The threat of Russia

Unless you live in a cave, you’ll probably be aware that over the last six months, Moscow and Kiev have been having a bit of handbags over Eastern Ukraine (also known as Novaya Rossiya). Just so that we’re on the same page, this is the gist of the drama; Eastern Ukraine is populated by people who are culturally Russian, who reacted rather badly to a trade deal made between the revolutionary Kiev government and the European Union in February since they believe that Ukraine’s natural course is to have close ties with Russia, as in the good old days of the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. Shortly after, Moscow claimed pro-Russian Crimea by supporting local angst there with troops that weren’t, apparently, actually Russian soldiers, but later it was admitted that they were, in fact, Russian soldiers. Crimea will soon be incorporated into the Russian Federation proper, and Eastern Ukraine decided it wanted similar treatment, and so has been in open rebellion against Kiev’s Western-backed revolutionary government ever since. Aside from the fact that over two thousand people have been killed in the fighting, seemingly the most alarming fact about this new West-Russia proxy war is that the rebels are openly armed and funded by Russia; their ranks include many Russian volunteers, and the claims that the rebel ranks are bolstered by Russian special forces is not particularly wild.

There. We’re all up to speed. 

If you’ve read any of my previous posts going back the last two years, you’ll probably know that I am periodically alarmed by Russian troops sitting pretty on our borders in Georgia and concerned about the Georgian Army’s ability to defend itself. You may then be surprised when I say that I understand Russia’s perspective entirely.

The Americans have a wonderful habit of causing catastrophes in the world that they think they rule. Despite the modern Western rhetoric of ‘no violence’ coupled with painful political correctness, thunderous speeches about ‘dermahcrasee’, one only has to examine the foreign policy of the United States (and Britain, to be fair) since the end of the Cold War to see that America is just as aggressive, greedy and dishonest as Russia, only they haven’t the guts to admit that they are any of those things. Look at the War on Terror; can anyone seriously believe that America’s campaigns against Islamic terrorism have not made Muslim extremism worse all over the world? (Just as a disclaimer, I don’t know what the correct response was to 9/11; the War on Terror with a little more thought and understanding put into it? I have no idea, but what they’ve done has simply backfired, and cost thousands of lives that should never have been lost). The end of the Cold War was no different. Perhaps if America had not treated the collapse of the Soviet Union as a quasi-military victory over Russia then avenging angels like Putin wouldn’t feel so strongly about undermining American interest in the modern day. Who can say?

But it is not hard to see through the hypocrisy of American criticism of ‘Russian imperialism’ when the US has been busy building an empire of its own. If you, reader, were the Russian President sitting in the Kremlin, looking at a map and borders that had once been friendly (more or less, anyway), would you not be alarmed as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were suddenly incorporated into NATO and placed under Washington’s protection? American missile installations placed in Poland look very fine to the West, since it appears that the nuclear capability of the Russian bear has been tamed at last: to Russia, on the other hand, it looks like the West is trying to contain the Motherland as passively as it can…which, of course, encourages the urge to lash out.

What, then, is the answer? If I were Poland or the Baltic States and had a history of war with Russia, I would certainly welcome NATO and the might of Europe and America’s military forces behind me. It is, on the face of it, a wonderful idea; Russia won’t dare attack a NATO nation, since war against one is war against them all. Yet it seems to me as the years roll on and one political crisis follows another that NATO is not worth a damn thing anymore.

