On December 8, 1979 two Zairean air-force jets approached the airport in Kinshasa, the capital what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The tower radioed the pilots, telling them they couldn’t land; the air-traffic controllers were concerned about low visibility.
But when the pilots were told that they “couldn’t land,” they didn’t think, “I can’t land right now,” they thought, “I can’t land, ever.” So they ejected from their planes, letting two perfectly good Mirage jets crash into the Atlantic Ocean.
These men weren’t fools. Idiots don’t fly jets. It’s just that, for an instant, they were thinking according to an entirely different set of rules about how life works. “Can’t” means “never, ever, possible” according to these rules — not “wait an hour,” or “find a different runway.” And so they hit the eject button.
Longtime readers may recall I got this story from a great book, David Lamb’s The Africans. Lamb went on to observe that many Africans have a slightly different interpretation of cause and effect. In the West, the lesson the average person would take from a near-fatal car crash at high speeds on a hairpin turn would be “Man, that was close. I better not try that again.” But in Africa, Lamb writes, “if an oncoming car has to swerve off the road to avoid his vehicle, and there are no collisions or injuries, the African does not say, ‘Next time I’d better not do that.’”
I’ve heard similar stories about drivers throughout the developing world, particularly in Latin America, where traffic accidents and fatalities are much higher than in more advanced nations — even though the rate of car ownership is much lower.
Jonah Goldberg, “Is Trump Really the Anti-PC Warrior His Fans Make Him Out to Be?”, National Review, 2015-08-15.
April 12, 2017
March 15, 2017
Ted Campbell explains why it would not be a good thing for Canada to send a peacekeeping force to Mali (or to anywhere else in Africa right now):
The Globe and Mail, in an editorial, asks the key question:“Is there a Canadian national interest in sending troops to Mali?”
I suggest that unless and until the Trudeau government can say, “yes,” and can explain that vital interest to most Canadians that sending Canadian soldiers off to Africa on a United Nations operation is problematical. “The Canadian Armed Forces shed blood and lost lives during the decade-long mission in Afghanistan,” the Globe‘s editorial says, “Sending them into a similar campaign in Mali may further Liberal political interests. But does it serve the national interest?“
Now, I believe that I can make a sensible, mid to long term case for Canada to be “engaged,” politically, economically and militarily in Africa:
- Africa will be, after Asia, the “next big deal” for economic growth, trade and, therefore, profits;
- Canada will want to be involved as a trusted friend when Africa is ready to “blossom” and have an economic “boom” of its own; and
- Despite Chinese and French incursions there are still plenty of opportunities for Canadian engagement.
In other words, we have interests in Africa; even, perhaps, in the mid to long term, we have vital interests, at that.
I cannot make a case for getting involved in any United Nations mission in Africa. I cannot, even with rose coloured glasses, see one single United Nations mission in Africa that is working, much less succeeding and doing some good.
I’m not opposed to the UN. In fact, I’m one of those who says that if it didn’t exist we’d have to invent it. The current UN is better than the old League of Nations, and some UN agencies, like the International Telecommunications Union, for example, do good work for the whole world and are, alone, worth our entire UN contribution, but we ask too much of the UN and it is neither well enough designed or led or organized or funded to do even a small percentage of what is asked of it. Peacekeeping is one of the things that the UN cannot do well in the 21st century. Peacekeeping was fine when it was ‘invented’ (circa 1948, by Ralph Bunche, and American and Brian Urquhart, a Brit, not by Lester Pearson in 1957, no matter what your ill-educated professors may have told you) but it could not be adapted to situations in which there is:
- No peace to be kept;
- A plethora of non-state actors who are not amenable to UN sanctions.
A few days ago I wrote about the risks involved in sending soldiers to Africa. The Globe and Mail‘s editorial just adds some more fuel to that fire.
October 18, 2016
Published on 17 Oct 2016
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The Battle for Lake Tanganyika in German East Africa was one of the most bizarre battles of World War 1. It only really started once the Royal Navy had carried two boats through the jungle and the mountains from Capetown. Their names: Mimi and Toutou. Their commander: Geoffrey Spicer-Simson, probably the weirdest high ranking officer in the entire war.
August 13, 2016
Our minister of national defence is on a tour of several African countries, looking at potential deployments for Canadian troops in troubled areas. A positive sign that the government is moving away from their long-standing infatuation with 70s-style “blue beret” peacekeeping missions is the message the minister communicated at the first stop of his tour, as reported in the Globe and Mail by Steven Chase:
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says what Canada will ask its soldiers to do in Africa can no longer be called peacekeeping because the term doesn’t reflect modern demands of stabilizing a conflict zone – something experts say could run the gamut from training other countries’ troops to counterterrorism.
