Author Archives: Tom Arms

Observations of an ex pat: Patriotism vs Nationalism

Patriotism: Good. Nationalism: Bad. At least that is how it reads in my political lexicon.

Patriots  love  their country. They love the land and the sky, the people, the culture, the history and the values.  If necessary, they are prepared to die for their country.

Nationalists feel all the above, but then take it a step too far. Sometimes several steps. And therein lies the problem.  Nationalists (in my political lexicon) believe that their country is better than other countries.  That it and their fellow citizens are superior to other countries and their citizens.

Sometimes that sense of superiority is applied not to national identities but to race or religion, such as White nationalists, Black nationalists or Islamic nationalists.  But whichever vehicle they use, nationalists  carry a strong sense of entitlement based on their nationality, colour or beliefs. And, if they are superior to others,  than it must follow that whomever the others are, they must be inferior.

That is why nationalism is bad.

European colonialism was bad because it was at least partly based on the belief that Europe was bringing a superior civilisation to a barbarian world. Colonialism was a form of European-wide nationalism.  In fact, much of the world that Europe viewed as barbaric had enjoyed the fruits of civilisation centuries before anything approaching civilised structures were even thought of in France, Britain or Spain.

Nazi Germany was the ultimate expression of nationalism. It encompassed race, language and culture, It claimed ultimate superiority for the German state and German race and used that assumed superiority to wage genocide and set out to subjugate the rest of the world.

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Observations of an ex pat: A Friendly Wall

Walls are generally built to keep people out. Trump’s big beautiful wall, Hungary’s anti-refugee wall, the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall and every castle wall built before, during and after the medieval period.

There are exceptions to this rule.  The Berlin Wall was built to keep people in, as is every prison wall ever constructed.

But in Africa a wall with a difference is literally sprouting. It has been dubbed “The Great Green Wall of Africa.” It is neither holding people in or keeping them out. It is holding at bay the sands of the Sahara desert and helping people to stay in Africa.

They started planting the Great Green Wall of Africa ten years ago. The wall is in fact a six mile wide strip of millions of Acacia trees which will eventually stretch 4,800 miles across the southern edge of the Sahara and through 11 countries from Senegal on the West coast to Djibouti on the Red Sea.  That is about half the length of Trump’s proposed wall along the US-Mexican border and about 600 miles short of the length of the Great Wall of China.

Its purpose is to battle the effects of climate Change in Africa. Over the last half century 60 acres a minute have been lost to desertification as the Sahara marches south.

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Observations of an ex pat: Think, Mr Trump

Please, please, Mr. Trump, think twice before opening your mouth next week. Think again before opening your twitter account and a fourth time before turning away  from the teleprompter to extemporaneously voice your thoughts.

Carefully consider all the options that Rex Tillerson says he has prepared for you. And think about what General Mattis told Congress about the wisdom of scrapping the Iran nuclear deal.

At stake is so much more than the appeasement of your political base and the fulfilment of a shoot-from-the-hip-vote-catching campaign promise.

Your decision will have repercussions on relations in the wider Middle East, with North Korea, Europe and America’s standing in just about every corner of the world.

Let’s start with the pressing problem of North Korea.  You want—everyone wants — a deal which de-nuclearizes  North Korea. But agreements involve at least two sides and requires both to stick to the deal and be known as the sort of government which keeps its promises.

Agreed, North Korea has a bad record in that department. But China doesn’t; and as you have repeatedly said: With China on your side, North Korea could be forced into keeping its part of the bargain.

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Observations of an ex pat: Identity crises

Economists love globalisation. It allows them to achieve what their fellow bean counters the accountants call economies of scale.

This has substantial knock-on benefits. It increases profits so it is good for shareholders and share prices . It reduces the prices at the till and so it is good for customers. It keeps down inflation which is fantastic news for old decrepit types on fixed incomes.

It creates job opportunities in the developing world which means the developed world does not need to dig so deeply into its aid pockets.

International understanding is improved by the exponential growth in global business, political, social and cultural links required to grease the wheels of globalisation.

Politicians are happy because the increased savings and profits mean more tax revenues for them to spend on their pet projects and ships, planes and soldiers.

But there are some dark clouds in this blue skies picture. First there is what I regard as a bit of a canard—job exports. I am unimpressed by this Trumpian argument because it can be rectified with economic growth and retraining.

Blowing away the next cloud – identity loss–is more problematic. As the world melds into one interdependent homogenous blob who are we as individuals? I ask the question because who we are is determined to a large degree by the language we speak, the religion we practice, our national history, culture and laws.

