Covid in the Family, Historic Wuhan and Blair Knighthood

Apparently my eldest son, his wife and son have Covid after a trip into London to a cinema. Which rather shows how easy it is to catch. But their symptoms are mild so far.

When this was reported I was reading a page of a book called Destination Chungking by Han Suyin and it contains a description of Wuhan, the alleged source of the pandemic, in 1938.

This is what it said: “Where the Han River meets the Yangtze there are three cities, separated by the rivers — Wuchang, Hankow, and Hanyang, collectively known as Wuhan, the great industrial area of Central China. Wuhan, hotbed of revolutions, where the republic was brought to birth in 1911, now China’s wartime capital — not ancient, hauntingly lovely, dignified, like Peking, nor shining as a new-minted coin, showy with new palaces of government, like Nanking, but grim and raucous, toiling in sweat and mud in the broiling summer sun and the chill, penetrating damp of winter. The unbelievably huge Yangtze, Son of the Ocean, a thousand miles from the coast, winds between the Wuhan cities, coppery brown, turbid with the red soil of the west washed down in its wild course through mountainous Szechwan. Here in the level land of Centred China it broadens to a boundless plain of water, stretching away southward into the Poyang Lake, and even at Wuhan almost too wide to see across. Wuchang on the south bank was already bombed to ruins. But Hankow, with its foreign concessions, seemed as we approached it by ferry untouched. The tall buildings along the waterfront stood unshattered. The ships moored at the docks were loading and unloading with customary activity. The foreign consulates on the Bund, huge, old-fashioned mansions in their gardens, seemed serenely unaware of war”.

The book covers the Japan-China war and is a remarkable exposition of the old China, written in a fluid and emotive style. Highly recommended.

Other news is of the knighthood of Tony Blair, much to the disgust of many people who opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. After finishing Rory Stewart’s book on a walk across the former country over Xmas (see a previous blog post), I read his biography of his time as a provincial governor in Iraq after the coalition ousted Saddam Hussain. It’s called “Occupational Hazards” and is also highly recommended. Anyone reading it would realise what a mistake it was to try and bring peace and democracy to Iraq in the way attempted. All wars are tragedies in the making and certainly Iraq and Afghanistan have turned out to be disasters not just for the people of those countries but for the world as a whole.  

Let us hope the New Year avoids more pointless wars.  

Roger Lawson (Twitter:  )

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Afghanistan – A Disaster Area

In this season of goodwill, let is give some thought to the plight of Afghanistan. This is what was reported on “The Hill”: “The economic contraction triggered by the Taliban takeover is unprecedented. A projected 30 percent loss of its gross domestic product could occur within a year. The economy is imploding and there is no cash left for people’s everyday transactions.

Afghanistan is a country historically shored up by external aid. It is now untethered as international political positions have hardened against the new de-facto rulers in Kabul and previous channels of support have been shut down. Salaries of key public sector workers — doctors, nurses and teachers — have not been paid in months. Health facilities have no means to pay for fuel to run generators or ambulances. Basic service delivery is at risk of collapse, and the people who depend on these services are the unintended victims.

Without bolder international support to maintain the indispensable social functions of the state, it will not be possible to prevent death in Afghanistan this winter. Already starved by the worst drought in 20 years, two-thirds of the population will depend on food assistance in 2022, the World Food Program estimates. Children will succumb to high levels of malnutrition, first dying from preventable diseases, then from outright starvation. With no health clinics to go to, more women will die giving birth. Families will face freezing winter temperatures without electricity or clean water”.

In fact Afghanistan has only been kept solvent by foreign aid for many years. For good Christmas reading I recommend a book entitled “The Places in Between” by Rory Stewart (photo above). It describes his walk across the country in 2002 soon after the Taliban were ousted from power by the US invasion. He walked the distance from Herat to Kabul in mid-winter, often alone although he did pick up a dog as a companion on the way.

He was told many times that it was unwise to do so but he gives a graphic description of life in the villages and towns he passed through and the people he met. Altogether a book that gives a good description of the country and its people – in essence a great “travel” book for the winter days. It will make you feel happy that you are snug at home in England and all our minor difficulties can soon be forgotten.  

Roger Lawson (Twitter:  )

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The Population Issue and Historic Evacuations

Roman Withdrawal from Britain – From Cassell’s History of England

My previous blog post on the IPPC report on climate change generated a number of comments. Here’s a good one in the past from Sir David Attenborough that is very relevant: “All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people”. That’s certainly an area where Governments could take a stronger lead.

While the stock market is relatively quiet, it’s a good time to ponder the subject of evacuations as is currently happening in Afghanistan. Was it necessary and what might happen in due course are the key questions?

Evacuations after military withdrawals are quite common in history. Britain suffered such an event in the years 405-410 when the Roman Empire withdrew the legions to fight off attacks on the continent. The Emperor Honorius finally told the Britons to “look to their own defences” in 410 which marked the effective end of Roman rule. After 400 years of Roman administration and cultural dominance in Britain it rapidly disappeared. All we have left now are a few straight roads.

The USA gave the same exhortation in Viet Nam after a failed attempt at establishing a western style democracy in the South to thwart Communist expansion. Militarily the war in Viet Nam was a disaster with much gold and lives lost to ultimately no purpose. The regime they established was a puppet one ridden by corruption and without widespread popular support. Despite heroic efforts by the US military, support from the US public eventually withered away. Joe Biden is old enough to remember that failure of US policy when the war was continued for far to long. It is hardly surprising that both he and Donald Trump were keen to withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as possible. Viet Nam is now a peaceful and commercially vibrant country.

Britain faced the same problems in Afghanistan in the 19th century when we invaded twice to thwart suspected Russian influence. The first Afghan war was a military disaster and after the second we rapidly withdrew having learned our lesson. In the 1980s Russia invaded the country but after 10 years withdrew after effectively suffering military defeat. The history of Afghanistan and the reasons why it is so difficult for foreign armies to gain control was well covered in a TV documentary by Rory Stewart in 2012 under the title “The Great Game” – it was rebroadcast this week and acted as a good reminder why military success in the country is always a mirage.

Ultimately the US and UK’s efforts in Afghanistan followed the same problems as in Viet Nam. The regime they established was corrupt and only kept afloat by oodles of money while the western culture they attempted to establish was not accepted by most of the population. Afghanis looked on western armies as invaders of the wrong religion. This was never going to work.

Ultimately, and when otherwise facing a military situation that could not be won, withdrawal was clearly the best solution after the original reason for the US invasion was forgotten after 20 years of war (originally intended to stop terrorism promoted by al-Qaeda).      

Could the withdrawal have been better handled? That is debateable. It is clear that all the “hangers-on” to the US, UK and other foreign forces might want to depart but with tens if not hundreds of thousands of such people this was hardly very practical. A date was set of the end of this month and Joe Biden does not wish to stretch it out. They claim to have already evacuated 70,000 refugees. There was sufficient time given to remove military forces and the Taliban have promised an amnesty for others. It is clear that Afghanistan faces a very difficult time in the next few years both socially and economically as Viet Nam did. But extending the withdrawal by a few weeks or months will surely not help much while militarily it makes no sense. Kabul airport cannot be defended easily if the Taliban choose to block a time extension. The West should concentrate on coming to an accommodation with the new rulers and helping them to develop the country, not attacking them for perceived undemocratic failings.

Roger Lawson (Twitter:  )

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