I overlooked this yesterday, but David Clark wrote an excellent column in The Guardian about the conflict in Georgia. I agree with it in every respect, and stress this point in particular:
[C]omplexity is no excuse for abdicating moral judgment in situations of this importance. If responsibility for the conflict is not a black and white matter, the picture is not uniformly grey either. By any reasonable measure, the impact of Russian policy has been uniquely destructive in generating instability and political division in the Caucasus. The events of the early 1990s notwithstanding, Georgia's treatment of minorities that have remained under its rule has been generally good. Whatever his faults, Saakashvili is no Milosevic - and wild Russian allegations of genocide have no independent support. Under appropriate international supervision, it would be perfectly possible to turn his offer of autonomy for Abkhazia and South Ossetia into a workable constitutional settlement that guaranteed the security and fundamental rights of people living those territories.
David was adviser to the late Robin Cook at the Foreign Office, and I know was a valuable influence in the British response to Milosevic's aggression in Kosovo. It's worth recalling that Milosevic was opposed not only to independece for Kosovo: he would not countenance autonomy either. There is no analogy here with the separatist enclaves in Georgia.
Here are one or two things I noticed over the weekend.
I'm sorry to say that Barbara Amiel compares the gaoling of her husband, Conrad Black, to the Dreyfus case. I admire Ms Amiel's skills as a columnist, but it's difficult to gainsay what Roy Greenslade says in The Guardian about this preposterous analogy.
In his Times column, Michael Gove comments on literature in translation:
I've always harboured the suspicion that reading great literature in translation involves a loss of nuance, a sacrifice of subtlety, which few will admit to. It is not in the translators' interests to acknowledge what's lost in the process, and neither is it in the authors', if they're still alive and earning. But surely the suppleness of language in the original doesn't come through in the same way as when we're reading our mother tongue.
We all know that the weight, cadence, rhythm, colour, connotations and allusions of Dickens's or Waugh's language must be, to an extent, sacrificed when they're rendered in German. So what am I losing when I pick up Thomas Mann? And if I am losing something is it better to revel in the work of a second division Brit (James Hogg, George Meredith) than persevere with a foreign classic knowing you're not getting the best out of it? Can readers help? Are there some foreign works that lose nothing in translation? And if so, why?
Michael is one of the best-read and most cultured men I know, and I hesitate to reach for the nearest brickbat. But it is, at best, a category mistake to talk about what is "lost" in a translated work of literature. A translated work of literature, done well, is a work of literature in its own right. I can certainly think of great writers - indeed, the very greatest writers - of whom this is true. You can't reasonably talk of "sacrifice" in the the Scott Moncrieff translation of Proust into English, and the Schlegel-Tieck translation of Shakespeare into German.
Here's a thoughtful review by Max Hastings of a new book on the Korean War. Hastings writes:
Those such as the British reporter James Cameron, who denounced Rhee's regime and UN support for it back in 1950, were wrong. Everything is relative. Rhee's rule was fractionally less ghastly than that of Kim Il Sung. Vindication for what the West did in that barren peninsula almost 60 years ago is to be found in the two Koreas today: one a thriving democracy and economic tiger; the other, one of the most wretched tyrannies on earth. Unlike most conflicts, the Korean war was worth fighting.
I'm certain this is right. Korea was a terribly unpopular war with immense humanitarian costs - 54,000 American lives, a million Chinese lives and 3.5 million Korea lives. And it was strictly necessary, to defeat a direct case of Communist aggression.
The main story of the past few days is of course the recrudescence of Russian aggression. I would direct you first to the wise comments by Bernard Kouchner. No European statesman knows more about the recent consequences in European of allowing ugly nationalisms to run unchecked, and Kouchner's allusion to the catastrophes wreaked in Bosnia and Kosovo by that type of regime is apt.
I don't defend Georgia's initial, unjustified and violent incursion into South Ossetia. But Russian policy is a brutal amalgam of realpolitik, consistent ethnocentrism, and an uncomplicated desire to undermine Western diplomacy. The Caucasus has been the victim, under leaders who've been responsible as well as others who've been disreputable. Of the latter kind, the extreme nationalist Zviad Gamasakhurdia, Georgia's first President after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was almost certainly overthrown with Russian support. A far better leader, President Abulfaz Elchibey of Azerbaijan, was subjected to Russian initimidation and economic pressure merely for seeking to negotiate an oil contract with a Western consortium. He was deposed in a Russian-backed coup. And so the story continues.
