Notes from the Archive I

From “The Military Problems of Counterinsurgency” under the heading MILITARY A PART OF WHOLE:

Military operations can only contribute when they are part of the broad plan for the re-establishment of Good Government right across the field of administration. And because the services are as a rule only brought in as a last resort and late, they are so often the only framework on which to re-establish Good Government.

– Brigadier General Charles Dunbar

As true as it ever was.

Dissert’ Menu

The British begin their withdrawal from Aden, 1967.

So in case anyone wasn’t aware, I’ve been working on my master’s dissertation – for which I finally have a pretty solid topic. The work right now is all archival research, which I have no problem with, but finding sources specific to my area is proving a little bit of a challenge.

That area is the Aden Emergency of 1963-67, in which the British fought a counterinsurgency in the Aden colony and the East and West Protectorate ‘up country’. Specifically, though, I want to focus on the RAF and the use of airpower in COIN strategy.

Starbuck at Wings Over Iraq has been doing some great work on counterinsurgency airpower, and I definitely recommend checking that out and contributing if you can. Many thanks to Shlok Vaidya for pointing me in that direction. In the meantime, my research is mostly being conducted in Liddell Hart Library at King’s College London, but I’ll also be dropping by the RAF archives and others. Any help would be appreciated.

I’ll also from time to time be posting little gems I manage to unearth, so stay tuned for those.

But I Repeat Myself

A reminder that history does not repeat itself; it merely rhymes:

Beneath azure blue skies on Sunday, an intrepid band of Englishmen tried to stage a scaled-down rerun of the “little ships,” hundreds of private craft that joined the Royal Navy in the improbable 1940 rescue [at Dunkirk], saving hundreds of thousands of British, French and Canadian soldiers to fight on against Nazi Germany.

This time, the effort centered on a group of men in a flotilla of inflatable speedboats who set out from Dover to ferry some of their stranded compatriots home from the rail and ferry chaos created by the cloud of volcanic ash that has shut down much of Europe’s air traffic.

A Brief Study in Hyperbole

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan at Camp David, 1984.

Yesterday I took part in an in-class debate on which was the more ‘special’ relationship: Churchill and Roosevelt, Macmillan and Kennedy, or Thatcher and Reagan? I was assigned to the Thatcher-Reagan team.

I took it upon myself to write an opening statement, and it follows. Bear in mind I wrote this in approximately 30 minutes (including edits and rewrites). Then you can decide: did I actually say anything at all? Or did I just make it sound like I did? In other words, where’s the beef?

Since revolution tore the two asunder, and the White House burned in 1812, the United States and United Kingdom have enjoyed an extraordinary partnership unrivaled by anyone in the world – a “special” relationship.

The relationship has waxed and waned over the years, but never was it stronger or more dynamic than the Thatcher-Reagan era of the 1980s. Bound together by mutual respect and admiration, cultural affinity, and a shared commitment to western values, the special relationship between the Gipper and the Iron Lady was forged in history and sealed with blood. Through war and in peace, America and Britain held fast at home and abroad with Reagan and Thatcher at the helm.

From the windswept south Atlantic to the skies above Libya, Reagan and Thatcher were partners amidst a sea of troubles. Politically like-minded like to pair before them, they successfully navigated the shoals of the Cold War and brought the Soviet Union to its knees. Together they restored a sense of national pride to their respective countries and returned the special relationship to its lofty pedestal.

Personally, politically, diplomatically, and militarily, Reagan and Thatcher were exceptionally close. Maintaining a solid front publicly, they never hesitated to disagree in private, always constructively and without hint of animosity. Anglo-American relations, NATO, and indeed the west itself were and continue to be rejuvenated by their remarkable friendship; and nothing less than the whole of humanity has been the beneficiary of Thatcher and Reagan’s truly special relationship.

I like the lofty rhetoric I came up with, but methinks the substantive portion leaves something to be desired. And that’s ignoring what I actually think about the merits of the argument.

Thinning the Ranks

From the Sunday Times:

Britain’s special forces have suffered the worst blow to their fighting strength since the second world war, with 80 members killed or crippled in Afghanistan.

Serious injuries have left more than 70 unable to fight, while 12 have been killed. It means the forces have lost about a sixth of their full combat capacity.

The Sunday Times has established that the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Squadron (SBS) have mounted “several hundred” operations targeting Taliban leaders since 2007.