Mr. Sajjan spoke from Ethiopia, the first stop in an eight-day fact-finding mission to Africa, as Ottawa tries to narrow where to deploy soldiers in what it promises will be a return to a major peacekeeping role for Canada.
The Defence Minister acknowledges the job in conflict-ravaged countries is potentially more dangerous these days and said he prefers the phrase “peace support operations” to describe the task Canada is preparing to embrace in one or more places in Africa.
“I think we can definitely say what we used to have as peacekeeping, before, is no longer. We don’t have two parties that have agreed on peace and there’s a peacekeeping force in between,” he told The Globe and Mail in an interview.
“Even using the terminology of peacekeeping is not valid at this time,” he said. “Those peacekeeping days, those realities, do not exist now and we need to understand the reality of today.”
Mr. Sajjan has been directed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “renew Canada’s commitment to United Nations peace operations” – a campaign pledge made by the Liberals, who had accused the Harper government of turning its back on peacekeeping.
I strongly suspect that the Canadian Forces do not currently have the ability to engage in a significant role in Africa, given existing commitments to our NATO allies and the long list of equipment that needs to be replaced to maintain the Forces’ current capabilities. Aside from the big-ticket items for the RCN (replacing the current frigates, destroyers, and logistical support ships), the RCAF (the CF-18 is coming to the end of its service life so a new fighter aircraft is needed soon and we are still flying 1960s-era Sea King helicopters on our ships), there is a long list of boring, everyday equipment that also needs to be budgeted and ordered. The federal government is looking for economies in the defence budget, rather than looking to spend more. Foreign expeditions are very expensive, and Canadians are particularly sensitive to the risk of casualties in distant lands. Minister Sajjan may find a role that Canada can fill that would satisfy the PM’s desire to be seen to be doing more, yet does not run the risk of higher military spending and disproportional danger to our troops, but I don’t expect it to happen.
July 17, 2016
Ted Campbell is not in favour of the federal government’s nostalgic view of peacekeeping:
Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS wants us to follow France into the peacekeeping business because modern, 21st century UN peacekeeping can be, in some respects, seen as unwarranted Western interference in the internal affairs of Islamic states. Many Islamic leaders believe and teach that Islam is a complete socio-economic-political ‘package’: all that on needs to live a good life in this world and achieve paradise in the next is to obey the holy Quran. There is no need for laws or courts or institutions or banks or schools or anything else … just obedience, submission, to Islam.
Let us understand that the United Nations, as currently constituted and managed, is a failure at peacekeeping. It wasn’t always this way … there were times and places ~ Kashmir and Palestine in the 1940s, the Egypt-Israeli borders in 1956 when there was a peace to be kept between belligerents who actually wanted peace, albeit, in the case of Egypt’s Nasser, only until one felt ready for war again in 1967. It began to go wrong in 1960 … with the first UN mission to the Congo. There was no peace to be kept … a UN Force was inserted into a failed state and left to its own devices while a civil war raged around it. The UN used second rate troops (Irish, Malaysian and Swedish) where first rate ones might have done some good and the civil and military leadership, from Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld on down was somewhere between inept and ignored. In fact the UN peacekeeping effort was being used (misused) as a proxy for the larger Cold War. Canada and a few others became proxies for the Western allies; Poland a a few others stood in for the Warsaw Pact members and Sweden and India represented the non-aligned nations. It got worse in Cyprus, although a few lessons about the quality of troops were learned, as the mission devolved into a semi-permanent “holding action” that recognizes the de facto partition of the country. The UN has, literally, become a significant component of the (failing) Greek Cypriot state and the UN force because part of the status quo, making peace even more elusive.
Most UN peacekeeping missions since 1960s have been failures … some abject, others only relatively so. Mostly the UN “kept the peace” as an adjunct of the cold war. There is, in the 21st century, too often, no peace to be kept, especially not anywhere in Africa nor in the Islamic crescent that stretches from the Atlantic coast of North Africa all the way through to Indonesia and the Southern Philippines. and the UN does not want a mandate to make peace. The internal politics of the UN prohibit members from interfering in the “internal” affairs of others ~ notwithstanding what advocates of R2P (Responsibility To Project) (or even more ill considered doctrines like W2I (the Will To Intervene) propose ~ unless government almost totally breaks down. Then the UN may step in, under certain very controlled conditions: in Africa, for example, a robust, useful peacemaking force will not be tolerated, the force must be from the African Union and it must, first and foremost, protect the interests of the failed states neighbours. If the failed state is in “French Africa” then the French may send in the Foreign Legion to protect French interests. And this is the situation into which Justin Trudeau wants to send Canadian soldiers ~ preferably, he suggested during the 2015 election campaign, French speaking female police officers ~ to be UN peacekeepers.
