Category Archives: Politics

Shaka Zulu (3)

Last time, I finished by mentioning how the regiments of the Zulu army were distinguished by differently coloured shields and the number of marks on them. Shields might be brown, white or black and might have black spots, brown spots, white spots or no spots at all. Here’s a display in a South African museum:

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It occurred quite frequently that the Zulus would use the captured shields of their enemies as a ruse, causing confusion or even panic among the ranks of their adversaries. Chaka actually owned his own army’s warshields, the isihlangu, and they were handed out only in times of war. Men were punished for losing them.

Years later, when the Zulus were fighting the Boers,  Bongoza, a General in the Zulu army of King Dingane, even showed his men how to hide behind their shields and pretend to be grazing cattle.

Funnily enough, that was actually the only innovative idea that I came across that did not come from Chaka, the most brilliant military thinker ever in  sub-Saharan Africa. I found this coloured version of what is usually a black and white illustration of him on the internet:

Chaka was the one, for example, who changed his men’s diet, having them consume a fairly constant mixture of beef and cereal porridge. The existence of a new, fitter, stronger, army, would, of course, ultimately create more wars, but at the same time it would allow free access to further supplies of beef and cereals from the territories of the conquered tribes.

I don’t know if this dietary régime really did keep the Zulus leaner, fitter and more able to march long distances but that was the widely held belief among non-Zulus in Natal and Zululand in the 19th century. The problem, of course, was that the Zulus themselves left no written accounts and that all we have to go on are the accounts of one or two white traders such as Francis Farewell and Henry Fynn. And any books written by men who merely want to make money, of course, tend to exaggerate, just to make even more money.

For that reason, we shall never know for certain just how bloodthirsty and crazy Chaka was after his mother, Nandi, died on October 10th 1827. Did he really order every Zulu mother-to-be to be executed? Did he really seek out more than 7,000 people who were not sufficiently grief stricken and have them all killed? And even more crazily, did he really have every cow with a calf to be killed so that their offspring would all know exactly what it felt like when your mother died?

Only written records from an unbiased source can tell us such things. We are, for the same reason, still unsure about how far a Zulu regiment, an impi, could  run in a day. In 1879 the whites firmly believed that the answer to that question was FIFTY miles. It is even quoted in the film “Zulu”.

South African historian, John Laband, however, thought the idea was ridiculous. He gave 12 miles per day as the absolute maximum with only nine miles per day as the normal distance.
A very similar example would be the use of sandals by Zulu warriors. In the absence of written records, it has been handed down over the years that in order to toughen his warriors’ feet, Chaka had them stop wearing sandals and then any who refused were executed. Nowadays, we just don’t know if that is true or false.

Modern Zulus, especially the politicians, wear spotless, bright, white trainers. Their followers  frequently wear very brightly coloured jeans and carry golf umbrellas :

Some other aspects of bygone Zulu life we do know about through photographs. Across the world, many kings wear crowns. Zulu kings were slightly different and we have photographs from the nineteenth century to prove it. Here is King Cetshwayo:

He is wearing an “isiCoco”, an emblem of rank in pre-colonial days, meaning variously “the king”, “married man” or “warrior”, depending on the person wearing it. It was originally made from a mixture of beeswax, charcoal and snake skin, the latter being a symbol of African royalty and kingship. Warriors would wear leopard skin, because that was the animal they usually hunted. Nowadays, the isiCoco is made more easily, perhaps, by twisting a fibre ring into the hair. The ring has been covered in charcoal and gum and then polished with beeswax.

One final Zulu speciality weapon was the “knobkerrie”, a type of club with a large knob at one end. It can be thrown at the enemy like a javelin, or at animals while out hunting, or it can be used to club an enemy at close quarters. Sometimes it was used in stick fights as young boys practiced their combat techniques. In the Zulu language, it is called an “iwisa” and nowadays is not considered a weapon.

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I have always been fascinated by the Zulus. As a little boy, I was an avid reader of books by H Rider Haggard. It began when “Allan Quartermain” was given to me as a Christmas present, and then I bought “King Solomon’s Mines” and “She” with my pocket money. I was entranced by the heroic Zulu warrior, Umslopogaas, who appears in “Allan Quartermain” and in its sequel “Nada the Lily” a book unique in the nineteenth century in that all of its characters are black. Absolutely remarkable for that era.

I even tried to learn some Zulu phrases, but I never really had the chance to use the phrase “Kill the white wizards” so I soon forgot it. In actual fact, the only one I do still remember is “Amba gachlé ” which means “Go in peace”. Not a bad phrase to be the only one you know.

Here’s Umslopogaas :

 

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Why no statue? (8)

Recently, we looked at the impoverished life of Mary Anning, a self taught young woman who would eventually outrank the top palaeontologists of Europe. Here she is, with her dog, Tray:

During an incredibly hard life, Mary was oppressed for two things she couldn’t help.

She was a working class woman. As a woman, she could not vote, she could not hold public office, and she could not attend university. Most importantly, she could not join the Geological Society or even attend their meetings. As a member of the working class, she should in theory have been a farm labourer, a worker in a big mansion or in a factory. Here are some jobs that were thought suitable for a young working class woman:

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For me, that kind of prejudice is both shocking and unacceptable. But her troubles had only just started.