This, to say the least, is not good. Especially when the focus of a modern military should be more oriented towards special operations forces and the like. But seeing as the total strength of the SAS and SBS combined is less than 500, clearly the units need expansion, as long as that can be done without jeopardizing their character and expertise.

But then again, why aren’t all units getting more SOF-type training? Budgets aside, of course.

Accompanied by a Wry Signoff

Does anyone still watch news? I find myself more and more turning towards online text. With the possible exception of The Onion, video news is a total waste of time. There are so many ways to obscure your lack of a point with video, the vast majority of which usually ends up as meaningless. On Newswipe, Charlie Brooker explains “how to report the news,” beginning with that lackluster establishing shot (via Disinformation).

Down That Road Again

If you thought the LSE (and Britain in general) was bad at curbing extremism and hatred (and I do, see here, here, and here), then Oxford University will knock your socks off. From The JC:

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister was met by a protester screaming “slaughter the Jews” as he spoke at the Oxford Union.

Antisemitic and anti-Israel abuse was shouted throughout Danny Ayalon’s speech on Monday evening, with students causing numerous disruptions to the event.

During the hour-long session one student ran towards Mr Ayalon shouting the Arabic phrase “Itbah Al-Yahud” [Slaughter the Jews].

As many as 10 others, carrying Palestinian flags, made attempts to attack Mr Ayalon but were intercepted and removed by security.

Unlike when Ayalon spoke at LSE, the administration in this situation sprang to his defense as a speaker and contributor of ideas. No faculty petitions up north (to my knowledge). In their statement (PDF), the Oxford Union said:

Whilst the vast majority of the audience behaved in an orderly and responsible fashion, some members continually interrupted the speech, and one individual in particular appears to have made a directly anti-Semitic remark. These individuals exceeded the principles of free speech that the Society upholds…

…This morning, the Union’s President launched an investigation aimed at identifying the
Members who disrupted the event. The Union will be taking disciplinary action against these
Members, in accordance with the Society’s rules…

…The Oxford Union believes in the rights of free speech and protecting our invited speakers’ ability to express themselves in an orderly and disciplined environment…

…Last night was unprecedented. A disorderly minority disrupted and prevented the speaker from holding the floor where he had been invited to speak.

It’s nice to see an apology, or even an admission that something at the event had not gone as planned. Certainly no such statement was issued at LSE. Because what’s the point of debating when you can just wave your flags, shout some cheers, and win the argument? You don’t even need to make a point.

It’s a perfect storm of the western recoil, its love for countries-in-waiting (see: the Free Tibet movement), and willingness to attend a rally. I really do feel for Ayalon and any other Israeli officials who seek to engage in a back-and-forth with the community in Britain. It won’t do a thing: the minds of this country are made up.

For Love of Country, Part V

Part 5 of a 5-part series.

On behalf of France, La Coloniale and the Armée d’Afrique performed admirably in both combat and occupation duties during World War I.

The French Africans who served in Europe came from all across the empire—Tirailleurs from Senegal, spahis from Tunisia and Algeria, and goums from Morocco, 175,000 in all. Other local regiments of Tirailleurs from equatorial French Africa were in turn deployed to the French colonial possessions in North Africa, and many others (about 160,000 in total) joined the Armée Métropolitaine in France on an ad hoc basis.

Moroccan goums, 1914.

In combat, the colonial troops proved themselves beyond a shadow of a doubt. Many succumbed to the illnesses brought on by the radical change of climate, and for the most part, the harsh European winters meant that the African units would winter in the south of France. To some, this was reason enough to doubt the effectiveness of Africans in combat, but it was always ignored that these ‘deficiencies’ had nothing to do with the fighting skill of men from the tropics.

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An Island Apart

Muslims protest Geert Wilders' appearance before Parliament, October 2009.

Something’s gotta give. No, seriously. Finally backlash seems to be mounting against the British government’s tolerance for extremist organizations (provided, of course, that they are Muslim). The trend is especially present in universities, however, where the constant mantra of “free speech” has somehow blocked out all voices, such as the BNP and others, with the sole exception of any Islamic or Muslim society.

The Christmas Pants Bomber has prompted a new bout of soul-searching as the west attempts to decipher the source of radicalization. Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka perhaps made the loudest and boldest claim, laying blame on Britain (“a cesspit“) – and not Nigeria – for the pants bomber’s radicalization.

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