Friday, 4 April 2014

The enemy has landed

Anyone familiar with the rules of state PR will know that when a government has to bury bad news it will be done on a Friday. And so this Friday, just too late for any Manx media outlet to pick it up, this (see ) appeared on the Manx government website. Just as offices were packing up for the day and the local mediocracy were heading for the pub.
You can look in vain for any critical reports on Manx media websites and radio stations, or in the printed press. There will be none. Likewise no questions to or by politicians.
In a nutshell, everything that I predicted would happen after the Island signed the UK government's pathetic “military covenant” is now happening. The British MOD, with Manx government assistance, is openly recruiting in our schools. The UK government, with Manx government assistance, will be able to sign up some of our most vulnerable children - the ones who will fail in school and become otherwise unemployable.
If or when any of them come back in a wheelchair, or needing 24 hour care, the MOD will not pick up the bills or assume any responsibilities. The Manx politicians who failed to think about the consequences of agreeing to this awful covenant and allowing the warmongers easy access to Manx children will by then be collecting comfortable pensions paid by us. They certainly will not be bearing the responsibilities of their actions.
If you have children or young relatives, or even if you just consider yourself a responsible adult, read through the first two pieces on this blog again.
Then either do something about it or stop pretending you have moral values.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Another sick joke? No thanks!

I find this (see ) quite sad. Disturbing even.
For one thing, there is already a perfectly good war memorial in Ramsey. and public money was spent to make it wheelchair accessible as part of the recent square redevelopment. This means that a contingent of old soldiers and their relatives (which gets smaller and less mobile year on year) can pay their respects on Remembrance Sunday.
While I find that particular Christocentric and jingoistic ceremony absolutely pointless – even offensive - I would never make public comment on or interfere with something which, presumably, brings genuine comfort to those attending. And I have no problem with some of my taxes and rates being spent to make it easier and more comforting.
But in the 21st century, how sick is a cross as a mark of respect?
Any number of elderly men who fought on both sides of that conflict and their descendants I've spoken to over the years related to me how their lords and masters told them they would prevail because God was on their side. Even if you believed in a deity (which I don't) you would have to ask how he, she or it simultaneously and equally failed to protect millions of innocents on both sides, while seemingly managing to ensure those too rich or powerful to become cannon fodder emerged from that war even richer and more powerful.
So why perpetuate that lie into a new century?
Why spend any public money at all perpetuating a sick joke which will blight the side of a public building for years? I, for one, would find it so awful, so offensive, that I would never again waste time in a (currently very pleasant) public square which has just been renovated at considerable public expense.
If this is just a question of using up central government funds which are going begging, and if the Manx really want to mark the tragic waste of life in a more fitting manner perhaps, instead, they could stop using this centenary as yet another weak excuse to allow MOD recruiters into schools, and try some objective education on the causes, and possible means of averting, wars.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Some essential reading - especially for politicians