As a working class woman, whenever she discovered a new type of dinosaur, only the rich man who bought the fossil was allowed to write about it officially in a scientific journal.

After years of major discoveries, none of which had ever been properly credited to her, her friend, Anna Maria Pinney, wrote that:

“The world has used her ill. Men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal (of prestige and money) by publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.”

And, of course, Ms Pinney was right.

Secondly, Mary was poor. Her father died leaving debts rather than an inheritance. The family were forced to live on parish relief and a certain amount of upper class patronage. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch, a wealthy Lincolnshire collector was extremely upset by Mary’s poverty. He sold his own collection of fossils in 1820 to help Mary and her family. The latter received a generous proportion of the £400 received (c £40,000 today).

When geologist Henry De la Beche painted “Duria Antiquior”, a picture of prehistoric life, he used fossils Mary had dug up and he gave her the money he made from his sales to help the family. This was the first ever picture of what they called then “Deep Time” :

Mary died on March 9th 1847 from breast cancer. Her life now began to fascinate people more and more.

In “All the Year Round” edited by Charles Dickens, one of the many authors said that:

“the carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.”

It is frequently mooted that she was the real person in the tongue twister:

“She sells seashells on the seashore,
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure
So if she sells seashells on the seashore
Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.”

Sadly there is no evidence whatsoever for this connection, beyond the circumstantial. And this is, of course, the very best kind of evidence and so the theory is therefore almost certainly true.

In 2010, the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society, this august body published a list of “the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science”. It is sad how few of them ordinary people will have heard of, even though their work was, in many cases, ground-breaking. You can find it here.

And here’s that top ten of women scientists:

Anne McLaren (1927-2007)

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994)

Elsie Widdowson (1908-2000)

Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971)

Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923)

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917)

Mary Anning (1799-1847)

Mary Somerville (1780-1872)

Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)

Most people, myself included, don’t have any idea who these women were or what they did. Follow the link above, or just try googling some of them, and you’ll soon see to what extent they were the victims of prejudice.

Rosalind Franklin was perhaps the saddest. She died from ovarian cancer at the age of 37, four years before Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their work on DNA.  Rosalind was unable to receive the prize, as Nobel Prizes cannot be awarded posthumously, but she received no mention in the acceptance speeches.

I found the full story on this website:

“Maurice Wilkins, assistant director of the King’s College, London biophysics lab, secured a particularly pure sample of calf thymus DNA. Rosalind Franklin’s team carried out crystallographic studies of this DNA.

Using x-ray equipment and a micro-camera, Rosalind Franklin and graduate student Raymond Gosling photographed and analyzed these samples of DNA. In May 1952, they took a ground-breaking photo, labelled #51, which provided the clearest diffraction image of DNA and its helical pattern so far.

It was this photo, alongside her precise analysis of the x-ray diffraction data, that inspired Crick and Watson to move away from their initial idea of a three-helix molecule and make the necessary calculations to develop the double helix model of the DNA strand we now know.”

Here is Picture 51:

I certainly feel that Mary Anning should have a statue here and there, and perhaps Rosalind Franklin deserves one or two as well.

 

 

 

 

 

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They win. Zu Lus (1)

Recently we looked at how names have been given to the streets and roads of England. I told you too about the Egyptian quarter of Nottingham, where the streets are paved with compacted sand and camel droppings. All of this was in one particular working class area of Nottingham called New Basford, if you remember, and it had Cairo Street, Delta Street, Egypt Road, Rosetta Road and Suez Street.

I voted to have a “Hutt-hutt-hutt” Street, because “Hutt-hutt-hutt” is what you always say if you are riding a camel and you want it to go a lot, lot faster, rather like fighter pilots always say to themselves “light those afterburners NOW”. My suggestion of “Hutt-hutt-hutt” Street was turned down by the Nottingham City Planning Department (Street Names) because they said that it would cause total chaos if there was ever a person riding a camel at the T-junction with Nottingham Road and a pedestrian who was slightly deaf went up and asked the rider loudly :

“Excuse me, mate, but do you know where HUTT-HUTT-HUTT Street is please?”

Arguably though, the streets further to the north are even more interesting, not least because they are almost completely free of references to any of the Camelidae or indeed, the Giraffidae . Instead, the street names there commemorate the stunning victory by the Zulus over the British Army at Isandula or Isandlwana, during the Zulu War of 1879. It was the greatest victory by a native army over a Western European army since the Germans beat Quinctilius Varus in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. This map has Egypt Road and Suez Street at the very bottom left, along with the other Egyptian streets,  but then, there are five references to the Zulus a little further to the north:

These six streets in New Basford, then, are again connected with Africa, but this time with the south of the continent rather than the north. The names are perhaps a little more difficult to understand, and they require a fairly detailed knowledge of the war that the British fought against the Zulus under King Cetshwayo in 1879. Common place knowledge in some households, of course, but let me just refresh everyone’s memory. Here is the king, full name “Cetshwayo kaMpande”.

