Showing posts from December, 2017

Empires; soft hard and downright homicidal

In a mildly eccentric piece of timing the new constitution of southern Ireland came into effect on Wednesday 29   December. Its principle features were to change the name of the country from the Irish Free State to   Eire and to bring into being the office of Uachtaran or President, which has since evolved into that of head of state in the full sense. Eire was described as a member of the Commonwealth but in practice it had become an entirely independent country. The King of Britain was “recognized” albeit most emphatically solely for purposes of foreign relations with no role in internal politics whatever. The British press instantly skewered one of the ambiguities thrown up by the pretence of having their King as the symbol of Eire’s diplomacy. Eire’s diplomatic representative to Rome was accredited to the King of Italy and Emperor of Ethiopia, implying that George VI recognized Fascist Italy’s conquest of Ethipoia whilst wearing his (non-existent) Irish crown but not when

A gigantic massacre is overlooked

The Japanese army occupied the city of Nanking after an ineffectual resistance by the disorganised Chinese army. The Japanese troops launched into an orgy of rape and murder of helpless civilians. The violence was essentially spontaneous, on the age-old pattern of victorious troops sacking a conquered city after a severe campaign but the leadership of the Japanese army did almost nothing to hold them back. The total number of people killed has never been reliably established and serious estimates run from some tens of thousands to 300,000. Western newspapers reported that the invaders were behaving brutally, but the full scale of the horror somehow remained largely unknown. John Rabe was a German businessman working in the city and he worked heroically to mitigate the atrocity and on his return to Germany attempted to publicise the massacre but, mindful of the damage that this might do to its ally Japan, the Nazi government silenced him. At a ceremony to mark the completi

Perils of air-travel and peace-keeping

To almost no-one’s surprise Italy withdrew from the League of Nations in a very belated protest at the League’s entirely ineffectual sanctions imposed on Italy for the invasion of Abyssinia. The public announcement provided Mussolini with the opportunity for a theatrical speech in front of a crowd estimated at 100,000. In practice it was more of an affirmation of Fascist Italy’s ability to defy censure of its conduct by any other country. The move was instantly applauded by Germany which reiterated its determination never to rejoin the League however it might be reformed. For the couple of years that it was left to exist the League had dwindled into a talking shop for the non-dictator countries. As the Japanese army tightened the noose on Nanking, the next Chinese city on its list, warships of British and US navies standing by on the Yangtse   to protect their nationals in the region came under fire from Japanese artillery on the river bank. The US gunboat Panay was sunk and

Tea or purge?

Alexander Barmin of the Soviet legation in Athens fled to Paris to seek political asylum. He had found colleagues refiling his desk and received insistent invitations to join the master of a Soviet vessel docked at Piraeus for tea. It was the midst of Stalin’s purges and a number of Bramin’s colleagues had survived their returns to Moscow only very briefly. Then, as now, tea parties with the wrong people were apt to have fatal consequences. Barmin was one of the very few intended victims of the purges to escape entirely. Leslie Hore-Belisha the British Minister for War pursued his drive to impose his own stamp on the army and, quite incidentally, attract publicity. A number of the army’s senior generals were replaced with some of them being removed from their posts summarily. This, so ran the stories, was all in the interests of rejuvenating the army’s leadership. Hore-Belisha’s choice as Chief of the Imperial General Staff was Viscount Gort VC who was not yet fifty. Gort wa