I’m sure it was once, in the 1960s, when NATO’s easternmost limit was West Germany and the Cold War was a sincere affair that would indeed result in the end of the world if anyone dared to push that red button first. Things have changed now, and the NATO model is hopelessly outdated. The last ten years have shown that America will not stand up to any nation that has a chance of fighting back; Iraq’s military forces in 2003 presented no serious opposition, and the only successes the Taliban have had against NATO is fighting as guerrillas in asymmetrical warfare scenarios. If Washington truly believed in world peace and freedom for all and the elimination of ‘global threats’, then Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong-Un (and dear papa) would have been deposed years ago. Instead, we have America investing hundreds of millions in Georgia only to abandon it in the face of Russian aggression (and I’m really referring to Russia’s invasion of Georgia proper rather than the Ossetian/Abkhazian nightmares) or Obama announcing he intended to send American troops to Syria to help the rebels, only to change his mind when Putin sent his own ships to the Syrian coastline and told Washington where to stick it (incidentally, Putin was right about Syria – how America could fail to see that it was intending to support the same people who it was fighting in Afghanistan is anyone’s guess. “We’ll only fight with the moderate rebels”: as if there were such a thing, and anyway, however many factions there are in the Syrian anti-government movement, they’re still all fighting the same foe).

My point is, if Riga, or Vilnius or Tallinn were to be invaded by Russia tomorrow, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Washington would not declare war on Moscow as a matter of principle as it says they should to in the NATO handbook (because let’s face it, I don’t think they’re using anything more sophisticated than an instructional manual for foreign policy these days). Oh, there’d be roars of ‘Russia must withdraw its troops!’ just as there were in Georgia in ’08 and some heavy sanctions as there are now with Ukraine, but that would be about as far as it went. No, NATO would do what the British and French (and the Americans, who were even worse) did in the Second World War, and declare war only when it was totally unavoidable. 

Not that I can say I blame them, I suppose; nobody wants war, especially not these days when its become easier to blow your enemy up than ever before. If you’ve read my previous entries you’ll know I served in the military, and all of my colleagues were deadly, professional and highly trained infantry in the best Army on the planet…and pacifists to a man, as every real soldier is. The problem is that the West has made it so obvious they’re terrified of confrontation, Russia can take advantage of extreme Western pacifism. America claiming it will ‘bolster defences in Poland and the Baltic states’ is a hollow show of backbone, since those nations are already in NATO – claiming it will send increased military supplies to Ukraine and Georgia (or even put American troops in Tbilisi or Kiev as a show of force) would give off a different message, but whether or not the Russians would subsequently up the ante or back down entirely is a different issue.

The ugly question that nobody except Ukraine seems prepared to ask is – will there ever be a major war between civilised nations again? History, they say, is our best teacher, and judging by past experience the modern world shows little to be optimistic about. Take, for example, Germany; a Eurosceptic might well point out that Germany is the main economic, political and military power on the continent these days, a situation which to people just a few decades ago would have been unthinkable. German military aggression against its neighbours predates 1914 by some centuries, and so the question could be asked whether or not the Second World War really dissuaded them from flexing their martial muscles again…1918 certainly didn’t, but these days the Germans pretty much rule Europe anyway, though to be honest I would certainly rather see Germany in charge than anyone else. If I hadn’t been born an Englishman, I think I would have liked to be a German. 

Russia, however, is doing little and less these days to move away from its aggressive reputation of the past, and Putin makes little secret that he wants select countries with Moscow-friendly governments installed; Ukraine was not the first, and I doubt it’ll be the last since the new Georgian government is decidedly pro-West. 

America still remains something of an unknown quantity. It is the world’s policeman, who will uphold the law, defend the rights of every man…providing there’s a strategic or tangible benefit to the endeavour, and no risk of the enemy having an effective chance to fight back. The country is in the midst of its own imperial century, and its people seem as incapable as to see its inevitable end as the British of the Victorian era…besides which, America still seems to be searching for its own identity. How someone can be American but still regard Italy or Ireland or Serbia as their ‘homeland’ (which they’ve usually never visited) is far beyond me…and many show an almost offensive lack of interest in Britain, which truly is America’s mother country. I know I’d like to see the origins of my culture (and have, in Wales, Norway, France and Germany), but there, American arrogance can stretch so far as to even infect the minds of liberals, who will discard their homeland until they need it (and typically they’re keyboard warriors who are the most nervous and shy people when you meet them face to face. Odd, ain’t it?). 