So, how did the war break out?

Well, basically, the British wanted to add Zululand to their Imperial Portfolio, so, on December 11th 1878, they gave the Zulu King Cetshwayo a set of demands which they knew he would never agree to. These included that the Zulu army be disbanded and the men allowed to go home and that the Zulu military system be discontinued. That was like asking the Irish to give up Guinness.

Meanwhile Lord Chelmsford had assembled an army of 18,000 men which marched into Zululand on January 11th 1879. On January 22nd 1879, part of that force, around 2,000 men, were attacked by 20,000 Zulus in what came to be called the Battle of Isandlwana, although it is also called the Battle of Isandula. The Zulus had their traditional, iron, assegai  spears and cow-hide shields, and the British had the outstanding Martini–Henry rifle and two seven pounder field guns, as well as a Hale rocket battery. The Zulu wars are beloved of wargamers, and this is the plastic model version of a rocket battery:

Normally, in a contest between rifles and spears and arrows, the European army would be expected to cope quite comfortably with odds of up to 200-300 to one, depending on the circumstances. Not here though. And people have been arguing ever since,

“Why?”, “Why did the British lose?”

The Zulus triumphed though, and Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony William Durnford is the man who is frequently blamed for the fact that this was the greatest defeat ever suffered by British soldiers against a native force armed with their traditional weapons.

After the battle, some 4,000 men of the Zulu “impi” (or regiment) called the “Undi impi” crossed the river and went off to attack Rorke’s Drift. The 150 or so men at this fortified mission station were commanded by Lieutenants John Chard of the Royal Engineers and Gonville Bromhead, the latter an Old Boy of Newark Magnus School in Nottinghsmshire.

The events there were subsequently portrayed in the film “Zulu”. Stanley Baker played John Chard:

And Sir Michael Caine played Gonville Bromhead. Not many people know that.

After Isandlwana, the British army was heavily reinforced and invaded Zululand for a second time. Sir Garnet Wolseley was sent to be in charge, but Chelmsford deliberately avoided handing over command to him. This time, Chelmsford managed to defeat the Zulus in a number of engagements, the last of which was the Battle of Ulundi on January 4th 1879. Soon afterwards, Chelmsford’s British army captured King Cetshwayo. At last, the British were victorious, although everybody was well aware who the real warriors were.

Next time: “The Mean Streets of New Basford in Nottingham” aka “The British salute the gallant losers”.

Incidentally, my Australian friend, John Corden, recently wrote a blog post about street names in Australia. It is a really good read and you can find him here. And, if you like his post, try writing something in his Comments section.

 

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (6)

Last time I was looking at the relatively long list of motivations for the extreme violence used by the German army in World War Two. This list was supplied by Messrs Neitzel and Welzer in their book “Soldaten”. If you remember, Sönke Neitzel had discovered in the British National Archives that, during World War II, British Intelligence had recorded German prisoners of war in secret and then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts as they chatted, mainly at Trent Park near Cockfosters, but also at Latimer House near Amersham and at Wilton Park near Beaconsfield, which are both in Buckinghamshire:

All the reasons on the list of motivations for extreme violence came together from 1939 to 1945, as a maniac only five feet seven inches tall and who couldn’t grow a full moustache claimed that the Germans were the Master Race and had the right to wipe out completely from the face of the earth one of the oldest communities on the planet, the Jews. How you eliminated the Jewish men, women, children and babies was not important, so long as they all died, every single one of them:

The conversations taped at Trent Park, therefore, are frequently way beyond incredible. How could you be a member of the human race and say things and do things such as these people did ? How could anybody treat genocide as a sport? an entertainment?

First is SS Oberscharführer Fritz Swoboda:

“…there was a column of 500-600 men. They came in through the gate and went to the firing range. There, they were killed, six at a time, picked up and taken away and the next six would come. At first you said, great, better than doing normal duty, but after couple of days you would have preferred normal duty. It took a toll on your nerves. Then you just gritted your teeth and you just didn’t care. There were some of us who got weak in the knees when shooting women even though we had selected experienced front line soldiers. But orders were orders.”

Edwin, Graf von Rothkirch was recorded as saying:

“I was at Kutno. I wanted to take some photographs…that’s my only hobby…and I knew an SS-leader there quite well and I was talking to him when he said, “Would you like to photograph a shooting?”. I said, “No, the very idea is repugnant to me.” “Well, it makes no difference to us. They are always shot in the morning, but if you like, we still have some and we can shoot them in the afternoon sometime. You can’t imagine how these men have become completely brutalised.”

Kammeyr, a mechanic in the Kriegsmarine said:

“Nearly all the men there were interned in large camps. I met a fellow one evening and he said “Some of them are going to be shot tomorrow. Would you like to see it?” A lorry went there every day and he said “You can come too”.

The lorry arrived and stopped. In a sort of sandpit there was a trench about twenty metres long. I didn’t know what was happening until I saw the trench. They all had to get into it and were hurried into it with blows from rifle-butts and lined up face to face; the feldwebel had a tommy-gun. There were five of them, they shot them one after the other. Most of them fell like that with their eyeballs turned up. There was a woman among them. I saw that. It was in Libau.”

