National culture

With apologies to those who have already read it, I reproduce a letter from today's Guardian. I couldn't have put it better myself. Indeed I didn't put it as well the other day when I wrote to some friends about British food and culture being so varied and mixed up, ethnically and otherwise, because there is no sound agreed basis of what is British.

It is so easy for the British fascists and their self-avowedly Parliament-wrecking fellow-travellers (who together got more than 20% of the vote on Sunday, and who are very different from, and considerably nastier than, other countries' Eurosceptics) to make a lot of noise about the symbols when the substance is so clearly lacking.

The Guardian letter is followed by my translation of the same point made by the late Spanish poet Antonio Gala. It is a piece that I use as a translation exercise with my students. The attitude described in it comes across as utterly bizarre in modern Spain, even more now than when it was written. But, mutatis mutandis, it is the view of a good number of modern British patriots.


Real national identities (Battle with Les Rosbifs leaves France cool, June 12) are founded on economics, not sport. The French live their nationalism every day. Tricolours fluttering from car windows are unnecessary because the cars are French. They celebrate their Gallic passion daily by drinking a glass of wine, manufacturing a train or going to the cinema.

In our open, free-market economy, many home industries have disappeared and property booms and high rents have denuded our town centres of their diverse local communities. Bistros, bakeries, delicatessens, fishmongers and butchers exemplify French life in the same way that consumer-driven, branch-populated high streets express our increasingly fragile, homogenised character.

Ordering a coffee at a pavement café in Paris is a simple tradition undiluted by the bewildering pseudo-choice of flavoured milky drinks on offer here. The French are French every day, but we have very little left to us with which to be British. Thus, our understandable confusion between a substantive national identity and the empty symbolism of a dogged defence of the pound and the flag of St George.

Arthur Birchall
Twickenham, Middx


The Patriot

The argument, if his monologue could be called an argument, began with a light-hearted anecdote. I told him how a flag waving in the wind outside the window of my hotel room had prevented me seeing the monument which interested me. ‘This sort of thing often happens,’ I concluded, ‘with symbols and what they signify’. The man sitting opposite me at the table, and to whom I had only just been introduced, went pale. ‘The flag is the emblem of the motherland’, he said almost shaking. ‘I thought that the author of Landscape with Figures would be a better patriot than his frivolous observation betrays him to be. As the poet sang: “Glory to thee, flag of Castile,/Brushstroke of blood and sun;/He who bows not the knee before thee/Deserves not the name of a Spaniard.”’ To draw the sting from the comment I suggested that the bit about the knee might have been only empty words. If only I had not: the man stood up, cleared his throat, and opened the floodgates of his speech.

‘You are probably one of those who think that Europe is the sum of everything good with nothing bad mixed in. I, on the other hand, was brought up in the way of those who gave their lives with the Flanders regiments or on the never-ending plains of newly-discovered America, with a cross or a sword in their hands, in the days when the sun never set on the domains of the motherland. I am one of those who will fight for their country right or wrong, the heirs of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the War of Independence [from France, the Peninsular War] and of those who spilt the blood from their veins in the Last Crusade [the Spanish Civil War].

‘I was brought up – and I know that this does not happen now, as if eternal truth could be in or out of fashion – to hate the French (who will always be the Frogs as far as I am concerned) and to be wary about Europe, which has only ever infected us with destructive and materialistic ideas. If we still had the Pragmatic Sanction of Aranjuez of 1559, by which Philip II isolated us from it so that we would not be contaminated, Spain would never have ceased to be the unsleeping lion which spread its paw on land and sea. Our kings were Catholic because they were ecumenical; no other nation had the God-given honour of discovering the New World and circumnavigating the globe. Discovery, I said; not a meeting of cultures or of peoples. Ours was the people chosen to erect the cross above the idols and to teach the Indians the most beautiful of all languages. For that reason the flag is something concerning which I will not admit opinions; I could kill anyone who insulted it. It represents the motherland and the Courts of Cadiz [writing the 1812 Constitution] laid down in their Article VI that “love of his motherland is one of the principal obligations of all Spaniards.” Yes; the others were to be just and charitable.’ The patriot regarded me with hatred and went on, ‘Every Spaniard has three mothers: first, his bodily mother; second, the Virgin, who is our mother in the spiritual sense; and finally, his motherland which is a mother in the one sense as much as in the other.’

Antonio Gala
El País, 10th May 1992

In union there is strength

José Borrell, the leader of the PSOE list for the European elections, made an interesting comment yesterday: he said that the new Spanish government would not have withdrawn its troops from Iraq if Spain were not using the euro. What is the connection? The point is that if Spain still had the peseta, any suggestion of its withdrawing its army from Iraq would have been met by a US threat to destroy the national currency, as (Borrell said) happened to France in the 1980s when Mitterrand adopted policies that the Americans didn’t like. The backing of a powerful currency allowed Spain to act independently.

