Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The uniqueness of the US according to Simon Peres.

In an article for the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney provides the following quote from former Israeli Prime Minister Simon Peres: "America is unique in the history of the world. During this last century, there was only one nation that laid down hundreds of thousands of lives of its own sons and daughters and asked for nothing for itself... You took no land from the Germans, no land from the Japanese. All you asked for was enough land to bury your dead."

In Peres' understanding of history, nations that have won wars have always taken land from losing ones. Such an understanding is perhaps not surprising from a former PM of Israel, a country that has felt entitled to annex land it has conquered in wars, but it is nonetheless surprising that Peres would make a statement that is so hard reconcile with the history of the 20th century.

Because Peres was referring only to the 20th century, his view of American uniqueness excludes US land expansion after its wars with Mexico and Spain in the 19th century. Also excluded from Peres' statement is US involvement, during the cold war, in the violent overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran, Guatemala and Chile in favour of US friendly dictatorships.

The main flaw in Peres' statement is, however, that the US can hardly be said to be the only nation in the 20th century to have "laid down hundreds of thousands of lives... asking nothing for itself." The United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, did not demand land in either world wars,(1) and arguably neither did France,(2) while suffering great loss of life. Britain's willingness in 1914 to fight in France and to declare war after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, was not less "unique" than America's late entry into either world wars.(3)

The US deserves a lot of credit for its involvement in the major conflicts of the 20th century, but to claim that the US involvement was 'unique' in its unselfishness (as defined by demand for land) shows either Peres' ignorance or his contempt of other nations. It is also disturbing that a US presidential candidate is so willing to repeat Peres' statements without any critical reflection.

1) Note that Britain, Australia, Canada and France also participated in the Korean war, and that Australia fought alongside the US in Vietnam.
2) France did of course demand the return of Alsace-Lorraine from Germany after the First World War.
3) Note that Peres statement was one of willingness to fight wars without gain of land, not whether engagement in the conflict was justified or not.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My Shipmates.

When I had just completed Navy Boot Camp at Great Lakes Naval Station, my fellow recruits in Company 158 (pronounced: 'one-five-eight') were looking forward to our first free day off the base for two months. The Navy was nervous, however, to let us all out, knowing most of us would head the few miles south to Chicago and the nightlife there. So they assembled the two recruit companies from the 21st Division who where eligible for their first leave together for a talk.

Company 154 and 158, who for the lasts two months had competed against each other in series of competitive events that tested the training we had received, therefore met together in 154's living quarters for the first and only time. When it was announced that 158, unlike 154, would only have one days leave because we had finished last of all the companies in our group, the recruits of 154 made taunting remarks and noise. At that point 154's Company Commander got really angry with his recruits and told them off saying: "These are your shipmates, don't make fun of them!"

The Navy talked a lot about the importance of looking out for ones shipmates. Unfortunately for the Navy they did nothing to foster a spirit of unity and the environment in the Navy, especially onboard ship, was hostile. Everyone, from officers to lowest enlisted, were rude and spoke harshly to each others. When I arrived at my ship, the USS Seattle, I tried my best to work hard and get along with everybody, but found myself constantly being told off and jelled at.

The words of 154's Company Commander have nevertheless remained with me and I can't stop thinking about them. Isen't that the attitude I should have to everybody around me, that they are my shipmates and their welbeing should be at the forefront of my mind. Whether its the Polish waitress at the takeaway, the mother shouting at her kid in a pushchair, the teenagers hanging about on the streetcorners and all those awful readers of the Daily Mail. They are all my shipmates, they are all my neighbours!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Human Rights (2)

Following up from yesterday blog, there is a this interesting article in today's Guardian, where Katie Ghose from British Institute of Human Rights argues that not only was the Chindamo decision based on EU law and not Human Rights legislation, but also that critics attacking human rights are undermining their positive aspects.

Ghose is right when she points out that the Human Rights Act* does not prevent the deportation of criminals and that Cheindamo's right to family life does not overrides all other considerations. I would, however, argue that the European Convention of Human Rights gave Chindamo a very strong case against deportation, and is therefore not irrelevant to the discussion of his case.

For more on the Chindamo case see this Guardian article and this blog (thanks to Andrew for the link.)

