Category Archives: American history

This looks mainly at the American Revolution and the buildup to the American Civil War. It may be expanded later.

Trump’s inauguration speech.


President Trump has delivered his inaugural address. There was eclat to the delivery. There were no new themes. The content was the usual drivel. It was a study in inarticulacy, cliches and a failure to use commas.

Donald J Trump demonstrated yet again his trademark illogicality. He wants to return power to the people and at the same time use his presidential powers to create jobs. If the president is doing that is he not arrogating to the White House prerogatives that are not his?

Mr Trump was decent enough to laud the Obamas for their dignity and patriotism in welcoming him to the White House after the election. They have sought to make the handover of the presidency as hitch-free as possible. When it came to his address Trump proceeded to slate Obama’s record. So much for his partisanship.

Trump said that the United States defended other countries borders. What was he alluding to? Perhaps this refers to NATO – a cornerstone of American defence since 1949. Trump has talked about leaving it. He then walked back this ambition. Was he referring to troops in Iraq? He said he wants to annihilate ISIS. If so he needs troops in ISIS. Trump then said that the United States was not defending its own border which is false. There are illegal immigrants coming in from Mexico. There has been illegal immigration since 1607. This is by no means the most severe problem that the USA is facing. Trump proposes to erect a wall along the border with Mexico. There already are walls there at points that are populated and where many people might cross illegally.

Trump seems to have broken with Republican orthodoxy which was that since 9/11 foreign wars have been necessary. This is why the GOP was very chary about him. Now Trump has changed his tune. There really is no telling with him. He is totally erratic.

In this oration Trump said ”For too long a small group in our nation’s capital enriched itself and the costs were borne by the people. The establishment protected itself”. This takes some nerve to say. Trump is one of the most egregious members of the establishment. He is in that clique. He said himself that he donated generously to politicians to have laws made that favoured the likes of himself. It was part of the disingenuous rhetoric that he pedalled all through the campaign. He constantly spat bile about the supposedly wicked establishment. He was born in New York to millionaire WASP parents. He is as much of an insider as it gets. Trump bilked his workers. He defrauded students at Trump University. He has made himself stinking rich by ripping off ordinary people. He is utterly shameless and has not the slightest regard for veracity.

”Their victories have not been your victories. Their trials have not been your trials. There has been little to celebrate for struggling families all across this land”. This was perhaps the only part of his oration where he told the truth.

Trump went for a soft target. Like many an inadequate politician he chose to castigate teachers. ”An education system flush with cash leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Students are not deprived of all knowledge. It was typical of his extremely irresponsible hyperbole. St It is true that there is much wrong with education in the United States. Many schools are not overfunded. In higher education costs are exorbitant. That is due to ostentation. It is about building sports facilities and the like for the sake of vanity. Many people leave third level education with ruinous debts. Excessive profiteering has led to dumbing down as colleges give out higher and higher grades just to keep customers happy. Who has been rooking students? That would be Donald J Trump with his bogus university. Fordham certainly left Trump with no knowledge.

”We are one nation. We share one heart and one home” – that was a sea change from his acridly divisive rhetoric in the campaign. He made

Trump proved he cannot pronounce ”industry.”

”We subsidised the armies of other countries while allowing the very sad depletion of our army.” Would that include Israel? I hope he cuts off all subsidies to the Israeli Defence Force. His Republican Party has pursued these policies of giving military aid to other lands. It suited the weapons industry in the United States. The US military has experienced tiny cuts. The US still spends more on defence than the next 20 countries combined most of whom are allies. The notion that the US defence capability is too feeble is a toxic myth. WHat he said will be music to the ears of the arms industry. They will be pleading for him to ask Congress to expand the military. This will mean more taxation or more likely a larger deficit.

Trump chanted ”America first”. This vacuous slogan signal nativism, exceptionalism and ultra nationalism. ”Buy American and hire American” as he said later. He accused foreigners of ”stealing our companies.” Stealing means buying. He owns companies abroad. Is that stealing?

”I will never, ever let you down.” When he does these words will come back to haunt him.

”It is the right of all nations to put their own interests first”. That applies to Palestinians too.

Trump said he would eradicate Islamic terrorism. He must be reminded that some of his allies arm, fund and provide intelligence to such people.

It was hilarious that he was false enough to cite the Bible.

Trump called for solidarity and unity. He had denounced swathes of Americans as haters. He has spewed hatred even at fellow Republicans.

”Think big and dream even bigger.” He does not think but he is certainly a dreamer.

”All talk and no action” is what he abominates. He may turn out like that as many of his goals are impractical. What he plans to do may well backfire. Even if he could cancel NAFTA it would probably harm the USA.

”We stand at the birth of a new millennium”. Er that began 17 years ago. He wants to heal disease. If that were so he would support more funding for medical research and he would want to give free healthcare to all citizens of the United States.

”You will never be ignored again”. He certainly wishes to ignore the poor and his political opponents. Most Americans disapprove of him. He is starting off already reviled.

Trump took a swipe at the wealthy for exporting jobs. It shows chutzpah for a billionaire to denounce the affluent. He is a Washington insider. He did not stand for elected office before but he was well connected to many politicians. He was a Democrat and a Clinton donor in 2009! Moreover, he is as Wall Street as anyone. He suffers selective amnesia. He can tell the most bare faced lies. Does his company not hire workers from abroad? He also has things manufactured abroad because it is cheaper and he has offshore bank accounts. He is grossly hypocritical. It is always do as I say not as I do. Furthermore, his wife worked illegally as a nude model. Yet more flagrant hypocrisy from him.

The new president mentioned the middle class. Of course he did not mention the working class. They do not exist. Or do they not count?

The 45th president stated that he would make the United States more respected in the world. The US recovered its image very considerably under Obama. What does Trump intend to do in order to improve America’s image? He seems to be against the George W Bush way of doing things. Trump said that he opposed the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan – although that is a lie. Will he be more isolationist? Or will he be more interventionist? He accused Obama of not doing enough to wipe out ISIS. That would be getting the USA back into the Iraqi quagmire. It appears that Trump neither knows or care. He can perform policy U turns every day. It is no longer a business he is running. He is not on reality TV anymore. He is running the mightiest country in the world. This is beyond a joke.

The president heaped praise on the armed forces. This is one of the usual pieties. It is nauseating to see to what degree some people are adulated for doing what they are paid to do. Many of the military are stupid and bigoted. This self-congratulation and flag waving sticks in the craw. There will be yet more childish chauvinism in this presidential term. Trump seldom appears without an American Flag badge on his lapel.

It was sick making to hear Trump say that the country was under the protection of God. God plainly does not love the USA that much. Otherwise he would do a better job of protecting it. D J Trump did not claim to be religious until very lately. He reasoned that it would stand him a better chance of being elected. Some Christian wingnuts were naive to fall for this transparent charade.

Trump said that the slaughter of Americans stops no. Carnage was the word he used. The next time there is a high school shooting or a bomb goes off he will have been proven wrong. He has thrown out promises like confetti. These are pledges he cannot possibly keep. The deglutition of these insincere promises by the gullible is very disconcerting. President Trump is going to prevent this carnage. At the same time the Donald is opposed to any gun control. If he wished to save his people from being killed he should look at the 33 000 gun deaths per year.

Prepare for endless hubris from Trump. He is very thin skinned. It is worrying to have someone so touchy with his finger on the nuclear trigger. He is very easy to provoke. A country can easily launch a false flag operation: insult Trump and make it appear that this comes from another source.

Trump will tell endless barefaced lies. He will perform a policy volte face everyy week. His supporters will be bitterly disappointed if NAFTA is not cancelled. If tariffs are not imposed on the whole world. Even if that happened it would not bring back many jobs and might make the situation much worse. The Republican Congress is not as deranged and inconsistent as Trump is.

Trump changes his mind every few days. No one is totally consistent. Consistency can be over rated. However, Trump is completely inconsistent. Because he expresses so many contradictory opinions he occasionally makes sense.


Mr Trump ended with his vapid slogan ”Make America Great Again.” When was the USA greater? Was it when unemployment was higher? Was it when 20 000 000 people did not have health insurance but now do? Was it when the United States had tens of thousands of troops in Iraq? Was it when America’s popularity was at an all time low? Was it when crime was higher? Was it when people could be sent to prison in several states for possessing a speck of a plant?

Forecasting Trump’s policies is very foolish. It is so hard to predict. He was going to prevent all Muslims coming to the United States. Then that was scrapped. He would deport all illegals. Then it was only criminals. He wanted to abolish Affordable Healthcare. Now he wishes to retain parts of it. He is totally short termist.

His term of office could well be mired in law suits. His victims of sexual assault will take action against him. He could be blackmailed with sex tapes. If he upsets another government they can play a tape of him boasting that he commits sex crimes. This pervert is a disgrace.  Hopefully he will be impeached. Mike Pence or even Paul Ryan are little better. They at least believe what they say and are consistent.

Watch out – if the United States cuts off military aid to the Ukraine then the Ukrainian military could quickly collapse. Russia may yet annex half of the Ukraine. Where then? European NATO countries would be chary about facing down Russia without American backing. Admittedly this is partially the fault of European NATO countries almost all of whom spend less than 2% of their GDP on defence.





Was the US intervention in Grenada justified?


It is 30 years to the day that the US military and six Caribbean countries sent their armed forces into Grenada. Grenada was then ruled by a socialist dictator named Maurice Bishop. Bishop had killed the previous Prime Minister. I am not sure how bad his rule was. He tried to spread literacy and he provided free healthcare. This gives him some moral credit.

Bishop was friendly with the Soviet Bloc. He had hundreds of Cuban troops on the island and they were building an airfield. This was supposedly for peaceful purposes but it could have been used for military purposes. In view of what happened Bishop was sage to beef up his armed forces. His government really was under threat of attack by the United States, Jamaica and other US allies in the region. On the other hand by building up his armed forces he alarmed Washington and that precipitated the invasion. 

Grenada was a sovereign state and she was of course allowed to forge close relations with whichever nation she so desired. The Grenadan Government did not purpose to launch an invasion of any other state. I have never heard it argued that the increase in her military capability was for an aggressive intention. Further, the Grendan Government was entitled to pursue whatever policies that she wished so long as these were not inconsistent with international law.

There were over 1 000 Americans on the island. President Ronald Reagan said that he sent the troops in to protect these people. There was no evidence that they were in danger. One must ask oneself how it would have been had the boot been on the other boot. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Would Reagan have accepted it if Grenada invaded the United States in order to protect Grenadans in the USA? I suspect not. This justification is specious since by making Grenada a war zone Reagan put these Americans in danger. Dozens of civilians were killed in the conflict though so far as I know none of them were American. 

Bishop and some of his acolytes were captured. They were executed by firing squad. I am unsure who slew them. The bodies have not been located which is highly suspicious? If I were behind such an operation I would make sure that Grenadans killed the so the finger could not be pointed at the USA. 

A high majority of states in the United Nations condemned the US action. The United Kingdom abstained on this vote. 

Elizabeth II was and is Queen of Grenada. Maurice Bishop was her Prime Minister. Reagan professed himself to be a Britophile so it was a little off colour to kill the queen’s man! The Commonwealth was aghast at the invasion of a tiny and unoffending Commonwealth country. 

The British Government was not informed of the American intention. Reagan even denied to Margaret Thatcher that he was about to invade.

 It weakened the Western moral position viz a vis the Soviet Union. It was hard to speak out against the Red Army’s presence in Afghanistan when American attacked Grenada. The Afghan Government had invited the Soviets in. The communists of Kabul held the Afghan seat in the United Nations. I know they were undemocratic but so were half the countries in the world and few questioned the legitimacy of the governments of most states such as China. Much though I detest the communists in Afghanistan they were the lawful government of that country. In Grenada’s case the claim for legitimacy for Bishop’s government was feebler since he had ousted a democratic system.