Anyway, back to Georgia, Ukraine and Russia. 

A few paragraphs earlier I pointed out the paradox of former Soviet states seeking protection from NATO while at the same time provoking Russian aggression with this same desire to garner Western military aid. What, then, is the answer? If they try and get NATO membership, they could provoke Moscow into military intervention (and possible conquest) to prevent Russia from being totally surrounded…but if they don’t try and Russia invades regardless, they will be in even deeper water. Oddly enough, I have an answer. 

My civilian readers will probably be under the impression that a big army means a good army. Not so, and to quote George Washington (who was a fine political opportunist if history has ever produced one, and nothing more than a second-rate soldier who got his arse kicked by the British until we were too distracted elsewhere. Bastard), ‘I’d rather have a good army than a large one’. Now that my American readers are also onboard with my opinions since I’ve just quoted Big G, I can continue. The quality of soldiers is everything (how else do you think the British licked the most formidable enemies on the planet?), training, experience and the sheer dogged determination that comes from volunteering. Motivation, you see…though honestly, I don’t think there are any soldiers on Earth to touch the British and the Germans (I except myself from the British ranks, but if you doubt my former colleagues and fellow Saxons, I can tell you that Americans I’ve met have said the same thing. The US Army is not the best in the world, whatever the Georgians like to think…though the 82nd, 101st and the Rangers are damn fine bodies of men, no error. I’m talking about the majority, you understand).

Any examination of Russia’s armed forces reveals that few of them are highly trained, motivated or experienced. I’ve pointed out before that Russia barely sent 40, 000 men against Georgia (who had an equal number), and these days I’m inclined to think that they simply couldn’t afford to send any more without leaving key bases and strategic locations unmanned. Their Guards Airborne divisions and Naval Infantry corps are supposed to be effective, tried and tested in combat…but in Britain, every man is supposed to be of an equal standard (as it is in America, but I’ve found it to be more true in our own forces. Comes from having a smaller military, I daresay). 

Conscripts against trained troops, even if the former are numerically superior and the latter vastly outnumbered, typically will only end one way. Georgia’s Army is not the same beast as it was when Russia last invaded – now almost every infantryman is a veteran of Afghanistan, and will undoubtedly have had undergone training with British, European or American regulars at some stage. The Russians have had no such benefits. The Ukrainians struggled at the beginning of this year, but have shown themselves to be quick learners with their recent successes against the rebels…rebels who are no doubt bolstered by Russian special forces. 

My idea is a sort of mini-NATO for the Black Sea area. Moldova is equally under threat for its own Russian-backed breakaway region of Transinistria (spelling error there, I’m sure), nor is Azerbaijan safe due to it having the mouth of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline which is so despised by Moscow since it is the only pipeline out of the Caspian which passes outside of Russian control, the others all going through Iran or the Russian Federation itself. Azerbaijan also remains technically at war with Russian-friendly Armenia, over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory dispute (they really go in for breakaway regions in our part of the world, don’t they just?). 

Russian military doctrine (and a lack of good, well-trained men) means the people who are standing on the Ukrainian border now are the same chaps who relieved Ukraine of the Crimea six months ago and stood within twenty miles of Tbilisi six years ago. Russia’s military is plagued with vehicles that periodically break down, tanks that by design have much thinner armour than their American and British counterparts (since they are transported by train and must be kept below a certain tonnage) and a majority of soldiers who don’t really want to play soldiers anyway. So, here is why my idea would probably work:

Without using nuclear weapons (which really would force the rest of the world to sit up and take notice), Russia probably couldn’t lick Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova all together. There would naturally need to be some drastic reorganising in the Ukrainian military, and Georgia would need to give Moldova similar training given to Georgia itself by the West, perhaps along with some of the new excellent Georgian rifles for their elite troops as well as Georgian-made armoured vehicles (which would be great for the economy too, I imagine). 

