Category Archives: More Wars

Tear-ups not quite deserving of their own category (yet)

Anyone who stands still is a well-disciplined actor: Kubrick, Colceri and Ermey

The story of how R Lee Ermey commando raided his way from film set military advisor to snaring the pivotal onscreen role of drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is a hoary old anecdote.

In pre-production Kubrick needed to audition a whole cadre of young actors as newly-conscripted marines entering Parris Island and being faced with the implications of military life for the first time. Knowing that Kubrick, who was in the habit of not being present for such run-throughs but instead preferred to have them videotaped for his later inspection, Ermey figured out that someone would be needed to deliver the feed lines from the drill instructor to each one of the actors. He further realised that this was his chance to show Kubrick (who had earlier turned down his request to audition for the part of the drill instructor) what he himself could do with the part – in effect hijacking thirty audition tapes, ostensibly of other people, but in which he was the biggest, brashest, most electric element. It was a power play that worked, particularly as a prompter rather a player he was unrestrained by Kubrick’s unwavering demand for actor’s to stick to the dialogue as written, and could instead fall back on his lived experience as a Viet Nam-era DI to machine-gun the shell-shocked Hollywood young bucks with soul-crushing putdowns and the foulest of insults.

It was a power play that worked. The director was amused by Ermey’s sneakiness, and impressed by his embodiment of the character. So Kubrick, that master micro-manager of movies, hired him to be his Hartman – and sacked the actor whom he had hired for the part years previously, despite having had him rehearsing for twelve hours a day, six days a week for eight months on his own, apart from the rest of the cast.

This video is the story of the hoary old anecdote, told not from the perspective of cheeky old Ermey, but from that of the man whose part he snatched: Tim Colceri. An interesting watch.

Malians in the middle as al-Qaeda steps up a gear

Picture by May Ying Welsh

“Ansar al Din is a Malian armed group that hosts Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) much as the Taliban did in Afghanistan.”

A rather interesting article on the Al Jazeera website by May Ying Welsh about al-Qaeda in Mali, as flagged up by Andy Morgan.

…Al-Qaeda has based itself in northern Mali for 10 years, as part of an alleged secret agreement with Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT), the president of Mali who was deposed in a military coup in March 2012 as northern cities were falling to Tuareg rebels.

During ATT’s presidency, AQIM amassed an outrageous fortune in Mali – collecting up to $250m in hostage ransoms from Western governments for more than 50 European and Canadian hostages kidnapped over the past decade, usually from neighbouring Niger.

At this moment there are still European hostages being held by al-Qaeda in northern Mali pending delivery of a $132m ransom.

The ransom negotiations, which were carried out under the auspices of the presidency, were confirmed by the Wikileaks cables to be a goldmine for the Malian VIPs involved – with each receiving his cut of the jackpot including, according to a former Malian official with knowledge of the deals, the president himself…

…According to numerous northern residents, AQIM fighters have been circulating openly in Tuareg towns, not for the past year, but for the past 10 years; shopping, attending weddings, and parading fully armed in the streets, in front of police stations and military barracks.

Colonel Habi ag Al Salat, a Malian army commander who defected in 2011 to join the [secular Tuareg rebel movement] MNLA, was one of the first to notice the Algerian fighters from the Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) entering Tuareg towns of the far north such as Aguelhoc, which was under his command.

But when Habi warned his army superiors they told him to stand down and leave the men alone because they were “not enemies” of Mali. When the GSPC changed its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, following a pact announced by Ayman Al Zawahiri, that policy did not change.

“Mali opened the field to al-Qaeda – to roam among the camps and villages, to build relationships with the people,” says Habi.

