Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.


A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Best Foot Forward in Peru

A return to tradition for the Peruvian armed forces

One of the results of Peruvian voters electing the left-wing nationalist Lt Col Ollanta Humala as the president of their republic in 2011 has been a renewal of the traditions of the country’s armed forces – under this Excelentísimo Señor Presidente there has been a return to a much more traditional style of military uniform. A long decline in standards only accelerated during the first presidency of the liberal Alan García (1985-1990) who altered the Changing of the Guard at the Government Palace, while his populist successor Alberto Fujimori had the more pressing task of defeating an insurgency to turn his attention to such matters.

It’s often alleged that cultural trends in the Americas have long been riven by a conflict between one tendency favoruing European influences against another which favours national or indigenous inspiration. This dichotomy seems false, as the Americas are at their best when they take the finest in the European tradition and develop it in a new way with the addition of more local flavours.

In the nineteenth century, however, the European was in the ascendant, and particularly in South American militaries which relied upon European advisors to update and train their armed forces. Countries like Colombia and Chile imported Prussian advisors, which has given their militaries a Teutonic air to this day (viz. Colombia’s pickelhaube and Chile’s parada militar).

In Peru, however, it was the French who were brought in to bring the army up to speed, and that lasting influence is obvious from the uniforms seen here at a recent passing-out ceremony at the Escuela Militar de Chorrillos attended by the President. No pickelhaube here, the kepi reigns supreme.

It’s not turning the clock back: it’s choosing a different future.


October 28, 2015 12:12 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

The Impetuosity of Youth

From the Flickr feed of South Africa’s Etienne du Plessis:

These pictures were taken 2 October 1964: I was the pilot [writes Quentin Mouton]. The pictures are original and not ‘touched up’. The ‘Pongos’ (Army types) were on a route march from Langebaan by the sea to Saldanha. The previous night in the pub one of them had said: “Julle dink julle kan laag vlieg maar julle sal my nooit laat lê nie!” (You think you can fly low, but you will never make me hit the deck). Hullo!!!

I went to look for them on the beach in the morning and was alone for the one picture. I was pulling up to avoid them. In the afternoon I had a formation with me and you can see the other a/c behind me. (piloted by van Zyl, Kempen, and Perold).

A friend by the name of Leon Schnetler (one of the pongos) took the pics. The guy that said “Jy sal my nie laat lê nie!” said afterwards that he was saying to himself as I approached: “Ek sal nie lê nie, ek sal nie lê nie” (I wont go down, I wont go down) and when I had passed he found himself flat on the ground.

Memories from the past.

August 7, 2012 3:08 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

The Historical Sale at Adam’s

800 Years: Irish Political, Literary, and Military History – 18 April 2012

THE ANCIENT PRACTICE of lèche-vitrine is one hallowed by time and tradition. I remember one December day I had a lunch appointment with a friend who worked at the late, lamented Anglo-Irish Bank on Stephen’s Green in Dublin and, being early, I nipped a few doors down to the auction house Adam’s to engage in a bit of what I like to call thing-avarice (which the Germans probably have a word for). We do enjoy taking the occasional peek round the Dublin auction houses to see what’s what, and to examine the cabinet of curiosities that come out from ancient houses and rotting flats and appear in these bright places where commerce and refinement play their strange little waltz. When it comes down to it, though, it’s really just about having nice things — the sort of stuff you want lying around the house inexplicably.

Anyhow, the historical auction at Adam’s is coming up on 18 April and sure enough their senior rival Whyte’s is having a similar sale just a few days later on 21 April. We’ll only look at Adam’s here — if we considered Whyte’s as well, we’d be here all day. (more…)

April 9, 2012 12:45 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

The Major-General’s Statue

Die staanbeeld van Maj-Gen Lukin in die Kompanjiestuin

While Afrikaans is a mild obsession of mine, I do like finding those holdouts of what they used to call “High Dutch” — in contrast to the ordinary South African spoken Dutch which, because of its differences in grammar and spelling, was eventually recognised as the language Afrikaans.

One such old Dutch holdout can be found on the statue (Af: staanbeeld; lit.: ‘standing-picture’) of Maj. Gen. Sir Henry Timson Lukin in the Company’s Garden, Cape Town. The pedestal proclaims in a very handsome font the General’s rank, name, and orders. In Dutch: Majoor-Generaal Sir Henry Timson Lukin, KCB CMG DSO, Commandeur Legioen van Eer, Orde van de Nyl.

