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Badass diplomacy

I’m reading a terrific book about ancient Rome. I hope to discuss it more in the future, once I’m finished reading it. In the meantime, this nicely self-contained passage astonished me.

The style of this imperium is vividly summed up in the story of the last encounter between Antiochus Epiphanes and the Romans. The king was invading Egypt for the second time, and the Egyptians had asked the Romans for help. A Roman envoy, Gaius Popilius Laenas, was dispatched and met Antiochus outside Alexandria. After his long familiarity with the Romans, the king no doubt expected a rather civil meeting. Instead, Laenas handed him a decree of the senate instructing him to withdraw from Egypt immediately. When Antiochus asked for time to consult his advisors, Laenas picked up a stick and drew a circle in the dust around him. There was to be no stepping out of that circle before he had given his answer. Stunned, Antiochus meekly agreed to the senate’s demands. This was an empire of obedience.

Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, 2015

Rome had an empire and an army of such size and efficiency that the mere written demand, delivered by a no-nonsense envoy, that this Greek king and his army go home succeeded with no fuss. And having occurred in 168 BCE, Rome was still a republic. There was not yet a single leader with a Caesar-sized personality and reputation to cow Epiphanes.


At one point, he clambered on to the rubble of what is now a mass grave and, with one arm around a fireman’s shoulders, addressed the crowd of rescue workers through a loud hailer.

He said: “I want you all to know that America today is on bended knee in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, and for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn.”

One fireman shouted from the back of the crowd: “We can’t hear you”. The President replied: “Well, I can hear you.”

As the laughter subsided, Mr Bush added: “I hear you, the rest of the world hears you and the people who knocked these building down will hear all of us soon.”

By Philip Delves Broughton
The Telegraph, “The Rest of the World Hears You
September 15, 2001

Living in a launch platform

I’ve read about the security preparations for the London Olympics and one particular aspect that has piqued my interest is the MoD deployment of ground-to-air missile batteries in London. They can’t put them in the street, both for public safety, and because the surrounding buildings would severely limit their field of fire.

To address both problems, the MoD decided to put the batteries on the buildings. The Sun reported,

General Sir Nick Parker, in charge of the military’s Olympics role, said the security exercise would prepare for the possibility of “extreme threats”.

He said: “What we need to do is make sure we practise against those high-end threats but they are not considered to be likely.

“What I’m doing is testing my systems so I’m reassured that, should they become more likely, we can react.”

He added: “One would want the world to know that we are taking security for the Olympics seriously.”

I wonder if his last comment isn’t the key to the point behind the missiles. That is, to make sure everyone knows the UK is deadly serious about securing the games in the hopes that any groups thinking about causing trouble will decide not to bother.

I base my conclusion on two thoughts. My main thought is that the real world doesn’t work like the movies. When the explosives in a missile detonate near a flying aircraft, the end-product is not limited to a pretty explosion with crowds of people cheering because they’ve been saved. Rather, the missile explodes and if successful, the explosion renders the aircraft unable to fly. The fuel aboard the aircraft may explode, but the dry mass of the aircraft remains. Since it can no longer fly, it falls to the ground. Whether the bulk of the aircraft remains in one piece or breaks up, it’s coming down.

With some or all the missile batteries stationed within the city, it’s not impossible that a downed aircraft would fall into the city, causing who know how much damage. Both missile systems the MoD has deployed have 7 km ranges, increasing that possibility, in my opinion.

My other thought is regarding the buildings used for the missile batteries. The specific locations mentioned in news articles are either apartment buildings, or other structures in plain public view. One of the latter is a water-tower, for instance.

Surely the MoD isn’t so out of touch that they can’t imagine the inhabitants of these apartment buildings might have strong feelings about having their homes thrust to the front line in the defence against a possible terrorist attack. The residents were informed of their building’s new defence role in a flyer. According to The Sun,

It said the GBAD — Ground-Based Air Defence — weapons will be operated by “fully trained and experienced soldiers” and added: “Having a 24/7 armed forces and police presence will improve your security and will not make you a terrorist target.”

One has to wonder how they can be so certain that a group intent on an air attack wouldn’t think it prudent to deal with the defences they’re likely to meet.

It’s so ridiculous that I can’t help but believe the military wants this splashed all over the news in the hopes that it will scare off potential attackers, or that the publicised missile launchers are no-where near to total number that will be used in London’s defence. Below is a photo of a mobile Rapier missile launcher. It looks no larger than a small U‑Haul trailer.


The newer Starstreak missile can be fired from a similarly sized launcher or a portable launcher that MoD personnel can carry into the field.

How will this all work out? We’ll have to wait and see.

Rapier launcher photo by Wikipedia user Desmoh, used under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

Poppies are red

There was some drama downtown yesterday that’s erupted into a full-blown controversy in the news. After the Remembrance Day ceremony, a group laid two wreaths of white poppies at the National War memorial. I’ve read conflicting accounts of the group responsible, so I don’t know if it was Voice of Women or the Ottawa White Poppy Coalition. But to me, it doesn’t much matter.

