The appeal against a High Court decision that there were no legal grounds to order a public, and proper, inquiry in the 1948 massacre in Malaya of ethnic-Chinese rubber plantation workers by the soldiers from Scots Guards does not appear to have attracted a lot of attention. The appeal itself is rather technical and involves Human Rights law. In 2011 the families of the 24 men killed in cold blood at Batang Kali had their day in court when they asked the High Court to order the British Government to hold a proper inquiry into the massacre. The judges refused, but did agree that the evidence pointed to the 24 men being massacred and to a subsequent British cover-up. On Friday I noticed some “wag” demanding an inquiry into the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. I suppose his point is that it’s all ancient history and sleeping dogs should be allowed to lie. But the British Government has just agreed to pay compensation to Kenyans who claim they were tortured by the British in the 1950s during the suppression of the Mau Mau. So, when does ancient history begin? The children of those massacred in Malaya are still alive and the loss of their fathers must have been life changing. If torturing Kenyan terrorist suspects is wrong, so executing almost the entire male population of a village suspected of sympathising with insurgents must also be wrong. By continuing to attempt to hush-up the Batang Kali Massacre, the British Government allows a bloody stain on the reputation of British people to fester and gives ammunition to the country’s detractors. This was no random massacre by some out of control squaddies. The real story would appear to be far more complex than that and the time has arrived to come clean.
Viewers of British television news should rejoice that they do not share a common language with their European neighbours. If they did, they might find they get more news from abroad than do from home on the evening news. News is expensive to gather and many Canadian news broadcasters find it easier and cheaper to fill their programming with trash and trivia from the United States. Recently a runaway train carrying volatile fuel exploded in the middle of a small Quebec town killing more than a dozen people and devastating the main shopping street. But what did one of the news broadcasts here in Edmonton use for its out-of-town news item? A plane crash in California that killed two people. Almost nightly the poor viewer of the TV news is bombarded with crap from the United States that the local Canadian station probably wouldn’t even bother sending a film crew to itself. But thanks to news affiliate deals, the American trivia is free. American TV viewers have depressingly little interest in overseas news, so broadcasts there are filled with navel-gazing, mind-numbing, local dross. The sad thing is that the internet has pretty much killed print media and is starting to make inroads into television advertising revenue. This means even less money will be spent on the gathering of TV news. Trivia and celebrity so-called news, both of which are dirt-cheap and often even free, will become more prevalent. TV news was already suffering because many of their news stories, the ones that took some digging out, had been scalped from that morning's newspaper. But newspapers do not have the news gathering resources they once had thanks to internet sites which gave the news they had gathered away for free. What is going to happen now that those real journalists are becoming rarer than hens’ teeth? Someone told me yesterday that they can get all the news they need from blogs. To my mind blogs are not that reliable. Many of the bloggers have hidden agendas and some "insider" bloggers are not even who they claim to be.
How much time and money should be spent on discovering the obvious? There are of course some surprises involving startling counter-intuitive facts that can be revealed by careful research. But it wouldn’t have taken a genius to cotton onto the fact that Territorial Army soldiers are more at risk from combat stress than regulars. They don’t have the all important peer support network. And when they come back from Iraq or Afghanistan, the return to normal work-a-day life is far more jarring than it would be for a regular going back to a military base in the UK, Germany, or Cyprus. The Ministry of Defence did not need studies to get out well ahead of the curve on this one. I sometimes wonder if paying for study doesn’t seem cheaper to the bean-counters in Whitehall than seeing the blinking obvious and spending money on avoiding the problem getting out of hand in the first place. By the way, the study showed that TA members were twice as likely to suffer some form of deployment-related stress than regulars. The Ministry of Defence is dead set on shifting more of the burden for Britain’s defence from regular soldiers to part-timers. But has anyone who actually knows what they’re doing conducted a proper cost analysis? I’m not even talking about ruined lives, I’m talking about cold hard cash. If the Ministry of Defence is serious about looking after reservists properly, that might cost twice as much as it does for a regular. I guess a lot depends on who is counting the beans. A lot of "savings" in departmental budgets are achieved by simply offloading the spending burden on another agency.
Some people have been asking what Scotland’s military forces would look like if next year’s referendum should come out in favour of independence. Would the old historic names come back? I would say; why not? But that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that the battalions of the Scottish Defence Force, let’s call it, are well funded and well trained. They could even be well-paid. Scotland will never win a war on its own – but then again neither will the British. The British Military has become an auxiliary force to the United States – much like the German spearmen and North African horsemen who served alongside the Romans. At least a Scottish Defence Force might have chance of defending Scotland to some extent. No-one in their right mind believes the tiny Canadian military can defend their country without American help. So, what Scotland needs is a defence force which can be easily integrated into larger force – be it American, NATO or even with our former United Kingdom partners. I would suggest looking to the Republic of Ireland or New Zealand when it comes to a model for the SDF’s land force component. Perhaps Norway for naval capacity and a token air force, possibly heavily integrated into a joint airspace defence pact with neighbours. It has been suggested that a Scottish Defence Force might have problems recruiting enough men and women to sustain itself. The critics point to the problems the British Army is having at the moment recruiting enough men for the Royal Regiment of Scotland. But perhaps recruitment for the SDF might actually be easier because it would treat its military personnel better than the present-day London-based Ministry of Defence does at the moment. That, sadly, would not be difficult.
When the Victoria Cross was first instituted in the 1850s several of the first recipients were selected by regimental vote. Maybe it’s time that the modern British Army reserved a couple of medals per tour which would be awarded based on a secret company/battery/squadron ballot. I’ve said before that gallantry medals can go to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Many regiments now proudly boast of the number of VC winners who have served in their ranks. But this ignores the fact that some excellent fighting regiments had far higher expectations of what constituted outstanding gallantry. What the Camforth Highlanders believed was a soldier simply doing what was expected of any member might well be regarded as outstanding bravery in the ranks of the Royal Blankshire Regiment and worthy of a VC. The only awards that are worth anything are those that come from a peer group. The most qualified peer group is often the opposing side – but they seldom send in bravery commendations for their enemies. Many bosses, in this case the officers, have little idea of what’s really going on lower down the food chain. Some bosses use awards to reward toadies and sneaks. There’s nothing like a Military Cross for boosting a mate up the promotion ladder. Of course there are exams to be sat but there are a lot of people passing those exams and a little extra boost from a crony does no harm. I can’t help feeling that the danger involved in making a couple of awards on the basis of what some might say is a popularity contest still beats the somewhat political way in which they are sometimes handed out at the moment. I can think of at least one reasonably recent VC that was awarded for something that wouldn’t even have earned a mention-in-dispatches during the Second World War. That’s not to say the winner was not brave, just no braver than many others who received no recognition at all.