“Local people benefitted up to a point from the trickle down of money flowing to al-Qaeda by way of Mali. And this ensnared many of our youths who are unemployed. Mali facilitated al-Qaeda, providing them complete freedom of movement among our families because they believed the presence of this group would impact the Tuareg struggle against the governing regime which has been going on for 50 years”…

…Meanwhile the Tuaregs have a sinking feeling: The fear that they are the ones who will be killed in any coming war, in the name of fighting al-Qaeda.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/spotlight/2012review/2012/12/20121228102157169557.html

Balkans Scrapbook – remembering the Yugoslav Civil War through news cuttings, photographs and documentaries (plus Bolivian adventurers, Hungarian fascists, Irish bouncers, British spy cops…)

See http://davecinzano.wordpress.com for more info

I’ve long been interested in the Balkans and the break up of the former Yugoslavia, so it’s good to see Balkan Scrapbook, a blog pulling together newspaper clippings, pictures and documentary film on what went down in the early 1990s.

It’s not been up long, but there’s already some interesting content, with new stuff being uploaded all the time. The focus at the moment seems to be on foreign fighters taking part in the conflict, and the death of journalist Paul Jenks near Osijek in east Slavonia, Croatia. Jenks was investigating the earlier death of Swiss reporter Chritian Würtenberg, who himself had joined the International Platoon (PIV) fighting with the Croatian HOS militia whilst looking into links between it and a pan-European fascist network. John Sweeney (he of shouting-at-Scientologists fame) was a colleague and a friend, and he returned to Osijek nearly three years after Jenks’ death to try and uncover what had happened – which made for a riveting documentary film, Dying For The Truth, which opened the Travels With My Camera strand on Channel 4.

The whole torrid tale brought together damaged ex-servicemen in search of excitement, wannabe warriors, and some seriously scary political soldiers – not least Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, a Bolivian-born Hungarian-Spanish Catholic fascist (try saying that in a hurry) who came to lead the PIV. Flores had turned up in Croatia ostensibly to work as a journalist, but soon set up the PIV under the patronage of Branimir Glavaš, a regional powerbroker subsequently convicted of war crimes.

After the deaths of Würtenberg and Jenks, and a third PIV volunteer, Anthony Mann Grant – all blamed on Serbs, but with many unanswered questions hanging in the air – Flores did a runner to Zagreb, before melting away from the Balkans. Ultimately he was involved in a right-wing secessionist movement in Bolivia, and he was shot dead by security forces there in 2009, alongside fellow mercenaries Mario Tadic, a Croatian, and Előd Tóásó, variously described as a Romanian and a Hungarian, plus Irishman Michael Dwyer.

Dwyer had been a security thug working at Shell’s Corrib gas pipeline project in County Mayo, where Integrated Risk Management Services had accrued a reputation for violence against environmental protesters, before he was apparently recruited for the Bolivian adventure by other IRMS goons with a background in Magyar autonomist politics. As if to demonstrate how the world is getting smaller, the Metropolitan Police’s “vancop” agent provocateur PC Mark Kennedy, AKA Mark ‘Flash’ Stone, had previously infiltrated the anti-Corrib activist groups, which were of great interest to Irish and British police as well as business interests and private security groups.

But I digress – if you’re interested in the former Yugoslavia and all that happened there in recent history, then keep an eye on Balkan Scrapbook.

Edited 9 September 2012 to reflect move of blog.

FAIL #001: The Gallic Wars

If there’s one thing that the Asterix books teach us, it’s that no one remembers Alesia. If there’s one thing that cheap ‘documentary’ television teaches us, it’s DON’T LEAVE THE ONSCREEN TITLES TO THE UNPAID INTERNS.

Bristol EDO Decommissioners: Anti-war crime activist trial begins today in Hove

The trial began today of the EDO Decommissioners, a group of people from Bristol who wrought an estimated £180,000-worth of damage on a factory involved in production of bomb release clips used by the Israeli Defense Force to deliver lethal munitions into densely populated areas during Operation Cast Lead, its offensive on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009.

The five-strong group from Bristol which carried out the “citizens’ decommissioning” on the night of the 17th January last year is joined in court by three Brighton people who did not take part in the damage. The Decommissioners argue that their actions are lawfully excusable on the grounds that they were preventing Israeli war crimes. One of them, James ‘Elijah’ Smith, has been on remand since the action – seventeen months in gaol without a conviction.

