The Flemish author and academic Peter Schrijvers was the guest speaker at today’s gathering of the Biographers’ Club, held at the Savile Club off Grosvenor Square. His book Bloody Pacific has just come out in a second, paperback edition (Palgrave, £12.99) and I hope to review it shortly. Peter Schrijvers had prepared an excellent, thoughtful written presentation focussing on some of the core issues in his book, which deals with the way the Americans fought the Japanese in the Second World War, and in particular the experiences of individual soldiers, what they thought of the enemy and their behaviour (often brutal or outright criminal) on the battlefield. Hearing the author speak, I was struck by the similarity with my own observations in the Vietnam War, of how young US troops there, many of them only teenagers, considered the Vietnamese subhuman — the Viet Cong of course often indistinguishable from ordinary peasants — and how gungho they were about killing them. I wish things in warfare had improved since then, but I fear the same has probably often been true in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not only on the part of the American forces.
Archive for June, 2010
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th June, 2010
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th June, 2010
The political highlight of my weekend was down in the basement of the Mother’s Union in Westminster, alas hidden from the glorious summer weather, attending the annual conference of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS). The dedicated and indefatigable outgoing Chief Executive Ken Ritchie — who has given 13 years of sterling service to the organisation, though he will now probably be replaced by a more charismatic media performer — gave an excellent account of what ERS has been up to over the past 12 months, including some jolly japes on the Thames outside the Houses of Parliament, highlighting some of the many shortcomings of the UK political system. There was then a panel discussion on electoral reform — specifically referring to the referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV), which is expected in 2011. This panel brought together former Home Secretary Alan Johnson (the man I think ought to have been running for Labour leader at this time), the LibDems’ Deputy Leader Simon Hughes, the London Green MEP Jean Lambert and a charming young man, Ryan Shorthouse (who really ought to be a LibDem) from the progressive Tory thinktank Bright Blue. No sign of Energy Secretary Chris Huhne (who had been earlier billed) or his new partner and ERS staff member Carina Trimingham. The central message from the panel was that however imperfect many of us may feel AV to be (in contrast to a more proportional system, such as STV), we have to campaign for it enthusiastically in the forthcoming referendum, otherwise the momentum for electoral reform will be lost for another generation.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alan Johnson, AV, Bright Blue, Carina Trimingham, Chris Huhne, Electoral Reform Society, ERS, Jean Lambert, Ken Ritchie, Ryan Shorthouse, Simon Hughes, STV | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th June, 2010
Yesterday afternoon I was delighted to attend a Private View of the superb 1001 Inventions exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington, courtesy of the Kuwaiti Ambassador, H.E. Khaled Al-Duwaisan and CAABU. Many people in the West are blissfully unaware of how much modern civilization owes to Arab scientists, inventors and thinkers. It’s not just that the Arabs saved much of classical Greek and Roman writings and knowledge during the European Dark Ages. From Constantinople to Baghdad, there was a ferment of activity and creativity, which is documented and conveyed in a highly entertaining way in this magnificent exhibition, supported by the Jameel Foundation. It has already attracted a very high number of visitors, but is only on until the and of this month. In August, the whole thing will be installed in giant marquees in Istanbul, in front of the Blue Mosque, then later it will go to New York. Not to be missed!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th June, 2010
Yesterday I attended the Press View of the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London, along with not just fellow hacks but also several of the artists and some of the sitters — including Soho figure Molly Parkin in a suitably over-the-top headdress. Not present, of course, was the subject of the winning portrait of artist Daphne Todd’s 100-year-old dead mother. It’s a troubling piece, the match-stick thin corpse, mouth open, her head propped up on plumped up white pillows. The sense of unease the picture evokes is deepened by the fact that it is painted on two over-lapping boards, highlighting the transition from life to death. As always, there were some pictures that I really liked but which didn’t get any prize or honourable mention, notably Raoul Martinez’s beautiful study of Alan Rickman (in one corner of an otherwise white canvass) and Paul Beel’s powerful portrait of a super-fit Nigerian illegal immigrant in Italy, ‘Free David’.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd June, 2010
Photos of the commemorative event at the Barnet Multicultural Centre in Hendon on Sunday (courtesy Rosalind Izard:
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th June, 2010