To restate an earlier point, Russia could invade Riga or Vilnius (Christ, even Warsaw probably, the modern world being what it is) and the rest of NATO wouldn’t lift a finger; there’d be ‘strong condemnation’ and then a host of excuses as to why London and Washington and Brussels aren’t subsequently at war with Moscow. A Black Sea alliance, however, presents a genuine threat – if Russia went openly to war with Ukraine with its best assets deployed against Kiev, it could suddenly find itself in deep water; its southern border and, perhaps more importantly, puppet republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia could be threatened by Georgian and Azeri troops, and Moldovan reinforcements in Ukraine would only add to the danger of a Russian defeat. Moldova, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia are all directly threatened by Russia, and what happens to one will affect the others; these ripples of consequence are simply not felt in the West, who have no need to risk their own collective safety for the sake of former Soviet states.

I’m not saying I’ve suddenly put together the ultimate way to defeat Russia – far from it. Whatever pompous American civilians (of whom there are many online, funnily enough) might think, battles aren’t won or lost on the Internet, or even on the strategy tables that the generals crowd around. It’s down to the fighting infantryman, every time, and always will be, even after all the bombs have fallen and they must march over the ruins. Really, my point is that this is a way to make Russia think twice (this union would not even require these countries to abandon their actual NATO ambitions, when you think about it), since it knows that even if it would be ultimately victorious against Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan, it would pay a very high price for that triumph in blood, which would surely make Mr. Putin wonder whether he would survive politically. Russian approval for war might well drop like a stone when the body-bags start coming home, and it’s not as if Putin would be the first Russian leader to be ousted by revolution.

So, there you go. Food for thought. Comment/leave abuse, tell me I’m wrong, as you like. 

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Call of Duty: Ghosts Review

Let’s start with the obvious reasons as to why Ghosts disappointed: campaign gameplay that has never evolved, multiplayer that is also unchanged, the same thing done time and time and time and time again…blah blah blah. You’ve heard that all before about every Call of Duty game. Even Modern Warfare was criticised for not being a departure from the formula of every FPS ever, despite its innovative multiplayer (although I wouldn’t call it all that innovative myself; it wasn’t an original idea, just well executed, I suppose).

I think I’m possibly the only person who doesn’t play Call of Duty for the online multiplayer experience. I’ve never really enjoyed it that much, since the point seems to be to kill enemies to get points to unlock new weapons, and after unlocking every gun in the game you have the honour of being classed as ‘Prestige’ and rewarded by getting to do the whole fucking thing all over again…but with a pretty symbol next to your name. I realised after a few weeks of owning the first Modern Warfare that I was hooked on unlocking things rather than enjoying the gameplay, a direct contrast to the Battlefield series of games, in which I actually like the multiplayer experience. The key difference is that in the Battlefield universe, the maps are enormous and unrestrictive, and vehicles can actually be piloted and driven as opposed to simply arriving on the scene and doing all the hard work for you.

I loved the Zombies mode on the Treyarch COD titles, and the Extinction mode (a similar survival experience in which one is pitted against aliens rather than the undead) in ‘Ghosts’ is the best thing about the new game, but I think I’m the only person on this planet who actually plays through the campaign mode. Most times the campaigns are fun due to the story rather than the gameplay, and I’ll endure repetitive enemies and one-time-use gadgets if I can experience a compelling tale with good acting (performances from Kevin McKidd and Michael Rooker stand out), since military thrillers are amongst my favourite mode of story. Ghosts disappointed on this front more than I’d ever dared imagine.

Firstly, I should explain why previous COD campaigns were so good. Modern Warfare 1 made the generic setting of Middle Eastern conflict and post-Soviet espionage seem novel, and I particularly enjoyed the way in which it portrayed British and American soldiers working together, something that happens frequently in real life but rarely within the entertainment industry, since the Americans still prefer to think of us as the bad guys. The sequels expanded nicely on the plot and rounded it off to a nice conclusion, and I found portions of the second game particularly interesting since towards the end of the campaign, the player assumes control of two framed British soldiers who do battle with American enemies. What a massive departure from tradition, and a welcome one at that.