Bishop was swiftly replaced. The US could truthfully say that democratic elements in Grenada had appealed to them for assistance. When these freedom loving people beseeched Ronald Wilson Reagan for succour he could not turn them down.

That was the end of the New Jewel Movement in Grenada. Democracy was restored. Some of Bishops cronies continued in politics and later won office. 

If Reagan had not taken strong action then maybe that land would have become fully communist. There might have been a Red Army base there and nuclear missiles. This is all conjecture.

If in doubt – stay out. So as I am unsure about this military intervention I have to say I think it was wrong. It is no use sitting on the fence. Militarily it was a complete success for the US. All the objectives were achieved for minimal casualties. Cuba was bested. I wonder if the prisoner yielded any useful intelligence or any were turned into spies. But I do not think that this action was morally or legally justified.

The Fenian Risings.



The American Civil War broke out in 1861. There were Irishmen on both sides of the conflict. Both the Confederates in the South and the Union side in the North formed Irish brigades. John Mitchell, an IRB man, was a soldier on the Confederate side and a vociferous advocate of his cause.

The American Civil War ended in 1865. The War between the States had distracted the IRB in the US from its goal of severing the Union of Ireland and Great Britain. IRB men in the United States or the Confederacy had been preoccupied in the intra-American conflict for 4 years. It became difficult to ship weapons out of America and into Ireland.

Once the Civil War was over it became apparent that conflict had in fact been beneficial to the IRB. Thousands of IRB supporters had had military training and indeed combat experience. America had produced guns like billy-o for four years. Enormous quantities of weapons were lying around unneeded and could be bought very cheaply.

The IRB in the United States was known more by the name Fenians. In fact the IRB in the USA soon changed its name to Clan na Gael. IRB men in both the South and the North of the United States set aside their differences with remarkable speed. They then looked to their common objective – to smash the Union between Ireland and Great Britain.

From 1865 onwards the IRB smuggled significant amounts of weapons into Ireland. Of course the Government soon grew aware of this. It was impossible to get all arms shipments through without any of them being intercepted. Informants tongues soon wagged. Dublin Castle know that something was in the offing. Irishmen who had obtained military experience on both sides of the American Civil War traveled back to Ireland to prepare for the anticipated uprising. Some of these men had become American citizens and some had not.

The IRB claimed to have tens of thousands of members. The figure of 50 000 was bandied about. The British Army in Ireland was to a great extent composed of Irishmen. The IRB claimed that thousands of Irish soldiers were in fact sworn members of the IRB. This turned out to have been mostly false. A ship sailed from the United States to Ireland carrying arms. The ship was called Erin’s Hope.

In 1867 the plan was for the IRB to launch its uprising. The rising was to begin with a raid on Chester Castle in Great Britain to seize the weapons there. From Chester the arms would be taken to Ireland for the rising to begin. This scheme was hopelessly over ambitious. The aim was for a train to be hijacked and telegraph lines shut. A train would then transport the arms to Holyhead – this port would also have been seized. A ship would be commandeered and the weapons take to Dublin to effect a rising there.

The Catholic Church was very against the IRB.The Catholic Church was a conservative force and it despised republics. Republic up until that point had turned out to disestablish the Catholic Church and even to be anti-clerical. Nationalist movements in Italy had clashed with the Roman Catholic Church. The French Republican movement was anti-clerical. The Roman Catholic Church was committed to upholding the status quo. As the bishop of Kerry said, ”hell is not hot enough nor eternity long enough to punish such miscreants.’

‘ The Protestant churches were also against the IRB. This was because their congregants were most Unionist. Many people had good reason to oppose the IRB. Some were against the IRB because they were Unionist. Constitutional nationalists were against it because they disliked the IRB’s radical policies. Those who were faithful communicants of the Catholic Church were guided by the injunctions of their clergy. Some people were more pragmatic. Even if they shared the goals of the IRB there was every reason to doubt that the IRB would succeed. Risings in the past had been quickly defeated. There was a danger that a rising would soon degenerate into a sectarian bloodbath as had been the case in 1798.

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In February there was an attempt at a rising in Kerry that did not amount to much. In Kerry many of the local gentry panicked at the thought of the IRB killing them. The landlords fled to the county hotel. Some took the train to Dublin. On the fateful day in Chester some Fenians turned up and milled around. The attack was desultory and a complete failure. This sort of fiasco was to typify IRB actions for the next few decades. Bombastic rhetoric, a timid gathering of loudmouths whose much boasted valour deserted them at the first sign of danger.

Outside Dublin several hundred Fenians gathered at a village called Tallaght. It was a snowy day – 5 March. The IRB men were confronted by men of the Irish Constabulary. Sub Inspector Burke was reluctant to kill anyone. He called on the Fenians, ”Disperse or so help me God I will fire.” The Fenians did not disperse – at least not yet. Firing broke out. One Fenian was wounded in the leg. The rest executed a well-known Fenian manuevre – rout. The fact that only one man was hit and not fatally suggests that both sides wanted to avoid bloodshed. Such scenes were repeated in various points around Ireland. The Battle of Tallaght as it became known occurred on the same day as various actions around Ireland. This at least showed a little co-ordination. 12 people were killed that day.

In Drogheda men gathered on the streets. They fired a few shots and then scarpered. In Cork there was a small demonstration by the IRB who scattered when the authorities made a move on them. In Killmallock the IRB succeeded in storming a police station. A rebel ballad remarked, ” twas the hottest fight of all.”

The 1867 turned out to be a clear and shameful defeat for the IRB. The tens of thousands of devotees of the Fenian cause turned out to be either fictitious or just full of hot air. The state had very easily beaten the IRB. The IRB had little public support. IRB men were put on trial for various offences including treason. Some were sentenced to death. Not one was executed. They had their sentences commuted to lesser sentences. Some were transported to Australia. The very next year, 1868, the Government ceased using transportation as a punishment. In the end under 20 people were killed in Ireland in what was supposed to be a huge uprising. This author has not heard of a single soldier who mutinied in favour of the IRB. The Fenian Rising was mostly just hot air. The north of Ireland had been all but free of violence

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A Fenian named Timothy Deasy was in prison in Manchester. IRB men in Great Britain decided to try to rescue him. They attacked the horse-drawn prison van that was transporting Deasy. One of the IRB men fired at the lock holding the van shut. A police man inside the van was struck by the bullet and died. Deasy was freed and fled abroad.

This incident is recorded in the rebel song, ”The smashing of the van.” The public was horrified that a policeman had been killed. Several Fenians were arrested and put on trial for murder. One was acquitted. Another was an American sailor. He and the others were sentenced to death. The American had his sentence commuted . Presumably this was done so as not to antagonise the US.

From the dock the Fenians shouted, ”God save Ireland!”

At dawn outside Strangeways prison a huge crowd gathered. Dozens of soldiers were there in case there was trouble or an attempt to save the condemned men. At Strangeways Prison the three Fenians were executed by hanging. The executions were carried out on the walls of the prison in full view of thousands of people who came to watch. This was the last year in which executions were carried out in public.

The three men who were hanged were known as the Manchester Martyrs. Many people in Ireland prayed for them. Moderate nationalists also expressed sympathy for these men. Some people adulated these three because they approved of the IRB. There was a great deal of sympathy for them because some maintained that these three were innocent. It is dubious if it was one of these three who fired the fatal shot. In any even it is certain that only one man fired on the van – not three. Therefore that three should be punished with death was held to be unfair. The IRB insisted that they had never intended to kill anyone that day and that the bullet had been fire merely to break the lock. Under the law of the time a doctrine of common purpose existed. These men had conspired to commit a crime. As a result of a wilful act of violence a man had died. This made it murder even if the intention had not been to kill. These men were reckless as to the possibility that someone should suffer death as a result of their actions. Therefore all those who were concerned in the plot were legally culpable.

T.D. Sullivan, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, composed a song dedicated to the Manchester Martyrs. ”God Save Ireland said the heroes/ God Save Ireland say we all/ Whether on the battlefield we die/Or on the scaffold high/ What matter when for Erin dear we fall.” This song called ”God Save Ireland” became the virtual national anthem of Nationalist Ireland.

Karl Marx wrote that there was a considerable degree of respect for the IRB’s demands among the working class of London. A leading Fenian was held in Clerkenwell prison in London. The IRB decided to free him. The IRB left a wheelbarrow full of explosives outside the prison wall when they knew their man was exercising in the yard. The plan was that the bomb would blow a hole in the wall enabling the IRB prisoner to escape. The bomb exploded. This did not cause a breach in the wall but injured many others, many of them died of their wounds over the coming weeks. 12 people were killed. Public opinion in Great Britain turned sharply against the Fenians. As Dr Marx noted, one cannot expect people to want to be blown up.

Michael Barret was convicted of laying the charge outside Clerkenwell Prison. He was sentenced to death. He had the dubious distinction of being the last person to be publicly executed in the British Isles. The Fenian Rising caused a recrudescence of anti-Irish feeling in Great Britain. This was mostly against Irish Catholics as it was recognised that Irish Protestants were seldom in the IRB and indeed most Irish Protestants were stalwartly opposed to the IRB.



The Fenians in the US trained openly. As the US Constitution guaranteed the right to bear arms the US Government could do nothing to stop private militias preparing to fight. The Fenians purposed to attack British North America – which is now called Canada. There was much dissension within Clan na Gael in the United States as to whether attacking Canada was a sensible use of energy and manpower or was a diversion from the actual target – Eire.

From1865 to 1870 there were several Fenian attacks on Canada. Some of them involved over a thousand men. The main battle was called the Battle of Ridegway. One Fenian who was killed was buried in the United States with the name of an organisation called, ”The Irish Republican Army” on his headstone.

It is suspected that the US Government did little agaisnt the raids at first for a few reasons. The United Kingdom traded with the Confederate States of American during the American Civil War and this was condign punishment for the British Empire. More than a few Americans, even those who were not of Irish blood, felt sympathy for the Fenian cause. There was electoral good sense in tolerating Fenian activity. Some Americans believed that the existence of Canada as a dominion of the British Empire was offensive. The American Revolution had some unfinished business. The Monroe Doctrine stated that no European country should control any portion of the American Continent. The US Government did intervene after a time. Troops were sent under the Union commander from the Civil War, Ulysses S Grant to disarm the Fenians. The Fenians did not resist. John O’Neill was the chief Fenian commander for these invasions of Canada.

Canada was much more a focus for immigration from Great Britain than from Ireland. There were Irishmen who moved to Canada but they were mainly Protestant. Toronto became a centre for the Orange Order. Canadian Orangemen march in 12th July parades in feather war bonnets. The ethno-religious composition of the Canadian population (outside French-speaking Quebec) explains why the Fenians got short shrift when they invaded Canada.

Canadian Orangemen were to the fore in the defence of the dominion. Alexander Muir a Canadian Orangeman originally from Great Britain, was one of those who served in the militia against the Fenians. Muir wrote, ”Maple Leaf Forever” – a Canadian patriotic anthem.



In Ireland an amnesty campaign was started. Letters were written to newspapers and petitions were handed in to the government requesting that IRB prisoners be released. The amnesty campaign drew support from many people who had not supported the IRB. Over time the Government acceded to these requests.

William Ewart Gladstone was made to sit up and take notice of Ireland on account of the Fenian Rising. The Liberal leader was chopping wood at his estate at Hawarden in 1868 when a message arrived for him. The Liberals had won the election and Her Majesty the Queen asked him to form as government – he was to be Prime Minister. He said, ”My mission is to pacify Ireland.” W.E. Gladstone looked for legitimate grievances.

One of the most obviously unfair laws in Ireland was that which said that the Church of Ireland was the established church when no more than 15% of the populace belong to it. W.E. Gladstone resolved to disestablished the Church of Ireland. The Church of Ireland would continue to exist of course but it was no longer to be the state religion and supported from public funds. It would be a private institution on the same footing as the Catholic Church, the Religious Society of Friends, the Wesleyan Church and so on and so forth.

