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There is nothing new about refugee crises. As my followers will know, I have, over the last 2-3 years, been exploring the appalling events that took place in Ireland between 1845 and the early 1850s. These events led to an exodus of people from Ireland to North America, and Australia.
Last week I was privileged to be a (minor) part of the 7th International Famine Conference which took place in Strokestown Park House, home of the Irish National Famine Museum. The event was truly international, with contributions from academics from the USA, Canada, Australia the United Kingdom and Germany.
My link will take you to a film by a Canadian documentary film maker, made as part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations last year, it describes the way ordinary Canadians responded to the arrival on their shores of ships laden with refugees from Ireland’s disaster. The film received it’s Irish launch on the opening night of the conference.
There are, surely, important lessons to be learned by legislators in the USA and Europe as they grapple with the 21st century refugee crises – not least the reality that we are all descended from immigrants or invaders. We are, indeed, the world. Closing borders is not a moral option.
Have you got a good news story to share with the world? Here’s how to join in:
1. Keep your post to Below 500 words, as much as possible.
2. Link to a human news story on your blog, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Paste in an excerpt and tell us why it touched you. The Link is important, because it actually makes us look through news to find the positive ones to post.
3. No story is too big or small, as long as it Goes Beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.
Place the WE ARE THE WORLD badge or banner on your Post and your Sidebar. Some of you have already done so, this is just a gentle reminder for the others.
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Today I’m linking back to something I posted exactly a year ago. It is my way of saying ‘thank you’ to all those brave young men and women who contributed to bringing peace to Europe during my childhood.
I also have in my mind thoughts of the hundreds of thousands of civilians who died in bombing raids on both sides of the English Channel, they were all as much victims of Adolf Hitler’s insane philosophy as those who died in the gas chambers and concentration camps.
For the record, the names of the six other men who accompanied my father to their collective deaths are:
Pilot: Flt. Lieut. Andrew Crawford Harding, DFC, RCAF, Galetta, Ontario, Canada
Navigator: Flt Lieut. Edward John Clement, DFC, RAF, Gorseinon, Glamorgan, Age 22
Air Bomber: Flt. Lieut. James Hough, DFC, RAF, Glasgow, Age 33
Air Gunner: Pilot Officer Terence John Patrick Walsh, DFC, RAF, Southmead, Gloucestershire, Age 22
Air Gunner: Warrant Officer Walter Campbell Connor, RAF, Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Age 21
Air Gunner: Warrant Officer Edwin Gilpin Millidge RCAF, Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada, Age 26.
I don’t generally give much credence to conspiracy theories. But in these times of “fake news” and “alternative facts” it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid them. George Monbiot is a journalist and commentator that I trust. He references all his claims to well documented real facts. So when he writes about a long term plan to undermine the European Union and promote the agenda of corporate America I believe him.
And the tragedy is that, in order to achieve their aim, this small but powerful group have conned the most disadvantaged citizens of both Britain and America into supporting their aim through the kind of deception of which the late Paul Daniels would be proud. Misdirection and sleight of hand were used in Britain to convince people living in its most deprived communities that their best interests would be served by divorcing themselves from the international body that has provided peace, prosperity and slow but steady advances in human rights over the last 40 years.
The same droit de main was employed by Donald Trump to convince the residents of rust belt USA that he would “clear the swamp” and bring jobs back to the homeland.
Of course, there are conspiracy theories at the other end of the political spectrum, too. A shocking number of Americans still believe that global warming is not the result of the burning of fossil fuels. Encouraged by the same think tanks that Monbiot exposes in his Guardian article, they choose instead to believe that, along with LBGT rights and Obamacare, it is all part of a left wing plot to bring about the Socialist takeover of America.
If history tells us anything it is that the last 150 or more years have witnessed an incessant battle between those who want to see the greatest good for the greatest number and those who want to use the advance of knowledge as a tool for their own enrichment. In Britain the former was traditionally represented by the Liberal and Labour Parties, backed by the Trade Union and co-operative movements, whilst the latter was always the motivating force of the Tory Party. In America, the Democrats, backed by the Labor unions, on the one hand, and the Republicans on the other, fulfilled similar roles.