The trial is taking place at Hove Crown Court
in East Sussex, just the other side of Brighton to the Moulsecoomb-located EDO MBM factory which was the subject of the defendants’ actions, and is scheduled to last seven weeks.

Operation Cast Lead led to a United Nations investigation, culminating in the Goldstone Report, which was highly critical of the IDF’s conduct of the war:

We came to the conclusion, on the basis of the facts we found, that there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza.

The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly, in some respects, crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defense Force.

There’s no question that the firing of rockets and mortars [by armed groups from Gaza] was deliberate and calculated to cause loss of life and injury to civilians and damage to civilian structures. The mission found that these actions also amount to serious war crimes and also possibly crimes against humanity.

The Gaza war was marked, amongst other things, by IDF use of white phosphorus.

EDO Decommissioners’ raffle – one day left!

EDO Decommissioners' raffle flyer

Tomorrow is the day of the draw for the EDO Decommissioners‘ fundraising raffle!

The draw takes place at Kebele in Eastville at (I think) 7pm, with prizes including reconditioned bicycles, t-shirts, a veg box, plants, wine and books.

Tickets cost just £1 for a strip of 5 – that’s FIVE CHANCES TO WIN for a mere quid! (Or you can even buy a single ticket for 20p…)

If you haven’t got any but would like some, I still have a few left, just contact me before lunchtime tomorrow to let me know how many you want. I’ll accept pledges if it’s not possible to take your money before the draw, and scan your tickets so you know what numbers are yours.

Wikipediaphile: Alfred Wintle

Alfred Wintle (pic from TIME magazine)

Alfred Wintle

Stop dying at once and when you get up, get your bloody hair cut!

Wintle to Trooper Cedric Mays (Royal Dragoons), who recovered and lived to the age of 95.

Tip o’ the titfer: ITTODBTBIA

Raytheon <3 Tim?

Raytheon

Wonder what about professional killer Tim Spicer the Raytheon bods are interested in?

O_o

Raytheon is the company whose Bristol office roof has been repeatedly occupied over the past few weeks by people protesting against its business – arms manufacture:

Raytheon are 4th largest arms company in the world with a $20 billion turnover per year. They are involved massively in the manufacture or delivery systems of WMD. They are the biggest cruise missile maker (Patriot and tomahawk). Their range of both cruise-missiles and plane-dropped bombs can be loaded with cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are indiscriminate weapons killing civilians and soldiers alike. During the 2006 War on Southern Lebanon, Raytheon were supplying the Israeli military who were using the weaponry on civilian targets and deliberately sprayed millions of bomblets throughout the country. They also manufacture DU depleted-Uranium tipped Bunker Busters bombs, such as the ones that killed hundreds of civilians in the Amiriyah shelter in Baghdad. DU has had devastating health effects on civilian population of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on British soldiers. Raytheon munitions were used extensively in the destruction of the city of Fallujah during the second Iraq war. Have the UK contract with MOD for UK inland security and the Olympics, plus are involved with the new military training academy being built at St Athens [sic] in South Wales. They are also researching military technology for civilian control, such as a sinister crowd-dispersal microwave beam called “The Silent Guardian” which causes intense burning effects on the recipients.

(From a report on IndyMedia, included here with all the usual implied caveats, etc.)

There’s also a Smash Raytheon blog, and Anti-METRIX, a blog about the campaign opposing the St Athan privatised military academy.

When Craig met Tim

When on my second day in my new office I received a friendly phone call from Lt.-Col Tim Spicer saying he wished to come and see me, it rang no alarm bells with me. The defence industry is full of newly retired military personnel, and we provide military training to governments all around the world. I should confess that I didn’t yet on 6 January 1998 mentally attach the word “mercenary” to Sandline, and I did not connect Sandline with Executive Outcomes during that initial telephone conversation with Spicer.