Globalisation is creating an identity crisis and that in turn has created a political backlash from people who fear that the essence of who they are is under threat.  Furthermore, the nationalist backlash created by this perception threatens to undermine all the benefits of globalisation and regionalisation that have accrued since the end of World War Two and many years before.

There are many examples of this but two recent ones are independence referenda in Kurdistan and Catalonia.

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Observations of an ex pat: Scary

Be scared. Be very scared. In fact if you saw, listened to or read about President Donald Trump’s UN address than you are probably terrified.  If not, then think again.

Trump used the occasion of his first speech to the General Assembly to draw red lines across the  map and dare his opponents to cross them. North Korea, Iran and Venezuela are the new axis of evil.

In one breath he called for an international order based on a respect for national sovereignty and with the next bullied those those who oppose him.

The United Nations and international cooperation enjoyed early support, but …

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Observations of an ex pat: Colombia on the brink

Tejo is the Colombian version of horse shoes. It is also a reflection of the national psyche.  The target is packed with gunpowder. When it is hit, it explodes with a loud and violent bang.

The game was adapted by the Spanish from a gentler pre-Columbian version. Their conquest was cruel, violent and involved large quantities of gunpowder.  Colombia has followed that route ever since. It is now trying to change.  It will be difficult. It is not impossible.

Its history has been one civil war after another.   In 1948 the murder of reforming presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan sparked off the ten-year La Violencia.

The civil war that cost 200,000 lives also spawned the guerrilla organisation FARC.  Its end in 1958 failed to address the country’s underlying social problems, leaving it ripe for a Castro-inspired guerrilla movement.

FARC needed money. So it developed the cocaine business and dabbled in extortion and kidnapping.  An estimated 250,000 people died between 1958 and 2016. Five million were made homeless.

In 2002 Alvaro Uribe was elected president on a tough anti-FARC ticket.  Uribe made good on his campaign pledges.  President Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize, but inside Colombia, Uribe is credited with driving the guerrillas to the negotiating table.  He is the most respected and popular politician in Colombia.

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Observations of an ex pat: Trouble at NWS 101

There are serious problems in the playground at Nuclear Weapons School 101. There is a new boy—Kim. Nobody likes him. He is loud, obnoxious and into domestic abuse in a big way.

Kim is especially disliked by Donald who is president of the student council, captain of the football, basketball and baseball teams, number one in his class and popular with all the girls. And he has been at the school less than a year.  Donald also controls a big chunk of what Kim regards as his home turf.  In fact, Donald and his family have been calling the shots at NWS 101 since they threw the first and—so far—the  only knock-out punch against Tojo and Hirohito.

Donald is strong. Very strong, and he backs it up with a frightening array of brass knuckles, baseball bats, knives, axes, swords, clubs, machetes and the biggest,  bestest and most frightening array of guns ever developed by mankind.

Some of the other kids in the playground are a bit envious of Donald. They think he has been throwing his weight around too much. This is especially true of Vladimir and Xi. That is why when Kim started building up his rival arsenal they turned a blind eye. They even smuggled some sweets to him. Perhaps, they thought,  it was time that Donald was taken down a peg or two. Perhaps introducing Kim to the playground could persuade Donald to share the captaincy of one of the sports teams or a girlfriend or two.

They don’t want Donald hurt. They need him and—even though he has occasional problems recognizing it—he needs them too.

Kim doesn’t have such qualms. He is anxious to prove his tough guy credentials and is not in the least concerned about who is hurt in the process. He has built up his own arsenal and even though it is nowhere near the size of Donald’s weapons stock, Kim is threatening to attack Donald on his home turf.

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  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 20th Oct - 11:50pm
    Paul and David, at it again, getting me at it too , with much thanks ! A remarkable story , the unplanned speech, don,t ever...
  • User Avatarfrankie 20th Oct - 10:36pm
    Sheila, Time ticks on and everyday the leave case is shot to pieces. As reality bites the only thing that seems to be keeping Leavers...
  • User Avatarfrankie 20th Oct - 10:23pm
    Clegg came from a political bubble with limited inter action with normal people. He also seems to have fallen into a trap one of my...
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 20th Oct - 10:19pm
    Well said, David! Long may you continue act as usefully as you do. Michael, thank you for pointing out what was already known about Palehorse...
  • User AvatarPeter Hayes 20th Oct - 9:28pm
    As my parents are both dead it is probably safe to say they remember me saying "let Daddy smack me" as an an alternative to...
  • User AvatarAndrew McCaig 20th Oct - 8:32pm
    Just so long as we are not going to go down the Norwegian route. There are, I am afraid, much worse forms of child abuse...