In 1869 a bill was passed to disestablish the Church of Ireland. Some hardline Protestant supremacists in the Conservative Party argued against it. They said it was a surrender to terrorism and it was strengthening Popery. The act became law and was phased in over a couple of years.



In 1880 the IRB decided to set off bombs in Great Britain. The aim of this was to pressurise the UK Government into giving the IRB what they wanted.

Tom Clarke was an IRB man born in Great Britain who was one of the dynamitards. He was found guilty of terrorist offences and he served a few years in prison for his crimes.

Hammersmith Bridge suffered a bomb blast courtesy of the IRB. Minor damage was done. The Continuity IRA set a bomb off at this bridge in 2001.

Thanksgiving – a simple explanation.


The Pilgrim Fathers were a group of religious extremists who originated in England. England was then governed by James I. The Church of England was the stablished church in that table. Those who were outside that church were discriminated by law. The Pilgrim Fathers belonged to a more hardline form of Protestantism. The Pilgrim Fathers had moved from England to the Netherlands for a few years where there was greater religious liberty. Their time in Leiden did not work out for them they returned to England.

There had been English settlements in North America since 1607. The Pilgrim Fathers decided to take an enormous risk and to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to make a life for themselves in America. Virginia was a colony on the eastern coast of the American Continent. Virginia was named in honour of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, who had died in 1603. The Pilgrim Fathers purposed to move thither.

Who would cross 3000 miles of ocean? Who would settle in a strange land that had never been under the plough? Who would dwell in a land that was said to be peopled by naked savages who loved nothing better to slay and ravage good Christian folk? The chances of perishing were high? There could be strange diseases in that country. Why risk it all? Only the religiously inspired or the desperate were likely to make the voyage. The voyage was long, dangerous and expensive. It was a voyage that people seldom made more than once. If someone moved to America they would probably never return.

Those who were likely to cross the Atlantic were often on the lower margin of the society. These people were very poor. In a time when many died of malnutrition poor meant very poor indeed.

In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers set sail from the British Isles. They had with them many emigrants who were not members of their religious sect. They sailed in a convoy of three ships. The most notable of these was the Mayflower. The other two ships had been poorly built and they had leakage problems.

After some weeks they cried land ho! They had sighted the New World. Navigation back then was primitive to say the least. They had intended to make land fall in Virginia. They had missed by a few hundred miles. They landed in what we now call Massachusetts. The point of land where the Pilgrim Fathers disembarked they named Plymouth Rock. They named it after the port in the British Isles from whence they had set sail.

The Pilgrim Fathers and the others disembarked. They set about building themselves some houses. Some people had died on the voyage and others had fallen ill. They planted crops and tried to hunt. Their attempts to produce food for themselves were not very successful. They did however happen upon a large bird that came to be called a turkey. Turkeys were far larger than any animal they had ever seen. It is three times larger than a chicken.

The English settlers began to drop like flies. Of those still living most were taken ill.

Then in November some Native Americans emerged from the woods and approached the English immigrants. The Native Americans were not the brutes of English legend. The Native Americans brought food to the starving English settlers. They also taught them how to grow crops. The immigrants suffered some more deaths but most did make it through the winter. Had it not been for the aid of the Native Americans then it is probable that the English immigrants would have died out.

The next year and ever after the immigrants into America commemorated the fact that they had made it through the winter. Near the end of November the Pilgrim Fathers marked the occasion with Thanksgiving. They gave thanks to god for saving them. They did not give thanks to the Native Americans.

Americans make a great effort to be with their relatives at Thanksgiving. They are grateful for having a home and family at this time. Some celebrate it in a religious manner. This public holiday was fixed in the 1930s by President Roosevelt as the 4th Thursday in November. There are occasionally 5 Thursdays in November so it is not necessarily the last Thursday that is Thanksgiving.

Only the Thursday is a day off work. In reality most people also take the Friday off.

Thanksgiving is a very bad time to travel in the United States as so many people are on the move. The film Trains, Planes and Automobiles testifies to this.

Thanksgiving is a time when many of the most important American Football games are played.

At Thanksgiving Americans eat Turkey and apple pie. Apple pie is seen as a very American dish. The saying goes that something is, ”as American as apple pie.” People often drink eggnog which is indeed based on eggs. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of eggnog exist.

In the White House a turkey is presented in a cage. The President reprieves it and the bird is not killed.

Thanksgiving is almost as important as Christmas for Americans. If people cannot be with their relatives fro Christmas they make sure they see them at Thanksgiving.

Americans are often surprised that the rest of the world does not celebrate Thanksgiving.

Canada celebrates Thanksgiving. However, they mark this feast at the end of October – just to be different from the Americans.

It was right to drop the nuclear bombs on Japan.


At this time of year we tend to reflect on the nuclear bomb.

On 6 and 9 August 1945 the US Army Air Corps dropped nuclear bombs on Japan. These bombs exploded on Hiroshima in the case of the first bomb and on Nagasaki in the case of the second bomb. Well over a hundred thousand people were killed in these incidents of died of wounds afterwards. I do not belittle the unimaginable suffering of those people. Some were crippled for life by these explosions. The great majority of those killed were civilians.

On 15 August Japan capitulated.

Noam Chomsky and others have argued that this was a horrendous war crime.

The Japanese Government was negotiating through back channels about surrender. Could Japan retain the emperor if they did. The US and other Allied countries wanted unconditional surrender. Charlie Chuckles argued that this was a war crime in itself to insist upon unconditional surrender. If conditional surrender shortened the war and saved lives then it should be obtained. That was his view.

I believe that it was right and morally defensible for President Truman to order his men to drop those bombs. As I have said I do not deny the inconceivable agony that this inflicted on those Japanese struck by these atomic bombs.

Japan had attacked the US, the Netherlands, China and the British Empire in totally unprovoked attacks and without any declaration of war. The conduct of the Japanese military was absolutely horrendous. The torture and gross mistreatment of prisoners was the norm and not the exception. Millions of Asian civilians were made slaves by the Japanese military. The murder of defenceless people was committed on an extremely wide scale by the Japanese military. I do not hold all Japanese including all of their military personnel responsible for this. However, I am afraid that these extremely immoral actions of the Japanese Government need to be considered when discussing what methods of war were acceptable to use. It would not have been so permissible to use weapons against an honourable enemy for example.

It was imperative to bring the war to a close quickly. Prisoner sin the custody of the Japanese military were dying rapidly. To shorten the war by even one day would save many lives.

The Allies planned to land in Japan and conquer it. They projected hundreds of thousands of dead on their side and on the Japanese side. Japanese civilians would also have been killed in huge numbers in the crossfire.

Millions of civilians had already been killed in that war. There were no smart bombs then. Aerial bombardment and artillery bombardment inevitably killed large numbers if civilians. The nuclear bomb was not different in principle to conventional bombardments. A conventional bombing of Tokyo had caused that largely wooden city to catch fire and this killed more people than the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.

The Allies offered Japan a chance to surrender. After the Potsdam Conference they informed Tokyo that she mus surrender or be hit with a weapon more destructive than the world had ever known.

Japan had never surrendered before. It would take something extraordinary to do so. The fanaticism of Japanese soldiers in hopeless situations caused many Allied servicemen to die.

The nuclear bomb allowed the Allies to end the war almost immediately and that was the right thing to do.

In 2002 I met a British soldier in Northamptonshire. He was a prisoner of the Japanese Army from 1942-45. He told me they knew that if the Japanese homeland was attacked the Japanese military had orders to kill all their prisoners and return to Japan for the final defence of their native land. The nuclear bomb saved this man’s life.

I know an elderly American called Stan. His elder brother was in the US Army. Stan strongly approved of nuking Japan because if this had not been done there were still millions of Japanese soldiers waiting to kill his big brother.

I met a British bloke in 2005 who had been in the Parachute Regiment in 1945. His unit was earmarked to invade Japan. Then the nukes were dropped and that was no longer necessary.

Dropping the nuclear bombs was not controversial at the time.

Japan was working on its own nuclear programme at the time. If these had been made then they certainly would have used them.

There is another issue. The USSR was preparing to attack Japan in Manchuria. Some say the US wanted to end the war promptly so that the USSR could not gain too much in China. This is often said to be a wrongful reason for deciding to go nuclear. I believe that it was another good reason for doing so. The post war world was something to consider. The USSR was an extremely bloody tyranny. To spare people being dominated by it was obviously good news.

I take issue with the targeting. Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not have much military significance. It would have been better to drop them on a more military target. Tokyo would be the wrong option. If the emperor had been killed then there would have been nobody left with the authority to surrender.

By dropping the nukes many Japanese civilians were killed. It is a certainty that if it had not been dropped far more of them would have been killed.

The primary duty of a government is the security and well-being of its people. If forced to choose between the lives of his men and those of his enemy of course Truman was right to choose saving the lives of his own folk.

Harry Truman made a difficult and no doubt anguished decision. He should be commended for doing so.

It is despicable that leftists and anti nuclear nutcases should harp on about this and not look at the broader historical context. They speak as though this is an act that stands in isolation due to its unparalleled moral turpitude. Truman’s choice was not only right but also righteous.

President Carter’s ill luck versus Obama’s stroke of fortune.


President Obama ordered the US Navy SEALs kill or capture Osama Bin Laden and as all the world knows they executed this order successfully. ”Terminate with extreme prejudice”, what is the point of this expression? ”Terminate” on its own says it all. It us the typical US military verbal overkill. Obama was warned that the chance of success was only 50-50. It could have all gone wrong with the Pakistani Army noticing foreign helicopters intruding near their academy and the Pak Army shooting them down. It is doubly embarrassing for the Pak military. 1 – they did not know Osama Bin Laden was there or so they claimed and 2. they did not see these intruding helicopters coming. The US military could have killed lots of civilians. The US military could have been beaten off. That was unlikely as they are elite. The US military could have taken a lot of casualties. However, I think the US public would have been willing to accept most of the attackers being killed so long as Bin Laden was taken out.

President Carter ordered his military to launch a rescue operation to get American hostages out of Teheran. The helicopters got caught in a sandstorm. Some of the choppers crashed and the mission had to be aborted. The hostage crisis dragged on and Carter’s popularity began a vertiginous slide because of this. It was a salient factor in his losing the 1980 election.

I do not think there was anything seriously wrong with the plan in Carter’s time and it was right to give it a whirl. Admittedly getting all 50 hostages out of several buildings in the embassy compound at night was a tall order. Killing one man is rather simpler. Likewise Obama’s plan was not much better. Carter was unfortunate where as fortune smiled on Obama. Such is life.

As it pissed on Carter’s parade Reagan was elected. Ok, there were other factors too such as Reagan courting the religious right and the stagflation that afflicted the US at the time. Regaan’s partisans would have us believe that it was to the Great communicator that we owe the end of the Cold War. I think it is rather more complex than that but I do think that Reagan had something to do with it.

The Cold War from 1975 onwards.


This conflict grew distinctly cooler in the mid 1970s. The United States had been given a bloody nose in Vietnam. The US objective – to keep South Vietnam out of Communist hands – had not been accomplished. The American public had no wish to be drawn into another war overseas. However, the US military continued to remain deployed in many countries around the world. US policy was therefore more circumspect. A détente began. That is to say that tension reduced. China had also shifted her policy. She had fallen out with the USSR in the 1960s. Mao Zedong, the Chinese tyrant, saw that China had a poor relationship with both the USSR and the United States. This was a foolish position to be in. It would be more advantageous for China to cultivate a cordial relationship with one or other superpower. President Nixon had visited China. Richard Milhous Nixon was a fervent anti-Communist. For this reason it was said that only Nixon could go to China. Anyone else would be accused of being weak towards the Communists. He endorsed a one China policy. That is to say the US recognised the People’s Republic of China as the rightful government of the whole of China including Taiwan. The US did not abandon Taiwan and remained committed to Taiwan’s defence.’s The US aim was for Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China to peacefully negotiate reunification one day.

