Saturday, November 12, 2005


Senior army doctors have warned that troops in Iraq are suffering levels of battle stress not experienced since the second world war because of fears that if they shoot an insurgent, they will end up in court. The two senior Royal Army Medical Corps officers, one of whom is a psychologist, have recently returned from Basra, where they said they counselled young soldiers who feared a military police investigation as much as they did the insurgents.

The revelations follow the collapse last week of the court martial of seven paratroopers accused of murdering an Iraqi who died near al- Amarah just after the war and amid signs of a dramatic drop in morale among frontline infantry soldiers. The doctors' warnings came in post-operational reports submitted by senior officers to their formation commanders after serving in a battle zone. They are exceptional because of their content. One source said: "There doesn't appear to be any overt consideration or understanding of the pressures that our soldiers are under. "The unpopularity of the war at home and a belief that firing their rifles in virtually any circumstances is likely to see them end up in court are sapping morale."

One corporal said that troops arriving in Basra were confronted by warnings from the Royal Military Police. "They make it clear that any and every incident will be investigated. It is also made clear that if you shoot someone, you will face an inquiry that could take up to a year. "The faces of the young lads straight out of training drop as the fear of being investigated strikes home and many ask whose side the RMP are on."

Although the levels of fighting in Iraq are nowhere near those of some of the bloodiest battles of the second world war, such as the battle of the bulge or Kohima, the much more complex situation that the British troops face is pushing up stress levels just as far. The combination of knowing that death might come at any time from a roadside bomb and that shooting back at Iraqis who attack them might result in their being court-martialled is putting immense pressure on young soldiers. The doctors described morale in some units as very low with soldiers cynically suggesting they needed a solicitor with them before they shot back at any Iraqi who attacked them. Many frontline infantry soldiers were in survival mode and had the impression that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is not supporting them and nobody in the UK cares about what is happening in Iraq, the officers said.

This weekend senior MoD officials sought to counter the damage done to morale after the collapse of the court martial by revealing that John Reid, the defence secretary, had ordered an urgent review of whether the MoD is fulfilling its duty of care to soldiers facing legal action. There are signs that it is already too late, with more than 5,370 infantry soldiers buying themselves out of the army in the past three years rather than be posted back to Iraq or Afghanistan.....

Not least among the concerns within the army is the fact that cases are taking so long to come to court martial. Three members of the Irish Guards and a Coldstream Guard who stand accused of the manslaughter of an Iraqi who allegedly drowned in a canal in May 2003 will not stand trial until May next year.

Corporal Scott Evans, 32, the most senior of the paratroopers acquitted last week, said that they felt betrayed by the army: "We've been badly hung out to dry. "The army is your family, isn't it? You expect your family to look after you through thick and thin, but they betrayed us. It seems that in the army's eyes you are guilty until proven innocent." One army officer said Evans was "just summing up what everybody feels. No one seems to care. We feel like we've lost public sympathy because of all these allegations"

More here


Ernst Zuendel, 66, a leading Holocaust denier who wrote a book entitled The Hitler We Loved and Why, went on trial in Germany yesterday. He was deported from Canada eight months ago after being pursued by German authorities for several years. He is charged with inciting racial hatred, libel and disparaging the dead.

Herr Zuendel, who runs the biggest neo-Nazi mail-order company in Europe and publishes pamphlets denying that the Holocaust happened, sat between his lawyers at the court in Mannheim while supporters packed the viewing gallery. The trial will be a test of the limits of state action against anti-Semitic internet sites. If found guilty Herr Zuendel faces up to five years in jail and the authorities would be able to shut down his publishing empire.

The German authorities have been seeking his extradition since 2003, and police believe that he is part of an international network that includes Russian ultra-nationalists and Dutch and French neo-Nazis. The trial is expected to continue until the end of this month.


Note that I have myself recently had harsh words to say about holocaust deniers but that does not mean that I think that discussion of ANYTHING should be forbidden


The Haka is a sort of war dance originating with the Maoris. It is of course intentionally intimidating. The national New Zealand Rugby football team perform it before matches. The team is called the "All Blacks" because of the colour of their uniforms. The team has both Maori and white players. The following report is from Wales

What is it with the haka? Nothing, it would appear, will please the New Zealand players. Once again, after Saturday's match against Wales, it is regrettable that Tana Umaga, the All Blacks captain, should find cause for complaint. The All Blacks were asked to perform the haka immediately after their own national anthem and not, as has been the recent tradition, after both national anthems have been sung. Wales were accused of being disrespectful to the war chant. Not again, Umaga says. There should be pause for thought.

New Zealand ought to be reminded that this was the order that took place when they first played against each other, at Cardiff Arms Park in 1905. "It is not very musical but it is very impressive," was the conclusion of the Western Mail, which was aware even then of the psychological advantage the chant might allow and went on: "The Welsh players should sing the Welsh national anthem after the New Zealanders have given their war cry."

Perhaps New Zealand should ponder that there are occasions when other countries, on their own acre of turf especially, might like to honour their own traditions and to ask for similar respects to be paid. If the whingeing [whining] goes on, perhaps it is time to give the haka a miss.

This is not the first time that New Zealand have moaned. During the summer, Brian O'Driscoll, the Lions captain, also got it wrong, apparently. The Irishman had consulted a Maori elder as to the appropriate protocol in accepting the Maori challenge. O'Driscoll followed the elder's instructions but was accused afterwards of "insulting" the All Blacks' haka.

New Zealand, I fancy, protest too much. If the haka and its correctness arouses so much sensitivity and acrimony, perhaps it is time, sadly, to disregard it altogether. If New Zealand players seek respect for its performance, they must recognise that to be allowed to perform the haka is a privilege bestowed and conversely, I assume, it can be taken away.

It would be sad if it were so. The haka has been part of the tradition for a century. The first time it was performed, the Europeans found it strange and fascinating. It inspired a sense of wonder and was universally appreciated. The ritual was maintained on subsequent tours.

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