Of the future

Over a hundred people have been killed in an attack in Paris. L1000700

Predictably, there are immediate calls to bomb somewhere. Anywhere. Syria. That’s this week’s country that ‘they’ come from. Before that it was supposed to be Iraq and before that it was supposed to be Afghanistan. Both times we invaded the country. We bombed it. Somehow, they keep on coming and we pretend we don’t know why.

Bombing is what we do best. It won the Second World War. It is also precisely and utterly and completely useless as a response to asymmetric threats – ones where the enemy doesn’t conveniently wear a different shaped hat.

The Facts

Allied air power was decisive. Its victory was complete. It brought the economy that sustained the enemy’s armed forces to virtual collapse. It brought home to …people the full impact of modern war with all its horror and suffering. Its imprint will be lasting.

Domination of the air was essential. Without it, attacks on the basic economy of the enemy could not have been delivered in sufficient force and with sufficient freedom to bring effective and lasting results.

The mental reaction of ….people to air attack is significant. Under ruthless control they showed surprising resistance to the terror and hardships of repeated air attack, to the destruction of their homes and belongings and to the conditions under which they were reduced to live. Their morale, their belief in ultimate victory of satisfactory compromise and their confidence in their leaders declined, but they continued to work efficiently as long as the physical means of production remained. The power of a police state over its people cannot be over-emphasised.

The most serious (air) attacks were those which destroyed the industry or service which most indispensably served other industries. Whatever the target system, no indispensible industry was permanently put out of commission by a single attack. Persistent re-attack was necessary.

This was the conclusion of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, dated September 30, 1945 that I just happened to have about my person, as you do. It was put together by a team of over 1,000 observers, documenting records not just in England and the US, but in smashed German town halls and burned out bunkers. Three of the team were killed getting this information. That’s how close to the front line they operated. They wanted the absolute facts to justify the greatest expenditure on bombing the world had seen.

It was headed up by J K Galbraith. Earlier in the war he had calculated the optimal number of machine guns the B17 bomber should carry to balance the weight of the guns and their ammunition needed to defend the aircraft against the weight of the bombs or fuel the aircraft could carry if it didn’t have any guns at all.

His career was derailed by this report. The  US Army Airforce, struggling to break free of the Army and become an independent organisation (as it did) did not appreciate a report saying that basically, bombing doesn’t work unless you bomb an entire country flat. And even then, the people left will pretty much carry on as normal, as best they can. This was not what the high command wanted to hear. At all.

As it isn’t now. Bombing is a nice, simple solution. It looks good on TV. You can interview Our Brave Boys in their multi-million pound aircraft and talk about knights of the air and evoke the Battle of Britain, as British politicians have already done. And unless you bomb an entire country out of the twentieth century, it’s not going to work. Bombing Syria ignores the fact that a lot of it is already bombed flat. It ignores the fact that the main industry is oil and we certainly are not going to start bombing that. Turkey already buys oil from ISIS, which isn’t something you’ll see in the tabloids a lot, although the story has been in the Financial Times for weeks.

And anyway, we’re supposed to be ‘liberating’ the Syrians, which is quite difficult to do if we’ve killed them all in airstrikes, notwithstanding that last year David Cameron wanted to go to war on the same side as ISIS, who according to Senator Rand Paul and others has been massively helped by the United States government. General Wesley Clerk has gone on record saying that US allies created ISIS. He also said the decision to go to war with Iraq was made because nobody knew what else to do, but they had to look busy.

So some people got killed on what had been a good night out and they will again. They always have. It’s what humans do. It is a total tragedy for everyone involved. The bigger tragedy is we never do anything to stop it happening. Just bomb some more.

The great lesson to be learned in the battered towns of England and the ruined cities of Germany is that the best way to win a war is to prevent it from occurring. That must be the ultimate end to which our best efforts are devoted.

Nobody wanted to hear that then. Nobody wants to hear it now. This is our tragedy, the one that really affects us all.

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The voices of the damned

Twelve people were killed today at the headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, when three masked gunmen walked in and started shooting.

According to Sky News, which never makes things up, they are believed to have called out the victims by name, including the editor, a cartoonist, a contributor, Bernard Maris and two police officers were also among the dead, including one assigned as a bodyguard after prior death threats. As happens when you start loosing off assault rifles, 20 people have also been injured, at least four seriously.

After the killing, the gunmen apparently ‘calmly’ returned to their getaway car and shouted: “We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed, we have killed Charlie Hebdo.” One of the gunmen was heard screaming “Allah”, as they opened fire. God likes this stuff. Always.

Henry Samuel, the Daily Telegraph’s Paris correspondent, told Sky News: “According to people on the ground, two masked gunmen burst into the offices very heavily armed, (with) Kalashnikovs, apparently even with a rocket-propelled grenade, and opened fire, leaving several minutes later. He added: “Then the gunmen escaped and are currently on the run, being pursued.

And then it all got normal. Francois Hollande condemned the attack as “an act of barbarism”, although what else he could have said apart from ‘alors’ is a bit moot. An extra 3,000 police officers have been deployed on the streets in a massive security operation and let’s face it, that always makes it look as if Something Is Being Done, even though it’s not, or at least not by them.