* The Human Rights Act, which Labour introduced and Parliament passed in 1998, incorporated the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law. Prior to 1998 individuals in Britain who wanted to enforce a Convention right only had recourse to the European Court of Human Rights.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Human Rights under attack.

Human rights are unpopular in Britain. This is evident from the continuous stream of attacks on them by politicians and the press. Today those critical of human rights are speaking out against an immigration tribunal's decision to block the deportation of Learco Chindamo, an Italian citizen who murdered a school teacher in 1996. For more see this BBC article, or this Guardian aricle.

The right wing Daily Mail is having a field day with the story, and the first reader comments are already in. John from Lancashire thinks it an "Absolute disgrace", while Frank from England (?), writes: "How can a murderer have any human rights. The rules are ludicrous and only benefit criminals." Chris from Surrey simply writes: "Kick the useless scum out."

In my opinion, the he tribunal's decision is correct, both in its application of the European Convention of Human Rights and EU law, but also in being right and fair. Chindamo's foreign citizenship is mere formality. He was raised in, and has lived almost his entire life, in Britain and has no significant ties to Italy. Deporting Chindamo would therefore be an extra punishment that would not have been meted out to a British citizen and cannot be justified on security grounds.

What the critics of human rights in general, and this decision in particular, are in essence advocating that the criminal justice system should discriminate against foreigners in the punishment of crime.

I fear that cases like this will harden the will of British politicians to depart from a commitment to Human Rights.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


So I've joined Facebook.

This last week I've been hearing constantly about it and realized that I had to be on it if I wanted maintain any friends.

I have 2 friends, for now, on Facebook (including my wife), but I'm not sure what the correct Facebook etiquette is. When you find someone you would like to have as a Facebook friend do you e-mail them, 'Poke' them or simply press 'Add to Friends" (hoping they won't reject you)?

So if I 'poke' or 'add' you in the near future, it just means I'm trying to make friends!

Monday, August 13, 2007


I came back yesterday after a week in Germany at the Church Planting X-Change Conference for the Adventist church in Northern Europe.

Although I was disappointed about several aspects of the conference, it was nonetheless a very positive experience. Positive because the Southampton based church plant team had time to get to know each other better and because there were so many of my old friends there.

The conference also made me think long and hard about my life. My mind was full of so many questions, mainly concerning how I can serve God and be a part of the church. I've been struggling for the last couple of years with the question of how to relate to a church that hired my wife instead of me?* I was overwhelmed, at one point of the conference, by the feeling that my life was empty and without purpose. But God did not leave me there.

At the conference I had the opportunity to present the idea of opening a debt advice service in Totton/West Southampton in cooperation with the Frontline charity. Although the presentation was very short (2 minutes), several individuals approached me afterwards with questions and interest. Through these conversations the idea grew in my mind and left me with a sense of calling. Maybe, just maybe, this is a way I can serve God and others.

So many people struggle with financial issues in Britain, where credit is cheap and credit cards are promoted by cheap balance transfers. Organisation and numbers are not my strengths, but the idea is so good that someone should do it!

* This is not meant as a criticism of the church, rather I am trying to explain how my wife's sponsorship and employment created somewhat of a 'crisis of identity' for me.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


So I've come up with plan for the future. I've applied for the Master of Laws (LLM) programme at the University of Southampton. Yesterday, a week after I applying, I got the acceptance letter.

Yes, yes, I know I've been complaining of how hard I've found the LLB (Bachelor of Laws), but even if I find it hard, I love the law. The Masters allows me to choose the subjects that I'm most interested in and is more academic than the LLB (at least that is how I'm trying to rationalise it to myself).

I've applied for the LLM in International Law and the courses I'd like to take are: 'International Protection of Human Rights', 'International Terrorism and the Law' and 'International Business Tax'.

I'm not sure that I'm going to accept the offer of a place, but as my search for a job is leading nowhere it seems more than likely. I've been sending out applications, mostly for paralegal and/or administrative positions, since coming back from vacation in early July, but I get no responses. Not even a "Thank you for applying" letter. So either I'm really bad at writing applications or I'm just don't employable.

The LLM, if nothing else, gets me out of looking for a job!