The ‘Black Ops’ story line took a different route, expanding on World at War’s WW2 setting by taking us into the Cold War and then into the future. Black Ops II, the final game in the series, follows a similar plot line to Skyfall, the latest 007 offering; a Hispanic terrorist is always one step ahead of the government and causes chaos on a massive scale before finally being stopped…although in all honesty, I enjoyed the Black Ops story rather more, probably because I’d expected better from the Bond franchise after Casino Royale. Never mind.

‘Ghosts’ is almost a reboot of the series, since it does not feature characters from either COD timeline. Within the first few minutes of dialogue, I felt that this game was a joke.

We’re introduced through an arty cinematic cutscene to the Ghosts, an elite American special forces unit who earned their name after defeating hundreds of enemy soldiers with only a handful of operatives, their victory won by the men smearing themselves in the mud of the ground they fought on, disappearing into the ground and then popping up again to kill their enemies…the dialogue was so cheesy and overdone I couldn’t help but laugh at it. Let me explain why, as a former soldier, the story of ‘Ghosts’ and the Ghosts themselves makes no sense.

I expect a certain amount of believability in games these days, and I think a lot of other people do, too; the release of that Nuke Dukem 3D game recently proved that his era is long over. Now, I know that there are no aliens in real life like there are in Halo, but I will concede that the universe is a big place and there’s probably something out there somewhere, and the Halo franchise is set five hundred years in the future wherein humanity is more able to discover other species and explore various galaxies…and Halo is ultimately a work of science fiction. Call of Duty impressed me with its realism, at least in the story department; it isn’t too much of a stretch to think that Russia will go to war with the USA and NATO one day (as in Modern Warfare’s universe), unlikely though it may seem, nor was the plot of Black Ops too far-fetched. As far as I know, the Soviets did experiment with sleeper agents and hypnotherapy (Black Ops I), and tension between China and the US isn’t too hard to imagine either, to say nothing of a capable terrorist exploiting the very fundamental flaws in US military intelligence/security (Black Ops II). After all, it’s happened enough times already, hasn’t it?

‘Ghosts’ takes us into a world that makes no sense at all. We’re told that the oil in the East has dried up, and now South America is the dominant global power due to its apparent abundance of natural resources…it has also become one nation, namely ‘The Federation’. When the characters at first began honking about ‘The Federation’, at first I thought they meant Russia, but apparently not; they were referring to the new South American superstate. Anyway, The Federation, having control of the world’s natural resources, invades the United States. ‘Why?’ I demanded of my television, though the screen didn’t provide me with many answers.

This is one of the biggest things that makes no sense about the plot. If you were South America and you controlled such an overwhelming amount of oil and gas, why would you need to invade anyone? The truth is that you simply wouldn’t: you’d just set the prices of oil and gas at an unreasonably high rate, like Russia does now, and enjoy the profits. If that was what they’d done in the story, and the US had attacked The Federation in response, I’d understand it, but they could never put that in a game. It would make America look bad, and they probably had enough of that when an Englishman and a Scotsman were killing Yanks in Modern Warfare 2.

On to the Ghosts themselves. They’re an elite special forces unit…so mysterious…so elite…they go behind enemy lines…they fight against numerically superior forces…and they’re utterly pointless. Their job description (which is related to the player again and again over the course of the game) already comes under the remit of a whole host of already-existing US military units, the most obvious ones being Delta Force and DEVGRU (also known as Seal Team 6, though quite what the difference between Seal Team 6 and Seal Teams 1-5 and 7-10 is nobody seems to really know. They all seem to more or less do the same job). I suppose the makers’ get-out clause for that scenario is that apparently much of the southern USA was blown up in an orbital bombardment and hence many of the SEALs/Delta/Rangers/Green Beret/CIA black ops/Marine Force Recon were wiped out, but I find it very hard to believe all the US special forces were destroyed in the strike because a) there’s too many bloody versions of ‘special forces’ in the US military as shown a few sentences ago (its nothing if not unwieldy) b) as far as I know they’re scattered all over the country and c)…I don’t have a c). It’s just a ridiculous idea.