On Western diplomacy, I recommend an astute commentary by my colleague Bronwen Maddox.
Of course, many Nato members will consider how, had Georgia already been a member, they would have had to defend it. Germany will win more support for its argument, which dominated the Nato summit in April, that it would be wrong to offer membership for fear of provoking Russia and while its territory remains in dispute. Alarm at this near-war on Europe’s borders will easily persuade more governments of the need for caution.
That would be wrong. It would tell Russia that it had an effective veto over who joined Nato. It would discourage the pro-American and pro-European spirit of President Saakashvili, elected in 2004 partly for those sentiments. It might even make it harder to agree the deployment of international peacemakers in South Ossetia by showing that the US and Europe were indifferent to Georgia’s case.
This is a desperately important point. The value of Nato is not only in providing for our collective security. The alliance is also a way of cementing liberal tendencies in emerging states and regions. (Likewise, the European Union, which is the single most important reason - far more than any economic grounds - for my support for wider European integration.) It would be wrong for Western governments to infer from Russian aggression that they should be cautious about expanding Nato membership.
UPDATE: Denis MacShane makes an important point in The Telegraph: "The idea of a common foreign policy and the means to implement it in the Lisbon Treaty are anathema to Eurosceptics; but a disunited EU will be easy meat for Russia and leave America without a partner of weight to face down Russian bullying."
Amid the voluminous abusive and xenophobic reader comments posted underneath the article, this one stands out:
I must apologise that the site was down over the weekend, and it took me a while to realise both that this had happened and that I'd lost material from last week as a result. I'm not sure why this happened, and will be looking into it. But fortunately, this blog is migrating in the next day or two to The Times's website (link will of course be provided when it's all ready) and I believe that all the posts, comments and archives to date have already been exported to the new site, so nothing will have been lost.
Last week I considered one or two examples, from the right-wing commentator Peter Hitchens, of Great Historical Questions to Which the Answer is No. From today's Telegraph comes a variant on this theme: a Great Historical Question to Which the Answer is Yes:
"Within six months of Roswell, the CIA was formed, the National Security Act was passed, Harry Truman launched an official investigation into the UFO phenomenon, and the air force was separated from the army," says Joe Firmage, a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur who has spent millions of dollars on UFO research.
"And then all these technological advances started spilling out of the military-industrial complex - semiconductors, microwaves, lasers, fibre optics, vertical take-off capability. Is that all coincidence?"
The supposed top-secret UFO investigation ordered by Harry Truman, incidentally, is a myth, exposed by the late Philip Klass, a tireless sceptical investigator.
The Telegraph story swallows just a bit too much of this nonsense. Witness its respectful treatment of someone whose memory doesn't merit it, namely "John Mack, a Harvard professor who risked his career to investigate the phenomenon of [alien] abductions...". On this charlatan, I recommend an article by the science writer James Gleick from The New Republic in 1994. Note in particular this apt observation:
Mack is a practicing psychiatrist, and he's toying with real people. There is "Ed," who first got in touch with Mack in 1992 and "recalled" having been abducted, raped (not Mack's word), and lectured to about "the way humans are conducting themselves here in terms of international politics, our environment, our violence to each other, our food, and all that"--all this having supposedly occurred 31 years earlier, in 1961, though Ed didn't begin to recall it until 1989.
In a chilling aside, Mack writes that Ed and his wife, "Lynn," have had "a number of fertility problems, which may or may not be abduction-related, including three or four spontaneous terminations of Lynn's pregnancies." It's a reminder: This man is practicing medicine. He is telling patients that their miscarriages may be due to imaginary aliens. Why do the medical licensing boards permit this?
There is no necessary connection between Mack's scandalous activities in this field and his political views, but there is a nice irony. Mack was a dedicated anti-war and anti-nuclear activist who, in a New York Times op-ed about the Iraq war castigated a "leadership that appears to be singularly lacking in the capacity for doubt, self-questioning, or the acknowledgement of mistakes".