A joint report by the UK campaign group ForcesWatch and international human rights advocacy group Child Soldiers International was published recently. It advocates ending recruitment of minors by the UK armed forces, so as no politician or ‘community group’ on this septic isle is likely to refer parents to it, maybe I’d better.
You can find it in full at and if you are a responsible Manx parent maybe you should take a look.
In the introduction, the researchers begin by explaining:
“Currently, the British Armed Forces recruit from age 16. This paper shows that staffing the Forces exclusively with adults over the age of 18 is entirely feasible and would save at least £81.5 million per annum. It also shows that all-adult armed forces would be easier to manage, operate more effectively, and better serve young people’s interests.”
The UK alone amongst EU countries recruits minors, and on a wider international scale it seems to be the last country in theory governed by a democratic government to do so. This leaves the UK up there with bastions of child rights like North Korea and Iran. Oh joy!
As the researchers continue:
“The legal age of responsibility in the UK bars minors from activities deemed by common consent to be harmful, or which require the maturity of adulthood, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, most forms of gambling, watching an adult film, signing a legal contract and working in the civil emergency services. The risks and obligations of military life surpass all these.
The personal risks of military life affect the youngest recruits most. Several negative outcomes are more common among minors than adults, including self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual harassment and bullying. A disproportionately large number of minors join the Infantry, where the risk of fatality in Afghanistan has been five times that faced by the rest of the Army.”
Ah, but kids don’t get sent to Afghanistan, do they?
Well, actually……
“As a State Party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC), the UK must take “all feasible measures” to ensure that members of its armed forces aged less than 18 “do not take a direct part in hostilities’.”
In addition, the UN forbids minors from serving as peacekeepers. This – in theory – should be enough, thus the common myth that minors are never sent into combat zones. But it is a myth, because:
“Occasionally, units containing minors are deployed to war zones. Since 2003, at least 20 minors were accidentally deployed to operational theatres in Afghanistan and Iraq; one was in Helmand for six weeks and took part in armed combat.”
And we do need to worry about this because:
“Soldiers who enlist as minors typically face the greatest risks once they turn 18 and are deployed to war zones. This is because they enlist in disproportionately high numbers in the Army’s front-line roles, such as those in the Infantry, where the risk of death or injury in Afghanistan has been five times that faced by soldiers in the rest of the Army. Minors, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are more likely to enlist in these roles as GCSEs are not required and there are always vacancies available. As a consequence, the Infantry contains one third of all the Army’s minors even though it comprises only one quarter of the Army overall. Of the 34 British armed forces fatalities in Afghanistan aged 18 and 19 to date, 30 were Infantrymen and 27 had enlisted as minors. Infantrymen killed in Afghanistan have been two years younger on average than fatalities in the rest of the Army. These tragic facts reflect the over-representation of young people in the Infantry, their consequent increased exposure to risk, and the Army’s practice of deploying soldiers to Afghanistan very soon after their 18th birthday.”
Still, that’s a small risk and, if you’re a kid who didn’t do well at school, at least the Army can make a man of you, can’t it?
“As international norms governing military recruitment progress, the UK is becoming increasingly isolated as the only state of the EU, Council of Europe and United Nations Security Council Permanent Members that still recruits from age 16.
A common defence of the current policy is that it supports the social mobility of young people but this is also now in question. Whilst young people can gain from a military career, recruiting school-leavers diverts them from the broader and superior educational and training opportunities of the civilian system. The Army’s educational offer for minors is limited to low-grade qualifications and omits those that young people most need in the long-term – high-grade GSCEs in English and Maths.”
But with all this youth unemployment at least that’s something, isn’t it?
No, a red herring actually, because:
“The MoD argues that the recruitment of minors provides employment and training opportunities for young people who might otherwise be unemployed.
In fact, few 16 year-olds are in the market for work; in 2009-10, 94% of 16-year-olds were staying on in education, largely thanks to successive governments’ policies aimed at enhancing social mobility. By attempting to recruit young people leaving school at 16, the armed forces are in de facto competition with the civilian education sector.
The educational opportunities available to new armed forces recruits do not compare well with civilian alternatives. A report by Child Soldiers International in 2012 found that qualifications available to minors in the Army, which accounts for nine out of ten armed forces recruits aged 16, do not include GCSEs, A- or AS-levels, BTECs, HNCs or HNDs. The Army’s only formal target for the education of minors is that they achieve a Functional Skills qualification in literacy and numeracy at Level One, which is approximately equivalent to GCSE grade G.”
The report goes on to explore the issue from all angles – human rights, education, economic costs, personnel management amongst them, and in far more important detail than I can cherry-pick here. You really need to look at it all.
But it concludes:
“The armed forces would benefit from personnel who are more mature. Training and operations would be streamlined by a more manageable system without, as now, different arrangements for minors and adults. Young people would reap lasting benefits from staying on for longer in civilian education before becoming eligible to enlist. As adults, potential recruits would be better placed to give informed consent to the risks and obligations that enlistment entails, and less likely to drop out of training. The Exchequer would benefit from substantial efficiency savings.”
All pretty common sense when you put it together like that. Sadly, it doesn’t appear any government body has done so, which is why the report advocates that it now should.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Shee Nish! (Peace Now!)

