Posts Tagged ‘Britain’

Heathrow!

January 24, 2015

Heathrow1

Heathrow!

Flight-catcher for the world

Trip-maker, Gate-shaker for planes,

Router of jets, and the globe’s baggage handler

Moving, busy, enthralling,

Hub of all Western Orb-travellers:

 

How many flying souls have passed through your doors!

How many rushing feet thrashed your slickety floors,

after how many flights that o’erflown your Albion shores?

 

Beneath miles and miles of glist’ning glass,

flashing sunshine, while they pass–

myriad travelers of all class.

 

Hurry, scurry, flurry, don’t show worry.

Slurp tea with breakfast, or take dinner with some curry.

But make your flight! catch that connection–hurry!

 

From far Mombosa, from far Bombay

from here, from there, every which-a-way

they pass like cattle every day.

 

Mega-beams of steel overhead–

they span a mega-traveled Heathrow shed

of tubular steel and electronic thread.

 

“Oh lovely Rita, security maid,

just scan my bags; don’t make me late.

Why’d you take my gels?” I said.

 

While bags roll beneath the scan,

hurrysome travelers fly where they can,

‘cross ocean, air, o’er sea and land.

 

Oh London bridges, what a town!

conducting travelers, up and down

through Heathrow gates the world around,

 

As planes go up, while flights abound

at Heathrow ‘port, they do come down,

but not without a sound. They do astound

me.

 

Smoke

Ghosts of Civil War, Spain 1936

August 5, 2012

My current study of history during the years 1936-1938 has revealed an alarming similarity between the Spanish Civil War of that era and the present civil war in Syria today.

During the 1930s, the nation of Spain was dragging itself out of its deep, dark past, into the perilous, polarizing politics of 20th-century Europe. But the two main ideological forces of that era were not content to let Spain work its own bloody identity crisis out.

International Communists, propelled by Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia, and led by Josef Stalin, were strategizing for control of Europe; their struggle was directed primarily against the Fascist/Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy.

Neither of these two ideological poles were content to let Spain work out its own destiny. Rather, both the Communists and the Fascist/Nazis strove to manipulate and control Spanish political/cultural factions.

In 1936, as General Franco’s armies mounted rightist insurrections against the leftist Popular Front government, Mussolini, the Italian dictator, began providing serious military support for Franco and the Spanish fascists. This provoked Stalin and the Moscow communists to bolster the Spanish government in Madrid with armaments to resist Franco’s military campaigns.

As military capabilities and clashes became bloodier and more atrocious in Spain, the mercantile-minded democratic nations found themselves having to make unpleasantly complicated decisions about how to neutralize the two warring sides of Spanish bloodletting.

So Britain, United States, and France found themselves, inconveniently having to take a stand one way or the other.

The solution they arrived at, in August of 1936, was a non-intervention pact, designed to prevent further transferral of armaments into bloody Spain.

This did not work, because Hitler and Mussolini violated the non-intervention agreement by continuing to supply weapons, and even soldiers, to the fascists in Spain. Consequently, Largo Caballero, Prime Minister and leader of the Popular Front government of Spain, was required to cultivate more radical leftist, specifically Russian Communist, support in order to sustain the Spanish government against General Franco’s fascist insurgency.

In the midst of all this contention, both political and military, neither side was merciful. Slaughters and atrocities were happening at various hot skirmish points across the countryside and cities of Spain.

Douglas Little, in his 1985 book, Malevolent Neutrality, (Cornell University Press), wrote on page 248:

“Ironically, the British and American arms embargoes had ensured the very thing they were designed to prevent: the expansion of Soviet influence in Spain.”

Business and political leaders in Britain and U.S., noticing the leftward drift of Caballero’s Madrid government, unwittingly facilitated the surreptitious Fascist/Nazi domination of Franco’s militarism in Spain. The Spanish Civil War, as it subsequently erupted during autumn of 1936 and onward, became a training ground for Mussolini’s  fascisti ground troops, and Hitler’s luftwaffe air force.

