Wednesday, 7 April 2010


I have been looking at photos of former Guantanamo inmates who are now Al Qaida leaders determined to make us suffer. Shave off the beards and they do not look all that fearsome. Has Guantanamo failed us by creating uncompromising enemies?

Back in 1939-1943 I had no reason to respect the Luftwaffe. I knew of Guernica, Warsaw, Rotterdam, Bath, Coventry et al and endured being bombed by them. I dug dead friends out of rubble they created, and I lost hundreds of good friends to them. Then I was shot down, not at all a pleasant experience. However . . . .

The score of civilians, mostly women, who captured me were all friendly, curious, and puzzled that Canada would want to attack them. They walked me some distance to the police who were polite and respectful as they searched me then walked me several blocks to a Luftwaffe station, giving me a conducted tour en route. Four Luftwaffe officers were polite in questioning me and the two soldats who guarded me all night on wooden benches were curious and full of questions about Canada. In the morning a Luftwaffe officer gave me a conducted tour en route from Hamburg to Frankfurt for interrogation. I was never handcuffed or hooded. A hungry week of uncomfortable solitary confinement included polite questioning by a succession of 4 officers before I was shipped off to POW camps that would become four in number.

I was to have a few run-ins with Gestapo and SS but in each instance was protected by the Luftwaffe who seemed to have the same opinion of them as we did.

In those horrible final months of the war when we had to make our way from one end of Germany to the other I was mixed in with many German military and civilians. We were all cold, hungry, exhausted, and strafed and bombed by Allied aircraft. No German showed any animosity towards us with the sole exception of SS in the Munich rail yard.

I ended the war with high respect for the Luftwaffe and sympathy for the common German people.

After the war I met in Canada former Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine officers who had been POWs in Canada where the respectful treatment they had received persuaded them to return years later to Canada as valued immigrants.

It all makes me wonder about the inhumane interrogation and imprisonment techniques used in such places as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. If the Luftwaffe example was followed might not a few converts be made rather than increasing the hatred of enemies and creating more enemies among those who learn of such inhumanity?

I am also sure that those thousands of soldiers from a score of countries who take pains, and risks, to intermingle with and help civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing immense good both for them and for us. Ways must be found to give this temporary help and goodwill some permanence. Respect is the vital ingredient in altering enemy mindsets.


OUR PROBLEM WITH SEX is summed up in the old joke: Two veterans in their 90s were reminiscing. One asked, “Do you remember that stuff they used to put in our food to lessen our sex drive? Well, it is starting to work.”

To the steady stream of prominent men engaging in extra-marital sex has been added one of our own, a capable and respected pilot in a responsible position who has left a trail of rapes and even murders. The only things new about this is that men now wreck their marriages and careers and receive public condemnation. The history of our species is one long horror story of the cruelty of men and women to each other and to children, quite extensive even today. But there is also, from ancient times, so many tender stories of caring, sharing, and love, of men improving the lot of women and vice versa. It is a tale too vast for this single page which will concentrate on male aggression.

Biologists explain that the male of the species is designed to go about the world, impregnating as many females as he can catch. Anthropologists argue that, early on, males discovered they could get steady and reliable satisfaction in a family setting and that co-operation was more rewarding than force. Sadly, the biology of the sexes too often lacks male contentment in the family situation as the average female, who has to bear the consequences, lacks the constant enthusiasm of the average male for sex and too many men, when the opportunity arises, quickly give in to their biological side. Over the years I have listened to many men complain that they love their wives far more than they are loved in return. But, to a man, “Love” has a much greater component of sex than in a woman’s interpretation.

Even Moses condoned his men raping conquered women. Napoleon, when he needed more men to invade Italy, got them with his “You want women? The Italians have women. They can be all yours.” Practically every army has permitted male and female rape, often as a means of demoralizing the enemy, but more often as a means of recruitment. Few women escaped being raped repeatedly by occupying Soviets. Chinese and Koreans were “comfort” women to the Japanese, and many were simply transferred to US occupiers. Christians raped Muslims in the Middle East and recently in Bosnia; thousands of Vietnamese were raped by US soldiers. African women still suffer rape in huge numbers. Numerous leaders, like Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, had captured women stationed throughout their empires for immediate satisfaction wherever they went. At the numerous conferences of bishops defining the rules of Christianity numerous women were collected to attend sexually to the attendees. Muslim sultans were renowned for their harems.

God help us men if women get the power to seek revenge for their billions who have been wronged.

Is there a cure other than the one used by various women who severed the penis that was raping them? Thousands of male prisoners lost sexual desire when castrated to become eunuchs to guard such collections as harems.