Differences within each of these political movements were concerned more with the pace of change than with the direction it was taking, with moderates tending to favour gradual progress, fearing the damage that might be caused by too rapid an advance.
Education and the value of work
Fundamental to both ends of the political spectrum is a belief in the importance of education and the value of work. The difference is that the right seeks to keep down the cost of labour; not just the rates of pay, but the additional cost of providing training, health care, holidays, pensions, protection from potential work place hazards and sick pay. It also abhors attempts to protect consumers from any possible harm that might arise from the use of the products of labour, including over-pricing. The left campaigns for better pay and conditions for workers and greater protection for consumers.
By taking the lead in establishing rules and regulations that address the concerns of workers and consumers, the European Union is seen by the right as placing obstacles in the way of business success. The Obama administration in the USA is viewed similarly by Trump and the GOP.
And yet UKIP in the UK, and Trump in the USA, managed to convince people, not only that these regulations were responsible for the loss of traditional jobs, but also that both Brussells and Washington were in thrall to corporate lobby groups. You might be excused for concluding that these claims are mutually exclusive. In fact they are not. It is, rather, a question of which trend holds supremacy at any given point in time. Labour unions and human rights activists lobby for greater regulation whilst bodies representing big business lobby against such advances.
But corporations respond to increased regulation by moving manufacturing to less well regulated jurisdictions, thereby reducing their costs and destroying the traditional jobs of British and American workers . Meanwhile significant numbers of people from those jurisdictions choose to move to the US and the UK in order to take advantage of the many benefits available to the citizens of those countries. Employers in UK and US are happy to give work to foreigners who, being used to poor working conditions, are happy to turn a blind eye to minor infractions of those regulations that protect their British and American counterparts.
Sooner or later, however, as prosperity spreads to those less regulated jurisdictions, similar regulations, protecting the rights of workers and consumers, will be introduced. That is the only way that jobs might return to deprived communities in the North of England or the American rust belt. Removing the hard won rights of workers and consumers, the inevitable consequence of Britain’s exit from the EU and Trump’s plethora of EOs, will not do it.
A century and more of progress in human rights has been accompanied by advances in science and engineering that have served to reduce the need for manual labour in most traditional industries. An age in which machines did the work and men enjoyed greater leisure has been predicted since before I was born 75 years ago. And yet the number of people in employment has continued to rise throughout that time (see here for the latest UK employment figures and here for those for the USA). So I have even less faith in the possibility of such predictions coming true than I have trust in conspiracy theories.
There can be no doubt, however, that the nature of work will continue to change, as it has done throughout history. And governments wishing to keep pace with that change need to focus on education and training so as to equip their citizens to meet the challenge.
Notwithstanding any conspiracies dreamed up by big corporations, I remain optimistic that science and engineering will confound the worst predictions of the world’s pessimists. After all, one of the most successful and wealthy corporations the world has ever known – Microsoft – was a tiny operation 40 years ago and no-one back then, except, perhaps, it’s founders, could have imagined the technological revolution for which it has been responsible, or the nature of the hundreds of thousands of of jobs it has created.
Janet Cameron has posted a thoughtful blog about the pitfalls of historical writing. In my reading about the Great Irish Famine I have yet to discover a full length book by an English historian, something I believe is necessary in order to gain a proper English perspective on the events. I have read several books by Irish historians and it is sometimes too easy to conclude that the writer’s view point – the unconditional condemnation of the British authorities and the British landlords – is distorted by excessive subjectivity.
That is not to say that I have not read accounts by English historians that form part of a work covering the period as a whole and including the famine as one of many episodes in the history of Victorian Britain.
Such accounts bring the, to me, essential ingredient of setting the tragedy within the context of the time. A time when there was endemic poverty and disease in English cities, when children were employed in factories, when slavery was still practiced in North America and the Caribbean. A time, moreover, when the great thinkers of the time were still grappling with the problem of how to respond to poverty, a problem that seems as intractable today as it ever was.
