Friday, 21 October 2016

Russian warships open fire on British civilians

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As I type this, Russian ships are starting their passage through the English channel on their way to Syria, escorted by the Royal Navy every step of the way.

When the Russian Imperial Navy sailed close to the British coast in 1904 things went very badly. The Russian fleet was on its way to fight Japan. It had to go via the Atlantic as the British were allied to Japan and refused to let the Russians use the Suez canal. In Dogger bank the Russians spotted Scottish fishermen and assumed they were Japanese ships that had sailed round the world to ambush them. The Russians opened fire, three fishermen died and a number were wounded. The incident almost led to war between Britain and Russia.


Wikipedia tells the story.
The disaster of 21 October began in the evening, when the captain of the supply ship Kamchatka, which was last in the Russian line, took a passing Swedish ship for a Japanese torpedo boat and radioed that he was being attacked. Later that night, during fog, the officers on duty sighted the British trawlers, interpreted their signals incorrectly and classified them as Japanese torpedo boats, despite being more than 20,000 miles (30,000 km) from Japan. The Russian warships illuminated the trawlers with their searchlights and opened fire. The British trawler Crane was sunk, and its captain and first mate were killed. Four other trawlers were damaged, and six other fishermen were wounded, one of whom died a few months later. As the trawlers had their nets down, they were unable to flee and, in the general chaos, Russian ships shot at each other: the cruisers Aurora and Dmitrii Donskoi were taken for Japanese warships and bombarded by seven battleships sailing in formation, damaging both ships and killing a chaplain and at least one sailor and severely wounding another. During the pandemonium, several Russian ships signalled torpedoes had hit them, and on board the battleship Borodino rumours spread that the ship was being boarded by the Japanese, with some crews donning life vests and lying prone on the deck, and others drawing cutlasses. More serious losses to both sides were only avoided by the extremely low quality of Russian gunnery, with the battleship Oryol reportedly firing more than 500 shells without hitting anything.

What a tragedy that we shortly afterwards informally allied with Russia, instead of keeping close to the Ottoman Empire, which might otherwise still exist today, and keeping out of the First World War. And what a tragedy that, under pressure from the Americans, we let our alliance with Japan lapse in the 1920s. 

In fact British foreign policy is a series of mistakes since 1900, but perhaps even starting in the reign of William III. We were misled by the mistaken notion that we should prevent one power taking full control of the continent. Then, after 1973, we subscribed to the idea of being part of one continental power that could treat with the USA (and Russia) as an equal. 

Now a reset. It is time for blue sky rethinking  about British foreign policy.

I wonder what purpose is served by the UK remaining in Nato. The answer I have is that Nato is worthwhile for continental Europe, not for Britain, and would, I suppose, break up if we left, leaving the continent in disarray. 

After sixty years of confederation-building it is instructive that Europe is unable to take care of defending itself against post-Communist Russia, without Britain, the USA and Canada. 

And of course the real threats to Europe are not from Russia but from Islamists, Islamification, asylum seekers and mass migrations of peoples.  

26 comments:

  1. And what a tragedy that, under pressure from the Americans, we let our alliance with Japan lapse in the 1920s.

    I strongly agree with you on that point. One of Britain's worst foreign policy mistakes (among a whole series of catastrophic foreign policy errors during the 20s and 30s).

    and keeping out of the First World War.

    Again I agree. In fact Britain's foreign policy was nothing but a series of bungles throughout the 20th century. I'm inclined to think Corelli Barnett was right - Britain's universities produced men who were incapable of governing.

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    1. Do you think we should not have gone to war against Germany in 1939? Clearly France made a big mistake in doing so, from which she will never recover.

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    2. I wonder what purpose is served by the UK staying in NATO, though for (continental) Europe it is a very good thing.

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    3. Your comment inspired me to add a bit to my article.

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    4. Do you think we should not have gone to war against Germany in 1939?

      From Britain's point of view it was foolish. There was nothing Britain could do to save Poland. It was an exercise in futility. A silly pointless exercise in what today would be called virtue-signalling. Poland was doomed anyway. They were a small power caught between two great powers, Germany and the Soviet Union. It was a tragedy for the Poles but there was nothing the British and French could do about it. And once war was declared it immediately became obvious that neither the British nor the French had the slightest intention of actually aiding Poland.

      There was in fact nothing the French could do. Their days as a significant military power ended at Verdun.

      The only one who gained anything from Britain's declaration of war was Stalin.

      Britain had no reason to fear Germany. Britain had an enormous navy and a very powerful air force. There was zero chance of any actual threat to Britain. The French were in actual danger, which was all the more reason they should have done everything possible to avoid war.

      War and diplomacy cannot be based on some bizarre notion of gentlemanly behaviour. They cannot be approached like a cricket match. They should be based on reality. Britain destroyed itself as a great power so its leaders could demonstrate what jolly fine fellows they were. Chamberlain's original policy of appeasement coupled with defensive rearmament was sound and realistic. His switch to an insane war policy was sheer folly. As for that madman Churchill, who had already played a major role in dragging Britain into one catastrophic European war...

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    5. I think NATO today makes the world a much less safe place. The First World War should have taught Europeans the folly of getting entangled in grand alliances.

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    6. The Second World War and Stalin's takeover of Eastern Europe taught Europeans the need for such an alliance and NATO has been the success that the UN was not. I have always had doubts as to how necessary the Cold War was - so did George Kernan and Enoch Powell. Had something like NATO existed in the 1930s it would have been as ineffective as the Little Entente because it could not have included the USSR.
      Lord Halifax, whom his biographer Andrew Roberts detests as the arch-appeaser, was the man who insisted Chamberlain give a guarantee to Poland (and very oddly Romania) and expect war.