The British media’s obsession with politicians’ private lives has always left our continental neighbours scratching their heads in disbelief. Why should the state of someone’s marriage or the relationship that X is conducting with Y be of any legitimate interest to anyone other than those immediately concerned? The claim by newspaper editors who ought to know better is that exposés of politicians’ sex lives ‘is in the public interest’. Rubbish. It is no more in the public interest than would be an exposé of the sex lives of the journalists themselves. Yet once again, courtesy of the People and the News of the World, another Britsh politician, Chris Huhne, (LibDem) Climate Secretary, has had his private life splashed all over tomorrow’s front pages, to the likely distress not only of him, his wife Vicky, his alleged mistress, Carina Trimingham, but also Chris and Vicky’s children. I have known Chris for 30 years, Vicky and the family for about a decade and Carina since she helped out with Brian Paddick’s London mayoral campaign in 2008. These are all human beings, flesh and blood and with emotions, not fictional characters in some TV soap. And as such, their private lives should remain exactly that: private. They will have enough problems dealing with their current situation without the added pressure of media scrutiny and hypocritical criticism. Media exposés of the private lives of politicians are the modern-day equivalent of the Roman ‘sport’ of throwing Christians to the lions and are just as distasteful.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th June, 2010
Earlier today I joined several of my fellow members of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, numerous red-bandanna’d young Burmese and other well-behaved protesters outside the Burmese Embassy in London’s Mayfair, marking Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday, which actually falls tomorrow (19th June). I’ll be taking part in a big commemorative gathering in Hendon on Sunday as well. Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) had an election stolen from them by the military in 1990 and she has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest. Many of her NLD colleagues and other political activists — including monks — have suffered far worse imprisonment, torture and death. Alas the world seems impotant to do anything about it, although the condemnations of the military’s behavious has been widespread. US President Barack Obama marked Suu Kyi’s birthday with a plea for her release. She has received many prizes — including Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom — but prizes and pleas are not enough. The Burmese regime, which is oe of the nastiest and least accountable on earth, needs to be brought to its knees or its senses.
[right hand photo courtesy Robert Sharp and English PEN]
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th June, 2010
The Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) — on whose Board I sit — held a reception in the Jubilee Room of the House of Commons this lunchtime to introduce itelf to newly elected MPs. Amongst the speeches was a short address from the ubiquitous and urbane Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Kuwaiti Ambassador, Khaled Al-Duwaisan, as well as some remarks from (Lord) David Steel (with whom I travelled to Gaza many moons ago). The Israeli lobby, while not as strong in London as it is in Washington, is nonetheless a powerful force in both of the British Houses of Parliament, which makes it all the more important that there is a visible Arab presence. Of course, the Arab narrative is a far more complicated one, as it covers issues way beyond the immediate concerns of Israel-Palestine, though for someone such as myself, who has been working as a journalist and academic in the region for longer than I care to recall, this very complexity adds to its fascination. My current focus is mainly on Jordan, but the entire Arab world intrigues.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th June, 2010
At the weekend Executive of Liberal International in Berlin, I successfully moved (on behalf of the British Liberal Democrats) an urgency resolution following on the recent Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla. Though it was slightly softened after negotiation with the Germans and Dutch, it is by the far the strongest statement to have come out of any of the political internationals so far. Only two people present at the Executive voted against it (both Israelis, surprise, surprise!). The text reads:
Liberal International Executive in Berlin:
— deplores the use of force by Israeli commandos in stopping the flotilla carrying aid to Gaza;
— deplores the violence used by some activists on board the flotilla;
— expresses shock at the resultant deaths and injuries aboard the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, and at the treatment of its crew and passengers;
— demands the resotration of the liberty of the Israeli Arabs who have been on board the flotilla;
— supports the UN Security Council’s call for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent inquiry into this violent clash between Israeli armed forces and activists to avoid immense future damage to both Israel’s reputation and its security;
— [believes] the inquiry must fully examine the actions of all parties, including claims of weapons possession, and establish the precise facts and responsiblity for the chain of events, and report for consideration to the Security Council;
— strongly calls on the Middle East Quartet, and the US government in particular, to urge all partuies to return to the Road Map and observe international law.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th June, 2010
One of the most interesting geo-political developments in recent months is Turkey’s increased prominence on the world stage. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came out strongly against Israel’s Operation Cast Lead 18 months ago — winning plaudits not only from his own population but from the Arab world as well — and he has now condemned the Israeli assault on the Gaza aid convoy as state terrorism. Previously, Turkey had been quite close to Israel, even acting as a peacebroker between Israel and Syria, but bilateral relations have plummeted now. In contrast, Turkey’s ties with Iran have strengthened and Ankara is building itself up as a regional power. This makes it all the more important that the West — to which Turkey is linked through its membership of NATO — nurtures relations with Turkey. That includes eventual Turkish membership of the European Union, when Turkey fulfils certain political as well as economic criteria. In the meantime, Turkey’s own economy is growing at a rate Europeans can only envy. This is a great regional power in the making.