As it turns out then, history demonstrates that military neutrality can prove disastrous in the convoluted treacheries of world politics.

In Syria today, rebels are storming the gates of Damascus and Aleppo, fighting to overthrow the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad.

But the insurrection boot is, this time, on the other foot. We democratic nations want to believe that the rebels represent possibilities for future democracy and popular government. But do we know this?

We don’t know. We don’t know for sure. Meanwhile, the two principal bully-states (bullies toward their own citizens) of the civilized world, Russian and China, refuse to permit international support for the Syrian rebels against the al-Assad regine, itself an oppressive bully-state.

It could be that this armed struggle in Syria is, as I heard a caller say recently on a radio talk show, “the Spanish Civil War of our age,” in which the political/military forces, striving to align themselves, establish a deadly framework for larger eruptions of militarism yet to come.

If it is true that ignorance of history dooms us to repeating history’s mistakes, then we may be stumbling toward another vicious tarbaby of world war. On the other hand, maybe the supposed awareness of strategic options that arise from history’s lessons  is nothing more than a naive fallacy.

I don’t know whether historical intelligence can be truly beneficial for mankind or not, but then I, like most folks, am not in a position to do much about it anyway.

However, I am writing a novel, Smoke, that pertains to these issues as they existed in our world in 1937. And I hope that history does not repeat itself.

The Breakdown of Society

June 3, 2012

It starts with polarization. Is that okay, or not?

Polarization between left and right; or between conservative and liberal; libertines vs. disciplinarians; religious vs. atheist; sinners vs. saints; Democrat vs. Republican; libertarian vs. socialist;  communist vs. fascist; And of course there’s the original  human version, and most fundamental one of all: right vs. wrong, also known sometimes as “us” against “them.”

Is your personal identity, or mine, defined by one’s decision to take a position on “one side or the other”? Philosophers and sociologists call this way of classifying stuff as dichotomy, an insistence on believing that everything is either one thing or its opposite thing.

In reality, of course, we are all composites of both. I suppose that makes us all mixed up.  Why, my own chosen faith framework, Christianity, teaches that we are all sinners, while we can be, even at the same time by God’s grace, saints. Consequently, we discover that everywhere you look in this world we find, not so much black and white, but shades of gray. Shades of gray in every societal, political, and religious entity and institution that is out there.

And most important of all: shades of gray within my own (formerly) damned self.

Where does this endless diversity of contentions take us? What’s the world coming to? And how will little old me end up in it?

Over my sixty years of life, especially in the last half-decade or so, I have noticed a certain suspect predisposition within myself, and it disturbs me. To describe it simply, I would have to say it can only be called a kind of death-wish on society, because the world is so screwed up. It’s a perverse reasoning that if society–or the nation or the world–were to fall apart because of so much dysfunction and injustice, then conditions would spontaneously emerge that would somehow facilitate my self-actualization as a person,  and hence my fulfillment with a meaningful role in the new society.

But this is madness. I mean, this was Hitler’s problem. And look what happened there.

Furthermore, in research and reading that I have undertaken in the last year or so, I have discovered that I am not the only one who experiences this feeling of delusory self-justification at the expense of societal downfall. There are many others out there whose attitude toward the world is reflected as what some have called “apocalyptic.”

As I  am presently writing a novel, Smoke, which is set in the year 1937, I encountered this word, “apocolyptic” as descriptive of the fascists in Britain during that convulsive period of pre-WWII history. These desperate extremists didn’t care if their movement would bring about the downfall of British society, because they were so convinced that they were right and everybody else wrong, especially the communists across the street (in East London). And Britain’s experience of this polarization was minimal as compared to the Continental manifestations of it just across the Channel.

