Two birthdays in the family today

May 30th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Two members of our family have birthdays today: Lucas is 8 and Peter is 78 – which has a certain symmetry.

Now, I’m guessing, dear reader, that you’re aged somewhere between 8 and 78, so I have two questions for you: do you remember what it was like to be 8 and can you imagine what it will be like to be 78?

That’s the thing about life: it’s one thing after another – but it’s better than the alternative.

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Why a visit to Hiroshima is more complicated than you might think

May 28th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

This week, Barack Obama became the first serving American President to visit Hiroshima, the site of the first atomic bomb to be dropped on a city on 6 August 1945 – a weapon used, of course, by the Americans. A lot of the media coverage mentioned that Obama did not apologise for the bombing, but that would have been wholly inappropriate and quite wrong.

It is easy – and indeed totally right – to be horrified by the death and destruction that was wreaked that day and the deaths and injuries that followed up to this day.  But what most media reports failed to highlight was Japan’s culpability for this event and the country’s continued failure to acknowledge the role it played in the Second World War.

In October 1998, I was a member of  a trade union delegation to Japan that visited Tokyo and Kyoto. Afterwards I stayed on in the country for a few more days on my own because I wanted to go to Hiroshima. I spent a whole day in the city and some three hours at the Peace Memorial Museum.

Of course, I was horrified by the photographs and films that I viewed and the statistics for death and injury that were displayed. But I was also disturbed by the account presented in the displays, all of which were in English as well as Japanese. The whole emphasis of the narrative up to the dropping of the bomb was one of the Japanese as innocent victims rather than as ruthless aggressors.

In effect, the Second World War did not begin with German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 or German invasion of Poland in 1939, but with Japanese occupation of Manchuria in China in 1931. What the Chinese understandably call ‘the rape of Nanjing’ by Japanese soldiers in December 1937-January 1938 was played down at the museum with the figures for Chinese deaths being disputed.

Then, when it came in the museum’s description of the start of the war between Japan and the USA in December 1941, this occurrence was represented as some kind of accidental outbreak of hostilities rather than an unprovoked and undeclared attack on Pearl Harbor with the substantial loss of American lives.

The museum gives little attention to the well-substantiated fears at the time that an American land invasion of mainland Japan would have resulted in months of further war and hundred of thousands of further American (and Japanese) deaths.  All the evidence of Japanese resistance on island after island made it clear that the Japanese would have fought long and bitterly with massive further casualties and only the clear demonstration of the effect of the atomic bomb prevented this scenario.

In some ways, the most memorable thing I saw in Hiroshima was not in the Peace Memorial Museum; it was in one of the nearby parks; it was a monument to the Korean victims and survivors of the bombing. The English label explains that, of the roughly 200,000 people who were killed that day, some 20,000 were Korean. What were they doing in a Japanese city? Well, Japan had ruthlessly occupied Korea since 1910 and forced Koreans into both military and civilian service in the war effort.

The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 but it took until 1970 for this monument to the Korean victims to be erected. Could it be that the Japanese valued Japanese lives above Korean lives?

What I am describing here is part of a much bigger picture: the failure of so much of Japanese society even today to acknowledge their culpability for what happened in the Pacific theatre of war. School text books present a whitewashed version of the Japanese role in the war and some Japanese politicians still attend ceremonies at the burial site of Japanese war criminals.

This is in stark contrast to the situation in post-war Germany where, to their credit, Germans have acknowledged the horrors of Nazism and freely discuss and debate all aspects of Germany’s actions in the war.

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A review of the movie “X-Men: Apocalypse”

May 26th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

I’m a sucker for superhero movies and this is the third such blockbuster this year. You can read my review here.

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A review of the film “Our Kind Of Traitor”

May 26th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

This is not the best film adaptation of a novel by John le Carre – that could be “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” [my review here] – but the new film “Our Kind Of Traitor” is entertaining enough and I’ve reviewed it here.

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U.S. presidential election (27): could Trump really become President?

May 25th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Can Donald Trump really win the White House? All the serious pundits who look at the data, say that he can’t and several come to the same prediction for the Electoral College vote. In this piece for the “Huffington Post”, Richard North Patterson points out:

“A look at the electoral college map pretty much tells us all we need to know. However absurd it may be as an institution, the electoral college neatly captures our political polarization. A few pertinent facts from recent elections:

19 states and the District of Columbia have voted for a Democrat in the last six presidential contests. These alone account for 242 electoral votes — a mere 28 short of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

By comparison, the 13 states which voted Republican in the last six elections contain 102 electoral votes. You can take it to the bank that the GOP would carry these states were its nominee Charles Manson or Benito Mussolini — or even Donald Trump. But even were the GOP to draft Jesus Christ himself, upon resurrection he would have to round up another 168 electoral votes.

This effort did not work out terribly well for another man of faith, Willard Romney. In 2012, Romney received an additional 104 electoral votes. That left him at 206 compared to Barack Obama’s 332. In electoral college terms, a landslide.”

For the forthcoming 2016 election, Patterson’s prediction is as follows:

“Like the Times and Larry Sabato, I give Clinton every swing state and throw in North Carolina. The result? Clinton 347; Trump 191.”

Let’s hope he’s right.

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Visit to Sark (5)

May 25th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Regular readers of NightHawk will know that I spent last weekend on the Channel Island of Sark in order to attend the launch of a book by my good friend Eric Lee. The work is called “Operation Basalt: The British Raid On Sark And Hitler’s Commando Order” and I’ve reviewed it here.