Most of this works perfectly well as Afrikaans but for two slight differences. First: The lack of ‘i’ in de always indicates Dutch rather than Afrikaans, but because of the relative youth of Afrikaans, de can sometimes be employed as an antiquating device. For example, when translating the name of Captain Haddock’s ship in the Afrikaans translation of the Tintin book, the translators chose De Eenhorn (the Unicorn) rather than Die Eenhorn. Obviously an old-fashioned sailing ship would belong to a Dutch-speaking era rather than an Afrikaans-speaking one.

Second is the military rank. Here translated as majoor-generaal, in both Dutch and Afrikaans this evolved into generaal-majoor. Just one of those things. The South African Defence Forces has a history of experimental military ranks which did not last: Commandant-General (for General), Combat General (for Major General), Colonel-Commandant (for Brigadier), Commandant (for Lieut. Colonel), and Field Cornet (for Lieutenant).

There’s your random bit of Afrikaans arcana for the day.

October 23, 2011 8:11 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Interview with the Last July 20 Plotter

Der Speigel speaks with 88-year-old Ewald von Kleist

Ewald von Kleist is the last surviving member of the circle of Wehrmacht officers who participated in the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi state. Der Spiegel has translated its interview with him into English, and all four pages feature interesting insights from this brave old man.

And if you read German (I don’t), you might be interested in this article on China & Carl Schmitt.

March 6, 2011 9:12 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

The Drakensberg in Buenos Aires

An Argentine-South African Naval Encounter

The South African Ship Drakensberg sailed into Buenos Aires last month as part of the sea phase of ATLASUR VIII, a naval exercise involving ships from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and South Africa. Mr Tony Leon, former Leader of the Opposition and currently South African Ambassador to Argentina, was picked up by the ship-borne Oryx helicopter and landed on Drakensberg to observe the sail into Buenos Aires’s harbour. Mr Leon served in the SAN aboard President Pretorius in 1976. (more…)

January 9, 2011 4:06 pm | Link | 19 Comments »

Remembrance 2010

IN A WORLD utterly deprived of solemnity, Remembrance Day (and Remembrance Sunday) provides one of the few opportunities for silence, reflection, and appreciation. The First World War was truly a war without victory, the war that Europe lost. Its end is marked not with marching bands proclaiming triumph but with two minutes’ silence. How appropriate that the guns of the Great War finally fell silent on Martinmas day, the feast of the patron saint of soldiers, in this gloomy time of year. On this day there is no triumph nor victory, no vain pomp and glory of this world, but instead a deep respect for the awesome sacrifice of the fallen — a respect whose only expression can be found in that silence. (more…)

November 14, 2010 5:05 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

The Festival of Remembrance

The Royal British Legion, the organisation which supports Britain’s veterans, organises the annual Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The first half of the event is part military tattoo, part popular concert, but the second half is a Christian service of remembrance for the dead of all wars. The Festival takes place the Saturday before Remembrance Sunday: a 2:00pm matinee for the general public, and a 7:00pm one for veterans, servicemen, and their families in the presence of the Royal Family. The 7:00pm festival is broadcast on BBC1 every year, but sadly is not yet simulcast via internet for those abroad. Here are a few YouTube clips from different parts of the service in the past two years. (more…)

November 14, 2010 5:00 pm | Link | No Comments »

Mexico’s Military Parade

SIX-HUNDRED TROOPS, seventeen countries, field dress, full dress, and everything in between: the military parade to mark Mexico’s bicentennial was a remarkable sight to see. The parade moved down the Paseo de la Reforma, originally the Paseo de la Emperatriz, or Promenade of the Empress. The seven-and-a-half-mile-long boulevard was built on the orders of Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico and was modelled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris and the Ringstrasse in Vienna. It stretches from the Zócalo square at the center of the city (where the Cathedral and National Palace are) to the Chapultepec Castle, the imperial residence during the Second Mexican Empire. (more…)

October 26, 2010 9:12 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

The Blitz was Wrong

In his latest column for the Mail on Sunday, the commentator and Orwell Prize winner Peter Hitchens shares his thoughts on the Blitz — the Luftwaffe’s bombing campaign over London that commenced sixty years ago this month. His comments have special relevance given the previous posts on regarding the immorality of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombings, and likewise of the intentional and deliberate targeting of civilian non-combatants. (more…)