The Communists in Vietnam were not content putting anti-Communists in re-education camps. The Khmer Rouge was the Communist movement in Cambodia. They took ”rouge” as part of their name as it means ”red” in French. Red being the colour of Communism and French being the language of the former colonial metropolitan country that ruled Cambodia.

By 1975 the Khmer Rouge had taken over Cambodia and the king had fled the country. Likewise in Laos the Pathet Lao, a Communist organisation, had taken possession of the country. Vietnam and Cambodia, both under Communist rule, soon fell out. The Khmer Rouge was led by an especially vicious tyrant named Pol Pot. Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge aligned herself with China whereas Vietnam aligned herself with the USSR. Vietnam had once been controlled by China. No sooner had Communists triumphed in Indochina than they began to slaughter one another.

Pol Pot declared ”Year Zero.” He wished to return Cambodia to being a totally agrarian society. Pol Pot saw cities as bourgeois and decadent. He depopulated the cities and forced almost everyone to work on farms. Torture and execution without trial were used very freely. People were executed for crimes such as playing uncommunist music and having too many children. Vietnam saw the bloody purges that the Khmer Rouge unleashed on the poor people of Cambodia. The Communist regime in Vietnam was itself brutally oppressive but even it was appalled by the sheer scale of the bloodshed unleashed by the Khmer Rouge. Vietnam invaded Cambodia and China then invaded Vietnam. China attacked Vietnam with three times the numbers of the defending Vietnamese. However, China made little ground and soon a peace agreement was worked out. Vietnam continued battling in Cambodia – driving the Khmer Rouge into the jungle. Vietnam sponsored her own more moderate Communists. A decade of especially ghastly civil war ensued. ________________________________________________________________________________

THE PRESIDENCY OF JIMMY CARTER. James Carter was a peanut farmer from Georgia.He preferred to be known as ”Jimmy” and was indeed he took the presidential oath in that name. He became involved in Democrat politics. He was a fervent Christian, a lay preacher and a man of liberal views. He thought that the US ought to do more to uphold human rights. He felt that too often the US Government had overlooked misdeeds by its allies just to further the cause of anti-Communism. However, Carter believed that the US could not be totally idealistic. She co-operated with some dictators such as the Shah of Iran and while she would pressure them to reform she would not repudiate them nor support their overthrow. Carter highlighted human rights abuses in the USSR. Human rights was a popular phrase in the 1970s. A meeting at Helsinki of human rights activists put the issue high on the political agenda. The USSR and her satellites were persuaded ti sign many human rights agreements. The USSR and her client states breached these solemn undertaking arrantly. ____________________________________________________________________________


Mohammed Reza Pehlavi was the Shah of Iran. Shah is a title meaning ”emperor” and is ultimately derived from Caesar. The Shah’s father was a cavalry officer who had overthrown the previous dynasty in the 1920s. Mohammed Reza Pehlavi was elevated to the Throne when the Soviet and British forces deposed his father during the Second World War. Mohammed Reza Pehlavi was happy to co-operate with the Allies during the Second World War and with Western interests after the war.

The Anglo-Persian Oil Company was the most important enterprise. Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq was the Prime Minister of Iran in the 1950s. He was a man of liberal views. He attempted to reduce imperial power and to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The US and the United Kingdom viewed Dr Mossadeq as dangerous – in fact inimical to their interests. Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of the late swashbuckling  president Teddy Roosevelt, was the CIA officer who drew up the plan to remove Dr Mossadeq from office. (Kermit Roosevelt was not the son of FDR as some people wrongly imagine). The CIA and the British secret service worked with Iranians sympathetic to their cause to bring down Dr Mossadeq. In a complicated political situation the Shah briefly left the country before politicians in the Majilis (Iranian Parliament) compelled Dr Mossadeq to resign. The year was 1953. After a 3 year prison sentence. He lived out the rest of his life under house arrest and in obscurity in Teheran. Thereafter the Shah wielded power at will.

Western oil companies made handsome profits. The Shah began what he called the White Revolution as it was not to be red –  it would be bloodless. He improved Iran’s infrastructure greatly. The road network benefited from the expertise of Western engineers. The Shah spent great sums on buying weapons from the US, UK and other Western countries.

Practically everyone in Iran was a Muslim. 9 out of 10 Iranians are Shia Muslims as was the Shah. There are of course various levels of observance. The Shah was very relaxed about religion. He smoked and drank. He allowed court ladies to wear Western clothes that hardline Muslims regarded as being scabrous. The Shah permitted these same personal freedoms to all and sundry. He encouraged the emancipation of women. Many Iranians were illiterate and lived in dire poverty. Radical religious preachers targeted the discontented. They said that the Shah and his coterie were greedy and louche. The Tudeh (Rose) Party was the communist party in Iran. It too made some inroads. However, it made headway among some of the more forward-looking urban workers and among the intelligentsia. It said that the Shah was guilty of perpetrating great social injustice and of being a tool of Western imperialism. The Shah was also the apex of a system of inequality and obscurantism. The Shah tried to discourage Islamism. He hailed the glories of the distant past –  Ancient Persia. He had himself style ”light of the Aryans – the Shadow of god.” He held pageants with himself and his camarilla attired in Persian robes.

Savak was the Shah’s secret police. Savak is the acronym of the ”State Information Service.”  The trouble with the White Revolution was that it was not whiter than white. Blood was shed. Islamists and communists were becoming angrier and angrier with the Shah. Even people who wanted democracy were becoming alienated from the Shah’s government. They detected and shut down opposition. Much as the Shah allowed liberty in the personal sphere he did not allow it in the political sphere. Savak used torture extensively. It is said that they had women raped by specially trained dogs. Those who plotted against the Shah were often executed. Those of liberal opinions approved of some of the Shah’s reforms. However; the excesses of Savak; the seeming subservience to Western economic and strategic interests; the avarice of court circles and the lack of political freedom alienated many of these liberals.

Opponents of the Shah can therefore be put into three broad categories.

1. Religious reactionaries

2. The Tudeh Party

3. Liberals.

The Ayatollah Khomeini was a religious leader who was based in Qom. He had deep-set eyes of fury  and a stern countenance. He looked every inch the Biblical prophet. He was born in 1900 and rose to prominence only in the 1940s. He became a strong opponent of the Shah. He had such a large following that the Shah dared not to have him killed. The Ayatollah went into exile in France. He taped sermons and had them smuggled back into Iran. The US had a very close relationship with the Shah’s government. The Shah’s government was a reliable pro-US ally. What were the alternatives to the Shah? At least two of them were very anti-American – Islamic fundamentalists or communists. The liberals could be persuaded to be pro-US but many were disgusted at the US’s apparent collusion with despotism.

Through the 1970s many Iranians grew increasingly angry with the political set up in their country. Large protests broke out in late 1978 that became ever more difficult for the security services to contain. The US began to fear that the Shah was impossible to save. Protests gave way to riots. The army was mostly made up of conscripts. Conscripts were very loathe to open fire on protestors. Many of them deserted for fear they would be ordered to do so. Protestors greeted the soldiers with roses. Huge crowds marched through the streets of several cities chanting, ”Marg ba Shah” –  ”death to the Shah!” This was no mere slogan. The situation spiralled out of control. The Shah became wary that he may not be able to rely on the loyalty even of his senior military commanders.

In February 1979 he boarded a plane saying he was going abroad with his family as he needed medical treatment. This was, on the face of it, true. It was a closely guarded secret, unknown even to the CIA – that the Shah was suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Shah knew his condition was terminal and he could not live more than a handful of years. The armed forces declared their neutrality in the conflict between the Shah and revolutionaries.

The Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was obligingly flown back from France on Air France. He was greeted like the Hidden Imam revealing himself. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to hail his return. His motorcade took hours to make it from the airport to the city centre. The revolutionaries of different kinds seized power together. Initially the Islamists co-operated with those of a liberal turn of mind – allowing liberals to serve as cabinet ministers. In time the liberals would be elbowed aside.  It became apparent that the Ayatollah Khomeini as the effective ruler of the country. His portrait was quickly put up in restaurants, trains and even courtrooms. The courtroom example is very revealing. This surely shows he was the ultimate authority. Normally one displays royal coat of arms or a flag in a courtroom. There was a lacuna in the national psyche now that the Shah had been dethroned and the Ayatollah was filling it.

As has been discussed the revolution was the product of three forces –  Islamists, communists and liberals. In a deeply religious country the Islamists held the upper hand. Few understood the more abstruse nostra of communists or liberalism but one did not need to be an intellectual to know the basic tenets of Islam. The Islamists were probably the largest single group and may well have had the majority of the people behind them. Any idea of a plural society was over. The Islamists declared that the country would be run on the basis of the Koran. There would be no more monarchy. The country was styled ”the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Those air marshalls, admirals and generals who had chosen to be neutral between the Shah and the revolutionaries came to regret it. Most of the military high command were but on trial for being accomplices of the Shah and were executed. Hanging was the preferred method –  no need to waste bullets when ropes are reusable. Savak agents were hunted down. The Shah’s ministers also suffered the supreme sanction. A new organisation for Islamists was founded in Iran –  the Revolutionary Guard. It was an armed body. The army remained the army. The second echelon of officers – those who had survived the purge of the Shah’s supposed abettors – were promoted. In order to gain preferment it helped to espouse a radical version of Shia Islam. However, it was the Revolutionary Guard that was a creation of the revolution and steeped in its ideology. The Islamic Revolution was extremely hostile towards the US but also towards the USSR. The USSR had invaded Iran in 1943. The USSR discouraged Islam. Therefore the Islamic Republic of Iran was one of the very few states in the world to be very unfriendly towards both the US and the USSR. Soon the Iranian Government rounded on the Tudeh Party. Were these communists not hirelings of the USSR?

The Shah flew to the US but soon the US gave him the bum’s rush. Some sort of accommodation would have to be made with the new regime in Iran. Besides the Shah was a hate figure for many liberal people around the globe. He eventually found refuge in Egypt where he died in April 1980.

There was a considerable number of Iranian students studying in the US and other Western countries. Iranian military personnel had been sent abroad to go on courses in the US. Many of them realised that suspicion would fall on them if they were to go home. The US granted asylum to those who wished to stay. Some Iranian students and military officers abroad chose to return to Iran. Most of them found themselves thrown into prison and accused of being Shah loyalists and agents in the pay of the CIA.

In the autumn of 1979 Iranians of radically anti-Western views surrounded the US embassy to protest as people often do outside embassies. Unlike many protests this one was egged on by the government. Many of the protestors were students. Among the protestors were Revolutionary Guards. Ayatollah Khomeini was asked to comment on the situation. He remarked that diplomats are of course entitled to diplomatic immunity but only so long as they remain diplomats. If they become spies they forfeit any right to diplomatic immunity. The demonstrators who surrounded the embassy were irate that the US had let the Shah into the US for medical treatment. It seems that the Iranian Government did not plan it – but on 4 November the protestors broke into the US embassy. The US Marines who were stationed there to protect the embassy chose not to fire. If they had it is certain that in the end the Iranians would have won. The protestors seized the diplomats and US Marines as hostages. The Ayatollah Khomeini decided to endorse what had been done. Iranian diplomats in the US were not seized. They left the US. Some Americans said that the US Government ought to have arrested the Iranian diplomats as this was the only bargaining chip the US could use to get its people back out of Iran. President Carter said that he wished to show that the US was morally superior to the Islamic Republic of Iran – she respected the Vienna Convention on the treatment of diplomats. The US was not about to tear up international law. Carter’s critics said this would do nothing to help the American hostages in Iran. Iran had already trashed the Vienna Convention.

