Tuesday 19 April 2022

Why Boris and Biden need to be a little more measured about Ukraine

This post first appeared on the Radix UK blog...

When I was writing my Tickbox book, I found myself researching the great American technocrat Robert McNamara,

Like many other people in deep thrall to Tickbox, McNamara was also pretty emotional. His career was characterised by extreme loyalty, not just to Kennedy, but for a time also to Lyndon Johnson, his successor. It was a passion that nearly sent him insane, but it also led to his egregious habit of quoting selective numbers in public to defend his president – even, as it turned out, as he turned against the Vietnam War.

Still, it was the calculating element of McNamara’s personality, not the romantic side, that first brought him into conflict with the US defence establishment as Kennedy’s Defense Secretary – and particularly with his old boss, the USAAF general Curtis LeMay.

As such, McNamara was next to Kennedy throughout the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, urging a blockade rather than the massive strike favoured by some of the top brass. The most implacable of his opponents was his old chief Curtis LeMay, now also reputed to be the original for the Peter Sellers film Dr Strangelove.

“Kennedy was trying to keep us out of war,” McNamara said much later. “I was trying to help him keep us out of war but General Curtis LeMay, with whom I served as a matter of fact in World War II, was saying; ‘Let’s go in. Let’s totally destroy Cuba’.”

More helpfully, the US ambassador to Moscow Tommy Thompson was also there and urged Kennedy to reply directly to Khrushchev’s earlier, less aggressive message, where he promised to remove the missiles in return for a face-saving undertaking that the US would not invade Cuba. He worked out that Khrushchev needed a device to allow him to step back, and – as it turned out – he was right.

As McNamara tightened his grip over US defence policy, LeMay became increasingly implacable. He ended his career as running mate to the racist governor George Wallace in the 1968 presidential election. But that is beside the point.

The real point I am making here is about the importance of finding a face-saving formula. McNamara and Thompson realised this, and so did Kennedy. 

The problem we have is that the situation in Ukraine is increasingly dangerous because both the British prime minister and the US president seem determined to ‘win’ the conflict there.

They are neither of them stupid, but the truth is that the Ukrainian war came as a godsend to both men. Johnson could grandstand and avoid the fallout from ‘partygate’…

What result are they really intending? That somehow the cavalry will sweep through and arrest Putin, bearing him off to the Hague and his personal war crimes prosecution?

That isn’t going to happen. Khrushchev did not long survive the Cuban crisis. He was removed from power by Kremlin insiders like Leonid Brezhnev, partly because of what had happened there. He was retired from 1964-71.

Putin may well need to be ousted, as Biden says, but – since we are not into regime change any more these days – then that can’t be our decision.

The Russians will have to do it. And only then – maybe – we might find a way to putting him and other war criminals behind bars.

I am not drawing parallels with Khrushchev. The Cuban Missile Crisis was nothing like the war in Ukraine. But we may still be heading for some kind of Cuban style stand-off.

That is the point when I am praying, for the sake of the world, that there is someone like McNamara or Thompson to put the case for a chink of hope, rather than just unthinking gung-ho voices like Biden and Johnson.

There can be no winners in these conflicts and, although the Ukrainians are at the moment pushing back the Russians – with huge skill and courage – I am not sure how long this will last.

And even if it does, we don’t want to push Putin into such a tight corner that he does something even stupider.

Monday 11 April 2022

Why we need to start embracing complementary health

This first first appeared on the Radix UK blog...

I am treading on eggshells here and I am far from sure I will reach safely to the other side. We shall see.

As many of you will know, I have been diagnosed with parkinsonism – a variant (though nobody is quite sure which) of Parkinson’s Disease. That has made me peculiarly interested in complementary health of all kinds – even if I hadn’t had chronic eczema for years too.

The difficulty is just how little there is of it over here. Rather as alternative education has been squeezed out by the ‘consensus’ in the UK, so has complementary health. It is as if we in the UK have started believing our systems so much that we can imagine no alternative.

I have found acupuncture, osteopathy and homeopathy really helpful – especially, perhaps, the latter. Nutrition is not really complementary in the same way, but I kind of think I would have been better if I had changed my diet earlier.

I mention this because homeopathy has been the focus of huge negativity from both sides of the political spectrum.

There is something naive about the mainstream opinion that there is no ‘evidence’ for any of these – as if any pharmaceutical company was dashing to carry out the research, or any medical researcher was keen to destroy their career by asking them to fund it.

I am not being 'anti-science' here - as I am occasionally being accused of. Quite the reverse: I am a follower of Karl Popper. I really believe political rhetoric as shifted us too far from scientific method.

Nor am I an anti-vaxxer – I’ve had three jabs and covid too – but equally it has been clear to me for some time that there was an emerging issue about our immune systems. I have no idea whether this has anything to do with overloading our immune systems with childhood immunisations – or maybe it’s our appalling food, air quality or the strange electro-magnetic pulses we need to keep the economy ticking over, or something else.I’m not a medic or a scientist, so I don’t know – I am asserting this as a patient. But I think we will need to look beyond our current systems and knowledge at some point.

Yet although I’m finding it hard to hear anyone discussing these issues in the UK, there is a huge underground cascade of videos from the USA on these subjects – mainly related to the peculiar experience of the pandemic we have all just lived through.