Janet refers to the “Two separate issues [that] need to be addressed. The first is the facts: what happened, where and when? The second is interpretation: why did it happen?” It is the second of these, the “why”, that has been of greatest concern to me in seeking to do justice to what is, without doubt, an event that did more than any other to shape the relationship between the Irish and their neighbour and still resonates today.
I shall bear Janet’s words very much in mind as I continue to search for the truth about the Great Irish Famine.
This was written in response to a prompt from our writers’ group: “It throbbed and vibrated”. I think the person who came up with it had in mind something in the ‘weird science’ genre. My take on the phrase turned into a tribute to my dad and, by extension, all those who have given their lives in the name of freedom. I didn’t initially have the significance of 11th November in mind.
The engine throbbed and vibrated. Uncle George released the clutch lever and set off at a fast pace behind the mower with its sputtering exhaust, the sound uncannily resembling the word ATCO emblazoned on the fuel tank and on the guard shielding the chain that drove the heavy roller at the rear. I trotted behind, savouring the aromas of newly cut grass and spent fuel.
Uncle George was not really my uncle. The only connection between us was that his son and my father had been fellow crew members on a Lancaster bomber shot from the sky over the German industrial city of Mannheim a number of years before. Mum had tried to contact the families of each of the crew members and George’s wife had responded. She and my mother became lifelong friends. We spent summer holidays at their home in a small town a short distance from Swansea.
George was green keeper at the local municipal park. He was also a former champion bowls player. No-one could possibly have lavished more care and attention on the bowling green at the centre of the park. On this occasion, which was to be repeated many times, I had accompanied him to work. The grass of the green, already perfect in my young eyes, needed to be pristine ahead of a bowls match set to take place later that day. The flat square lay in a depression formed by half-metre high banks, these latter separated from the green by a shallow channel that, I suppose, formed a part of the drainage system for the green.
The green was mowed in at least two and sometimes three different directions, brushed and rolled to ensure nothing could interfere with the travel of the shiny wooden spheres when players rolled them from one side to the other, aiming to have the bowl stop as close as possible to a small white ceramic ball without actually touching it.
Looking back, I imagine that the throbbing and vibrations emitted by the two-stroke engine of the lawn mower were as nothing in comparison to the conditions endured by George’s son, my father, and the five other members of the bomber crew as they headed through the dark night skies from their base in Eastern England to various cities in the industrial heartland of Germany. The drone of 4 Rolls-Royce Merlin engines straining to carry the weight of the aircraft and 16 tonnes of high explosive would have formed the background, but there would surely have been plenty of vibration from the air frame shuddering and throbbing through the rudimentary seating into the young men’s bodies.
A typical sortie would last at least 5, sometimes 7, hours, commencing any time between 10pm and midnight. Five, six or seven hours of noise and vibration. Hours, I can only imagine, of sheer terror as they wondered, on the outward leg, what awaited them as they crossed into enemy air space. There would, I am sure, have been plenty of thumping from anti-arcraft shells exploding around them and the ever present threat of attack from German fighter aircraft.
Their role, as pathfinders, involved them arriving on scene ahead of the main force to drop flares in order to illuminate the target. They would then drop their own bomb load and hang around photographing and noting the damage before being the last to leave the area. Sounds to me like the most dangerous of operations. Little wonder that so many failed to return.
It’s more than twenty years now since I acquired a set of the operations record book pages for the squadron for the period leading up to my father’s last sortie. Reading some of the entries whilst preparing for this piece I came across the following entry for one of the crews, describing an aborted mission that took place on the 25th May 1943.
The intended target was Dusseldorf. One of the aircraft took off at a quarter to midnight and was back at ten to two the following morning. They reported that the operation was abandoned after dropping four of their bombs. Starboard inner engine unserviceable and airscrew control for port inner. Jettisoned 2 x 2000 HC safe … 1 x 2000 HC dropped live off Dutch coast (fusing box failed). 1 x 2000 HC hung up on the jettison.