The American hostages were interrogated and tortured. The women and the blacks were soon released. The Iranian Government said it was not going to mistreat women as this was unIslamic. Further, they recognised African-Americans as being victims of the US Government. Teheran demanded that the Shah be handed over to stand trial for his crimes against the Iranian people. If the Shah were not returned to Iran then the hostages lives could not be guaranteed. The US may have ditched him but to hand him over to certain death seemed rather dishonorable. After the Shah died in April 1980 the demand changed. The Iranian regime demanded the return of the Shah’s money in foreign bank accounts. The US had frozen Iranian Government accounts soon after the revolution. The US Government did not wish to agree. It was losing money from this – it was handing it over to a regime that was likely to use the money to arm against the US, it was surrendering to hostage taking and thereby signalling that this would be profitable in future. The hooded hostages were frequently paraded. Carter’s popularity slid as he failed to get the hostages home. Just when it seemed it could not get much worse for the hostages – it did. Iraq declared war on Iran. _____________________________________________________________________________________


Egypt had fought against Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Each time she had been knocked back. In between times she had supported Palestinian irregular fighters. What had Egypt to show for all his blood and gold expended on the sands of Sinai? Egypt was funded heavily by the USSR and she bought her military equipment from the Soviet Bloc. She was also grateful to her Soviet comrades for financing the Aswan High Dam which was completed in 1970 – providing hydroelectricity for much of the country and ridding Egypt of the scourge of flooding. Despite this close relationship with the Soviet Bloc Egypt was not a formal Soviet ally. Nasser had preached that Egypt must plough her own furrow. It was no better to be a satrapy of East than of West. Nasser along with Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia and Prime Minister Nehru of India was a founding member of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM). The NAM was not truly non-aligned as Fidel Castro led Cuba into it despite Cuba being unarguably a tool of Moscow at the time. President Gamal Abdul Nasser – hero of Araby – had gone the way of all flesh in 1970. His successor was a fellow military man Anwar Al Sadat. Sadat reassessed Egypt’s policies and how best to advance the national interest. Even if the anti-Zionist struggle was righteous it was not paying dividends. Perhaps it might be better to curry a warm relationship with the US. President Jimmy Carter was at the helm of the United States from 1977-81. He was at pains to persuade Arabs and Israelis to bury the hatchet. Of course the US was no honest broker. She was very much sympathetic towards Israel.

Israel and Egypt began a dialogue. Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem and addressed the Knesset. Menchem Begin visited Cairo. Begin had previously been seen as a hawk. He had been a terrorist in the 1940s who was responsible for a number of atrocities against Arab civilians and murders of British troops. He belonged to the Likud Party which was more nationalistic than the other major Israeli political party, Labour. The two sides met at Camp David – the American president’s countryside retreat. Negotiations almost broke down. At last a deal was agreed in 1979. Egypt recognised Israel as a state that was entitled to exist. The two nations exchange ambassadors. They halted all offensive action against each other. The US would provide Egypt with $1 ooo ooo ooo per annum as a sweetener and military equipment. Israel ceded the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt that she had wrenched from Egypt in the Six Day War back in 1967. Some diehard Zionists had founded settlements in Sinai and refused to budge. They regarded peace with Egypt as a sell-out because it involved handing over these Biblical lands. These ultra-Zionists were a rock in the road and had to be forcibly removed by the Israeli Defence Force.There was also a danger that Egypt might re-take possession of the Sinai and then renege on the deal – might attack Israel anyway. Israel would then had given away a crucial buffer. Egypt no longer had to worry about her eastern border and Israel no longer had to worry about her western border. This was a huge relief for Israel. Egypt had by far the biggest population in the Arab world. Her army was the largest and was equipped with a formidable array of Soviet weaponry. Israel would no longer have to fight a two front war.

President Carter was hailed as a peacemaker. Begin had got a good deal for Israel. Was it such a good deal for Egypt. She gained in territory and the subvention from the US made up over 20% of her budget at the time. Western investment and tourism came into Egypt much more quickly than before. It was seen as a business oriented pro-Western state and therefore became attractive. However, there was a great deal of opposition to the Camp David Peace Accords in Egypt. The agreements were seen as giving away too much. Egypt should have stood by her Palestinian brothers. Were they not all Arabs? The Zionist entity must be destroyed. Egypt had been the doyen of the Arab world and now she was an outcast for abandoning the anti-Zionist struggle. This was the view of many if not most Egyptians. Egyptians in other Arab countries were insulted and in some cases sacked and deported.

Hardline nationalists in Egypt, especially Islamists, mostly execrated Sadat as a traitor. The Soviet Bloc was also aghast to have lost a valuable ally. In October 1981 a military parade was held in Egypt to celebrate the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The conflict had initially gone well for Egypt before later turning distinctly to Egypt’s disadvantage. However, on this occasion the Egyptian top brass was focussing only on the opening chapter of that war. In any event some soldiers took advantage to come close to President Anwar and pump his chest full of bullets. His second in command, Hosni Mubarak, was seated beside him. Mubarak was slightly wounded. Anwar died at the scene. His assassins were cut down. They turned out to be Islamists in the army who had killed Anwar for being a traitor to the Arab and Muslim cause for making peace with Israel. ____________________________________________________________________________


Afghanistan was a very underdeveloped country. It had never been properly controlled by any European country. One consequence of this was that she never had a railway network. Afghanistan is a land of soaring snow-capped mountains and scorching desert plains. There are several linguistic groups in Afghanistan. Dari, Farsi (also the language of Iran), Tajik, Uzbek and Pashtu are the major languages of the country. Pashtu is the main language in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. In the 1970s a high majority of Afghans were illiterate. 99% of Afghans are Muslim. The great majority of them are Sunni Muslims. The Farsi speaking Afghans might be thought to have fellow-feeling for Iran by the Farsi speaking Afghans are in most cases Sunni Muslims and not Shia Muslims. As 90% of Iranians are Shia Muslims this makes it a little difficult for the Farsi speaking Afghans to identify with Iran.

Afghanistan was ruled by a royal family since the 19th century when she was united. A communist party was founded by like many communist parties around the world the word ”communist” did not appear in her name. It was officially named ”The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan” or PDPA. In 1973 the king, Zahir Shah, was overthrown by his cousin the erstwhile prime minister Daoud and the monarchy was abolished. The PDPA came to office in 1978. The new government signed a treaty of friendship with the USSR. They began to impose radical change on the country. Most Afghans were rural dwellers – conservative Muslims. The PDPA tried to discourage religion, bring in land reform and introduce equality for women. This was too much for many of the conservative-minded Afghans who formed the Mujahideen and rebelled. The insurrection became so popular and widespread that the PDPA called upon the USSR to assist them. The PDPA was split into Khalq (masses) and Parcham (flag) factions who purged each other. The USSR sent increasing numbers of military advisers. Hafizullah Amin, a PDPA moderate, came to office. He tried to tone down the PDPA’s policies. He tried to correct the impression that his party was anti-Islamic. He ordered mosques to be repaired and korans to be distributed. He met relgious leaders and claimed that there was no contradiction between PDPA policy and Islam. He wished to improve relations with other countries such as Pakistan and the US so that they would not support the overthrow of the PDPA. The USSR was alarmed at the idea of the PDPA being overthrown. The USSR did not want an American ally on her borders.

Iran had had an Islamic Revolution in 1979. Iran is a Shia country and Afghanistan is a Sunni country but the example was still inspiring. About 15% of the Soviet population was Muslim at least in name. The USSR did not want her Muslim population to try to copy the example of Iran. It must be shown that Islamic revolution against communism could not work. Many Afghans had ethnic and linguistic ties to the USSR. There were Tajiks and Uzbeks on both sides of the Afghan-Soviet border.

The USSR was concerned that the USA was gaining the upper hand in the Cold War. Egypt had effectively left the pro-Soviet fold. Iraq was drifting away from Soviet influence. As the US had no more troops in Vietnam she was freer to deploy elsewhere. Finally in December 1979 the USSR dispatched tens of thousands of troops. 80 000 arrived in the first wave. President Hafizullah Amin, despite being a PDPA man, was shot dead by Soviet special forces. It is open to question whether Hafizullah Amin was deliberately killed or whether his bodyguards opened fire on the Spesnatz forces sparking a fire fight in which he was accidentally killed by the Soviets. The USSR announced that an Afghan tribunal had tried him and executed him. The USSR installed a compliant president Babrak Karmal. The US and the Mujahideen represented this as an invasion. The USSR said she was providing fraternal assistance to a friendly state that was battling against US backed terrorists.

Military intervention had worked well for the USSR in the past. She had Red Army troops present in Poland and East Germany that helped to crush uprisings in the 1950s. She had sent in tanks to destroy attempts to an open society in both Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Moscow assumed that it would be little different this time around. However, the old men in the Politburo failed to take account of the fact that Afghanistan was very different. She was far distant from the most populated area of the USSR. Afghanistan was thinly people  – mountainous and also half covered in desert. Water supply is therefore a great problem. The Afghans are very different from the Soviets. Religion is a vital factor in Afghanistan as it was not in Eastern Europe. Afghanistan was a more or less total Soviet satellite state. The KGB and Staasi trained the Afghan secret police –  the KHAD. The PDPA did allow alcohol and liberty in a personal sphere such as for people to play sport, attend the theatre and for women to pursue education and careers. The US funded and armed the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen is an umbrella term for several different factions – some of them very hostile to each other. They all opposed the presence of the Red Army. The Mujahideen was divided by language, by the Sunni-Shia divide, by liberalism and theocracy. It is true that some were religious fanatics but others were simply nationalists. The conflict dragged on with no end in sight for the Soviets and their communist confederates. The USSR brokered the notion of peace talks. Washington scented blood. Rather than spend $100 000 000 a year and tie the Soviets down why not spend $1 000 000 000 on the conflict and have the Soviets defeated? It was the only way the US could inflict a defeat on the USSR without a single American being killed. The US merely stepped up its financial and military aid to selected Mujahideen factions. The Mujahids spent some of the time clashing with each other/ ______________________________________________________________________________________


In September 1980 the Iraqi Government declared war on Iran. Tensions had simmered for decades over a border dispute. Iraq wanted exclusive control of a waterway which Iraqis called the Shatt al Arab. It was an important route for trade because Iraq had only a tiny coastline. Indeed for centuries the Arabic speaking peoples had fought against the Persian speaking people of Iran. Iraq had lately acquired a new president, one Saddam Hussein.

Iraq is divided in two main ways – by religious denomination and by language. The majority of Iraqis are Shia Muslims  – about 60% of the population. The rest are Sunni Muslims. There is also a small Christian community. About 8o% of Iraqis are Arabic speaking. There are also those who are of the Kurdish language and ethnicity who are concentrated in the north of the country. The Kurds are Sunni Muslims almost without exception. There is little fellow-feeling between Arabic speaking Sunnis and Kurdish-speaking Sunnis. Many Kurds views themselves as a nation which spans Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Many wish to take territory from these four lands and form an independent country named Kurdistan. Kurds had been promised a nation state by the Allies after the Great War but in the end the Allies felt unable to make good on this promise. Kurds had rebelled against Turkey, Iran and Iraq. At times Iraq would sponsor a Kurdish revolt in Iran and then Iran would abet a Kurdish revolt in Iraq. Not because either state wanted Kurdistan to become a reality but just to cause problems for their neighbour at the lowest cost.

Iraqi Shia were excited by the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The Arabic speaking Sunnis who formed only 20% of the population had dominated Iraq for centuries. Could the Shia regain control? The Ayatollah Khomeini had firey sermons broadcast into Iraq calling upon the Shia to overthrow their Sunni oppressors. Saddam Hussein –  a Sunni – took this as an aggressive act.

About 1% of the Iranian population was Arabic speaking and they were situated near the border with Iraq. Saddam Hussein said he wished to liberate them. Saddam Hussein was a member of the Ba’ath Party. This is an abbreviation for ”the Socialist Party of Arab Resurgence.” The Ba’ath Party had been founded just after the Second World War by a Syrian Christian, Michel Aflaq. Ba’athists proposed all Arabs to unite and found a modern secular republican state. No more monarchs would be tolerated. People who be free to practise any religion. Being an Arab was to be the basis of identity and not being a Muslim or a Christian. Ba’athists wished to ensure that all Arabs lands were free from control by any other country – from the French, from the British, from the Americans, from the Israelis and from the Soviets. Therefore the Ba’athists were anti-communists as they viewed the communists as being stooges of the USSR.