The whole European world was, at that time, attempting to divide itself according to the two opposing apocalyptic, or revolutionary, movements of that day: fascists vs. communists: fascists in Germany and Italy, Communists in Russia, eastern Europe and possibly Spain. There is so much to say about this, I cannot possibly do it here, so I’ll continue dealing with it in the book I am writing. But I would like to bring to your attention this passage about Germany in 1930, from page 15 of World Crisis and British Decline, 1929-56, by Roy Douglas (St. Martin’s Press, 1986.):

“Economic misery was matched by political chaos. At the General Election (in Germany) of September 1930 there were eleven parties each with a dozen or more representatives, and no single party held as many as a quarter of the total. The Nazis, who had only won twelve seats a couple of years earlier, became second party of the state with 107; while the Communists advanced from 54 to 77. Both of those parties believed in revolutionary solutions, and were perfectly willing to allow the state to collapse in ruins, in order to rebuild from their own preferred foundations. Thus they had no interest in making the economy work as well as possible, and every interest in refusing to cooperate with anybody.”

Sound familiar?

What they had back then was a failure to agree, and consequently, movements of both formerly-centrist positions toward extremes. Ultimately, the only reconciliation of those polarizations was one hell of a big war.

So, is the lesson of history that failure to agree may lead to apocalyptically chaotic rearrangemets of society? It could happen, but I’m not looking forward to it. When I was younger, I thought I might be awaiting some kind of apocalypse. I thought it was beginning in the fall of ’08. But we’re still here, all of us plodding along.

So, in this sixth decade of my time on earth I’m hoping and praying that the world does not fall apart. How about you?

Glass half-Full

Mr. Baldwin is us.

April 1, 2011

In the mid-1930s, when Adolf Hitler began his big push to re-arm Germany, nobody in the world really knew or understand what the mad dictator had in mind. The once-and-future enemies of Germany–England, France, and Russia, were somewhat alarmed at the initial stages of Hitler’s expanding wehrmacht.

He got their attention when he sent German soldiers to re-occupy the Rhineland in 1936. Third Reich belligerence became even more apparent when Hitler ordered the anschluss of Austria in 1938 and then the military occupation of the Sudenland in Czechoslavakia in March 1939. But when, on September  1 of 1939,  Adolf Hitler cranked up his war machine to invade Poland, the Allies knew that they would surely have to put a stop to German aggression, and so they declared war.

And those Allied nations, especially Britain, were really scrambling to equip their fighting men with military equipment and weapons. They were playing catch-up ball. Nazi aggression was taking them by surpise.  But not really, because a few vigilant leaders, most notably Winston Churchill, had recognized the signs of war to come before everyone else did, and had advised their governments accordingly.

So its not like the British didn’t see it coming; its more like they didn’t want to see it coming, and so they had failed to make adequate preparations. When the necessity for defense of Europe and of Britain itself became woefully obvious, politicians began to accuse each other of dropping the ball on military readiness.

We can never really do enough in this life to prepare ouselves, individually or collectively, for the storms and roadblocks to come. Most times, governments and folk are caught unawares, blindsided, by the catastrophes on planet earth. You know the ones I’m talking about–floods, earthquakes, nuclear accidents, wars, climate change, depressions, etc.  And even if people are not totally clueless about the imminent dangers, their institutions are generally underfunded and overextended when the  card houses begin to crumble.

Mr. Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister 1935-37, was a primary target of those who, in 1939 and thereafter, were looking for scapegoats. Although he had advocated for military rearmamant during his time of leadership, he had not, it seemed, done enough to get the job of military preparedness done adequately to meet the real needs when push later came to shove.

In his 1975  book The Past Masters,  Mr. Harold MacMillan, who later served as Prime Minister 1957-63, wrote this about Stanley Baldwin:

“The truth is that, like many other people, he could not believe that there could be a man in the world so wicked and so lacking in any kind of moral feeling as Hitler. Baldwin’s life had been cast on the whole in pleasant places. He had had to deal with a lot  of people in varying degrees of good and evil in their character…(but) He had never believed that there could be a living devil.  So although the full development of Hitler’s career came after his (Baldwin’s) resignation, he was unable to attune his mind to the thought that in this century of ‘progress’ the world might be hurled for a second time into the abyss of destructive war.”

Nevertheless, the worst happened anyway.  And I think most of us are like Mr. Stanley Baldwin.

Smoke