As Spicer briefly explained it, Sandline were involved in providing security to expatriate companies in Sierra Leone and training to forces loyal to the legitimate government of Sierra Leone. Spicer asked if he could come to see me and brief me on what his company was doing, and I readily agreed. I felt I could do with all the briefing I could get.

The next day I mentioned Spicer’s call to John Everard, my predecessor as Deputy Head, who was engaged in a week’s handover with me. John asked if I was sure I wanted to meet Spicer. He said that as our policy was to avoid further military conflict in Sierra Leone, he had thought it best to avoid direct contact with Spicer, and to have only telephone contact with him.

It had not occurred to me that there could be a problem, and I was a bit taken aback by what John had said. But it would be difficult now for me to cancel the appointment I had agreed.

I thought it through, and decided that I really couldn’t see the moral difference between having a conversation on the telephone, as John Everard did, and having it face to face. Indeed you could sum someone up much better if you could see their body language rather than just hear their voice. I spoke to Tim Andrews, head of the section which included Sierra Leone, who told me that it was indeed very sensitive, but that Spicer had been chasing a contract to train forces loyal to President Kabbah. Tim agreed with my suggestion that we should see Spicer, as we needed to know what was happening. But Tim did mention he believed Sandline were connected to Executive Outcomes. That put me on my guard.

Perhaps I should have researched further. But I was in just my second
day in a big new job. I had 21 new countries to update myself on, involving thousands of pages of material to read through. I worked over a hundred hours that first week. I decided Spicer could wait until I met him. I didn’t particularly see him as a danger to me.

I underestimated Spicer. That was a bad error of judgement. 19 January, the day that Tim Spicer arrived, was extremely busy. We had ministerial briefings and parliamentary questions on Sierra Leone and a consular crisis in Nigeria. So when I was informed that Colonel Spicer was here to see me, it took me a few seconds to recall who he was.

As he was shown up, I asked Tim Andrews to come and sit in with me and take a note of the conversation. You would normally only do this for important visitors – otherwise you would just make a brief note yourself after the meeting – but given John Everard’s words of caution, I thought it was probably wise to have Tim Andrews present. Besides, he knew the subject much better than I yet did.

Tim Spicer was short for a soldier, but well built and exceedingly well manicured and coiffured. His conventional good looks were marred by a slight hooding of the eyes or squint. He wore the thin, inch apart pinstripes that seem to be universally favoured by the British military out of uniform. He smelt of expensive after-shave.

Spicer told us that Sandline now had a contract to provide training to the Kamajors, a militia force loyal to Sam Hinga Norman and currently prepared to fight for President Kabbah. He said that the aim was to prepare the Kamajors for a quick campaign, in support of the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces, to retake Sierra Leone from the RUF and military junta. The contract covered training and “non-lethal” equipment. Spicer used the phrase “non-lethal” several times, and I took it as his intention to stress that he was not providing weapons and was therefore acting legally.

I told him that we did not favour a military solution and that any armed intervention by ECOMOG would require prior agreement from the UN Security Council; it was essential that any such military action be as quick and limited as possible. The laws of armed conflict and the human rights of civilians must be respected.

I asked Spicer, who was funding the Sandline contract, and why? He replied that he was not free to tell me who was funding it, but that it related to the securing of some mineral assets within the country. I asked him who Sandline were? I had heard that they were related to Executive Outcomes, whose reputation in Africa was not good. Were Sandline related to Executive Outcomes, and was Mr Tony Buckingham involved in Sandline?

Spicer replied that he did not have authority to discuss Sandline’s corporate structure or confidential business matters. He was here to brief me on the wider situation with regard to their strategy on Sierra Leone.

Spicer then said that he had intelligence that the junta may be attempting to acquire Eastern European weapons, shipped via Nigeria. I said that we could ask the Nigerian government to intercept any such weapons shipments under UN Security Council Resolution 1132. I asked Tim Andrews to show him the relevant passage.