The Ba’ath Party took power in Syria and in Iraq but despite the rhetoric about Arab unity the two states did not unite. Syria and Iraq were not even friendly towards each other. Despite Ba’athist antipathy to the idea of Soviet domination the Ba’athists had found that the USSR was willing to help the Ba’athists to arm themselves against Westerners. In the 1970s Iraq bought huge amounts of equipment from the Soviet Bloc. The USSR saw Iraq as an important counter-weight against pro-Western governments in Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey which were all neighbours of Iraq. The Ba’ath Party in Iraq persecuted communists viciously. Thousands of them were tortured and executed. Despite this the USSR was very friendly towards Iraq. The USSR was not good to her fellow communist comrades abroad.

With the USSR embroiled in Afghanistan from 1979 onwards the USSR felt she could not afford for Iran to step into Afghanistan on the side of the Mujaideen. The Soviet situation there was precarious enough as it was. The Iranians had sympathy for Muslims in general but especially for Shia Muslims and there was a considerable minority of Shia in Afghanistan. Moreover, there was a large Farsi speaking community in Afghanistan although they were not Shia on the whole. Iran also feared that the USSR may invade her as she had in 1943 and this time by way of Afghanistan. Was attack not the best form of defence? The Ayatollah Khomeini was just mad enough to take on the USSR. Better to distract him from his eastern flank by tying him down with a war on his western flank. The Iraqi attack on Iran initially went well. Iran was equipped with US materiel and of course the US was not going to provide Iran with spare parts.

The US could not sympathise with Teheran as the new Iranian Government was extremely anti-American and of course was still holding dozens of American hostages. The Ba’ath regime in Iraq was not pro-Western and indeed was very angry about Western support for Israel. However, at that moment the US and Iraq both wanted to reduce Iranian power. The CIA used its spy satellites to monitor Iranian troop movements. It passed its assessment of Iranian military capability on to friendly Arab states such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the belief that these countries would relay the US intelligence to Iraq. This is indeed what transpired. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger disliked the Ba’ath Party intensely. He remarked of the Iran-Iraq war, ”it is a pity they cannot both lose.”

The US, the United Kingdom and other western countries soon began selling weapons to Iraq. However, most of Iraq’s arms still came from the Easter Bloc. Saddam said he was the champion of all Arabs: defending the Arab world against their traditional enemy –  the Persians. Other Arab countries, particularly the oil states, paid Iraq to fund the war. They were worried that an over-mighty Iran might attack them. Bahrain has a Shia majority but is ruled by Sunnis. Iran has a historical claim to Bahrain. The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia – the oil-rich province – has many Shia in it. The Sunni Saud family that rules Saudi Arabia was worried by a Shia rebellion there in 1980. It was quelled with great brutality. It was due to the inspiration of Teheran it was surmised.

Iran supported Shia groups in Lebanon and Palestine such as Hizbollah. Iran was thus a threat to Israel. Although Iran had been surprised and driven back she soon regained her composure. The lives of the American hostages were in even greater danger. Many Iranians screamed that America was the Great Satan – she had colluded with the Iraqis: the American hostages must die!

In attacking Iran Saddam Hussein had embarked on a very serious undertaking. Iran had triple the population and quadruple the territory of Iraq. She had even greater oil reserves and therefore the cash to buy weapons. However, as she was hated by both the US and USSR not many were prepared to sell her arms. Iran is very mountainous. How could Iraq defeat such an enemy? Iranians who were dubious about the new regime nonetheless rallied to their country’s banner. Iran was their country regardless of whether they liked their government. Most Iranians felt that Iraq had attacked them unprovoked.  Even the son of the deceased Shah offered to return to defend his homeland – he was a trained air force pilot. The Iranian Government refused. This was perhaps an error as they could easily have arranged for his plane to crash and thus eliminate a potential focus for opposition.

Although Iraq made progress at first but soon was locked in a stalemate. Iran’s US made weapons were wearing out and she ran low on ammunition. Where was Iran to buy arms from as she had no arms industry to speak of? If the US and her allies and the USSR and her allies would not furnish Iran with weapons then Iran did not have many options. The People’s Republic of China and North Korea both happily sold weapons to Iran. The PRC saw Iraq as being close to the USSR and PRC wished to check Soviet power. With Soviet troops in Afghanistan it would be good to have a strong anti-Soviet country adjacent to Afghanistan – good from a Chinese strategic point of view that is. Romania was a member of the Warsaw Pact but in name only. She was no puppet of the Soviet Union. Romania too sold weapons to Iran whilst maintaing very amicable relations with Iraq. After all business is business. Iranian pilots traveled to Romania to test Romanian fighter jets before recommending that they be purchased. They were.

Portugal and Yugoslavia sold weapons to both sides.

By 1982 the Iraqi armed forces were being driven back. Soon Iranian forces had, in some sectors, occupied Iraqi territory. The Iranian Government offered to negotiate – all they wanted was their territory back. Saddam Hussein refused. Most Iraqis were to come to regret it even if Saddam never did. Syria despite being an Arab country and run by the Ba’ath Party was sympathetic towards Iran. Syria was Iraq as a rival and Syria wished to see her humbled. So much for Arab solidarity and Ba’athis brotherhood. Iraq had to soak the Iranian troops in poison gas to halt the Iranian advance. Both armies were mired in trench warfare. Casualties mounted. Iranian Government recruited boys – some pre-pubscent – to walk over minefield to clear a path. Many never returned.

Arabs who were not Iraqis but were present in Iraq sometimes found themselves conscripted into the Iraqi Army. Some Egyptians volunteered for the Iraqi Army. Egypt gladly sold arms to Iraq. This was partly out of pan-Arabism, partly due to a wish to please the US and partly a wish by Egypt to ingratiate herself with other Arabs. In the Arab world Egypt’s name was mud after having made peace with Israel and this went a little way towards rehabilitating herself.

Iran assissted a Kurd sepratist uprising in northern Iraq. Teheran had not desire for an independent Kurdistan and had indeed been a victim of an Iraqi assissted Kurdish separatist revolt only a few years before. This distracted a considerable number of Iraqi soldiers from the war against Iran. Many countries refused to buy oil from Iran this made it harder for Iran to fund the war. The US and other countries sent ships to escort oil tankers out of the Gulf. The US Navy only escorted Iraqi ships and those trading with Iraq. Iraq attacked Iranian merchant ships and the merchant ships of neutral countries that traded with Iran. Likewise Iran attacked Iraqi merchant ships and the merchantmen of nations that traded with Iraq. Iran had more and more difficulty exporting its oil and thus having the money to purcahse heavy weapons.

The Iraqis established aerial advantage that grew over time. The Iraqi miliary gained a 4-1 advantage in tanks by the end of the conflict. Later it emerged that the US sold weapons to Iran to help fund the Contras in Nicaragua and secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon. This was in violation of all public pronouncements by President Reagan.

The Ayatollah Khomeini said he would rather drink poison than to negotiate with Iraq. In 1989 both countries had fought each other to a standstill and finally negotiations were opened. They returned to the status quo ante. Iraq had suffered hundreds of thousands of deaths and was over $50 000 000 000 in debt into many countries. For all this Iraq had not gained an inch. _____________________________________________________________________________


President Carter tried to resolve the Iran Hostage Crisis by force. He sent special forces to rescue the hostages. He ordered that if they could not get all of the hostages out they must not take any out because those left behind would surely be killed. However, a sandstorm causes some US helicopters to crash in the desert and the mission had to be aborted. Pres. Carter had to publicly take responsibility for the mission’s failure. This was rather big of him as it was just bad luck that this had happened. President Carter then agreed that the US would release the Shah’s money to Iran in return for the release of the hostages. Some of the money was held outside the US such as in the Bank of England and the US had to persuade foreign governments to co-operate in this effort. Some in the US felt that Carter was being feeble. With an election looming his failure to solve the crisis was denting his standing in the opinion polls. In November 1980 Carter lost the election to Reagan who was more gung-ho about asserting American interests abroad. Carter felt that the Iranian Government would see sense. It would be best for them to settle with him as the incoming Reagan administration would be more belligerent. On 19 January 1981 within minutes of the inauguration of Reagan the hostages were released. Carter felt that it was unfair that they had not been released on his watch. Reagan’s partisans boasted that it showed that the Iranians knew that Reagan was tough and that was why they released the hostages before Reagan took firm action against them. ________________________________________________________________________________


Ronald Wilson Reagan was a small time Hollywood actor. He served as head of the Screen Actors’ Guild. He tried to get the Republican nomination for president in 1976 but failed. In 1980 he tried again. Another Republican hopeful was a certain George Herbert Walker Bush – father of the more famous George Walker Bush. George H W Bush denounced Reagan’s economic policies as ”voodoo economics”. This phrase was a gift to Democratic spin doctors – especially when George H W Bush became the running mate of Reagan. In November 1980 Reagan was elected president and Bush as vice-president. President Carter –  a Democrat – was defeated. In January 1981 Reagan was inaugurated as President of the United States of America.  Reagan was a passionate anti-Communist like Nixon. Reagan had campaigned for Barry Goldwater a fervent anti-Communist back in 1964. Reagan excoriated Carter for being feeble against Communism. Reagan say capitalism as good and Communism as wicked. He dubbed the USSR ”the evil empire.” The detente was over. Those with a more considered view of the world derided Reagan as an ignorant cowboy whose Manichean weltanschuung was very dangerous. Reagan announced a one-third increase in defence spending. Reagan saw the human rights issue as being of minor importance. He was willing to aid any leader however unsavoury so long as this leader stood four square against Communism. Some of Reagan’s critics said this made Reagan no better than the Communists. Indeed some anti-Communist were so horrid that they drove people into the arms of the Communists. On one occasion before a press conference Reagan quipped that he was declaring war on the USSR. ”Bombing begins in five minutes” he said. This was reported to Moscow who panicked before being reassured by the US embassy. _______________________________________________________________________________________________


The Somoza family dominated Nicaragua for almost 50 years. Anastasio ”Tacho” Samoza Debayle came to the fore in the 1930s. Tacho is the standard Spanish language nickname for one with the Christian name Anastasio just as in English a boy named Thomas is often known as Tom. He was an American-educated Nicaraguan from an upper class family. Nicaragua was a textbook example of a banana republic. The term was originally coined for those countries in Latin America and the Caribbean which were dominated by an American enterprise named the United Fruit Company. The US intervened at will in such countries to further her own interests and arguably those of the country concerned. Nicaragua was dominated by a very small number of people who were of Spanish or other European ancestry. Many Nicaraguans were of mixed European and Mesoamerican blood. Those who were of unalloyed Mesoamerican blood tended to be at the bottom of the pile. The official language was Spanish but some Mesoamericans well into the 20th century could not speak that language. The majority of people were totally illiterate. There were rebels/bandits operating in the thickly vegetated hinterland. The US sent members of her Marine Corps to support the Nicaraguan Government against these irregular fighters. Somoza became a liaison for the US Marines because he was one of vanishingly few Nicaraguans at the time who spoke English. There was a famous rebel leader named Augusto Sandino. He was lured to a meeting with Somoza under the promise of a truce. In true Latin American style this was a mere ploy to torture and kill him. Those who honoured his memory were known as Sandinistas. Somoza was soon elevated to president. He did not serve continuously but other cronies of his served in this office. Many people believed that whoever wore the presidential sash it was Somoza who was calling the shots. Elections in Nicaragua were said to be mere charades. There was a microscopically small proportion of the population held the majority of the wealth. Most Nicaraguans lived in the most benighting poverty. It was said that an American president was asked why the US supported Somoza when Somoza was greedy, dishonest, illiberal and tyrannical – ”a son of a bitch”. The reply came ”but he is OUR son of a bitch.” This is an apocryphal tale and the controversial remark has been attributed to Eisenhower, Truman and Roosevelt. The Cold War was on and with many enemies one could not afford to be too picky about one’s allies. Somoza only grew richer until he was assassinated by a radical poet in the 1950s. Predictably his son took over the presidency. He died of a massive heart attack. Later Anastasio Somoza’s younger son took office – Anastasio Somoza junior. He was known as Tachito Samoza. ‘This is because the suffix ”ito” in Spanish is the diminutive and Tachito was the son of Tacho. The Nicaraguan military was called the National Guard – there was no body of men called the army.