September 13, 2010 7:44 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Douglas Murray: In Order to Prevent the Use of WMDs, We Must Use WMDs

The slightly camp Old Etonian atheist neo-con Douglas Murray got himself into a bit of trouble recently when he and Baroness Deech unleashed a splenetic rant against Scotland and the Scots on BBC Radio 4. As head of the HFEA, Baroness Deech presided over the deaths of an untold number of humans in the embryonic stage of development, but it turns out that Mr. Murray (who is Scottish-born, curiously) has advocated hypothetical wholesale slaughter.

In 2007, Mr. Murray helped compose Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership ostensibly written by Gen. Dr. Klaus Naumann (former Bundeswehr Chief of Staff), Gen. Prince John Salikashvili (Georgian prince and former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), Field Marshal the Lord Inge (former U.K. Chief of the General Staff), Adm. Jacques Lanxade (former Chief of the French Navy), and Gen. Henk van den Breemen (accomplished organist and former Chief of Staff of the Dutch military).

This interesting document made a number of recommendations, the most intriguing of which is the suggestion that NATO should be prepared to make a pre-emptive nuclear strike… in order to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction (“WMDs”) such as, er, nuclear weapons. You read that correctly: in order to prevent the use of WMDs, NATO should be prepared to use WMDs. You couldn’t make it up!

September 7, 2010 12:28 pm | Link | 7 Comments »

Debating Hiroshima

Christian morality versus modern relativism

THREE YEARS AGO over on the New Criterion‘s blog, Armavirumque, my friend and then-colleague & boss Roger Kimball and I had an interesting exchange on the morality of the bombing of Hiroshima. The debate began when Roger wrote a blog entry citing an opinion piece from Oliver Kamm of the Guardian supporting President Truman’s decision to drop the Bomb. I then responded with a post of my own pointing out that the conservative reaction at the time was one of horror at the moral depravity to which we had descended, and that the it-would-have-been-worse-if-we-didn’t school of thought essentially can be reduced to an ends-justifies-the-means argument. Roger then responded with a post arguing that, well, sometimes the ends do justify the means.

Regardless of one’s thoughts on the Hiroshima bombing, arguing that the ends justifies the means is one of the cornerstones of relativism. Christians believe that we are not allowed to do evil, even if that evil may serve a good cause. It is not simply a matter of choosing something bad over something worse. Evacuating the British Army from Dunkirk, for example, was bad, but leaving it there was worse. Yet, both were morally licit options for Churchill to make, though the prudential evidence supported the former option rather than the latter.

Innocent people inevitably die in most wars, but that cannot excuse the deliberate and intentional targeting of an entire city for destruction by a military force. That so many American Christians still excuse the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is frightening evidence that America has convinced Christians to be Americanised rather than Christianity convincing America to be Christianised. (more…)

August 5, 2010 2:14 pm | Link | 31 Comments »

Three for the Army

Something you don’t see every day: a set of triplets from Pretoria recently completed basic training as part of their enlistment in the South African Army. Dirk van Zyl, Tjaard van Zyl, and Hendrik van Zyl (above, left-to-right) are 20 years old and got their mechanical engineering qualifications before enlisting in the Defence Force.

The three brothers are all part of Foxtrot Company, 3 South African Infantry Battalion based at Kimberley in the Northern Cape; Hendrik in Platoon 1, Tjaard in Platoon 2, and Dirk in Platoon 3.

Large-scale operational deployments of the South African military have been few and far between since the country withdrew from the Angolan conflict and granted Namibia independence. Since then they have mostly consisted of United Nations and African Union peacekeeping operations, as well as other endeavours such as South Africa’s 1998 military intervention in a dynastic dispute in the neighbouring Catholic monarchy of Lesotho. Current defence regulations prevent siblings like the van Zyl brothers from being operationally deployed simultaneously.

June 30, 2010 11:09 am | Link | 8 Comments »

Clarity on Torture

This editorial from Gilbert magazine, published by the American Chesterton Society, deserves reproduction in full for its call for clarity in condemning the torturous methods employed by our government and its armed forces. It is also a helpful reminder that there is little to be gained by winning a war if one becomes as bad as the evil defeated.