Tim Andrews did not have a copy of the resolution on him, so he went back to his own office to get one. He took it down from where it was pinned, on the cork board behind the desk officer Linda St Cook’s desk. He returned to my room and read aloud the appropriate clause:

Decides that all States shall prevent the sale or supply to Sierra Leone, by their nationals or from their territories, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of petroleum and petroleum products and arms and related matériel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment and spare parts for the aforementioned, whether or not originating in their territory;

Spicer responded to this by saying that he had understood that the UNSCR applied only to the RUF, and not to the government. I said that this was wrong, and that it was a geographic prohibition covering the whole country.

Spicer then asked whether the prohibition applied to ”dual-use” items, which could have either a military or a civilian application. He gave the example of night vision equipment, which he said could be used by the military or in mining. I said that such “dual-use” items would be subject to export control licensing by the Department of Trade and Industry, who would consult other departments including the FCO and MOD.

Spicer then asked if military items could be exported to a neighbouring country such as Guinea, and then on to Sierra Leone. I said no, they couldn’t.

While it was now obvious to me that Spicer was really considering the potential for himself to export arms to the government of Sierra Leone, I felt that Tim Andrews and I had made it plain that this was not allowed. The language of the Resolution which Tim Andrews read out to Spicer is admirably plain. I was surprised that a former British Army Lieutenant Colonel, who must by training have been familiar with UN Security Council Resolutions in conflict situations and how to interpret them, appeared to be quite so ignorant of the basic rules governing his operations in a theatre in which he was already involved. But I took it that this was because his existing contract covered only training and non-lethal equipment, as he had stated, and he was just making preliminary enquiries about the possibility of expanding this to include arms.

I am quite certain that, when Tim Andrews read Spicer the Security Council Resolution, he did not say anything like “Well, that’s awkward, because the contract we expect to sign does include the sale of weapons”.

It was not only to Tim Andrews and I that Spicer went out of his way to stress that his contract was for “non-lethal” equipment. My first day in the Department had been 5 January, but as is FCO practice I had a few days “handover” from my predecessor who was still doing the job for the first few days. On 5 January John Everard had sent a minute to Ann Grant to say that Spicer had told Everard that his contract would include medical and communications equipment “and nothing higher profile”.

It has been put to me, not least at the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, that I must have realised that a £10 million contract included arms. But in fact such contracts, not including arms, were an established feature of the region. In particular, the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces which were occupying Liberia, and which we believed might be going on to invade Sierra Leone, received their supplies, training, transportation and logistic support from the United States government via a company called Pacific and Atlantic Engineering. Their role specifically excluded the provision of weapons. Their funding, totalling some US$40 million a year, included contributions from the German and Dutch governments.

I presumed that Spicer was indicating a prospective contract with Kabbah that would be similar in scope to the Pacific and Atlantic contract, and took that to be what he meant when he kept emphasising the term “non-lethal”. [Spicer gives a quite different account of this meeting. See Tim Spicer, ‘An Unorthodox Soldier’, pp198-200]

Nonetheless, I felt worried by my meeting with Spicer. He had refused to clarify Sandline’s ownership, and his repeated questioning on the possibility of sending arms to Sierra Leone led me to think that he was looking to add arms to training in the future. All in all, I had found him not straight. I therefore nipped three doors along the corridor to see Ann Grant, and told her that, having met Spicer, I was worried about his intentions and didn’t trust him, and that I proposed to tell the Department to break contact with him. Ann agreed with my proposal, and I went immediately to let Tim Andrews and Linda St Cook know of my decision.

Spicer later claimed that he informed the FCO at our meeting that he was exporting arms, and that the FCO (i.e. I) gave approval. But both Tim Andrews and I were to make formal, independent statements to Customs and Excise in which we both stated that Spicer had emphasised that he was exporting non-lethal equipment. We both also independently stated that, when Spicer raised questions over arms exports, Tim Andrews read him the Resolution to show that any arms exports would be illegal. John Everard had minuted that Spicer had told him that he was supplying medical and communications equipment “and nothing higher profile”.