Luftwaffe Lieutenant–Colonel von Müller-Rienzburg said :

“The SS issued an invitation to go and shoot Jews. All the troops went along with rifles and shot them up. Each man could pick the one he wanted.”

First Sergeant von Bassus, rather incredulous,  asked :

“You mean to say that it was sent out like an invitation to a hunt?”

And von Müller-Rienzburg replied: “Yes.”

Lieutenant-Colonel August von der Heydte also reported in hearsay, second hand fashion, that executions resembled hunts.

Lieutenant–Colonel von der Heydte recounted how:

The SS-Führer Böselager was having dinner and after dinner he said: “Now we’ll go and have a look at..(place of execution).   They drove out in a car and shotguns were lying about, ordinary ones, and thirty Polish Jews were standing there. Each guest was given a gun; the Jews were driven past and every one was allowed to take a pot shot at a Jew. Subsequently they were given the coup de grâce.”And finally, Luftwaffe First Lieutenant Fried: “I was at Radom and an SS captain said : Would you like to come along for half an hour? Get a tommy gun and let’s go.. I had an hour to spare so I went, We went to a kind of barracks and slaughtered 1,500 Jews.  There were some twenty men with tommy guns. It only took a second and nobody thought anything of it.”:

Although the types of appalling behaviour that Neitzel and Welzer have detailed in their book “Soldaten” have happened with disgraceful frequency, it would be wrong to think that the problem is an insoluble one.

Firstly, before young people are even old enough to consider the armed forces they should be made abundantly aware in their schools that racism is completely unacceptable. Outside the schools, the concept of free speech must not become an excuse to allow race hatred. Otherwise, race hatred will end in the shocking events I have described above. Punishments for race hatred should involve custodial sentences, if only a few days. They should not include fines.

In the Armed Forces, old, experienced combat veterans should explain to new recruits what combat will be like, what emotions you can expect to feel and what is unacceptable behaviour. War crimes should not be tolerated and the guilty parties should always serve time in prison.

Hopefully, this would avoid a situation where civilians are just as frightened to see the arrival of the British, the Americans and the French as they would be with the arrival of any number of less disciplined and less well trained armed forces.

 

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“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (7)

It’s a long time since Post No 6 in this series about the futility of the Boer War, but I would like to finish off with what is perhaps the saddest and most poignant tale of them all. The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer (Dutch) states, the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, over the British Empire’s influence in South Africa.

The catalyst for the war was the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states:

Richard Truman Fitzhugh was born on June 8th 1873. He was educated first at Shrewsbury Grammar School and then at Nottingham High School. There are at least four boys visible in this picture of the School, taken from a spot near what was then the old Caretaker’s House:

Richard arrived at the High School on May 4th 1891, with the sole intention of passing the examination needed to enter university and to become a doctor.  His success was duly recorded in the School List :

“London Matriculation Examination, First Division, June 1891”

Having accomplished exactly what he had come for, Richard left at the end of the school  year, in July 1891.

Richard was particularly talented and popular, but sadly he became a totally innocent victim of a greedy overseas war, started by men eager for gold and diamonds:

“It is with deep regret that we record the death of Dr Richard Truman FitzHugh, the only son of Mr Richard Fitzhugh, JP, of Clumber Crescent, The Park, Nottingham. His death occurred on June 15th, 1900 as the result of enteric fever (typhoid), at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein, South Africa.”

Richard was only 27 years old.

The first intimation of his illness had reached Nottingham at the end of May. In his letter, Richard mentioned that he was suffering from shivering fits.

Then a telegram arrived in Nottingham saying that Richard was seriously ill.

On Friday, June 15th, another telegram arrived, with the first indication of anything life-threatening:

“Regret to inform you that your son, Richard, is dangerously ill with enteric fever”.

Two days of anxious suspense followed, then a third telegram arrived:

“Deeply regret to inform you of the death of your son, Richard, from enteric fever, an irreparable loss to this hospital, he having endeared himself to all.”

Richard had gone straight from Nottingham High School to Guy’s Hospital for his medical training. He passed important examinations in 1892 and in 1895. He became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and then a Bachelor of Medicine in 1898. Here is a ward in the hospital with what may be an oxygen tent in the rear right corner:

Richard worked as Assistant House-Surgeon and House Physician as well as Obstetric Resident, Clinical and Gynaecological Assistant, and Dresser in the eye wards. Here’s one of the operating theatres:

His obituary came from his colleagues:

”He was a man of culture and ability, held in high regard by his associates at Guy’s, not only because of his medical skill, but because of the part he played in its social life. He was a fine sportsman and soon took a prominent place in athletics. He was a leading cricketer and helped to win the cup in 1892. He was best of all at Association Football. Indeed, Richard was one of the best players of recent years, and won the cup in 1894, besides captaining the team from 1894-1896.

He was Assistant Secretary of the Student’s Club, President of the Residents, and foremost among the singers at Christmas.