Practically all religions and governments have imposed laws and beliefs for the masses to follow, often with cruel punishments for transgressors like stoning and hanging. Some Muslims, to save their women for themselves, confine them to the home or cover them from head to toe, considering them property not companions. For good reason some women feel safer hidden in all that clothing. Societies have permitted polygamy and brothels with various degrees of control.

We do need more women in government. Today, Belgium leads the world with 55% but the UK, US, and Canada are shamefully far behind with 14, 7, and 6 per cent. And 14 countries have no women at all in government.

Perhaps the most powerful weapon is mindset - it is not easy to change ingrained or encouraged mind sets as so few of us think, but it has been done over the years. My generation in my society of males was brought up to put women on pedestals. Foul language was never used near them. Whereas necking was permitted, few of us thought of going further. Then came WWII with entire populations caught up in war zones with death a constant companion resulting in a desire to taste life’s pleasures before death. Still, most of our boys killed died as virgins. Most of the sex was consensual causing thousands of pregnancies in an ill-educated and unprepared population. Canada can boast of having the highest percentage of warriors who married the girls they impregnated.

The easy sex of WWII, followed by the widespread introduction of condoms and pills promoted more mindset changes. Homosexuality, common in antiquity, was a source of jokes and something no true man would ever entertain. For 800 days I was locked up with up to 11,000 sex-starved men (all aircrew) in compounds that allowed no privacy or secrecy. I know of no case of any homosexual act. It was just not part of our mindset, so its resurgence is puzzling.

Another society mindset that needs softening is that towards adultery. Acceptance runs from a high in Africa, and the cause of their HIV epidemic, to a low in Muslim countries. In the West acceptance is higher among the ruling classes. While rape should never go unpunished, the odd dalliance of a husband or wife who have a record of marital responsibility should not be reason to be cast out and to lose it all. And the media should be censored for its lurid accounts. The most critical voices are undoubtedly those who are covering up their own guilt.

From insects to mammals there is tremendous variety in the conduct of sex. With humans it can become an abusive addiction as hard to cure as smoking or drug use. It is rarely a means to exert dominance as so often explained but rather a strong desire for perceived pleasure. We seem to have adopted the aggressive characteristics of our Chimpanzee relatives rather than those of our Bonobo relatives who solve conflicts peacefully with frequent sex. In many societies we are much better than we once were but large-scale cruelties persist. Care to give us your solution to the problem?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


To influence the world Rome needed its provinces; Spain had to wait until Aragon and Castille united; England needed Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the Dominions; Germany needed Bismark to unite it. Now, the world needs that part of America that calls itself the United States to be sufficiently united and wealthy to give us NASA and other such noble enterprises as well as accepting the role of honest broker in so many of the world’s immense problems.

In all those nations we call “Western”, societies are relatively free so achieving unity on any particular issue is not easy. China has had amazing success in leaping to the forefront of nations. It has improved living standards for millions but with no hesitation in using brute force to accomplish this. India, on the other hand, has also come a long way in a more relaxed and open society but, unlike clean, prosperous, and modern China, it is a huge mixture of opulence and dire poverty. Relaxing its strong hand, the USSR fell apart, and modern Russia has deemed it necessary to reinstate some harsh measures to reinstate its role in the world. The much-needed European Union still has teething problems but it has given us expensive great projects like CERN and it does provide considerable wisdom in the conduct of local and world affairs.

The United States has created immense problems for itself. Armed Militia Units, wary of government, have increased 200% to 127; its financial foundation is greatly weakened with huge debts to other nations due to living beyond its means for a decade; its political unity has evaporated. After a century of trying, the government, led by Barack and Nancy, has finally brought the USA into the family of nations with universal health care, a process that was started in modern times by Bismark in 1889 with his Old Age and Accident Insurance. Disunity prevented the US from getting the desired single payer, public option, and other goals, but it was a huge step in the right direction, although it does give for-profit insurance companies 32 million new customers. Hopefully this victory will embolden the government into taking bold steps not only to face up to internal problems but to use its strong influence to bring fair and just settlements to many of the world’s problems that beg for remedies that need outside help with no sinister strings attached. This scribe has faith that, in spite of much unfair criticism, the current US leaders can do just that.