The game was so obviously written by overweight, wannabe, patriotic military fanboys it’s enough to sicken you. Take the opening monologue. ‘They covered themselves in the mud and the dirt around them to make themselves invisible…’ or whatever the hell it says, referring to how the Ghosts were given their name. The truth is it’s called camouflage, and it is hardly a new concept in military circles…and I’ve just watched that video again. Fifteen Americans against hundreds, it says, ‘with one of their number who went to lead the occupants of a hospital away to safety in the night’. Surely if one of them could extract hundreds of hospital patients during the night, they could have all gone? Fourteen against hundreds…it’s just a pathetic homage to the Spartans at Thermopylae it isn’t even subtle, and it sets the tone for the fist-pumping ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!’ feel of the game.

The main characters are two brothers, their father, and some bastard called Rorke who used to be a Ghost but then sided with the Federation after being captured and tortured. Rorke’s face is so plain and unmemorable I actually thought the character model was unfinished (a departure from previous COD villains like Menendez, Shepherd and Zakaev), and it’s impossible to connect with the characters on any level. I initially liked the two brothers at the beginning of the game, who have to run through their hometown when it’s being bombarded, but then the story cut straight to the future with no development at all, wherein the former civilians are now some sort of US special forces soldiers…but not Ghosts…but not regular soldiers either…God alone knows. The bit when they actually become Ghosts made me laugh so hard my wife thought I was having a stroke. The brothers are under the impression their father has been blown up with his office, and are taken into a helicopter by Ghost rescuers. ‘Your father isn’t dead,’ a masked Ghost tells them. ‘He was never there.’ he then removes his mask, and wow! It’s their father! Revealing himself in such a corny and overdone way that not even the most desperate 1980s action movie director would consider it. Add to that the brothers are then made ‘Ghosts’ simply by being given masks and/or face paint, I’m validated in my opinion that there is no point in the Ghosts even existing. What, made into “elite special forces” with no further training or screening at all? You see? No difference between the Ghosts and whichever unit the brothers came from. Ha. Take that Infinity Ward.

I think the lack of motive given for The Federation’s invasion of the USA could actually be considered a form of racism. Is there some kind of unsubtle connection between a horde of hispanics forcefully charging over the American border and the USA’s current immigration problems? Probably. I can almost see an overweight game designer wiping his mouth on a grubby sleeve and saying ‘Who cares why they’re here, man? They don’t pay taxes!’. Who knows? I know I wouldn’t be happy with the game’s story if I was Mexican-American or Puerto Rican.

I know what you’re thinking now; COD isn’t about the campaign. Not in the eyes of you, the gamer, maybe, but if the developers see things the same way, why did they spend so much time on it? Why bother with the actors, the cheesy patriotic story? If they didn’t care, why not just sell it as a multiplayer game only? It seems to be what people really buy it for, anyway (and before you ask, I didn’t buy the game, it was a gift, and no, I’m not ungrateful).

What the story also lacked was that unlike its predecessors, absolutely nothing of the rest of the world was shown. In the Modern Warfare series, we got to play as British and Russian characters as well as the Americans, and at least Black Ops managed to rope in China and Russia, even though it pretended Europe didn’t exist (a popular American opinion these days. I don’t know why they hate us so much now…probably because Europeans don’t like them all that much and they’ve finally realised it. But you have to understand, Yanks, nobody wanted Iraq in 2003, and we’re all pretty bloody tired of you saying you’re “Irish” or “Italian”…not that we dispute your heritage, we just don’t understand why you idolise Europe’s two most useless peoples and despise the British, French, Spanish and Germans…who between them have conquered the planet several times over. Just saying. If you’re looking for badassery, forget the “fighting Irish” and the Italian mafia). Call of Duty: Ghosts managed to make it appear that the rest of the planet didn’t exist; nothing was mentioned of Russia or the Middle East, the two traditional breeding grounds for America’s enemies, but rather more hurtful was the absence of American allies. I find it hard to believe that if America was attacked, the UK, Commonwealth & Empire wouldn’t be there to help them (although they didn’t help us in the Falklands…actually that’s unfair, they gave logistical assistance and apparently donated some of the first Stinger missiles which were used to great affect against Argentine aircraft).