Yet much of the media and most of the political establishment preferred to take the unsupported word of a mercenary – that he had told us about supplying arms – against all three of us.

Why would that be?

Well, the Conservative Party saw the “Arms to Africa affair” as their first real chance to hit the Blair government – still only seven months old – with a scandal. They desperately wanted Spicer to be telling the truth and the FCO to have connived at breaking the law, preferably with ministerial knowledge. Conservatives were comforted in this view by the fact that Tim Spicer was a public schoolboy and a former Lt Colonel of a Guards regiment. He was a gentleman, and socially very well connected, with friends in the royal family. Such people never tell lies, while John Everard, Tim Andrews and I were all irredeemably middle class.

This struck me forcibly when I was talking to a friend of mine, an officer in the Ministry of Defence. I told him that Spicer was not telling the truth when he said that I had approved of the shipment of arms. My friend (I believe it was Colonel Andrew Jocelyn, but it may have been another) winced and said “But he’s godfather to one of my children.” To many influential people in Britain, the idea that a senior Guards officer might lie was unthinkable – it struck at the root of their entire belief system.

Support for Spicer from Conservatives was predictable. But I had not realised that influence would be exerted on behalf of Spicer from 10 Downing Street. Our policy on Sierra Leone was to seek a solution by peaceful means. I am sure that was what Robin Cook favoured; I discussed it with him several times. But in No. 10 and in parts of the FCO, particularly the United Nations Department, they were starting to formulate the Blair doctrine of radical military interventionism that was to lead Tony Blair to launch more wars than any other British Prime Minister. [See John Kampfner; ‘Blair’s Wars’]

A fundamental part of this new Blair doctrine was to be the ultimate privatisation – the privatisation of killing. Mercenary troops were seen as having many advantages for quick aggressive campaigns in third world countries. Regular government forces had been configured to fight huge battles against other regular forces. Mercenaries were more flexible and less constrained by regulation.

If you consider what “less constrained” really means in terms of shooting up civilians, it is remarkable that this was viewed as an advantage. Still more remarkably, this policy of military intervention in the developing world had many adherents in DFID, where it was being promoted under the slogan that “Security is a precondition of development”.

The “Sandline” or “Arms to Africa” affair has been presented by its proponents as a noble attempt to restore democratic government to Sierra Leone, hampered by pettifogging bureaucrats. In fact, it was nothing of the kind, but a deeply squalid plot to corner the market in Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds.

pp19-25 of Craig Murray’s new book, The Catholic Orangemen of Togo and Other Conflicts I Have Known, the full text of which he has just posted on the internet. You may download a 226 page PDF of it here, or, indeed, here. (It’s only 1.1Mb big.)

It is a book which libel lawyers Schillings managed to persuade original publishers Mainstream to drop after flexing its muscles on behalf of client Tim Spicer, the freebooting mercenary boss. Murray insists the book is not libellous and has stood firm, offering both the free PDF and a privately printed physical version in defiance of the lawyerly intimidation.

I look forward to reading the whole thing.

Mainstream too bland for taste of Spicer

Remember that whole thing about upscale lawyers Schillings putting the squeeze on the publishers of former ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray’s forthcoming book, which promised to dish the dirt on the profiteering activities of mercenary Tim Spicer and others?

Well, it appears to have had the desired effect:

My former publisher, Mainstream, have finally pulled out of publishing The Catholic Orangemen of Togo, intimidated by libel threats made by notorious mercenary commander Tim Spicer.

Click to access Schillings.pdf

I have therefore decided to release the full text free on the internet on 12 January 2009. I do hope more people will learn about the truth about Spicer that way, than they would if Schillings had not intervened. I am very much hoping that I will be able to make some copies of an actual book available at the same time. But you should of course be aware that if you read it you will cause Tim Spicer “profound anxiety and distress”, according to Schillings. Possibly less, however, than that caused to the families of those killed by his mercenaries over the years.