Monday, 5 April 2010


Eighty years ago my Dad started me on the hobby of stamp collecting. This led to me haunting the town’s Chinese laundries for stamps from China and Hong Kong, and to find pen pals in seven countries in Europe, Asia, and Australasia. Worldwide, postage was cheap and countries issued fewer than five new stamps per year so, over time, good worldwide collections could be built. I remember well the anger caused when Canada raised its rates from 2 to 3 cents to mail a letter anywhere in the British Commonwealth and Empire. A big boost to my collection came when I started working in a bank. Money parcels were sent via registered post that needed 50-cent and $1 stamps. We were supposed to send all these back to bank headquarters so they could be sold to dealers, but somehow a few got stuck in my collection.
Soon I was to know every country in the world, its currency, rulers, history, geography, and culture. Many friends were made among other collectors and we all rejoiced on possessing a stamp or two from Tristan da Cunha, Rarotonga, Pitcairn Islands and other such tiny places. By selling stamps to collectors, the Pitcairn Islands raised enough to build a school so they promptly issued another stamp to sell that depicted the school.
Today countries are killing the hobby by flooding the market with hundreds of new issues per year, by high prices, and now the US and Australia to save money have gone to cheaper paper that tends to disintegrate when you try to soak off stamps. And, of course, e-mails and meter post have robbed us of stamped mail.
Nevertheless countries still issue far too many stamps. But, as many are interesting, let me describe a few:

THE FOUR KINGS: On 19 April Canada Post issued four 57-Cent stamps to honour the four “Indian” kings who met with Queen Anne in London 19 Apr 1710. The stamps reproduce the full-length paintings that were made of them at the time when Queen Anne was not a very happy monarch. At 45 she was widowed with no heir in spite of 18 pregnancies. The 3 Mohawks and 1 Mahigan kings were Tee Yee Neen Hu Ga Row, Emperor of the Six Nations and leader of the group, was given the English name of Hendrick. Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row, King of the Generethgarich, was named John; Sa Ga Neath Qua Pieth Tow, King of the Maquas, was named Brant (grandfather of Joseph Brant); and Etow Oh Koam, King of the River Nations, was called Nicholas. All four were in excellent physical condition and towered over their European hosts. They had been recruited by Peter Schulyer, Governor at Albany, to help persuade the Queen to grant more resources to the fight against the Hurons and French. The colonies were a drain on the treasury but the queen, who was to be dead in 4 years, was impressed, particularly when they also asked for help in understanding the Protestant version of Christianity. She showered them with gifts, had them attend theatrical productions and banquets over 45 days and took steps to organize an invasion of Quebec. They were granted audiences with the famed painter John Verelst who was charged with the task of depicting them as envoys of respected powers. The four kings escaped the diseases rampant in London. Their speeches were reprinted many times. They were quoted as describing European clothing as stifling and barbarous and romantic stories were written of a supposed contact between one of them and a woman he met on the streets of London.
Hendrick was to return to London in 1740 for a meeting with George II. Joseph Brant became a famed Canadian leader when he fled the US after the revolution. The city of Brantford, Ontario, is named for him.
These 4 portraits were purchased in 1977 by the Public Archives of Canada. More details can be found in Canada’s History Magazine, Apr-May 2010, and the Canada Post brochure, Apr-Jun 2010, as well as for the RCN.

THE RCN AT 100: On 04 May Canada Post will issue two 57-cent stamps commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Canadian Navy. One stamp depicts HMCS Niobe, the other HMCS Halifax. In WWII the RCH was the 3rd largest of the Allied Navies. It had 100,000 personnel including 7,122 women and 110 of its ships took part in the D-Day operations. Today it has 9,000 personnel and 33 warships.
In 1910 the Royal Navy gave Canada the cruiser HMS Niobe and HMS Rainbow as founding ships for the RCN. Niobe, built in 1897, saw service in the Boer War and WWI and was damaged in the explosion in Halifax harbour in 1917.

STAMP WARS have been numerous. Here are a few: In 1947 a Chilean stamp showed Graham Land, Antarctica, claimed by Britain, to be part of Chile. In 1951 Argentina countered with a stamp showing it to be Argentinian. In 1954 the UK issued 15 stamps depicting 13 different ships each of which had spent over 2 years doing research in the area. In 1958 and 1965 Chile and Argentina continued the stamp war while the UK continued its work. Anticipating the conquest of India, Nazi Germany had stamps ready for Azahind (Free India). In 1959 Greece issued 2 stamps featuring Imre Nagy, Hungarian premier executed by the Soviets. The USSR refused to accept mail using these stamps and countered with a stamp for Glezos, a communist executed by Greece. During the Cold War the USSR re-published its stamp catalogues, removing the wartime stamps that showed Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin together. Egypt continued to use its King Farouk stamps after he was deposed in 1953, but obliterated his portrait.