britain.

If anyone failed to click at the beginning of the article, now’s the time to watch this: especially from the 1:30 mark…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TOgB3Smvro

When the Labour Party finally got its fangs into the UK — after 18 deserved years in the political wilderness — Britain was booming, thanks to the economic legacies of Margaret Thatcher’s policies, executed by Chancellors of the Exchequer Sir Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, and later, through the revolutionary economic stewardship of John Major’s last Chancellor, Ken Clarke.

The bit in the middle was Britain joining the ERM in 1992 under Chancellor Norman Lamont, then leaving in late 1992 as the alleged exchange-rate mechanism failed to protect Sterling from the effects of a falling US dollar.

This led to the Bank of England raising interest rates by five percentage points in one day, and in turn led to the UK’s involuntary departure from the ERM; Lamont’s second and last budget in 1993 featured massive hikes in taxation to fix the damage and to right the government’s finances.

Lamont was sacked seven weeks after delivering the 1993 budget; his successor, Ken Clarke, presided over the healthiest manifestation of the British economy in decades.

But there had been a warning: Europe, and in particular anything to do with monetary collaboration, was a disaster looking for a place to strike, which is likely the reason both Margaret Thatcher and her first Chancellor, the unabashedly Europhile Howe, steered so far clear if it.

In the early years of Tony Blair’s government, which was elected in a landslide in 1997, Britain continued to boom.

It is noteworthy that Blair was not elected on the back of any perception of Tory party incompetence on the economy.

Rather, he won as a result of the “It’s Time” factor, a general perception that Britons were comfortable, an anti-sleaze campaign by the Major government that blew up in its face when the peccadilloes of some of its less professional ministers came to light, and the ubiquitous sloganeering and rhetoric typical of Labour parties the world over.

For the first few years, it worked; but even then, public sector borrowing in Britain was rocketing; so-called “New Labour” was delivering spending on social programs it claimed delivered a social dividend whilst maintaining economic rigour.

Blair’s Chancellor, and eventual successor, Gordon Brown, threw buckets — no, shitloads — of money at anything that moved and that was deemed to be in need of spending.

And it was all borrowed money.

Together, Blair, Brown and the Labour cabinet actively flirted with dumping Sterling and joining the Euro; public outcry, and noisy opposition from the Conservative Party, tempered these activities, but they still went so far as to set up “Euro trading zones” in selected parts of Britain.

Cutting a long story short, having taken government in 1997 with a robust bull economy and negligible public debt, the Blair/Brown government was thrown from office in 2010 having amassed £1,300 billion in government borrowings — a complete indictment on any elected government anywhere in the world.

And what of that hubris-laden, headily rhetorical speech from Neil Kinnock? Britain dodged a bullet in 1992; and although it eventually took one five years later, Kinnock would have been worse than Blair.

Obsessed with socialism and the European project as Labour was in 1992, and beholden to such pledges as a 50p in the pound tax rate on anyone earning more than £50,000 per year, what eventually happened under Blair and Brown would have been far worse under Kinnock.

But Kinnock showed, if nothing else, what was to come; alas, very few people recognised the truth behind his words in the longer run.

The smug, glib, prematurely triumphant little display Kinnock put on a week out from the 1992 election masked something far more sinister, and far more menacing.

Today, the Conservative Party is again at the helm of government in Britain, hobbled as it is by the useless presence of the Liberal Democrats, who choose to abstain from  or to oppose anything painful that might actually help fix Britain, but who are always present for anything that might advance the political cause of their own contemptible specimen of a political organisation.

It is in this context that I make my point.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has implemented budget cuts of £81 billion over five years (AUD $125 billion) as part of an overall program to haul in the deficit in the British budget and to begin to repay the UK’s historically colossal owings to its international partners.

This public sector debt — incurred in peacetime — is unprecedented.

On one level, these cuts (and the attendant tax rises accompanying them, such as increasing VAT from 17.5% to 20%) are measures simply aimed at slowly undoing the unquestionable damage that 13 years of Labour mismanagement inflicted on those splendid islands.

On another level, however, it is also unquestionable that world economic circumstances are grim to say the least, and especially so where Europe and, by extension, the UK is concerned.

It’s come to pass in the last few weeks that Europe wants Britain to pay €31 billion (AUD $40 billion, or £26 billion) to bail out the Euro.

I’d say that it’s perfectly reasonable for Britain to take the view that having avoided the Euro and the ERM almost entirely, it should not be at all obliged to pay a penny to prop up and prolong what was always a colossal mistake.

More to the point, as things stand with the EU generally (and despite the deal Margaret Thatcher famously struck in 1980, generating much odium toward the UK for its daring to fight Brussels), Britain still pays the single largest annual contribution towards Europe of the lot of them.

And most of all, there isn’t much point in Cameron, Osborne and the Conservative Party stripping £15-£20 billion per year of profligate waste out of the UK economy, just to piss those savings back up against a post in bailing out countries too stupid to realise the Euro is and was a bad deal, and too stupid to know when to call the whole thing off.

My sense is the British public will reluctantly put up with Cameron and Osborne cutting out expenditures that ought never have been incurred, but that there would be a near-bloody insurrection at the prospect of the monies saved being sent across the Channel to fill the coffers of those too inept to see what Britain (with the exception of its last, loathsome Labour government) saw — that the Euro is just a ruse, and that France and Germany might have money, but they can’t rule the world with it.

Drachmas, Francs, Deutsche Marks, Lira…much more sensible; and with the wisdom of hindsight, better soil to grow a community from, as opposed to simply insisting everyone be the same.

Will Britain sink back into recession? I don’t know.

I don’t think so, but at the minimum, I certainly hope not.

But whether it does or not, Cameron and Osborne are fixing the British economy in the same way Thatcher and Howe were forced to do 30 years ago, having taken office in 1979 from another Labour government that had all but bankrupted Britain.

The Euro is a red herring that has been a distraction in Britain for too long.

The Liberal Democrats are likely to pay, literally, with their electoral life for trying to frustrate Cameron’s attempts to fix Britain.

And following Cameron’s recent veto of a treaty to bind European nations closer economically, the Tory Party’s vote in all reputable opinion polls has been rising in the past fortnight: not yet far enough to win an election outright, without the accursed Lib-Dems, but it’s getting close.

Call on a fresh election, and voters will zero in on Labour: it might be the place to park protest votes in the polls, but with its ineffectual leader, ineffective front bench, confused messages and shrinking membership, I’d wager a Conservative landslide if such an election were to be pulled on any time soon.

Cameron and his Conservatives must stay the course on economic reform. Double-dip or no, the benefits will materialise in the mid-term. Yes, the Tory Party will rightly reap an electoral dividend for them. But they were elected to fix Britain, and thus ought not be distracted by the pox of the Liberal Democrats and Labour to their left, or by the odious entity that is Europe and the Euro on its flank.