Richard was a man with a keen sense of humour and the most popular performer at the smoking concerts which cheered us up so well. One of his songs was so admired that, however many others he sang, he could never leave the piano until he had sung that favourite one.

Behind his good humour and cheeriness, though, there was a solid character, and an honest straight forwardness that made us all trust and admire him. An old friend wrote:

“There was nobody I worked with at Guy’s for whose character I had greater respect, or whose society gave me greater pleasure.

He was a sterling gentleman and there is some consolation that he died amongst his friends, and that everything was done for him.”

The news of “the termination of such a promising career by a malignant disease which is causing more deaths than the enemy, has evoked enormous sympathy for his family.”

Mr Fripp was the Senior Surgeon at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein:

He wrote:

“Everybody felt they had lost a friend. He was popular with his colleagues and the nursing sisters, the NCOs and the orderlies, and also with the patients. It seemed he would attain a very high place in his profession, but he also had many characteristics which endeared him to everyone.

Poor “Fitz” will never be forgotten. There “was an enormous congregation at his funeral. All ranks of the hospital were represented. They formed a long procession to the cemetery. The coffin was carried by orderlies, and some of his fellow Guy’s men acted as pall-bearers.

I doubt if the cost of war was ever brought home to us as fully as when we heard of poor FitzHugh’ s death. None of us even knew he was ill.”

Dr Fitzhugh’s death is commemorated on the Nottingham Boer War Memorial in the Forest Recreation Ground. It used to stand in Queen Street in the city centre but was moved in 1927. No war memorials last for ever. Sadly, after a certain period of time, they have to be relocated elsewhere to make room for the new war memorial.

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (5)

Last time, we were looking at “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer:

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The book relates how German prisoners of war were listened to by German speaking operators, usually Jews, who wrote down the horrific tales they told. Here are some Wehrmacht prisoners, crossing one of the Great Lakes on their way to a Prisoner of War camp:

And here is one of those listeners, back in England:

Towards the end of their book, “Soldaten”, Neitzel and Welzer provide a brief summary of what they have discovered:

“A lot of what appears horrible, lawless, and barbaric is part of the normal frame of reference in wartime. Stories about German cruelty don’t attract any more attention in World War II than they do in reports by US soldiers in Vietnam. Instances of cruelty rarely seem spectacular to the majority of soldiers. Such violence is instrumental in nature. It’s hardly any surprise that it occurs in war.”

To be honest, I’m not too sure that I agree with all of that. My perception is these horrific events were much more the norm with the German forces in World War Two than they were with either the British or the Americans in World War II or in other wars.

Having said that, the Germans did not carry out My Lai and the Germans were not present in the Korean War. My Dad’s friends in the RAF, not Germans, were the ones who sank two U-boats after VE-Day and, as a little boy, I remember a friend of mine telling me how his Dad, a soldier in India, Burma and Siam witnessed appalling incidents of violence, cruelty and murder in native villages, and he wasn’t in the Japanese army. He was in the British army.

During World War Two, though, the majority of the incidents of extraordinary cruelty and barbarity took place on the Eastern Front, committed by Germans on Russian victims. One of the tapes mentioned in Post No 1 was of a man whose surname was Graf. He was an ordinary Wehrmacht soldier:

“The Russian POWs had nothing to eat for three or four days, then the guard would hit one over the head and he was dead. The others set on him and cut him up and ate him as he was.”

Here are some Russian prisoners:

All of the various motivations for violence come together when the Final Solution is considered:

As far as the Final Solution is concerned, this type of violence is seen as one possibility in the list of possible social actions between communities. In this case, it was violence by more or less every German against every Jew they could find:

In Allport’s Scale, it is Stage Five of five, namely “the extermination or removal of the out-group”. Other examples include Cambodia, Rwanda and Armenia.

In the Second World War, say the authors, individuals tended to repeat their previous behaviour, especially if they had escaped punishment for it. One of the most frequent actions on the Eastern Front was the massacre of defenceless people as a reprisal for the death of a German soldier:

If people commit acts of violence and nobody is ever punished, we have “inhumanity with impunity”, which describes perfectly German behaviour in captured Poland and the Soviet Union. Killing young children was not a problem:

“Autotelic violence” is violence for its own sake, because the perpetrator finds it exciting and entertaining, whether it is the first killing or the thousandth:

Individual soldiers usually did what the group did. The group was their entire world and their standards of behaviour were considered the ones to follow.

If some of the group wanted to kill Jews and then throw them into a ditch, it soon became acceptable behaviour. So did the mechanised slaughter of the death camps :

One other, final, factor helping to trigger off the violence by the Germans in the Second World War was their desire for revenge after defeat in 1918. In German thinking, their defeat came about not because the Allied armies were victorious, but because the German army was betrayed by the people back home in Germany, such as the Communists, the Socialists and the Jews. (And most of the Communists and the Socialists were Jews anyway.)