Meantime, here is the epilogue to the book. You don’t get the full force of it unless you have read the history of British involvement in Sierra Leone in the book, but you still might find it interesting.

Download file

ETA:

Craig is looking for volunteers to host the book!

Spartaci Wanted

You’re chance to shout “I’m Spartacus!” Volunteers are wanted to post a PDF of “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo” on 12 January. UK volunteers are very welcome, but as many jurisdictions as possible are helpful.

Click to access Schillings.pdf

The downside is that you may have your collar felt by Schillings, and be disliked by some rather unfriendly mercenaries. OK, that’s a big downside. The upside is that you’ll get to read the book before everybody else.

Volunteers please email athollpublishing@googlemail.com

If you don’t have the facility to host the PDF, be ready to post a link to one on the day.

Wikipediaphile: Force de frappe

The Samson Option by Seymour HershFifteen years ago, I borrowed a book called The Samson Option from a friend called Mike. I’ve finally got round to reading it. It’s written by the My Lai dude, Seymour Hersh, and it’s about Israel’s pursuit (and cover up thereof) of a nuclear weapons programme.

It’s rather interesting, and Hersh does name a few names when it comes to his sources (something that The Observer might like to try). Reading back about the book’s publication I’m reminded of the furore surrounding Robert Maxwell’s connections with the Mossad, and of then-Mirror foreign editor Nicholas Davies’s alleged involvement in dobbing in Mordechai Vanunu. Journalists actively conspiring with spooks? Who’da thunk it?

Anyway, whilst reading through it, I came across a phrase used to describe France’s strategic policy of independent nuclear deterrence: ‘force de frappe‘:

The decision to arm France with nuclear weapons was made in the mid-1950s by the administration of Pierre Mendès-France under the Fourth Republic. Charles de Gaulle, upon his return to power in 1958, solidified the initial vision into the well-defined concept of a fully independent force de frappe capable of protecting France from a Soviet attack independently from NATO, which de Gaulle considered to be dominated by the United States to an unacceptable degree. In particular, France was concerned that, in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, the United States, already bogged down in the Vietnam War and afraid of Soviet retaliation against the United States proper, would not come to the aid of its Western European allies.

The strategic concept behind the force de frappe was the so-called dissuasion du faible au fort (Weak-to-strong deterrence), i.e., the capability of inflicting to a more powerful enemy more damage than the complete destruction of France would represent. The enemy, having more to lose, would therefore refrain from proceeding further (see MAD). The principle was summarized in a statement attributed to De Gaulle himself:

Within ten years, we shall have the means to kill 80 million Russians. I truly believe that one does not light-heartedly attack people who are able to kill 80 million Russians, even if one can kill 800 million French, that is if there were 800 million French.

De Gaulle’s vision of the Force de Frappe featured the same “triad” of air-based, land-based, and sea-based means of deterrence deployed by the United States and the Soviet Union. Work on these components had started in the late 1950s and was vigorously accelerated as soon as De Gaulle became president.

France conducted its first nuclear test in 1960 and operational weapons became available in 1964.

Happy Harpers Ferry Raid Day!

You know, the 1859 John Brown shenanigans.

Wikipediaphile: Split S

So it’s half four in the morning, I’ve got a documentary on in the background (People’s Century episode 6, ‘1927: Great Escape’), and I’m idly stroking threads of human knowledge…

Bonus Army > General MacArthur > Billy Mitchell > Hap Arnold > USAAF > P38 Lightning > Split S

The Split S is an air combat maneuver mostly used to disengage from combat. To execute a Split S, the pilot half-rolls his aircraft inverted and executes a descending half-loop, resulting in level flight in the exact opposite direction at a lower altitude.

So now you know.