So yeah. That sums up most of my opinions…I’ve never done a game review before, since there’s never really been a need; I like most of the games I own, and I’ve never felt the need to vent in this way. But never mind. Leave your thoughts below…or don’t.

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Why is war so important?

As a former military man, I obviously enjoy military topics, but I’m puzzled by the fascination the general public of almost every nation seem to have with war. In many ways, I suppose it’s a way of exhibiting your national prowess, a dick-measuring contest on an international scale; I’m still surprised, though, that in this politically correct day and age, the most liberal left-winger who one minute is trying to convince you that a man dressed as a woman is totally normal in the modern world (“It’s her life choice!” they bawl, banging a fist on the table and leaving you to correct their grammar) is also capable of banging the martial drum and putting down the military achievements of other countries while at the same time promoting those of their own homeland. 

In this respect (and in so many others), I’m very lucky to be British. Britain (and before the union, England) is almost undefeated in war, and when things haven’t gone quite our way there’s usually been a damn good reason; the only real blips on our record are the American Revolution (a British loss) and the War of 1812 (a sort of no-contest). The Americans like to rub our noses in both cases since they’re the only two occasions Britain and America have ever really fought and Britain didn’t win either, but as far as we’re concerned there isn’t much venom in the bite; many people these days (myself included) prefer to think of the War of Independence as another English Civil War, with our colonists rebelling against a German king for their basic human rights; this was a long time before the ‘American people’ really existed as an entity. And anyway, Britain still won most of the battles. The result of the 1812 war doesn’t have much sting in it either, since it is not a war that Britain lost, and we console ourselves when we remember that had the bulk of our Army and Navy not been busy bashing Napoleon’s armies back to France, the outcome likely would have been different.

Living in Georgia, it didn’t take long for people to start telling me about Georgian military prowess, and at first I found the experience quite confusing. It seemed to me that people were boasting about wars they had lost which they thought they had won; it didn’t seem to matter whether they were talking about battles against the Ottomans, Persians or Russians. One man told me that five hundred Georgian special soldiers massacred five thousand Russian troops during the 2008 war, and no amount of me showing him official figures which stated the Russian military lost less than two hundred men killed would convince him otherwise (and he worked for the Ministry of Justice, God help us). 

I was confused as to why so many Georgians seemed to do this, but the truth is I didn’t really understand them back then. Georgians have a very confrontational approach when it comes to their history, and it seemed to me to be utter madness to suggest that Georgia might have a more glorious military history than Britain. It made me angry, since I was never the one that brought the subject up and it was always a competition, and one that I didn’t think they should even bother getting involved in; from where I was standing, Britain had a history of going up against numerically superior forces and winning. Georgia always seemed to fight numerically superior forces and lose. Did they not know about Agincourt? The way a tired English army destroyed a French horde vastly outnumbering them? Or the Spanish Armada, when the largest invasion fleet ever assembled was destroyed by our much smaller navy? Or an even more glorious repeat of the same at Trafalgar centuries later? (Nelson, rest in peace, we will never forget you). Or Waterloo, which brought about Bonaparte’s utter destruction? Or Rorke’s Drift, in which a hundred Warwickshire Welshmen held off and beat four thousand (!) Zulus? I could go on, you know.