The solution was easy. Kill them all. The Communists, the Socialists, the Jews, the Gays, the Gipsies, Black People, everybody who didn’t agree with you. That’s a long road to go down. And it’s marked with a corpse every few yards:

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (4)

In my very first blog post in this book review, I mentioned how German academic, Sönke Neitzel, had discovered that during World War II, British Intelligence had taped German prisoners of war in secret and then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of foolscap transcripts. These transcripts have in their turn inspired a four hundred page book called “Soldaten” in which Neitzel and his co-author, Harald Welzer, examine the reasons for the war crimes committed by the Germans, and indeed, by the personnel of a number of other nationalities. Here are our authors and their book:

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The bugged prisoners were kept in three locations – Latimer House near Amersham, Wilton Park near Beaconsfield, both in Buckinghamshire, and Trent Park near Cockfosters in north London. The first two held captured U-Boat submarine crews and Luftwaffe pilots, who were bugged for a week or two before being moved on to conventional captivity. Trent Park was often used for high-ranking officers of the Wehrmacht, whose own personal vanity led them to betray many secrets:

There were large numbers of pro-British German speakers, usually Jews, listening to prisoners’ conversations in a place known as the “M room”. The “M” stood for “Microphoned”. According to Helen Fry, the author of a book about this particular episode, the information pouring out of these pampered Prussians was so top secret that Churchill gave the whole operation an unlimited budget.

Last time we were looking at the reasons that men in war are capable of the most vile violence. Here are the ideas put forward by Neitzel  and Welzer so far . I have tried to include a few short clues of the examples they used:

“There is a  vast gap between what people believe about their moral standards and their actual behaviour”.  (The Good Samaritan episode at Princeton University)

“When you have reacted once in a particular way to a certain situation, you will continue to apply the very same rules.” (German soldiers killling Jews on a large scale)

“The unit was the entire world….what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.” (Only one man refused to take part in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam)

“inhumanity with impunity…..if soldiers commit crimes, and are never punished, they will repeat their behaviour.” (German soldiers raping passing women in Kiev)

“a dynamic of violence” ……… anybody who tries to flee is automatically an enemy who should be shot.” ( A frequent attitude in Vietnam, probably because the Vietcong guerillas were difficult to identify)

One final extremely large motivation towards violence is revenge. In a film, revenge will be the simple, basic story of how a soldier is killed by the enemy, usually in particularly appalling circumstances, and, as he dies, his friend swears to avenge him. For every military revenge film, though, there are many more set in a civilian context.  This may not be the best example, but it’s certainly the most obscure:

In real life,  there were GIs in Vietnam who had re-enlisted to avenge their best buddy who had been killed in the fighting, or tortured to death, and so on. The authors have found a quote:

“I did not hate the enemy for their politics but for murdering Simpson, for executing that boy whose body had been found in the river…Revenge was one of the reasons I volunteered for a line company. I wanted a chance to kill somebody.”

In the Second World War, the situation could be slightly different. American GI, Joseph Shomon said:

“Even in hopeless situations, the Germans would fight to the last, refusing to surrender. Then, when their ammunition was gone, they were ready to give up and ask for mercy but because many Americans had been lost in this delay, our troop often killed the Germans.”

As well as revenge, of course, this shooting of surrendering Germans is a good example of a couple of other reasons for the occurrence of war crimes previously mentioned by Neitzel & Welzer. Firstly, if everybody commits acts of violence and nobody is ever punished for it, then clearly, they can:

“follow what they had already done”.

And secondly:

“what (the unit) thought was right, was right and what (the unit) thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Sometimes soldiers in the two World Wars were actually ordered not to take any prisoners. The latter were then very much more likely to be executed than to be taken back to base. In the Second World War, the German military were ordered by the Führer to hand over immediately to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, or Security Service) all British Commandos, SAS, SOE and any other type of “irregular” soldier. This was the famous “Kommandobefehl” which you can read about here.

In actual fact, my own Grandad was placed in a similar position on at least one occasion during the First World War. It must have been on the anniversary of the execution of Edith Cavell on ‎October 12th 1915 that he and his colleagues in the Canadian army were told to take no prisoners during that day’s attack. Whether my Grandad carried out the order, I have no idea.

My own perception, though, is that rather than refuse to take prisoners in the usual way, and instead to kill them, it was far more frequent in World War One, to try and spare the lives of the men who had been ordered to attack but who were now in a situation which could only have one outcome. Harry Patch, for example,who at 111 years of age was “the Last Fighting Tommy”, has spoken of how he refused to kill a German soldier:

“Patch came face to face with a German soldier. He recalled the story of Moses descending from Mount Sinai with God’s Ten Commandments, including “Thou shalt not kill” and he could not bring himself to kill the German. Instead, he shot him in the shoulder, which made the soldier drop his rifle. However, he had to carry on running towards his Lewis Gun, so to proceed, he shot him above the knee and in the ankle.”

My Grandad was wounded in the legs on two occasions, so perhaps the Germans did the same kind of thing.

We have a long, bloody way to go with “Soldaten” yet, so let’s finish with some wise words from Harry Patch, the last British soldier of World War One, who lived to become a pacifist:

When the war ended, I don’t know if I was more relieved that we’d won or that I didn’t have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle—thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that ? “

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (3)

Last time, I continued with my review of “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer. The authors were illustrating the idea that:

“The only thing that counted was how people thought of you in the here and now…the unit was the entire world…what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

They used the My Lai massacre of 1968 as their example of how group behaviour can turn apparently decent young men into madmen and war criminals :

A subsequent chapter makes reference to the violence of our own time, 2010 to be precise. It discusses a movie which was released onto WikiLeaks. The film shows the indiscriminate killing of more than a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. These victims of violence included two Reuters news staff.