Those who see abortion as an evil are often frustrated by those who attempt to justify abortion by vague arguments about “choice” or even more practical arguments about exceptions for rape or incest, or the health of the mother. But many of these same people lose their moral clarity when the subject is torture. Suddenly they are the ones bringing up exceptions and parsing definitions.

There is so much confusion over this issue that in a recent TV interview, a prominent Catholic journalist let a former Bush Administration speechwriter, also a Catholic, grossly misrepresent Catholic teaching in a shameful apologia for torture.

Let us re-establish clarity. Torture, whether physical or psychological, is a barbaric, savage act, not justifiable under any circumstances, and unworthy of a civilized society.

But don’t take our word for it. For those readers who are religious, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America began calling for America to cease torturing prisoners more than a year ago. American Episcopal bishops agree, as do other Protestant denominations. For our Catholic readers, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “I reiterate that the prohibition against torture cannot be contravened under any circumstances.” The Catholic Church draws no distinction between physical and psychological torture.

For those readers who aren’t religious, we turn to U.S. law and international law, where torture is, without exception, condemned. Not one state or municipal law enforcement agency permits it. The Army Field Manual, which regulates interrogations by the U.S. military, prohibits torture. So does the Geneva Convention—a treaty to which both the Holy See and the United States are signatories. None of these institutions or documents draws any distinction between physical and psychological torture either. For all, torture is torture.

When Catholics and Protestants agree, and when religious and secular institutions agree, that torture is an offense against human dignity and that those guilty of it should be thrown in jail, may we not agree that perhaps it is immoral? Do we really need to get into the nuts and bolts of what constitutes torture?

Yes, we do. Most will agree that taking a power drill to a man’s shoulder or pulling out his fingernails with pliers for punishment or to extract information is torture. But when the subject is waterboarding, clarity vanishes again. Some consider waterboarding to be mere psychological torture—which, as we’ve already established, is morally indistinguishable from physical torture.

But waterboarding is not a harmless dunk in the tub, as former Vice President Dick Cheney once likened it, and it is not psychological torture. In waterboarding, a subject is strapped to a gurney. His feet are elevated slightly above his head. A cloth is draped over his face. And water is poured on his face so that it enters his nose and mouth and flows into his lungs. CIA interrogators are instructed to pour the water immediately after a detainee exhales, to ensure he inhales water, not air. They use their hands to “dam the flow” of excess water from a detainee’s mouth. And detainees who are scheduled for waterboarding are put on a liquid diet, to minimize the risk of death should they inhale their own vomit.

This procedure became official American policy in our so-called War on Terror, but it was not always so. Waterboarding has been condemned by the United States government since at least 1898, when American soldiers were court marshaled for waterboarding prisoners during our occupation of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. In World War II, we hanged Japanese war criminals for waterboarding American and Allied troops. In the 1980s in Texas, a sheriff and three of his deputies were convicted by the Justice Department for waterboarding prisoners to extract confessions.

And yet, there are those exceptions: American security is at stake. If waterboarding saves even one life, isn’t it worth it?

If torturing a terrorist suspect saved a city from destruction, or if it saved even one life, it would still be a barbaric, savage act, unworthy of a civilized society. If expediency were enough to justify an immoral act, then abortion would be justifiable.
G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1916 that people who purport to defend civilization against barbarians undermine their cause when they resort to barbaric tactics. “The more we insist that the terms must be our terms, the more do we weaken ourselves if the methods are their methods.”

During World War I, when some in England demanded that German soldiers captured on English soil be denied humane treatment, Chesterton countered, “Such small revenges are unworthy of the dignity of indignation. They are also futile and inconsequent.”

Our whole hope of getting a monster killed and not scotched depends upon our keeping fresh the original human horror at its monstrosity. It may be illogical, but it will certainly be natural, if that horror is somewhat dulled if, by the end of the war, everybody seems to be fighting with pretty much the same weapons.

When you torture, you turn the victim into a hero, for there is more honor in defying a torturer than in being a torturer.

“A kind of courage can exist in a merciless and unmagnaminous soldier, as it can exist in a merciless and unmagnaminous wild pig,” Chesterton wrote. “But it does not happen to be the kind of courage that our brethren have died to keep alive.”