This blog brings to fruition ideas that have been rattling around for a while, with no real way to take further.
Last year I finally made tentative links with off-island peaceniks again, and started raising the idea of some kind of Manx peace or anti-militarist group.
In my years here there have been two - or three if you include the Manx branch of the Celtic League monitoring military exercises around the British isles, and in the process linking them to fishing vessels which sank after ‘non-existent’ submarines got tangled in their nets and dragged them under.
The ‘Manx Peace Group’ in the mid-1980’s tried to raise interest in the UK peace camps (despite a refusal to list our meetings and general outright hostility from what then passed for a Manx media – in particular the government subsidised Manx Radio). A looser group based on the Stop The War Coalition questioned Iraq intervention in 2003 - and at least got a press mention - but never built on the wider island interest in such matters which might have been created.
What finally pushed me was this month’s sad news that the UK’s so-called ‘military covenant’ was being extended to the island (see ), and further that our so-called independent government was bending to Westminster’s whim without so much as a whimper.
Because extending this laughable ‘covenant’ to the British Commonwealth has nothing to do with protecting soldiers, If anything, it is the reverse. This is the UK refusing to honour commitments to soldiers recruited from elsewhere (e.g. housing, resettlement back into civilian life or after injury, help to widows) and a cheap attempt to get the Commonwealth to shoulder those responsibilities instead.
Much of my better recent understanding of this comes from discoveries made after a Channel 4 news story about the plight of some Commonwealth soldiers on 2nd July last year (see
In particular note:
“There are currently 8,505 foreign and Commonwealth soldiers serving in the British forces, not including the 3,880 Gurkhas who previously won the right to residency.
Of these some 2,200 are Fijian, like L Cpl Baleiwai. His case is "just the tip of the iceberg", according to Veterans' Aid, who say there are many more soldiers affected.”
Unsurprisingly, the MOD, in a website reference to Commonwealth soldiers (see ( ), was vaguer, saying:
“There are about 7000 Commonwealth citizens serving in the British Army from outside the UK. They serve on the same terms of service as UK citizens and receive the same, pay, allowances, compensation and pensions.”
The MOD lying outright about themselves would be nothing new, but the disparity in figures becomes more interesting when considered in conjunction with something else. Around the year 2000, it became obvious to the British government that UK citizens are –well – no longer interested in going to nasty foreign places and getting shot at by angry natives. Sure, they will throw small change in a bucket for bogus ‘military charities’, shed crocodile tears for ‘our brave boys’ and wave flags about, but actually join up? Get real!!
So, what to do?
One obvious answer was to sign up more victims from cash strapped Commonwealth countries, just as UK areas of mass unemployment were the main recruiting ground after Thatcher & Co decimated such communities. Another – less publicised for obvious reasons – was to employ mercenaries, sometimes by the new US precedent of ‘private security’, but possibly even directly. Military bigwigs looked into it, and concluded that if the percentage of military personnel thus employed ever topped 10% the ethos and sense of national identity of the UK armed forces would be dangerously altered or even lost.
That figure was surpassed within a few years. 
Also consider, the official figures do not include Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey, whose politicians also cannot vote on or influence Westminster defence policy, or indeed vote not  to take part in a British war. They also do not include Northern Ireland (where  only one community joins the army and Stormont dare not vote on overseas wars) or the Republic of Ireland .
Because, make no mistake, the UK army also recruits in the Irish Republic, even though it is against Irish law to recruit troops or mercenaries for a foreign army and  complaints are regularly made by Irish nationalists. The MOD gets round the problem by  'advising' interested parties to join up in Liverpool or London, meaning legally they weren't recruited in Ireland. The Irish government –grateful for any lowering of massive unemployment figures that such scams bring – simply looks the other way.
Also consider that the Isle of Man makes a direct £3million annual contribution to the UK defence budget, last set in 1992 by Westminster. This cannot be negotiated by Manx politicians, who also cannot set any conditions or parameters as to how this is used.
There will be many similar involuntary 'military taxes' in place around the  Commonwealth, with the exception of countries like Australia, New Zealand
and Canada, and the smaller islands in particular have no apparent way of  renegotiating them.
Over here we now have all the 'Armed Forces days' and veiled schools recruiting the UK is seeing, with the difference that effectively they concern another country's military policy, not ours, yet there seems no political interest in questioning this.
Certainly, this may be partly down to a change in Manx culture. As recently as the 1980’s I knew of vigorous opposition to any lazy assumption that we were British and that British military campaigns, interventions and invasions were ‘ours’ too. If that is less heard, it may partly be because since about 1990 over 50% of Manx residents were not born here, yet as increasingly they were not born in the UK or other old empire countries either perhaps that 'natural' link should also be questioned.
So – much to be talked about, many topics which never get an airing on the Isle of Man, and I was just one of the people not talking about them.
That just changed.