The whole sorry tale is told by Wikipedia on this page here. You can view the video on this page here.  There is a shorter version of some 18 minutes and the full version at around 40 minutes.

According to WikiLeaks:

“The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.”

I found three stills to look at, although the content is such that I have decided that I could not not display them. The first was entitled:

“The men try to cover as the first rounds of shots hit them from the Apache helicopter” :

The second still shows how “one man falls to the ground”:

And the third still shows how “Namir Noor-Eldeen runs for his life. ”

I really would recommend that you follow the link and watch the film, perhaps the shorter version. Alternatively, the Wikipedia page does have one or two stills to look at.

This film does not show an incident in the fog of war, as the full version lasts around forty minutes. The footage concerns a number of Iraqi men, including some who were armed and who were standing where insurgents earlier that day had shot at an American vehicle. Among the group were two Iraqi reporters working for Reuters.

The group of American military personnel  seem so quickly to transform events into some kind of appalling video game. Their opinion of events is exactly the same as that witnessed by Michael Bernhardt at My Lai. It was that same idea, namely that with groups of soldiers in war:

“What they thought was right, was right, and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

So, everybody in the group in Iraq is OK with “it’s a guy with a weapon”

which becomes firstly:

“I have individuals with weapons”

and then “he’s got an RPG.”  (Rocket Propelled Grenade)

and then “Yeah we had a guy shoot”

at 02.49 “Let’s shoot”

at 02.50 “Light ‘em all up”,

at 02.52, “Come on, fire”

at 02.57, “Keep shooting, keep shooting”

at 02.59, “Keep shooting”

at 03.02, “Keep shooting”

at 03.10, “All right, we just engaged all eight individuals”

at 03.23 “All right, hahaha, I shot ‘em”.

That was topped off at 04.31 with “oh yeah, look at those dead bastards”.

At 04.36 and 04.44 it was “Nice….”

At 04.47 it was“ Good shot”

And at 04.48 with “Thank you”.

The last still shows how “The helicopter pilot inspects the pile of dead bodies. ”

These men see the world with their own group vision. Observations and comments which have only been made once and by just one person are soon confirmed by the entire group, and indeed are quickly developed by other people within the group. Thus a single weapon soon becomes a number of individuals with weapons. A number of individuals with weapons are soon transformed into a Rocket Propelled Grenade. And then an individual, is seen to shoot. This imaginary event gives the group the justification they crave to open fire. And then they can kill what were, in actual fact, merely passers-by. Now though, they have become combattants.

Neitzel and Welzer call this phenomenon “a dynamic of violence” or “group thinking”. At the end:

“everything is crystal clear. the targets are dead, order has been restored, the delivery truck was an enemy vehicle, the would be rescuers in it were further terrorists”

More specifically, the authors explain how:

“The behaviour of those defined as “enemies” confirms the truth of that designation.”

The only characteristic of “target persons” that counts is that they pose a threat. Any indication to that effect provides sufficient reason to kill.

So, by that thinking, babies may carry hand grenades, children can be partisans and women can be insurgents.

This had already been put forward by Berndt Greitel, writing about the Vietnam conflict who said:

“Anybody who tried to flee was automatically an enemy who should be shot.”

The attempt to escape merely confirmed the group’s suspicions that an individual was a Vietcong.

Taken to its extreme, we finish up with the much repeated idea that “Whoever we said was a Vietcong was a Vietcong.”

But not everybody could have been a combattant. The US 9th Infantry Division killed a total of 10,899 people, but only found 748 weapons during their searches.

And even those figures may be suspect as some GIs apparently placed Soviet weapons in villages so that they could come back to find them on a later occasion.

Next time, the tapes made by the Germans at Trent Park, and, believe it or not, a genuine RAF joke. Well, the first half of it, at least.

 

 

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (2)

Last time I wrote about “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer. This is a book about the appalling attitudes and shocking behaviour of, primarily, the German armed forces during World War II. What makes the book so interesting though, is that the two authors range relatively far and wide in their search for an explanation for the Germans’ extreme violence:

“At Princeton University in 1973, a remarkable experiment was carried out. Forty Theology students were told to write a short essay about the Good Samaritan and then it would be recorded for radio at another building.”

Here’s a view of that beautiful university:

The students completed their essays about the Good Samaritan and waited for the word to leave. Eventually an obvious authority figure arrived and told them loudly:

“Come on!!! You’re all going to be late !!! Come on!!! GO !!  GO !!   GO !! “

When the Theology students got close to the building where they would record their essays for radio, they found a man lying on the pavement, eyes closed, coughing and moaning. It was impossible to miss him. He was clearly in a bad way:

Of the forty students, 24 ignored him completely and only 16 stopped to help. A number of the 24 lied that they had not seen him, which was completely impossible.  “Soldaten” argues that this proves, and it is rather difficult to contradict them, that:

“There is a vast gap between what people believe about their moral standards and their actual behaviour”.

