Monday, 18 February 2019
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review

A review by Per Andersson

"It was my ambition to write a book that would not be forgotten after two or three years, and that possibly might be picked up more than once by those who are interested in the subject"
Carl von Clausewitz (1818)

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Reviewed by Roger Green, Principal Reviewer, U K Defence Forum

This pamphlet was first published in 2007, and Defence Viewpoints carried a two paragraph executive summary and link at the time (see 18 December 2007). With hindsight we've taken a fuller look at it.

It is the result of a 12-month study and sets out an approach to national security drawing on reforms and innovations from governments elsewhere in Europe and the US. It suggests some new ideas designed to shape the future of the national security architecture.

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The Places In Between by Rory Stewart

Revisited by Elayne Jude, Great North News Services

In January 2002, Rory Stewart walked from Herat to Kabul, traversing, via a snowy massif a little above the country's waistline, almost the breadth of Afghanistan. The route followed that of Babur, the sixteenth century first Mogul Emperor of India. Stewart's duplication is mostly accidental, and a handy explanation for suspicious officials and wondering villagers. History, bureaucracy and international relations have interrupted his original walk across Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal; with the fall of the Taliban, Stewart is able to resume his trek every step without using any vehicle. On one occasion, when he is forced to ford a swollen river near nightfall by jeep, he returns the following morning to the spot where his feet left the ground, and retraces the distance to the dropoff.

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By Elayne Jude, Great North News Services

An image persists in my head of a Nazi concentration camp as a scale model of itself. A diorama of rigid rank and file, ruled lines, monochrome grids of ultra-utility, completely void of colour.

It features tiny people, the size and gravity of hundreds and thousands, placed for a sense of proportion. Almost weightless vehicles, which one might bluntly propel along the alleys with a fingertip, careful not to catch a cuff on any fragile unfixed element; a lacework of fencing, a frill of barbed wire, a phalanx of Shepherds frozen in a pack snarl.

The low buildings, the less than toy sized tanks and trucks and lorries, the vermicelli figures, civvies in inappropriate poses – for what designer dreams up realistic action figures to illustrate a death camp ? - all as grey and raw and ragged-edged as unpainted plastic.

Are there trees, manicured groupings around the perimeter? A clockwork railway siding nearby ? The Germans make the best model railways.

These flat and utterly anonymous rows make colour, spontaneity, individuality, most famously, in Adorno's phrase, poetry, seem impossible. Life is dull as lead through the inverse alchemy of mass murder. People reduced by process; persons rendered to product. Any talk of aesthetics, or frivolity, or personal vanity seems, what; irrelevant, insensitive, absurd, obscene?

Yet Vassily Grossman, whose reports from Madjanek and Treblinka was key evidence at Nuremberg, writes of young girls weeping as their heads were shaved on arrival, begging their guards,hundreds or thousands of miles from their former lives and hours from their extinction, to at least shave their hair evenly on both sides..

Red lipstick was the staple and signature of wartime glamour. Pared down, make do, universally available and compatible with any uniform. Think of the Powell and Pressburger movie, 'A Matter of Life and Death'. The lushly painted mouth of radio operator Kim Hunter a breath from the microphone as she tries to talk David Niven's crippled bomber in to landing.

What could be more urgently vital ("you're life, and I'm leaving it") than that giant carmine mouth in Technicolor close-up ?

"A barren wilderness, bare as a chicken run," wrote Lt Col Mervin Willett Gonin in April 1945 when the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade entered Belsen. "One had to get used early to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect."

And then something happened which seems so improbable, so imaginative and so courageous that the story appears apocryphal. Google 'red lipstick' and 'Belsen' and you will happen upon blogs and chatrooms questioning its veracity. Banksy's website features the story, and an image illustrating it. I came across it in a newspaper feature decades ago, and have never forgotten it.

"It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don't know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for those internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity."

The source? About as authentic as you can get,and available to anyone who cares to examine it. Lt Col Gonin's diary is kept in the Imperial War Museum.You can make an appointment to go and have a look at those paragraphs. I shall keep them in my mind as I fly out to Poland this summer and visit one of the camps, a talisman to clutch as I push out from the safety of the scale model and try to confront the real thing.

 

By Roger Green, Principal Reviewer, U K Defence Forum

Victor Sebestyen is a Hungarian by birth who left Hungary when he was an infant with his parents as refugees.  He is a journalist who has worked on many British newspapers and was Foreign Editor and chief leader writer at the London Evening Standard.  He covered the war in the former Yugoslavia and his first book 'Twelve Days' on the 1956 Hungarian Uprising was widely acclaimed.  During 1989 he reported widely from Eastern Europe on the collapse of Communism and this experience forms the basis of this book.

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By Andrew Mok

To bash or to hug China has often been the debate in Western policy circles, but Stefan Halper's The Beijing Consensus: How China will Dominate the 21st Century will make for thought-provoking reading for both panda huggers and bashers. This readable 252-page account immediately gets down to business by dispelling some myths. First, there is a convincing exposition on China's military build-up, which seems more focused on denying the US primacy in China's immediate periphery rather than challenging the US global presence. Then, Halper argues that the economic "threat," like China's vast reserves of US debt securities, actually increases inter-dependence and makes China as vulnerable as the US. However, readers who hold high hopes that China will inevitably adopt Western liberal values are warned against such fantasies.

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By Major (retired) Chris Hunter

Published by Bantam Press (ISBN: 978 0 5930 6016 2)

Reviewed by Roger Green, Principal reviewer, U K Defence Forum

Major Chris Hunter, holder of the Queens Gallantry Medal, retired after 17 years service in the British Army. (Chris Hunter is a nom de plume)  For most of that time he worked as a counter-IED (improvised explosive device) operator in a number of high threat areas including Northern Ireland, Iraq and Columbia and since retiring in Afghanistan.  He specialised in assault IED disposal operations in support of counter terrorism (CT) units, the police and close protection teams.  He was involved in the London bombings in July 2005 when he was seconded to COBRA as the suicide terrorism expert.  Hunter is already well known as an author for his first book 'Eight Lives Down' that was about his time as a bomb disposal officer in Iraq.

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By Elayne Jude, Great North News Services

How are we to apprehend the last hours of the 118 souls lost aboard the submarine Kursk in August 2000?

Perhaps by steeping ourselves in the reconstructed daily lives of the crew of an (almost imaginary) British Trafalgar class submarine, on covert patrol in the Barents Sea at the same time.

Imaginary, as this is the premise of Sound&Fury Theatre Company's current production at the Young Vic; absolutely realised, in a multidimensional production based on Bryony Lavery's watertight script.

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By Elayne Jude, Great North News Services

Forever smiling, fixed at the age of eighteen, Cheryl James' portrait beams at us spotlit on the wall of her parents' Llangollen living-room, as Nicholas Blake QC announces to the press from the marble halls of Canary Wharf that his 2007 review of the deaths of four young recruits at Deepcut Barracks will not recommend a public inquiry.

On the 'balance of probabilities', and against the current of alternative evidence, three of the deaths are pronounced likely to have been self-inflicted. No suspicion of foul play is established in the case of the fourth.

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By Paula Jaegar, Research Associate, U K Defence Forum

Solly Zuckerman, biologist, botanist and advisor to the British wartime government, specialised in the human and economic effects of bombing raids, developing RAF strategy in preparation for D-Day.

He visited Cologne soon after its annihilation by air attack. On returning to London he agreed to write a piece for Horizon magazine. Its title was to be 'On The Natural History of Destruction'.

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