They landed at a different field from the one from which they had taken off. I can’t begin to imagine the heart pounding as you limp home on two engines, trying desperately to off-load 8 tonnes of unused bombs in order to lighten your load.
The aircraft flown by my father’s crew that night also returned early (at a quarter to three) owing to excessive petrol consumption. Having dropped 4 bombs on target, they bombed successfully Haamstede airfield. Looking at the map, I see that this is on the Dutch coast, west of Antwerp.
On 17th and 18th of November there was a slight change in routine as they took off around 5pm bound for Manheim. On the 17th they were home at ten to eleven. On the 18th they failed to return. It was the last trip in their operational tour. Their captain, a Canadian, had joined in April that year and between 4th May and 18th November they completed 30 missions – over 150 hours of throbbing, vibrating terror.
Getting back to the lawn mower, I have to say that I have always envied those who spend summer days behind, or seated upon, lawn mowers. It seems like an ideal occupation for someone who loves the outdoors. Those aromas, of fresh cut grass mixed with petrol; the ability to move across an area of rough grass, leaving behind broad bands of light and dark green, holds a fascination that has never left me. And it’s a long way from the terrors of war.
Thanks to Stevie over at https://steviet3.wordpress.com/ for nominating me for the ‘Three Quotes for Three Days’ challenge.
The rules of the challenge are:
- Three quotes for three days.
- Three nominees each day (no repetition).
- Thank the person who nominated you.
- Inform the nominees.
For my third and final quote I am going to take another from George Bernard Shaw:
Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it. George Bernard Shaw.
I have been unable to find the context for this quotation, but he had this to say on the subject in Misalliance: You’ll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.
I have no way of knowing what my father believed he was fighting for when he flew nightly bombing raids on German cities, because he never made it back from one of them. I choose to believe it was for a better world rather than merely ‘King and Country’.
England, before World War Two and my birth, was a place I could not have loved in the unquestioning way of a true patriot. Bigotry, homophobia and misanthropy were the order of the day. Sexual harassment was condoned as were capital and corporal punishment, including the judicial use of the latter. The inbred sense of entitlement and superiority felt by the proprietors of the largest empire the world has ever known made Britain, on reflection, not a lot better than the enemy she was fighting.
True, Hitler took the whole notion of the ‘Fatherland’, and the superiority of the fictional race to which he claimed to belong, to its most obscene conclusion. But the seeds for such beliefs are there in the idea that any one country, any one religion, any one ethnicity, is superior to all others.
A better world
We did begin building a better world after the war in which I was born and my father died. The post-war government in Britain created a health service free at the point of use. Internationally the United Nations, NATO and the European Union brought the promise of lasting peace. I hope Frank senior would have approved of my embracing of centre-left politics in the 1980s, and my active involvement in, first, the UK Liberal Party, and then the Liberal Democrats. I was proud to be a member of two local authorities that argued for, and, to the extent they were allowed to, implemented, progressive policies on Education and other council run services.
Under successive governments Britain decriminalised homosexuality and eventually made gay marriage acceptable. Capital and corporal punishment were outlawed, along with sexual harassment and other forms of bullying in schools and workplaces. Women were empowered to follow careers that proved them to be the equals of men – though their pay still lags behind. The established Church allowed women priests and, quite recently female bishops. As I entered my twilight years I really thought we had achieved a lot on the road to that better world.
There was certainly a lot still to do. There were people who saw some or all of these changes as unwelcome. Resistance to measures designed to counter the harmful effects of parallel technological developments remained strong, but our rivers and the air in our cities is much cleaner than it was in my youth. There has even been, in the last year, an international agreement to cut carbon pollution, signed up to by 192 nations.
Symptoms of hate
What has all this to do with patriotism? Quite simply that it makes me proud to be a citizen of a country that has played a key role in all these reforms, sometimes reluctantly, but always making steady progress in what I deem to be the right direction.
Until June 2016.