The trouble is that, largely because of the two political camps in the USA, this debate can’t really take place openly – because of the assumption from both sides that anyone at all sceptical of prevailing medical opinion in the USA must be a Trump supporter.

That makes many of my own more sceptical opinions (which I am too nervous to spell out here) shunnable by the mainstream.  It isn't hard to understand why so many American sceptics are veering off towards Trump-style populism.

Why is everyone so sick these days, I asked in a recent blog? Why are our immune systems so often malfunctioning? These are important issues which can’t be dodged forever. They will emerge again, and you can see some of those US doctors – who have been cancelled in various ways – beginning to articulate a series of new approaches, while the mainstream is still trying to push opposing views under the carpet. And especially on the left: hence the danger here.

In fact, I believe that those who have suffered chronic health problems – who have in some ways found themselves maintained in that by the health and pharma systems – may over the next few years forge themselves into an important and influential movement. They will be looking afresh at issues like 5G and other mass experiments, or low-level radiation.

They may well be sceptical abut 'experts', as Michael Gove was - drawing a distinction, as I do, between genuine expertise and those who are just steeped in the current system or ways of working, as i set out in my book Tickbox.

It may be 20 years before this alliance feels themselves as strong politically as they need to be – but if they find themselves aligned with Trump and other climate sceptics then these will also be carried along to power alongside them.

That is why it is so vital to organise some kind of post-pandemic rapprochement between complementary health and the radical centre. Don’t forget that was how the Five Star movement took its first steps to power in Italy by linking with everyone they could find online with an interest in complementary health.

The alternative is that we will be forced to face down another version of Trump when it really matters for people and planet. There is no necessary link between climate scepticism and medical scepticisms. And we need the latter to defeat the former – before it's too late!

Sunday 3 April 2022

Forty years on: don't let's go back there!

This post first appeared on the Radix UK blog...

It feels a little exhausting to say so, but the invasion of the Falkland Isles took place exactly four decades ago on Saturday. Ah yes, I remember it well.

I was a junior reporter, a trainee, on the Oxford Star in those days. On that particular day (2 April 1982), I was heading for a weekend training course in Oxfordshire with other trainees and I remember picking up a hitchhiker on the Oxford bypass, who turned out to be a naval rating who had been unexpectedly ordered back to his ship.

It was my first indication that something was really happening.

I have two points I want to make about that time.

First, just how unusual war felt in those days. I did not remember any conflict – apart from Northern Ireland, of course – for my whole childhood (I was born two years after the Suez debacle). Harold Wilson had managed to keep us out of the Vietnam war. There had been British peacekeepers sent on to the island of Anguilla in 1966, but in the end the government sent London bobbies (the New York Times headlined the affair ‘The Lion that Miaowed’)!

These days, when we have endless military challenges, it is hard to remember what it felt like then to end a period of almost complete peace.

That was one reason why I was, at the age of 23 and newly obsessed with politics, so keen to dash back to my bedroom between lectures to listen in to the debate in the Commons – and it was strange to find only one of my colleagues seemed keen to discuss it (how are you, Candida?).

Looking back to that debate, it was amazing to remember how bellicose Michael Foot and the Labour opposition were in the immediate aftermath of invasion – perhaps because they smelled blood: the Thatcher government was desperately unpopular at that stage, and Foot may have believed that nothing could be done and that this would prove their final straw.

The second point I want to make was that the recovery of Margaret Thatcher’s reputation and the apparent success of her government can be dated pretty accurately to the moment that the destroyer HMS Sheffield was sunk by an Exocet missile (4 May).

I had been out canvassing for the Liberals that evening in south Oxford (for Victoria Mort) and I took a break – and, like everyone else – I saw the lugubrious Ministry of Defence spokesperson Ian Mcdonald announcing about the sinking.

Going out again afterwards. I found the mood had completely changed. Someone had even nailed a copy of the Labour election address to a telegraph poll and scrawled the word ‘TRAITOR’ across it.

Looking back, I have a feeling that was when the tide turned against the Liberal-SDP Alliance.

You can see the same difference with the fly-on-the-wall documentary Warship¸ two series of which I have been watching on My5 – which is upbeat, thrilling and a relaxed view of the navy, as the Duncan is involved in a missile strike on Syria after it used chemical weapons. Compare that to the 1976 series Sailor, an uptight, class-obsessed view of the oldest ship in the fleet, the Ark Royal – where Captain Gerard-Pearse is seen complaining that none of his instruments are working correctly.

It was the same distinction between the film Chariots of Fire (1981) and Lindsay Anderson’s last film Britannia Hospital (1982), with Leonard Rossiter playing a slightly cynical hospital manager trying to smuggle the Queen in through the picket lines outside.

Say what you like about the old ways of seeing the world, I definitely prefer Chariots of Fire, the unexpected success to the unexpected, and undeserved flop. It looked back beyond that feeling of exhausted cynicism that prevailed in Britannia Hospital – or in Ark Royal in Sailor or any other metaphors for the nation in the late 1970s.

For all my frustrations with the current state of the nation, I don’t want to go back there.

Picture courtesy of Argentina.gob.ar (Gobierno de Argentina) - https://www.argentina.gob.ar/armada/gesta-de-malvinas/la-aviacion-naval