Tachito was intolerant of dissent. He called anyone who opposed him a Communist. Nicaragua suffered a major earthquake in the 1970s and much international aid arrived to help those affected. Much of the aid was filched and it was widely rumoured that it was Tachito who had taken it. In the mid 1970s the Sandinistas began gaining ground. The Sandinistas had bases in the jungles of Costa Rica which is a country adjacent to Nicaragua. The National Guard were on the run. They were stationed in all important locations such as the oil refinery. The Sandinistas wished to assassinated the manager of the oil refinery as he was producing petroleum which was vital to the Somozista war effort. The son of the refinery manager was in Costa Rica. He knew where to find the Sandinista leadership. He pleaded with them not to assassinate his father. He told the Sandinistas that his father was no supporter of Somoza but was a mere oil engineer doing his job and unable to stop production because he was a virtual hostage in the hands of the National Guard. The Sandinistas agreed not to assassinate the oil refinery manager. They kept their word.

In July 1979 Tachito fled the country by plane. He later moved to Paraguay which was ruled by a military authoritarian, General Alfredo Stroessner. Tachito’s was killed by a car bomb in 1981. He is buried at the family tomb in Miami, Florida. The new Nicaraguan Government was headed by Sandinistas. There were Communists in the government but other assorted leftists and liberals played a role in the government role. Property belonging to the Somoza family and their followers was confiscated and became the property of the state. The US Government was unfriendly towards the new Nicaraguan Government. The US Government viewed the new regime in Nicaragua as Communist with a veneer of fellow travelers to make them seem democratic. The Communist Government in Cuba hailed the downfall of the Somoza dynast as a blessed liberation. Advisers from Cuba, East Germany and other Communist states hastened to Nicaragua. Elections were regularly held. Many countries recognised these as fair. However, Washington viewed these as fraudulent – mere window dressing. The Sandinistas said they were introducing democracy. They made a great effort to reduce illiteracy and improve public health. The Sandinistas said the rule of the robber barons was over. Now Nicaragua would be run to the advantage of ordinary people. Private enterprise and ownership was allowed by foreign companies were not. This meant sequestering property owned by US companies. The Somoza supporters and the National Guard fled. They regrouped in the jungles of Honduras which lies to the north of Nicaragua.

The US Government under President Ronald Reagan was keen to remove the Sandinista Government from Nicaragua. The Counter-revolutionaries were sworn to bring down the Sandinistas. The Counter-revolutionaries were known by the Spanish for ”counter” as in counter-revolutionary which is ”Contra.” The Contras began a guerrilla campaign. The US funded and armed them. Presidnet Ronald Reagan said that the Contras were the spiritual heirs of the founding fathers. Others saw them as fascist goons. The conflict intensified and so did aid to the Sandinistas from the USSR. The Soviet Bloc was keen to keep this foothold in Central America. Washington believed that the US could not afford another Cuba – another Communist state within striking distance of the US. Internationalists arrived – these were volunteers from many countries, mainly western countries such as the United Kingdom, who were left wingers sympathetic to the Sandinistas. There were even Americans and Canadians who came to Nicaragua to help the Sandinistas. There were a considerable number of crimes carried out by Contras. The evidence was difficult to contest. Eventually Congress decided that the US must no longer fund the Contras. It is alleged that the CIA colluded with cocaine dealers in return for a cut of the profits with which to bankroll the Contras. The conflict rumbled on till the end of the Cold War. Only then negotiation brought peace and elections which included parties from both sides in the vicious civil war. It was a right wing coalition that was elected. This seemed to vindicate Reagan. _________________________________________________________________________________________________


Poland had a Communist Government imposed on her by the USSR after the Second World War. Poland had a Communist Party before the Second World War but it was an illegal organisation and its members spent much of their time in prison. Poland was a strongly Christian country and anti-Communism was pronounced. Poland had a long standing enmity towards Russia and this extended to the USSR. Communism was never popular in Poland. However, the anti-Communist intelligentisa had been mostly killed off by the Soviet secret police and Gestapo in the Second World War. As democracy was quickly dismantled after the Second World War many anti-Communist politicians fled. They formed a Polish Government-in-exile which existed in London right up until the 1990s before it ceded sovereignty to the new democratic government of Poland. The Red Army occupied Poland. Poland had collective farms imposed on her. These were inefficient and food shortages were constant. Currency inflation became an increasing headache. The Communist officials had special privileges such as access to shops were food was plentiful and better schools and hospitals. In 1978 Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope. He was a Pole and the former Archbishop of Krakow. This was a matter of great pride for many Poles. This gave them a new found confidence and an anti-Communist leader to look up to. In 1981 strikes broke out in Gdansk shipyard. They were led by a shipyard electrician named Lech Walesa. The strikers formed an organisation called ”Solidarity.” The secret police tried to infiltrate the strikers but the strikers were too numerous to be controlled. Many priests supported these anti-Communist protests. Some priests who did so were abducted and killed by the security apparatus. The Pope visited Poland and was given a most rapturous reception. Martial law was declared in Poland. The civilain Communist leaders in Poland felt that they could not handle the situation. A new President was chosen – Colonel Wojiceh Jaruzelski. His father had been arrested by the Soviet secret police and died due to a lack of basic medical care. Despite this Jaruzelski was a loyal Communist. He said he must crack down on the strikers. He later claimed he did this under threat from Moscow – either you sort out the strikers or we will come in and do it for you. Archives opened since the Cold War explode this myth. The Soviet leadership refused his request to send him military .

Throughout the 1980s Solidarity was a running sore for the Communist regime in Poland. They tried repression and negotiation over and again but Solidarity would not die. Finally in 1989 the Communists were compelled to make meaningful concessions to public opinion.



Leonid Brezhnev became General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1964. For short this title may be known as General Secretary. This was the post that was the paramount position in the USSR held by every Soviet supremo from Stalin onwards.

Brezhnev had back pedalled some of Krushchev’s reforms but not all the way. Censorship was tightened up again and Stalin’s reputation was partly rehabilitated.

In the late 1970s things went well for the USSR. The US had withdrawn from Indochina and the American public was deeply unenthusiastic about any notion of sending troops to fight abroad again. World oil prices were high because the Arab states had reduced production in order to punish Western countries for assissting Israel. The USSR was an oil exporting country and thus benefitted greatly from the inflated world price. Brezhnev was inflating too on vodka and fine food. He eschewed the simple living that befits a communist. His mother is said to have marvelled at the luxury that her son lived in and said ”what if the Reds come back?” He treated himself to a number of limousines and a preposterous number of medals. He had the history of the Second World War re-written to make it appear that a minor action in which he played a party was the turning point of the entire conflict.

The idealism that had been present in the Soviet people for decades was beginning to run out. The promised good life had not appeared. The elite were firmly enriched and living well. However, unlike under the time of Stalin the Soviet people were not terrorised on a massive scale – only on a small scale.

On the other hand the USSR had internal difficulties. Agriculture was mismanaged and inefficient. Not enough food was produced. Sometimes the paucity of grain was so accute that the USSR had to purchase it from arch-rival the USA. Often the transport of food was muddled and food ended up rotting before it could be taken to a place to freeze or can it. The man in charge of Soviet Agriculture was a certain Mikhail Gorbachev. Nonetheless the Soviet people had enough to eat – just. Only twenty years earlier some had literally starved to death.

Brezhnev became very ill in the late 1970s and is rumoured to have been brought back from clinical death on a number of occasions. He was soon so unwell that he could not even read his speeches for broadcast and an actor had to do it for him. He was kept going on cortazone. Finally he died in March 1982. The Politburo met to chose someone to replace Brezhnev. He was succeeded by Yuri Andropov. This was always how it worked in the USSR. Power was at the top and flowed downwards. The communist nomenclature was self-perpetuating.

Andropov showed no inclination to adapt Soviet policies in any significant manner in any way. Andropov had been ambassador to Hungary in the 1950s and very responsible for crushing the attempt to establish freedom there. He had urged military action to prevent liberalisation in Czechoslovakia in 1968. He had headed the Soviet secret service –  the KGB – from 1967 until 1982. He was a hardliner and a firm believer in brute force. There was no let up in the fight in Afghanistan where the Red Army had about 200 000 troops. The mujahideen in Afghanistan had, by 1982, stinger missles courtesy of the US. This greatly hampered the ability of the Red Army to capitalise on its air power advantage. Andropov had been a prime mover behind the decision to invade Afghanistan but by 1982 began to believe this had been a cardinal error. He secretly examined the possibility of withdrawal but concluded that the costs of pulling outweighed any benefit.

Within a year of assuming office Andropov became very ill and unable to attend Politburo meetings. He recommended that Mikhail Gorbachev take over after him but his wish was hushed up.

In February 1984 Andropov died of renal failure. His death after only 15 months in office led to the British wisecrack, ”Andropov dropped off.”

The next General Secretary was Constantin Cherenenko. He came from a poor countryside family. He had some Jewish ancestry which was kept a secret – possibly even from Cherenenko himself – because of the fear of anti-Semitic prejudice.

Cherenenko rapidly fell ill. He was already suffering from emphysema before he took office.  At the elegy for Andropov that Cherenenko delivered from the Lenin Mausoleum the already ailing Cherenenko gulped for breath repeatedly. It was not an encouraging sign. His health deteriorated rapidly.

Cherenenko showed no interest in detente. The fighting in Afghanistan continued unabated. He boycotted the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He was hitting back at the US as the US and many of her allies had refused to participate in the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980.

In March 1985 he died. He had only served as General Secretary for 13 months. Reagan joked that Soviet leaders, ”kept dying on me.”  The USSR would need to select a head of government who was not in failing health. The two possible contenders for the top job were Grigoriy Romanov and Mikhail Gorbachev. Grigoriy Romanov was the mayor of Leningrad, the second largest city in the USSR. He was dubbed ”the last of the Romanovs” for his taste in opulence. Despite his surname he was not related to the imperial house. Romanov had held his daughter’s wedding in one of the Tsar’s palaces and used imperial china and silverware. Some of it was smashed in the drunken festivities which was taken to typify his irresponsible attitude.

The USSR then elected a leader who they considered young – at 54. Mikhail Gorbachev was the new General Secretary. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, ”he is a man with whom we can do business.” Grigoriy Romanov was away from Moscow when the vote was taken. Some people feel that Gorbachev came to office unfairly. Romanov was forcibly retired.

Gorbachev felt he could not pull out of Afghanistan because hardliners within the Politburo would not stand for it. The consequences for Soviet prestige around the world would be catastrophic. Furthermore, the Mujahideen would surely defeat the People’s Republic of Afghanistan. The USSR really would then have a very hostile state on its southern frontier replete with US bases –  destabilising the Mohammedan underbelly of the USSR.

Gorbachev was aware that the Soviet economy was in long term decline. State terror had been reduced to a shadow of its former self. People skipped work to queue for goods. Alcoholism was a major problem. Gorbachev realised that a centrally planned economy was deeply inefficient. Gorbachev planned to introduce economic reforms to increase productivity. He realised that the state was much too bureaucratic. The sclerotic administration made everything slow. Absenteeism at work was chronic as people spent hours queuing for scarce goods. His aim was not to bring communism to an end but to make it more robust and make it last forever.



South Africa was the only white ruled country on the continent after 1980. South Africa was rich in minerals and had strong industry. It also had good farm land free of the tsetse fly that carries sleeping sickness. Its Mediterranean climate is good for wine production.

