In June 1944, deep in Nazi-occupied France at the fag-end of a filthy war, a team of SAS soldiers and French Resistance fighters ambushed a column of enemy troops on a quiet country road. Thirty-one men were killed by Bren gun fire and grenades, with several dozen wounded and captured.
Among these was a Russian officer, one of many captured on the Eastern Front who, given the choice between collaboration and execution, had switched sides to fight for the Nazis. He was badly, perhaps mortally, wounded but still lucid, and begged his SAS captors to kill him.
“What would you do?”… Seguir leyendo »
Cuando Kim Il sung (el Gran Líder) ungió a su hijo Kim Jong II (el Querido Líder) como su sucesor, el periódico oficial de la dictadura de Corea del Norte dejó claro que ese acto no había sido un mero traspaso de poderes, sino una auténtica epifanía religiosa. «Gentes del mundo, si estáis buscando un milagro, venid a Corea», exhortaba el diario, identificando a los Kim con reencarnaciones del Padre y del Hijo en la Santísima Trinidad. Tres décadas después está en marcha una coronación seudorreligiosa similar, en la que Kim Jong Un, el hijo menor del Querido Líder, surge como heredero claro de una de las tiranías más despreciables del mundo.… Seguir leyendo »
Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard lies on his side in the Afghan earth, his gun still clutched in his hand. The air is speckled with the dust thrown up by the rocket-propelled grenade that has just been fired from a grove of pomegranate trees, blowing off one of Bernard’s legs.
As the camera shutter clicks, two other US Marines, blurred in their frantic efforts to save his life, are shouting: “Bernard, you’re doing fine. You’re gonna make it.”
The 21-year-old soldier did not make it.
This photograph of the dying Marine, taken by the Associated Press photographer Julie Jacobson on August 14, moments after a Taleban ambush outside the village of Dahaneh, has provoked fury in America.… Seguir leyendo »
Across the Western Front, the anonymous war dead are reclaiming their names. At Fromelles scientists have begun to exhume the bodies of men cut down by German machineguns in 1916 and buried in mass graves, to try to identify them through DNA tests.
In the Red Cross archives, historians are poring over newly discovered wartime lists of the names of hundreds of thousands of dead soldiers, in the hope that those buried under blank headstones can be identified at last.
The unknown soldier is a dying breed. Today it is all but unthinkable that a soldier could perish in battle and not be formally identified, returned to his or her family and laid to rest.… Seguir leyendo »
Hubo un tiempo en que trabajé en una granja de cría de pollos.A decir verdad, hablar de granja es emplear un término excesivamente suave para referirse a la forma en que se criaban aquellos pollos y decir fábrica parece excesivamente cínico. Aquello era el séptimo círculo del infierno de los pollos, una cadena de producción que no dejaba de cloquear, que exhalaba un hedor vomitivo y que estaba anegada en la inmundicia, con un único objetivo: producir la máxima cantidad posible de carne comestible, con tanta rapidez y a un precio tan bajo como fuera posible, sin tener en cuenta ni la calidad, ni la crueldad, ni la higiene.… Seguir leyendo »
I once worked on a chicken farm. Actually “farm” is far too gentle a word for the way these chickens were raised, and “factory” sounds too clinical. This was the seventh circle of chicken hell, a clucking, stinking, filthy production line with just one aim: to produce the maximum quantity of edible meat, as fast and as cheaply as possible, regardless of quality, cruelty or hygiene.
The creatures were raised in vast hangars, living on a diet of hormones, antibiotics and cheap grain, thousands crushed together in their own dirt under artificial light, growing from chick to slaughter size in a few grim weeks.… Seguir leyendo »
We call them “pirates”, because that is how they most easily translate into Western culture, but the Somali marauders currently terrorising Indian Ocean shipping might better be termed ocean-going shiftas, heirs to a long and uniquely African tradition of banditry.
The term shifta may be unfamiliar, yet it is a key to understanding what is happening off the coast of Somalia, and how it might possibly be resolved. Shifta, derived from the Somali word shúfto, can be translated as bandit or rebel, outlaw or revolutionary, depending on which end of the gun you are on.
In the roiling chaos that is Somalia, the killers and criminals are variously pirates, warlords, kidnappers, fanatics or Islamic insurgents.… Seguir leyendo »
Two British imperial legacies collided on the streets of Lahore when gunmen opened fire on the Sri Lankan cricket team. The first, of course, is cricket itself: Britain’s great sporting gift to its former empire, the most civilised game devised by man. The second, less obviously, is the situation in the vast swath of Pakistan once known as the North West Frontier.
The British struggled for a century to govern this mountainous region. Today Pakistan is still failing to govern a place where international Islamic terrorism thrives and where the gunmen in Tuesday’s attack were almost certainly trained.
The tribal areas along the Pakistan border with Afghanistan are some of the most lawless places on Earth, a source of chronic and growing instability to Pakistan and a looming threat to the world.… Seguir leyendo »
Abbreviated version of Premier Wen’s speech at Cambridge University
This week I was sitting in the audience directly in front of the Chinese Prime Minister when a large grey trainer whizzed out of the crowded auditorium behind me, missed Wen Jiabao by a few feet and thudded on to the stage.
Mr Wen’s lecture at Cambridge University came to an abrupt halt. The lone protester was hustled, shouting and shoeless, out of the lecture hall and into the waiting arms of the Cambridge police. A Chinese security guard retrieved the offending shoe, and hid it under his coat.
Flying footwear has suddenly become the world’s favourite protest statement.… Seguir leyendo »
Why do you want to join the Secret Service?” demands John Cleese, the British spymaster interviewing a new recruit in the old Monty Python sketch.
“Can you keep a secret?” “Yes.” “Good, well you’re in then.”
Some British spies have proved notoriously bad at keeping secrets, but for most of the last century the British intelligence agencies insisted on complete secrecy as the central defining tenet of their work. MI5, the Security Service, and MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, worked in deep shadow, anonymous, deniable and invisible.
As the historian Sir Michael Howard remarked in 1991: “So far as official government policy is concerned, the British security and intelligence services, MI5 and MI6, do not exist, enemy agents are found under gooseberry bushes and intelligence is brought in by the storks.”… Seguir leyendo »
The horror story that is cholera-wracked Zimbabwe begins with a hand-pump in a Soho street and a British doctor who came up with a very simple, very brilliant idea one and a half centuries ago.
Cholera is more than just a dreadful disease: it thrives on ignorance and the most abject poverty; it breaks out when a state breaks down; and it is ultimately curable not by medicine alone but by organising society itself on rational, scientific principles. The only antidote to cholera, in the end, is political action.
Today, Robert Mugabe’s most powerful accuser is John Snow, the man who tracked down the cause of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae in Victorian Britain.… Seguir leyendo »
I write from a motel beside the I-95 Interstate in North Carolina. The throb of traffic is constant but not unpleasant, a low-level roar at the edge of the mind. From my room I can see the neon signs of three gas stations towering over the landscape like church spires drawing in the faithful.
A pickup truck pulls up outside in the parking lot: a Ford Explorer Sport Trac Adrenalin, a growling, bright-red monster with tinted windows and tyres a foot wide. Its red-white-and-blue bumper stickers proclaim: “Support our troops” and “Fayetteville: Home of the Brave”.
The driver, to my surprise, is not some hairy veteran with barbed-wire tattoos, but a diminutive middle-aged woman.… Seguir leyendo »