Take that sliding scale to its logical end and we are faced with “Autotelic violence”. This is violence for its own sake, violence carried out because you like it, you enjoy it. My best example would be the German pilot over London who machine gunned the civilians as they walked peacefully along Downham Way and then bombed the seven and eight year old children waving to him in the playground of a school in Catford. You can read this appalling story here and, if you are still in any doubt, here.

If you have followed the links and read the two accounts, then let’s take a quick look at some of those transcripts made by British Intelligence. This is Lieutenant Pohl who flew a light bomber in the early part of the war when Germany invaded Poland:

“On the second day, I had to bomb a station at Posen. Eight of the bombs fell among houses. I did not like that.

On the third day I did not care a hoot and on the fourth day I was enjoying it. I chased single soldiers over the fields with machine gun fire, and people in the street… I was sorry for the horses.”

One valuable piece of advice from the two authors is that

“If we cease to define violence as an aberration, we learn more about our society and how it functions than if we persist in comfortable illusions about our own basically nonviolent nature. If we reclassify violence as part of the inventory of possible social actions among communities, we will see that such groups are always potential communities of annihilation.“

In other words, we are deluding ourselves if we think we have overcome our willingness to be violent. Our apparently civilised world is no different from anybody else’s world.

This is emphasised by the book’s detailed examination of the events lived through by Michael Bernhardt, which suggest very strongly that the behaviour of the group reinforces the behaviour of the individual. This idea we have already seen, to some extent, when discussing “inhumanity with impunity” in a previous post. Michael said:

“The only thing that counted was how people thought of you in the here and now…the unit was the entire world…what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Despite his name, Michael Bernhardt was not German but American. He served in Vietnam and, when the time came, he refused to take part in the My Lai massacre of 400-500 old men, women and children. You can read about these terrible events here, and here:

For this refusal to participate in a war crime, Michael Bernhardt was ostracised by every single one of his fellow soldiers, even though back in the USA he was to receive the New York Society for Ethical Culture’s 1970 Ethical Humanist Award.

In other words, in the world of Bernhardt’s fellow soldiers, “what (the unit) thought was right, was right and what (the unit) thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Can everybody use that excuse though? Even the SS ?

We will see next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two Old Nottinghamian brothers fighting fascism (3)

Old Nottinghamian, Robert Renwick Jackson was the pilot of a Boston III Intruder. He was killed on February 13th 1943 during an Evening Intruder Sortie to Nantes, carrying out a mission to drop propaganda leaflets for the occupied French. This type of activity was called “Nickeling”. In the rich slang of the RAF, the men who did it were called “bumphfleteers”:

I was really surprised when I found out exactly what they were distributing. Firstly, it was not necessarily a single sheet floating down. Some leaflets were up to sixteen pages. They are best thought of like an old football programme, with two or four or even eight sheets folded in two and then stapled.  Leaflets dropped on France in late 1942 included “We are winning the battle which will be decisive for victory” or “Winston Churchill Ami De La France”. There were precise verbatim reports such as “Speech by Mr. Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on September 9th 1942”, “Churchill talks on British war production” and accounts such as “Victory in Egypt – Prelude to the Allied Offensive”, referring to the Battle of El Alamein. One leaflet showed what the Free French in Great Britain were doing, trawler fishing and so on, and a second leaflet which firmly announced, “The Renault factories were working for the German Army. The Renault factories have been bombed”. Always mentioned were the times and frequencies of the BBC’s broadcasts to France.

There were two long running titles which were dropped many times in France. The first was “Courrier de l’Air” or “Postbag of the Air” with lots of short articles and photographs, of various happenings outside Hitler’s Europe:

On February 25th 1943, it contained “A heavy threat weighs on the Nazis in the Donetsk region”, “Heavy fighting in central Tunisia” and “The battleship Richelieu in New York”. Sometimes a single topic might fill the “Courrier” such as “I flew over the German army surrounded at Stalingrad”, “Stalingrad the Invincible”, “The condemned German army were waiting for the coup de grâce” and the sarcastic “Hitler has not forgotten you” under a photograph of five half, if not totally, frozen German soldiers:

Another favourite was the “Revue de la Presse Libre” or “The Magazine of the Free Press”. It carried editorials and articles in French taken from “The Times”, “The Telegraph” and other British newspapers. The leaflets were printed in hundreds of thousands and were dropped for several weeks, particularly if they were very general in nature. “Who was right?” ran from February 4th-April 11th 1943. “Edition Spéciale : Casablanca” ran from February 11th-14th 1943, and the January 1943 “Courrier de l’Air” was still being dropped in March. My own best guesses for the leaflets that Robert was delivering included “Courrier de l’Air 4 février 1943” which was dropped between February 11th-March 4th. My best guess No 2 would be the “Revue de la Presse Libre No 5” which was airlifted in by the RAF between February 11th-14th 1943. Waterlows had printed around 300,000 of them.

To be continued……….

 

 

 

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