The white poppy isn’t very well known around here, but Wikipedia describes it as “an artificial flower used as a symbol of peace, worn as an alternative or complement to the red poppy for Remembrance Day or Anzac Day.”

This isn’t about freedom of expression to me. I’m all for peace and have no problem with anyone saying that peace is a good thing. I’m not a pacifist, but I have no problem with those who voice their beliefs. I take issue with those behind the white poppy co-oping the symbol and ceremony of remembrance day for their own cause. They’re free to do so, but I feel it shows a tremendous disrespect and they shouldn’t be surprised that people  are expressing disapproval. Being free to do something doesn’t mean there will be no consequences.

Let’s take a step back and define things.

Veterans Affairs Canada describes Remembrance Day in this way:

Veterans Affairs Canada joins with all Canadians in recognizing the sacrifices and achievements of those who have served in the cause of peace and freedom around the world over the years.

Veterans, Canadian Forces members and those who have given their lives in the pursuit of peace have made great contributions to our country and the world. The peaceful society we in Canada enjoy today is only a dream to the many people in the world who live in countries torn apart by violence. This peace is possible only because it has been protected by the efforts and sacrifices of generations of Canadians over the years who have put their lives on the line. Remembering all that these men and women have done during times of war, military conflict and peace helps us understand the country we live in today and how we can build a better future together.

The first sentence pretty much sums it up for me.

Those behind the white poppy are not as structured so it’s difficult to be so specific. There was an article in the National Post on November 3 however, in which Ian Harvey, an activist in the Ottawa White Poppy Coalition, shares some of his thoughts. He says,

The red Legion poppy, in my opinion, represents the nostalgia and romanticizing of war

I disagree. Further, I wonder where he could possibly get such an idea. No veteran I’ve ever heard had anything good to say about war. Perhaps that it’s necessary at times, but not that it’s ever a good thing. I’d like to know why Harvey holds this opinion because I can’t imagine how he formed it.

The story describes Harvey’s plan to lay the white poppy wreaths on the National War Memorial at 12:30 pm, after the ceremony. And we come to the crux of the matter when he says,

We don’t want to look like we’re competing with them.

But they are, and he knows it. Although there are 364 other days, he chooses Remembrance Day to lay the wreath. Of the 8760 hours in the year, he wants us to believe that waiting a single hour after the ceremony decouples his message from the ceremony? And why lay the wreath on the National War Memorial? And there are all kinds of symbols the white poppy creators might use, including most notably, the dove, but they take the same flower and merely change the colour. Not only do they look like they’re competing, they’re making it blindingly obvious that they are competing.

The Peace Pledge Union description of the history of the white poppy shows how even the origin of the white poppy was about getting their way. The page states,

A member of the No More War Movement suggested that the British Legion should be asked to imprint ‘No More War’ in the centre of the red poppies instead of ‘Haig Fund’ and failing this pacifists should make their own flowers.

The details of any discussion with the British Legion are unknown but as the centre of the red poppy displayed the ‘Haig Fund’ imprint until 1994 it was clearly not successful. A few years later the idea was again discussed by the Co-operative Women’s Guild who in 1933 produced the first white poppies to be worn on Armistice Day (later called Remembrance Day). The Guild stressed that the white poppy was not intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War — a war in which many of the women lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers.

The Haig Fund is the organization benefiting from the sale of the poppies to this day, but the pacifists wanted their own message on the poppies and had the audacity to tell the British Legion to change it or they’d make their own poppies. The British Legion obviously told them to bugger off, and rightly so.

Fast forward to today and we have a ceremony to express our gratitude and thanks to those who put themselves into harms way for all of our benefit. But that’s not good enough for the pacifists. They want to change the observance to more closely fit with their agenda, and all the while claiming that their actions have nothing to do with Remembrance Day. Make no mistake, they’re trying to co-opt Remembrance Day entirely.

Don’t expect me to show you respect for your beliefs and freedoms when you go out of your way to disrespect my beliefs and those who gave their lives so can enjoy those same freedoms.

We remember.

Chocolate freedom

I always try to watch Band of Brothers again around Remembrance Day. It’s so easy to forget the price that so many paid for the freedom we enjoy. Yes the miniseries is entertainment, but it’s also very gritty and realistic compared to the portrayals of war in which it’s all glory. It’s not glorious. It may be necessary at times, but it should never be undertaken lightly.

I’m watching episode four, “The Replacements,” and there’s once scene that always gets me. The paratroopers jump into the Netherlands and liberate the city of Eindhoven. A squad come across a farmer and once they are certain he’s not German, they talk and he gives them some food. His young son comes out of their improvised shelter and sits on the step, looking at the men. The boy is perhaps five years old. One of the troopers goes over to him, and hands him a chocolate bar. He turns it over in his hands, unsure of what to do with it. His father takes it, tears the wrapper from one end and hands it back to him. He gives it one more look before he takes a big bite. A second later, his face erupts into a smile and he takes another big bite.

His father’s smile fades as he turns to the trooper and says, “He never tasted chocolate.”

Like I said, it chokes me up every time.

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