Suddenly a new Britain has appeared over the horizon. A Britain that echoes all those symptoms of hate that characterised prewar Britain. Overt racism, homophobia, bullying, a belief that Britons are superior to their fellow Europeans who have no business even being here. An indifference to the plight of refugees seeking a better life than they could avail of in poverty stricken and war-torn countries.
I console myself that only 36.4% of the electorate voted to leave the EU and that not all of them did so out of motives of xenophobia. But I am deeply saddened by the attitude of the popular presses whose headlines make me ashamed to be British. If patriotism is the belief that the country of my birth is superior to the rest, it is impossible for me to be a patriot in the circumstance Britain now finds itself in. When I look at Britain, as reflected in its media in the second half of 2016, I truly feel like Robert Heinlein’s ‘stranger in a strange land’.
Rosalien Bachus http://rosalienebacchus.wordpress.com
Asha Seth https://knisha.wordpress.com
Now that Transgression is finished, aside for changes I might be minded to make following the suggestions of my editor, I need to start work on a new project. I began thinking about this some time ago but am still prevaricating.
The Easter Rising – 1916
For a while I was keen to do something related to the events of 1916 in Ireland. It’s a part of the history of the British Isles of which I had only limited knowledge. I knew that there was a rebellion and that the British army put it down fairly quickly. I knew, too, that the instigators were subjected to a summary trial and executed.
Their objective, a united and independent Ireland, was never achieved. Independence was, albeit some time later and only of 26 of the 32 counties. I also knew that this outcome led to a brief and bloody civil war and, almost 50 years later, to the “troubles” that plagued the UK throughout the 1970s and ’80s.
I always thought the timing of the rebellion puzzling. Likewise, the reaction to the punishments meted out to the leaders surprised me. The country was at war, insurrection was bound to be seen as treachery and, in war, traitors, if found guilty, are always executed. It is, after all, a punishment regularly utilised by Irish Republicans against those they regard as traitors, often without benefit of a proper trial.
What I had not fully understood was the extent to which the timing was deliberate, chosen in the belief that Germany was well on course to winning the war and that, once she did so, it would be possible to negotiate for independence. I appreciate that hindsight provides far greater clarity than foresight. I also recognise that Patrick Pearce and his co-conspirators were not alone in the belief that by the spring of 1916 the war was drawing to an inevitable conclusion.
What I do find inexplicable, however, is that anyone seeking a fairer society, founded on broadly socialist principles, could believe that a German victory would hasten the arrival of such a nirvana.
The Kaiser and the rest of the German upper classes were fighting a war against the advance of Socialism. They had already conquered several previously independent nations in mainland Europe. It goes against logic to suppose that any of these would be granted anything approaching the autonomy they had previously enjoyed.
The belief that a tiny part of the United Kingdom would be treated differently because a few native intellectuals had assisted in the achievement of a German victory requires a degree of optimism normally found only in infancy.
I considered two possible approaches. One would be to suppose that Germany did, indeed, win the war and that victory was achieved before Christmas of 1916. Such a story would follow the activities of a group of dissidents in their attempts to overthrow the new German Empire. On reflection, I concluded that this would require a far deeper understanding of world history than I possess.
The other approach would consist of a series of imagined interviews with the conspirators, seeking their views on the political events of the century since their death.
Characters won’t leave me alone
I might still do that. But I awoke a couple of mornings ago thinking about two of the characters in Transgression. Because I have only included in that novel those aspects of their lives that are relevant to the central theme, there are huge gaps in their respective stories. Could there be a whole new novel based around events in their lives during the 1950s and ’60s? Is there a market for such a novel?
What new insights into that period could a description of their perception of, say, nuclear weapons, the assassination of President Kennedy, the cold war and, continuing the theme of Transgression, the liberalisation of attitudes to sexuality and gender equality?
I certainly feel better qualified to handle such matters since it is a period I experienced myself. Not that this precludes the need for research. I would need to read the accounts of others, in memoirs and biographies of the individuals involved. Perhaps I should begin by having one of them participate in a demonstration against nuclear weapons or in support of some other popular left wing cause.
Here’s to the future, exposing more of the past.