As I reported in this posting, at the launch event, it was standing room only in a crowded room as Eric signed copies of his book and then spoke about the experience of writing the work. You can now read the text of Eric’s speech here.

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What is Kurdistan and who are the Kurds?

May 24th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

I’m reading a fascinating book called “The Kurdish Spring: A New Map Of The Middle East” by the American author David L Phillips. He explains just how differentiated are the Kurds – “the largest stateless people in the world” – geographically, linguistically and religiously.

The total area of Kurdistan is about 600,000 square kilometres, roughly equal to the size of France, and the total number of Kurds is an estimated 32 million. But there are four major geographic sectors.

  • North Kurdistan is in Turkey. An estimated 22.5 million Kurds live there. The main language is Kurmanji.
  • South Kurdistan is in Iraq. Around 8-10 million live there. The main language is Sorani.
  • West Kurdistan is in Syria. Some 2.5 million live there. The main language is Kurmanji.
  • East Kurdistan is in Iran. around 4.5 million live there. The main language is Sorani.

Around 75% of Kurds are Sunni Muslims. Most of the rest are Shia Muslims but there are significant pockets of Alevi, Sufis, Yazidi and Christian.

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Visit to Sark (4)

May 22nd, 2016 by Roger Darlington

There’s not much that is smaller than Sark – but there is Little Sark. Actually Little Sark is not an island in its own right but an extension of the main island connected by a narrow causeway called La Coupee with some breathtaking views.

Our walk out to Little Sark started in even more rain. We arrived somewhat bedraggled at an establishment called “La Sablonnerie” where we had refreshments in the Tea Garden before being offered sloe gin in the Restaurant by the eccentric owner.

As we left “La Sablonnerie”, we discovered that the rain had stopped, the sun had come out and the temperature was warmer – which really added to the appreciation of this special island.

Sunday before the season is in full swing is a quiet time on this quite island and Sunday evening is dead. We ate at a pub called the “Bel Air Inn” where the menu was decidely limited and the service remarkably slow (there were no desserts at all).

A consolation might have been the night sky since this is a Dark Island with no street lights and I was hoping to catch my first sight in the Northern Hemisphere of the Milky Way. But all the previous nights were too overcast and tonight was dull with a full moon so there were few stars to be seen let alone the Milky Way.

This weekend has cetainly been an experience but, as someone who has only ever lived in Manchester and London and loves the cosmopolitan metropolis, I’m rather looking forward to the return tomorrow to the big city.

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Visit to Sark (3)

May 21st, 2016 by Roger Darlington

It rained literally ALL day for the official launch here on the island of Sark of Eric Lee’s new book on the 1942 commando raid on the island. It kind of added to the atmosphere, since one could not help thinking, if trudging along narrow paths and through heavy gorse in wet and slippery conditions was tough for us, it must have been much worse for heavily-loaded commandos in pitch blackness in what was then enemy territory.

In the morning, Eric’s group and many locals joined a conducted tour of some two and a half hours which traversed the route followed by the British commandos 74 years ago. The walk was led by Jeremy La Trobe-Bateman whose family authored the book of Sark walking trails used as a guide by the British soldiers that night. Eric explained to us how the commandos scaled the steep cliff to the Hogsback where we looked down on the waves. He then led us to “La Jaspellerie”, where Frances Pittard gave them such valuable information, and on to the Dixcart Hotel, where the commandos killed three Germans and took one back to Britain for intelligence.

In the evening, it was standing room only in a crowded room as Eric signed copies of his book (until he ran out of copies) and then spoke about the experience of writing the work. There were two special guests: Graham Robinson, who spoke about his father ‘Tim’ Robinson who was one of the 12 commandos on the raid, and – through a video recording made Australia – James Edgar, who is the last surviving member of the commando team celebrating his 96th birthday that very day.

It was a very special occasion.

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Visit to Sark (2)

May 21st, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Our journey started with a 6.30 am pick-up by a cab to take us all the way round the North Circular Road from Wembley to London City Airport. There we boarded an ATR 42 turboprop aircraft for the one hour flight to Guernsey. We had a few hours before our ferry, so Vee and I strolled around the cobbled streets and had lunch at a place called “Cafe Emilia” where we met the first two of many Latvian staff that we would come across on this weekend.

The trip from Guernsey to Sark was a relatively smooth sailing of 50 minutes. There are no cars,, buses, trains or trams on the island.  The only means of getting around are tractors, bicycles, horse and cart, or foot.  Even the fire engine and the ambulance are pulled along by a tractor. So, once on the island, a tractor took us up the hill while a cart transported our luggage.

Our group of 23 is spread over five accommodation locations.  Vee and I plus two others are in a bed and breakfast called “La Marguerite”. The ‘programme’ – organised by Eric and Cindy – started with pre-dinner drinks at a hotel called “Stocks” where we celebrated the 24th birthday of Eric ‘s son Yonatan (nine years ago, Vee and I spent a week travelling round Israel with Eric and Yonatan).

Dinner was at a place called “Nicole’s Restaurant” which is just off The Avenue – effectively the High Street (all the lanes are without tarmac or pavements). Most of the group had seafood which is very popular here. It was too cloudy to see stars but hopefully we are going to see a spectacular display.

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