      Yes, it was a mistake in hindsight - or even without it - but I suspect that the UK and France would have got dragged in somehow. It has to be understood that the Second World War was essentially a continuation of the first, after what Robert Graves called The Long Weekend. People in England felt they had to fight to protect the gains won with much blood twenty years earlier.

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    7. I have always had doubts as to how necessary the Cold War was

      I share your doubts.

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    8. but I suspect that the UK and France would have got dragged in somehow. It has to be understood that the Second World War was essentially a continuation of the first

      The First World War was the point at which western civilisation decided to commit suicide. An insane and futile war that has made any kind of sensible diplomacy impossible for a hundred years. Europe has still not recovered from this act of madness.

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    9. I absolutely couldn't agree more

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    10. How nice to 'meet' someone else who has joined up the dots.

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    11. I am trying to follow the dots but...
      You decry the loss of European (Christian) identity, blaming it on -- among other factors -- secularism and immigration, and yet you would have the nazis stomp all over the continent without a fight? Are you suggesting that a nazi (German)-dominated Europe would have been preferable to the one we have now?

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    12. Of course, Great Britain and France should have fought had Western Europe been attacked, but what could the Allies do about Eastern Europe since Germany and the Bolsheviks were allied? In the event, of course, the Allies did nothing except the bungled counter-productive attempt to occupy Norway (which was one of Churchill's amphibious failures). I do not imagine for one moment that Germany would have attacked France had France been a non-belligerent. As things happened, going to war led to Germany ruling Western Europe north of the Pyrenees except for Sweden and Switzerland.

      And as for Eastern Europe it ended up ruled by Stalin not Hitler.

      And Britain became a second rate power - though admittedly we were far far weaker than anyone knew including Hitler Stalin and us.

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    13. As a great anglophile I imagine you know and like 'Dad's Army'. Did you see this? http://pvewood.blogspot.ro/2014/10/ukip-dads-army-and-matter-of-britain.html

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    14. Now I understand your point. Do you suppose Britain and France could have wiggled out of the Polish guarantee after the Poles had weakened their own case by helping themselves to Teschen?

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    15. Britain didn't give Poland a guarantee till months after Teschen. Teschen was irrelevant - you are looking at geopolitics in a Wilsonian (or neo-con) way as an exercise in punishing wrong-doers. It's mostly not - it's mostly about power politics. Or should be.

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    16. Hitler offered the Poles an alliance in which they gave up territory to Germany in return for sharing in Soviet territory. One right-wing historian in the 1990s argued that the Poles made a mistake in not accepting this offer and said the Poles and Germans could have had a joint victory parade in Moscow.

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    17. I wish I remembered his name.

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    18. My lapse on Teschen. No neo-con here but perhaps a tinge of Wilson!

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    19. Had Poland not believed in our guarantee and not thought we'd do more than simply declare war would they have cut a deal with Hitler? I think not. Did they expect military aid? I don't know but presume not. Not from a naval power like Great Britain at any rate.

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    20. Stirring things up nicely Mr Wood. Britains exit from the EU was on the cards for decades. It could never afford to embrace the Euro and continues to hang on to the Churchillian philosophy of sticking with the US and the dollar. Wikipedia may have published this original article but your reintroduction of it is most timely, mentioning the proximity of the Russian aircraft carrier in the English Channel. Ant the aside about the ineffectiveness of NATO should Britain leave. Why not go the whole hog and speculate on how long it will take for World War Three when Trump gets elected. This is not going to happen. What will happen is that failing economies will use the militarist tactic of trying to make demands on a sclerotic EU. A dangerous strategy even though it may appear to be a winning short term tactic.

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    21. I don't think Trump would be likely to start a war at all. He unlike his opponent is the peace candidate. Russia is not a threat but used to distract us from the real threats - migrants etc and increasingly lack of freedom and democracy in Europe. Referendums seem to be the main democratic element in Europe these days. Elections like the presidential election in Austria seem less so.

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  2. Agreed. The loss of the Japanese alliance was a tragedy. I much prefer Japan to the USA in every respect. The Russian Empire and the USSR were vast prisons for the subject nations.

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  3. Title misleading. For Romania both Otoman Empire and Russia meant bad influence and bad life, I don't know which one is worse

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  4. "What a tragedy that we shortly afterwards informally allied with Russia, instead of keeping close to the Ottoman Empire, which might otherwise still exist today, and keeping out of the First World War." - It was the best decision the British ever made. The idea that you can avoid conflict with the likes of the Kaiser, who tried to whip up a jihad to bring the British Empire into his hands, belongs to modern-day "libtards," of the kind which have infested western politics over the last quarter or a century.

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  5. Professor Christoph Bluth commented on Facebook:

    I am afraid I don't agree with any of that. First of all there is no European Superpower or Soviet Russia. The UK is very secure as there is no military threat to the UK homeland from any other state. There are some issues due to Russia's hybrid war and aggressiveness in Ukraine, so the Europeans are worried about possible threats at Europe's periphery but I don't believe the Russians will dare to attack any NATO member state given that this would bring three other nuclear powers including the US into play and Russian military capabilities are no match for NATO. For the UK to withdraw from NATO would obviously weaken NATO, more politically than militarily, but it would not strengthen the UK, just as withdrawing from the EU is weakening both the UK and the EU.

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