As a quick rule of thumb, you only send in peacekeepers where there is already something resembling a peace to be kept. You don’t send in peacekeepers to create peace. That’s not their role: they’re not equipped or organized (or ever in sufficient strength) to do that.
July 3, 2016
Published on 2 Jul 2016
Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions about World War 1. This time we talk about the German Schutztruppe, the Marines and the sound of artillery shells.
May 23, 2016
Published on 4 Jul 2015
First ever episode of History Buffs. A film review show dedicated only to reviewing Historical movies
May 15, 2016
Published on 14 May 2016
Chair of Wisdom Time again. And this week Indy talks about the importance of oil and that big battle in the Ethiopian Empire you never heard of.
March 15, 2016
Published on 14 Mar 2016
The military campaign in German East Africa during World War 1 went on longer than the whole war and thanks to Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and his guerilla warfare is now infamous among the theatres of the great war. But what was the history behind German East Africa and was it really a gentleman’s war and what role did the Askari play in it?
December 21, 2015
It turns out that witchcraft beliefs arise in surprisingly similar forms in many parts of the world, which suggests either that there really are witches or (more likely) that there’s something about human minds that often generates this cultural institution. The Azande believed that witches were just as likely to be men as women, and the fear of being called a witch made the Azande careful not to make their neighbors angry or envious. That was my first hint that groups create supernatural beings not to explain the universe but to order their societies.
Jonathan Haidt, quoted by Scott Alexander in “List Of The Passages I Highlighted In My Copy Of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind“, Slate Star Codex, 2014-06-12.
October 7, 2015
What about slavery? Slavery certainly has its place among the horrors of humanity. But our “educators” today, along with the media, present a highly edited segment of the history of slavery. Those who have been through our schools and colleges, or who have seen our movies or television miniseries, may well come away thinking that slavery means white people enslaving black people. But slavery was a worldwide curse for thousands of years, as far back as recorded history goes.
Over all that expanse of time and space, it is very unlikely that most slaves, or most slave owners, were either black or white. Slavery was common among the vast populations in Asia. Slavery was also common among the Polynesians, and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere enslaved other indigenous peoples before anyone on this side of the Atlantic had ever seen a European.
More whites were brought as slaves to North Africa than blacks brought as slaves to the United States or to the 13 colonies from which it was formed. White slaves were still being bought and sold in the Ottoman Empire, decades after blacks were freed in the United States.
Thomas Sowell, “Indoctrination by Grievance-Mongers: Anti-American educational elites need a dose of reality”, National Review, 2014-10-15.
September 16, 2015
Matt Ridley explains that demography does not explain the sudden influx of refugees from Africa to the European Union:
Even the most compassionate of European liberals must wonder at times whether this year’s migration crisis is just the beginning of a 21st-century surge of poor people that will overwhelm the rich countries of our continent. With African populations growing fastest, are we glimpsing a future in which the scenes we saw on the Macedonian border, or on Kos or in the seas around Sicily last week will seem tame?
I don’t think so. The current migration crisis is being driven by war and oppression, not demography. Almost two thirds of the migrants reaching Europe by boat this year are from three small countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. These are not even densely populated countries: their combined populations come to less than England’s, let alone Britain’s, and none of them is in the top 20 for population growth rates.
Well then, perhaps that is even more ominous. If these three relatively small countries can cause such turmoil, imagine what would happen if say the more populous countries in Africa fell into similar chaos. Today Africa’s population (north and sub-Saharan) is about 50 per cent larger than Europe’s (East and West). By 2050, when — according to United Nations estimates — Africa’s population will have more than doubled from 1.1 billion to about 2.4 billion people and Europe’s will have shrunk from 740 million to about 709 million, there will be more than three Africans for every European.