As it happens, the United Kingdom and Poland are not in the eurozone and still have troops in Iraq (though Italy is but also does).


Who are the Terrorists Now?

Did you see Rumsfeld saying he was too busy to spend his time dealing with
torture concerns? After all he was busy making a speech at a rock concert at the time ....

There are some suggestions that the famous American 30 second attention span is about to kick in and remove further revelations from their news media. However I read one American commentator pointing out that as USA's 'War on Terror' has now killed (not to mention tortured) FAR MORE innocent people than Al-Quaeda ever has then is the US Army now the terrorists?

A history lesson

In 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain. His army enjoyed such overwhelming superiority that the Spanish army barely had an opportunity to fight. Being defeated but with most of its command structure intact, it took its men and materiel off to the hills and proceeded to fight a war that gave the word 'guerrilla' to the world.

The UK government intervened (self-interestedly of course) on the side of Spain against Boney.

The only history that is read in Washington is the kind that shows the Patriots beating off the Redcoats, and preferably the Disney version. European history is for wimps.


Anybody But Labour

"These are the time that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman* .... particularly of those languishing in the network of Blair condoned American torture camps around the globe.

People often complain about their helplessness (or hopelessness) in changing political situations. Many have died or suffered for trying, but next month the British people have a rare opportunity to change a disastrous situation with a simple stroke of a pencil. Our Prime Minister has tied us to the coat tails of a regime which has become a stench in the nostrils of the world. He maintains our troops in a murderous quagmire. He has failed to utter any public word of protest about even British citizens being tortured and denied basic human rights in American custody. He has reduced our Foreign Policy to a simple rubber stamp for George Bush.

Fortunately he is presently on the ropes. A humiliating defeat for Labour in the European and local elections would probably hammer the final nail in his coffin. His removal from office (following Aznar's) might also help to remove Bush.

Some moral issues transcend normal party politics. I believe this is one of them. Blair must go! His removal would be a salutary message for his successors. Doing it now might even give the Labour Party an opportunity to restore some of its lost conscience in time for the next General Election. A few less Labour seats in the toothless European Parliament should be a small price to pay for even the most pink dyed member of the NL Preservation society.

So anyone who cares about our country's reputation, or the Labour Party's soul, or most of all believes that common decency and legality should guide our government's actions should vote in the forthcoming elections but should:


*(Quote is from Tom Paine, The Crisis Papers)


Tom Berney

Daily Mirror Pictures

Daily Mirror Pictures

The Mirror pictures certainly look phoney. Even if they are accurate 'reconstructions' it was reprehensible to publish them without thorough verification. However, as Alex Salmond almost said in Newnight tonight - it is remarkable that our Government lied us into a hopeless illegal war; alienated our European allies prior to it; tied us inextricably to an ally whose brutality has made us a stink in the nostrils of the world; destroyed our credibility as an independent nation and yet the only people required to resign are in the BBC and the Daily Mirror.

IMO the Mirror's biggest crime is allowing Bliar another convenient Kelly style diversion from the main issue.

Torturing People and the Truth

The recent revelations have been so awful that it is difficult to know what to say.

There seems to be no doubt that torture has been a a deliberate policy of the coalition in Iraq. It also seems clear that if the photos had not been published the public would have remained in complete ignorance of it and it would probably have continued. Bush/Blair loyalists as usual try to present the issue through a distorting lens. "Publishing the pictures will inflame opinion in Iraq!" they cry. Do they really think the people being tortured and their relatives don't already know about it?? Iraqis have been complaining about abuse since it started.

Bush/Blair's only real worry was inflaming US and British opinion. Blair is STILL trying to conceal the evidence about British abuses and STILL toadying to Bush. What on Earth will it take to shake him? George has already referred to the kind of people who were hired to set up the Liberator's torture chambers. This kind of story gives it all an awful inevitability.

"In 1997 a 29-year-old schizophrenic inmate named Michael Valent was stripped naked and strapped to a restraining chair by Utah prison staff because he refused to take a pillowcase off his head. Shortly after he was released some sixteen hours later, Valent collapsed and died from a blood clot that blocked an artery to his heart.
The chilling incident made national news not only because it happened to be videotaped but also because Valent's family successfully sued the State of Utah and forced it to stop using the device. Director of the Utah Department of Corrections, Lane McCotter, who was named in the suit and defended use of the chair, resigned in the ensuing firestorm."

And now Mr McCotter has a job advising the US Army. Incredible!