Wikipediaphile: The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

The other night I watched a documentary called The Lost Legions Of Varus. It was about how the eastward expansion of the Roman Empire across the lands we call Germany was checked by a tactically imaginative ambush by local tribes coordinated by a Romanified Cherusci nobleman called Arminius in 9CE.

The programme posits the idea that this single event laid the foundations for the division of much of Europe into two camps – those of the Romance nations and those of the Germanic – and all that entailed for the next two millennia. Whilst this is something of a sweeping assertion, it’s still a fascinating story. The battle saw the Romans lose three whole legions, and subsequently they withdrew to a boundary west of the Rhine and south of the Danube.

Wikipedia on the actual battle:

Varus’s forces included three legions (Legio XVII, Legio XVIII, and Legio XIX), six cohorts of auxiliary troops (non-Roman allies) and three squadrons of cavalry (alae), most of which lacked combat experience with Germanic fighters under local conditions. The Roman forces were not marching in combat formation, and were interspersed with large numbers of camp-followers. As they entered the forest (probably just northeast of Osnabrück [show location on an interactive map] 52°24′38″N 8°07′46″E / 52.41056, 8.12944), they found the track narrow and muddy; according to Dio Cassius a violent storm had also arisen. He also writes that Varus neglected to send out advance reconnaissance parties[citation needed].

The line of march was now stretched out perilously long — estimates are that it surpassed 15 km (9 miles), and was perhaps as long as 20 km (12 miles).[1] It was then suddenly attacked by Germanic warriors. Arminius knew Roman tactics very well and could direct his troops to counter them effectively, using locally superior numbers against the spread-out Roman legions. The Romans managed to set up a fortified night camp, and the next morning broke out into the open country north of the Wiehen mountains, near the modern town of Osterkappeln. The break-out cost them heavy losses, as did a further attempt to escape by marching through another forested area, with the torrential rains continuing, preventing them from using their bows, and rendering them virtually defenseless, as their shields too became waterlogged.

They then undertook a night march to escape, but marched straight into another trap that Arminius had set, at the foot of Kalkriese Hill (near Osnabrück). There, the sandy, open strip on which the Romans could march easily was constricted by the hill, so that there was a gap of only about 100 m between the woods and the swampland at the edge of the Great Bog. Moreover, the road was blocked by a trench, and, towards the forest, an earthen wall had been built along the roadside, permitting the Germanic tribesmen to attack the Romans from cover. The Romans made a desperate attempt to storm the wall, but failed, and the highest-ranking officer next to Varus, Numonius Vala, abandoned the troops by riding off with the cavalry; however, he too was overtaken by the Germanic cavalry and killed, according to Velleius Paterculus. The Germanic warriors then stormed the field and slaughtered the disintegrating Roman forces; Varus committed suicide.[1] Velleius reports that one commander, Ceionus, “shamefully” surrendered, while his colleague Eggius “heroically” died leading his doomed troops.

Around 15,000–20,000 Roman soldiers must have died; not only Varus, but also many of his officers are said to have taken their own lives by falling on their swords in the approved manner.[1] Tacitus wrote that many officers were sacrificed by the Germanic forces as part of their indigenous religious ceremonies. However, others were ransomed, and the common soldiers appear to have been enslaved.

As a longtime lover of Asterix, I found it most interesting to hear about these non-Gothic tribes in the German lands. (The Asterix books are set around sixty years prior to the events in the Teutoburg Forest; in reality the Gothic tribes did not play a significant role in history until the third and fourth centuries.) Of course, all this leads on to a perpetual hunt through Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Huns, Vandals, Burgundians, Theodoric, Alaric and all. Frankly (ahem) it all gets rather confusing.

The glamour of war illustrated through the medium of Gori imagery

Arkady Babchenko is a Russian journalist who himself served as a soldier in Chechnya.

Recently he accompanied a column of Russian troops on their counterattack through Ossetia into Georgia. This photo is one of many he took along the way.

Tip o’ the titfer: Blood & Treasure