—Sean P. Dailey for the editorial board of Gilbert Magazine
June 6, 2010 4:48 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

It helps to be a 92-year-old D-Day veteran

Daniel Hannan, the whiggish MEP representing South East England, relays a story about His Excellency Philip Hannan, the 92-year-old former Archbishop of New Orleans:

When Hurricane Katrina wrecked the city, the old prelate went to the diocesan office to help. He found his successor wracked with concern about the fate of a parish priest who was lost in the storm. Seeing that anxiety had left the poor man paralysed, my 92-year-old kinsman called the military authorities.

“This is Phil Hannan. I jumped with the 82nd Airborne at Normandy. I need a helicopter”.

A helicopter duly arrived, and carried the former army padre to the home of the missing cleric, which had been turned to matchwood. Returning to the archiepiscopal residence, Hannan announced without ceremony, “He’s dead, may he rest in peace. Let’s move on to the next problem”.

May 23, 2010 8:42 pm | Link | No Comments »

Victory+65 in Moscow

ANOTHER VICTORY DAY in Moscow — sixty-five years now since the Allied Powers defeated the crisply attired Axis of Nazi Germany and her slightly foppish cohort Fascist Italy. Russia commemorates V-E Day a day “late” because the German instrument of surrender entered into force at 23:01 CET on May 8, 1945 — by which time it was already May 9 in Moscow. For this reason most countries within the ex-Soviet sphere celebrate the end of the Second World War a day later than in western Europe. It is also customary on this day for patriotic citizens to wear the orange-and-black ‘Ribbon of St. George’, which recalls the Military Order of the Holy Great-Martyr and the Triumphant George established in 1769 and revived in 1994. The Order of St. George is the highest military honour awarded by Russia after the paramount Order of St. Andrew. (more…)

May 9, 2010 8:21 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

A Collector’s Apartment

These photos come from an issue of Architectural Digest from the 1980s that some chap scanned and put online. The article that these pictures accompanied was about the New York apartment of a collector specialising in military items, but unfortunately the scanner did not post any further information. (more…)

May 3, 2010 8:04 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Engelsman se Graf

It was just a dot and a name on the map on our way to Wupperthal — Englishman’s Grave, “Hmmm… I wonder what that could be”. The Cederberg mountains have many charms, and of course any one who drinks as much rooibos tea as I must be intrigued to see the only place in the world where it is commercially grown. Leopards, caracals, and bonteboks guard these hills, and of course our friend the dassie (previously seen here) is known to wander around its rocks. (more…)

April 14, 2010 12:24 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

The Blue Hussars

Ireland’s Mounted Presidential Escort

WHEN BRITAIN FINALLY granted dominion status to Ireland, her longest-held possession, in the 1920s it unfortunately also signalled the end to a long tradition of Irish service in H.M. Forces. Well, this is not entirely true — thousands of Irishmen from both Ulster and the Republic continue to volunteer for the Army, Royal Navy, and RAF (the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards receiving the lion’s share) with an exemplary record of service to the Crown. But numerous other regiments with long lineages rolled up their colours in a dramatic ceremony at Windsor Castle in 1922. (An aside: one of those five regiments was the Connaught Rangers whose former name — the 88th Regiment of Foot — inspired the later re-designation of a New York Guard unit as the 88th Brigade NYG, of which yours truly is a veteran and my uncle the former commander).

The forces which became the Irish Free State Army, given their irregular nature, lacked a ceremonial tradition (though, had I been around and Michael Collins invited me to do so, I would’ve happily manned the desk in the IRA Office of Protocol, Ceremony, and Feathery Hats). In 1932, Dublin hosted the International Eucharistic Congress — a big event in those days, sadly reduced in stature — which meant that dignitaries of great importance would take this opportunity to visit the Irish capital. (more…)

April 1, 2010 12:21 pm | Link | 8 Comments »

Brothers Aboard the Ship of State

The Viscount Philippe de Villiers is an MEP, sometime French presidential candidate, and head of the Mouvement pour la France but his brother, General Pierre de Villiers, has just been named personal Chief of Staff to the President of the Republic (whose name we refrain from mentioning, lest we feel compelled to boo and hiss). Given this recent appointment, we reckon that General de Villiers outranks his brother in the grand apparatus of state; Chef d’etat-major particulier beats President of the General Council of the Vendée.

There is, however, at least one regard in which the civilian has his military brother beat: Pierre only has six children, Philippe has seven.

March 2, 2010 8:28 pm | Link | 3 Comments »
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