Parisiens have been asked to turn out at 7pm on the Place de la Republique in a show of solidarity with the victims and the magazine Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief Gerard Biard told France Inter: “I don’t understand how people can attack a newspaper with heavy weapons. A newspaper is not a weapon of war.”

Except of course, it is. And while we’re here Gerard, assault rifles and an RPG are categorically not ‘heavy weapons.’ Heavy weapons are things like howitzers, the type of materiel that levels buildings. Notwithstanding that, Facebook was instantly full of journalists demanding that every newspaper in the world ran the cartoons of the prophet that were supposed to have irked Islam in the first place, while some of their friends on their timeline took these events as yet more proof if proof were needed that all Moslems are terrorists. Obviously. They wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true, as Joe Jackson used to tell us.

I didn’t see any of these people demanding that the crap that journalists wrote about WMDs and missile attacks in 45 minutes was also reproduced, another time that newspapers were jumping up and down begging to be weapons of war, too excited to report facts and more than happy to repeat any bullshit the government chucked their way.

We Are At Conflict

Gotcha! when over 300 Argentinians were drowned by the British Navy and Bastards! when the Argentinian Navy killed far fewer plucky noble Brits was the time before, when once again newspapers were only too happy to be weapons of war, trumpeting the Our Brave Boys chorus.

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted, or got someone to Tweet for him: “The murders in Paris are sickening. We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press.”

There is clearly no terror at all when we flatten Baghdad, or Kabul, or invade other countries, or go to someone’s house in a foreign country and kill everyone there then throw away the body in case anyone wants a good look at how we shot exactly, or drones strike a wedding, or when we do anything military at all. Obviously. We kill hundreds of thousands of people instead of a dozen for the very best of reasons always and frankly they respect us for it, he might as well have added.

Any murder is sickening. It diminishes everybody, murderer, bystanders and murderee alike. But we don’t stand by the freedom of the press any more than the press, as a whole, wants to get off its collective arse and go and do some open and honest reporting when the public is being lied to. And if you seriously believe that this or any other government doesn’t simply embargo and D-Notice inconvenient facts while piously talking about freedom, there’s not a lot of difference between the simplicity of that stance and the upholders of any faith who maintain their invisible friend in the sky wanted people machine-gunned.


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It Had To Be You, Django

It Had To Be You, Django

What is there to say, Django Reinhardt?
You take forever now to smoke
That cigarette on the album cover.
A perfect swirl of smoke
Rises past your svelte lapel.
It all went pretty well that evening,
Even from here I can tell.
You did the gypsy thing
The jazz thing, the war thing
And now I’m older than you then
I still can’t do the guitar thing
The way you did with just two fingers.

Your wife made trinkets out of celluloid
Shirt collars, the same stuff they used to use
For film and like old pictures always could
It can burn. And then it did.
The caravan you lived in,
You two crazy kids in your teens,
The whole thing caught light
And as you saved your wife
You lost your hand; or at least some fingers.
You thought it would change your life
And it did but not the way
Anyone might have thought.
You were a gypsy jazz musician.
You looked like a Jew;
That’s what people said in those days.
Some places they still do but you,
When the Nazis came you got lucky.
Hitler might have detested jazz;
And Heydrich, the Reich Gaulieter of Bohemia
And Moravia wrote the rules but the guys
With the boots and the guns, the farm boys
And the doctors, the fliers and the sailors
Listening to Lili Marlene and Bing
And Miller and Dorsey, all of that swing thing
They liked that stuff. They were hep to that jive,
Man. Betty Grable! What a dish!
That music swung too, so Django, you didn’t
When nobody would have taken bets on you
Coming out the other side of that war.
Nobody at all. But someone looked after you.
You hid in plain view, playing at the Hot Club de Paris,
Not down some alley off a half-forgotten street
In an unfashionable arrondisement.
Not you. You were still up there with your name
In lights same as it was with you and Grapelli,
Back before; Someone else
With a pressing reason to leave Paris fast.
But it worked out somehow.
Nobody knocked on your door
In the small hours or if they did,
Only for friendly reasons
And with some pressing urgency,
The way it is sometimes.
Someone was looking after you.
And then June ’44
And America and electric guitars
That you never really liked
Listening to you, it’s plain that’s true.
The fluency still there but the sound flat.
Maybe nobody knew what electric guitars
Were for back then. Maybe even you.
Transatlantic meant a week on a ship before
You came home again to Soissons-sur-Seine.
Thirty seconds of pain before
You put down your guitar for good.
You played better with two fingers
Than most people learn to play in two lifetimes,
That sound that people danced to, crooned to,
Swooned to, the forever sound of golden years.
In an imaginary past full of promises
That no-one meant to break, but still.
You know how it goes. You do now, anyway.
You played Limehouse Blues for a place
Where now you need a million,
To even think about it. That’s blue.
Nagasaki for a somewhere else
We don’t like to talk about too much.
You told us, back in Nagasaki
Where the fellers chew tobaccy
The women wiggy waggy woo. And maybe they do.
So I’ll see you in my dreams, and in nuages,
In a Sentimental Moon, Beyond The Sea,
In Echoes Of France with those Swing Guitars,
Swinging In Springtime. It had to be you.
Django. Didn’t it? That and Stephan’s Blues,
Double Whisky, Christmas Swing. Just for Fun.
Oubli. Parfum. Swing 39, 41 and 42.
All of these your tunes. It just had to be you.

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