Actually, demography is a poor predictor of migration. Nowhere in the world are people leaving countries specifically because of population growth or density. The population density of Germany is five times as high as that of Afghanistan or Eritrea: unlike water, people often move up population gradients. Tiny Eritrea, with only five million people, is a hell-hole for purely political reasons. It has a totalitarian government that tries to make North Korea and the old East Germany look tame: it conscripts every 17-year-old into lifelong and total service of the state. No wonder 3 per cent of its people have already left.
August 18, 2015
Published on 11 Jul 2015
Thirty-nine days after the disastrous Nika Riots ended with the slaughter of 30,000 civilians, Justinian directed the city to rebuild the Hagia Sophia. Together, they built an even greater cathedral — but Justinian was not satisfied. He was called a Roman emperor, but he did not rule Rome itself. He resolved to reconquer the west, starting with Carthage in Africa, which had been conquered by Vandal tribes and turned into the seat of their budding empire. When the cousin of the Vandal king overthrew him for being pro-Roman and a follower of Rome’s orthodox Christianity, Justinian had his excuse for war. He stirred up rebellion in the Vandal colonies, creating a distraction while he sent his general Belisarius to Carthage with a small army of men. Belisarius landed successfully and moved on Carthage, winning the support of the local people on his way. Gelimer teamed up with his brothers in two separate attempts to crush Belisarius and drive him out of Carthage, but after both of his brothers died, Gelimer lost his will to fight. He broke, and the Vandal resistance broke with him. Justinian awarded Belisarius a triumph, the greatest honor a Roman general could receive, but it would turn out to be the last formal triumph Rome would ever see.
August 5, 2015
Germany’s decision to embark on an ambitious naval programme has occupied a commanding position in the literature on the origins of the First World War. Viewed with hindsight, it might appear to foreshadow, or even perhaps to explain, the conflict that broke out in 1914. Wasn’t the decision to challenge British naval hegemony a needless provocation that permanently soured relations between the two states and deepened the polarization of the European system?
There are many criticisms one can make of German naval strategy, the most serious being that it was not embedded in a broader policy concept, beyond the quest for a free hand in world affairs. But the new naval programme was neither an outrageous nor an unwarranted move. The Germans had ample reason to believe that they would not be taken seriously unless they acquired a credible naval weapon. It should not be forgotten that the British were accustomed to using a rather masterful tone in their communications with the Germans. In March 1897, for example, a meeting took place between the assistant under-secretary at the British Foreign Office, Sir Francis Bertie, known as “the Bull” for his aggressive manner, and the chargé d’affaires and acting German ambassador in London, Baron Hermann von Eckardstein. In the course of their discussion, Eckardstein, a notorious Anglophile who dressed in the manner of Edward VII and loved to be seen about the London clubs, touched on the question of German interests in southern Africa. Bertie’s response came as a shock. Should the Germans lay so much as a finger on the Transvaal, Bertie declared, the British government would not stop at any step, “even the ultimate” (an unmistakable reference to war), to “repel any German intervention”. “Should it come to a war with Germany,” he went on, “the entire English nation would be behind it, and a blockade of Hamburg and Bremen and the annihilation of German commerce on the high seas would be child’s play for the English fleet.”
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
June 17, 2015
Published on 6 Jun 2015
BONUS! Learn about the Boer Wars and what happened in South Africa during World War I thanks to our friends at the Great War Channel!
THE GREAT WAR Special: http://bit.ly/1HQxP9x
Lord Chelmsford, the British officer who commanded during the Anglo-Zulu War, vastly underestimated the power and aggression of the Zulu people. He split his army into three separate columns and left one of them stationed at Isandlwana while he searched for Zulu armies on the field. Meanwhile 20,000 Zulus were already flanking his force, but because Lord Chelmsford had not even ordered them to fortify the camp, the Zulu force swept through the ranks and destroyed the British army at Isandlwana. A small group of survivors fled to the hospital at Rorke’s Drift where officer James Dalton organized a desperate defense. Cetshwayo’s half-brother, ignoring orders to halt his pursuit, stormed the hospital with his small force and lost disastrously. Despite this, the main Zulu army continued to hand defeats to the British army until finally the British government stepped in to reinforce them with artillery and extra soldiers. Finally, Great Britain succeeded in capturing both the Zulu capitol at Ulundi and King Cetshwayo himself. They divided Zulu territory into 12 small kingdoms that quickly fell into civil war. Out of desperation, they returned Cetshwayo to the throne, but too late: a rival attacked and killed him. His son Dinuzulu allied with the Boers in an attempt to regain power and independence, but the British seized this excuse to finally annex Zulu land for good in 1887.