Many countries refused to trade with South Africa. This meant that for those countries that did trade with South Africa the profits were even better. South Africa would sell for less and buy for more than she otherwise would as she had little choice in trading partners. The inability to purchase weapons from many countries was corrected by producing her own arms. South Africa also turned her coal into oil. Within the Commonwealth the UK and Australia traded with her. At every Commonwealth summit only these countries opposed sanctions on South Africa. Margaret Thatcher’s argument was that to do so would only impoverish an already deprived black majority even more. However, the message of the anti-apartheid movement was to disinvest. She also had a good relationship with Israel. They traded weapons, minerals, intelligence and tactics.

South Africa’s Defence Force was perhaps the best equipped and trained on the continent. She cowed Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana into not opposing her. They traded with her as they were at her mercy. They had little choice.

Namibia had been under South African administration since 1915. A leftist black nationalist group was set up there – South West African People’s Organisation or Swapo.

In 1975 Angola and Mozambique became independent. The communist regimes in these countries supported the ANC. The ANC was the African National Congress. The ANC was not communist but was inclined that way. The ANC said it supported equality for South Africans of all races. Many anti-apartheid people were communists.

Mozambique and Angola harboured Umkhunto we Sizwe (”the spear of the nation” it means). This was the armed wing of the ANC. Umkhunto we Sizwe fighters infiltrated South-West Africa and attacked the South African forces there. The SADF fought a defensive campaign against the guerrilla tactics of Umkhonto we Sizwe and Swapo in Namibia. Then the South African Government changed policy. It decided to bring the war to the enemy. If Red Africa persisted in supporting the ANC then she would have to pay a heavy price. The SADF launched a full scale invasion of Angola. Angola was spiralling into an especially three sided civil war with intervention from her neighbours. The government was formed by the MPLA. The MPLA claimed this largely on the basis of having been the first to enter the capital –  Sao Paolo de Luanda. The MPLA was an orthodox Marxist group aligned with the Soviet Bloc. Their arch-enemy was Unita. Unita was an anti-Communist grouping. The South African Government fought beside Unita and against the MPLA. Cuban troops rushed to Angola to assist the MPLA. South African found itself fighting face to face against Cuba.

The US supported Unita. What were the consequences of backing Unita and having a cordial relationship with apartheid South Africa for the United States? The US criticised apartheid but not ferociously. On the one hand the US gained some allies against communism. On the other hand the US drove other people into the arms of the Soviets.

In Mozambique Frelimo took over. Frelimo too was a communist grouping. The SADF set up Renamo – and anti-Communist resistance movement. This sparked off a horrendous civil war. The South African Government put it to the Mozambiquan Frelimo Government – you are backing the ANC and we are backing Renamo. You stop, we stop.

Once the USSR was imploding the ANC was deprived of a valuable source of succour. On the other hand the US and her allies who had been willing to go easy on South Africa found it increasingly difficult to turn Nelson’s eye to the injustice of apartheid. South African whites were no longer so worried about communism and it was no longer a convincing excuse for resisting reform.

F W de Klerk came to office in 1989. He almost immediately ordered the release of Nelson Mandela. Mandela had been imprisoned for 28 years on Robben Island which lies some miles off the coast of Cape Town. Mandela was sent there for advocating violence to overthrow apartheid. The apartheid government had often offered to let him go but only on condition that he repudiated the use of force. This he refused to do. His release was unconditional – a changed policy by de Klerk. F W de Klerk led the South African Government into negotiations with the ANC and other parties.



Gorbachev sought a means to pull out of Afghanistan without the USSR being humiliated. Of course the US wanted the USSR to be humiliated. The US was elated that so many countries that had not been anti-Soviet before were critical of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. The USSR had expended much political capital. Other socialist countries had not volunteered their sons to do their ”international duty” in Afghanistan. The Red Army had lost some 14 000 troops in Afghanistan with little to show for its pains. Of course as there was a Soviet population of some three hundreds of millions this was not a great figure. The USSR had sustained casualties that were immeasurably higher in the Great Patriotic War. Had she been willing to suffer fatalities in six figures it is probable that Soviet might would have prevailed.

Finally an agreement was worked out that allowed the USSR with pull back from Afghanistan in return for the US ceasing aid to the Mujahideen. The USSR would then say that the Afghan communists would hold on to power. The USSR believed as did everyone else that the Afghan communists would be thrashed very quickly. The US and other states friendly to her had already provided so much aid to the Mujahids that the Mujahids were thought to have a massive advantage over the People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan forces. In fact this assessment proved to be erroneous. It was widely assumed that the communists in Afghanistan were propped up by the USSR and the moment the Red Army pulled back to its own territory the communists would collapse very quickly indeed. However, it was not to be.

The USSR began its pullout in 1988 and completed it in 1989. The communists were able to exploit the disagreements between different Mujahideen factions based on ethnicity, language, religious denomination and political outlook. Alliances shifted. TheMujahideen fights between themselves intensified now that there was no Red Army to unite against. Some Mujahideen teamed up with those whom one might term post-communists after 1989. The post-communists did lose more and more territory. The surprising thing is not that the post-communists lost but that it took so long. The communists held out in some form until 1996



Gorbachev recognised that he could not match US defence spending. The new generation of US military hardware was better than anything the USSR had. The US had nuclear missiles all over Europe. The Soviet economy appeared to be in terminal decline. As the Iran-Iraq conflict drew to a close oil prices fell dramatically. Much of the Soviet economy was based one exporting oil which gave the USSR the hard currency to purchase much needed imports. Something had got to give.

Gorbachev initiated new policies at home. Perestrokia  – this was economic reform. The economy was to be de-centralised and greater freedom was to be allowed to buy and sell and establish small enterprises. This might introduce some vigour into a decrepit economy. The other major policy shift was Glasnost which is often translated ”openness” while many say that no adequate translation exists in English.More freedom of expression was to be allowed. The party could be criticised. Organisations could be founded outside the party structure. The harassment of religious people must cease.

Similar reform among the leading cadre of the communist party was seen in the Eastern European states that were subordinate to the USSR. There was of course in every case, including the USSR, a faction within the communist party that set its face against reform. The opposition to reform was founded on the fear that the whole system would unravel if one tampered with it in any way. Although hardline communists said that the communist states would lose their democracy if they reformed these states were in no wise democratic.

Gorbachev inverted the Brezhnev Doctrine. The Brezhnev Doctrine was that the internal affairs of any one communistic country was not the sole business of that country. Such matters materially impacted on the wider socialist commonwealth. Therefore the USSR being the father figure of the communist bloc was entitled to intervene with force of arms to ensure that nothing happened in such a country that might imperil the communist world. Gorbachev quipped that his view was the Sinatra Doctrine – I did it my way. Each country could plough its own furrow. Moscow would not longer present each country with a diktat as to how it ran its affairs. If they wished to democratise or bring in capitalism then this would be permitted.



In January 1989 Erich Honecker, the ruler of East Germany spoke about the Berlin Wall, cough, the Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier. He said that if the reasons for the existence of it were still around in a century then the wall would still be there. Honecker was the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany and Chairman of the People’s Chamber. The Socialists Unity Party of Germany (SED) was the communist party. It did not have the word ”communist” in its name but in its literature it described itself as being communist. The People’s Chamber was the parliament.

Poland allowed multipparty elections. The Communists guaranteed many seats for themselves in the Sejm (parliament) by law. They polled a derisorily low share of the vote.

In Hungary the government declared that it would not stop people from emigrating. Tens of thousands of East Germans travelled through Czechoslovakia to Hungary. From Hungary they could cross the border into Austria and then into West Germany. East Germany already had a large number of border guards preventing her people from voting with their feet. East Germany could not afford the manpower nor the materials to close all her borders. People might make it to West Germany by a circuitous route.

There were mass demonstrations in Czechoslovakia. Vaclav Havel, a much imprisoned dissident playwright, became a focal figure for the dissidents.

In November 1989 the communist regimes of Eastern Europe fell like nine pins. In Czechoslovakia the communists resgined and allowed a non-communist government to hold free elections. Havel became president.

Hungary allowed democratic elections.

In Bulgara Tidor Zhikhov was pressured into resigning after decades at the helm of state.

Mass protests gripped East Germany. In Leipzig church groups were often behind these demonstrations. They cried, ”no violence”. They knew that the least violence from their side would be met by grossly excessive violence from the security forces.

The East German politburo asked Erich Honecker to step down as leader. Honecker ignored the remark and tried to carry on as though nothing had been said. The politburo did not let it drift and pressured him into resigning. He was replaced by a much younger man – Egon Krenz. Yet still the protests continued. ”Krenz Xiaoping/ We will not sing” read one protest banner. It was an allusion to the Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping who had ordered the killing of thousands of peaceful protestors in China 5 months earlier.

On 9 November 1989 the East German government announced that people would be allowed to visit the West at will. A British journalist Daniel Johnson asked when this came into effect. The German official Gunther Schabowsky said ”immediately”. In fact he was mistaken but the effect was electric. Tens of thousands of people raced to the border in East Berlin and demanded to be let out. The mood was turning ugly. There was a danger that the guards would be unable to hold people back without shooting. The guards had to decided to let them through or to open fire. Whatever they did the guards might be punished. They chose to let the people through.

The Berlin Wall was breached in spirit.

Only in Romania did the leader remain immovable. Ceausescu remained adamant that he would not not the tiniest concession to reformist opinion. He absolutely ruled out the possibility of standing down. He was removed by force and met his end in front of a firing squad.

The USSR announced the pullout of the Red Army from the Eastern European satellite states. In the USSR other political parties were allowed. Separatist movements were established in the non-Russian portions of the USSR. It became clear that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was not so much of a UNION after all. Such independence movements were especially outspoken in the Baltic republics – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. They had only been conquered by the USSR in 1939. The Baltic republics witnessed huge demonstrations against their forcible membership of the USSR in August 1989 to commemmorate the 50th anniversary of the Nazi Soviet Pact that had predicated their annexation on the orders of Stalin.

In 1990 non-communists won the elections to Leningrad city council. Some communists suggested annulling the elections and the communists ruling Leningrad regardless. Gorbachev refused to overturn the elections and he allowed non-communists to run Leningrd. Some hardliners were aghast. They thought that the consequences of Gorbachev’s reforms were frightful.

In August 1991 Gorbachev was holidaying by the Black Sea. It was surrounded by Soviet Special Forces. It was announced on Soviet TV that Gorbachev had been taken ill. A new junta was to rule in his place. The mayor of Moscow refused to go along with this. Boris Yeltsin was the mayor. He rallied anti-communist protestors outside the white house – which is the building that houses the presidency of Russia.

Soldiers were called onto the streets of Moscow to crush the protestors. The putschists hesitated to order mass killing of the demonstrators. Some soldiers defected to the side of the demonstrators. After 3 days the coup collapsed and Gorbachev went free. However, the man of the moment was Yeltsin. There was a feeling that Gorbachev had had his day.

One by one the republics declared their independence from the USSR. Russia was left as the only remaining part of the USSR.

In December 1991 Gorbachev stood down. Yeltsin became the president of Russia.

On 31 December 1991 at the stroke of midnight the red flag was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin. The USSR was no more. The Cold War was over.


People naively spoke of an age of peace. Ethnic and religious conflict that had been held in stasis for decades broke out afresh. At least until 1991 people knew where they stood and who the enemy was.

Why did the US win? Her partisans would say because she was freer and her system was more popular. This analysis cannot altogether be rejected.

It is true that some pro-US regimes were anti-democratic and arguably even oppressive. However, this was true of most pro-Soviet regimes. Communist governments were generally sustained by secret police, censorship, propaganda and state terror. This was seldom true of the American allies.

When people had the right to choose they normally chose a capitalist democratic system. As Margaret Thatcher said, ”when people are free to choose – they choose freedom.”

The US economy and that of developed capitalist countries produced more wealth. This allowed them to produce more weapons. The USSR could not keep pace with this.