What I didn’t understand back then is that Georgians don’t see the word ‘victory’ in the same way as we do (and neither, now that I think about it, do the Americans, whose military history seems to consist of them invading poorer countries, losing, and then convining themselves that they won). The Georgian idea of victory is much closer to what we would term survival, and when you consider it, it does sort of make sense; no matter how many times they’ve been invaded and conquered, they’re still here. No matter that they had Islam forced down their throats, they’re still Christian (and if this was a liberal world, we could talk about why Islam seems to be the only religion which has a habit of putting forward a ‘convert or die!’ policy, but this isn’t a liberal world, and if we talk about it I will automatically be an intolerant racist, because Islam is also a race when it wants to be as well as a culture and a religion. Islam has a lot of cultural values that must be appreciated and accepted by us Western barbarians, including intolerance towards homosexuals, stoning to death adulterers, and killing anyone who doesn’t agree with you). 

In this way, then, many Georgians claim they won the 2008 war against Russia, which to a British person whose nation is used to nothing but absolute victory, the statement might look a little thin. After all, American-trained Georgian troops were running away from the Russians in less than a week (Christ, what the fuck happened there?), and Georgian casualties were heavier than those inflicted on their Muscovite enemies. But Georgia survived; it’s still a free country, the five cross flag still waves instead of the Russian tricolour. Georgians are tough people; I’ve boxed more than I care to remember, and they are hard men who can take a punch and throw one back, and as an interested party I think I can claim with a degree of accuracy that had Georgia been lucky enough to be surrounded by water in the way that Britain is, perhaps its history would have been different. Britain’s power, after all, is in the sea. It was, is and always will be everything to us (vote UKIP, restore the Navy to its former glory!).

They have a very different way of looking at things, basically, and that needs to be understood before engaging in this kind of discussion. Having said that, though, I still don’t understand the way they look at World War 2. Many I’ve spoken to talk about the ‘glorious’ way in which millions of Soviets went to their deaths in order to defeat the Germans, but the fact that the Soviets suffered such appalling casualties says more about German martial skill than Russian/Georgian brilliance (Stalin is credited for the victory, you see, and he was Georgian. So there). 

I’m not a scientific sort of chap, but I would love to see some kind of study into what makes the people of some countries better at soldiering than others. One never hears much about Spanish, Italian or French military successes in the past (not compared with other countries, at any rate), and the latter only managed to do so well in Europe thanks to Bonaparte’s brilliance, although even he was ultimately defeated by Wellington and Blucher. I genuinely believe that Saxon peoples do make the most natural soldiers, and history supports me fairly well; Germany and Britain have almost unmatched success in war, and having worked with German soldiers I can honestly say that I do not envy our predecessors. I would not have wanted them as my enemy. 

Supporters of the Saakashvili administration frequently claim that America has the best military in the world, which is a bit of a sweeping statement; some American troops are brilliant, others…not so much. Obviously I’m biased, but on the whole I’d say that Commonwealth are superior in training and ability, but to be fair I suppose that’s also a generalisation and you take as you find. I suppose my point is that the USA does not have the glorious military history the Americans and some Georgians would like to think they do. Could we have won the World Wars without them? I doubt it; after all, during WW2 they dominated the Pacific front, and one dreads to think what would have happened to India and the Burma campaign if so many idle Japanese troops had been able to be redeployed from the Pacific islands. 

…but let’s also not forget it wasn’t quite like Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan, wherein an alien would be forgiven for thinking the US had won the war for the rest of the planet. The Americans did not join either World War until both were well underway, and those two conflicts remain the USA’s greatest victories. Vietnam, Iran (the attempted hostage rescue situation in the early ’80s), Somalia, Iraq 2 and Afghanistan have hardly covered the US in glory, but it is lucky in that it has Hollywood to support it, and since films account for much of the public’s formed opinions, the influence of movies is more important than you might think. Black Hawk Down, for instance, tells the story of how an American operation in Mogadishu saw the elite US Army Rangers and Delta Force be utterly defeated by Somalian insurgents, but due to the film showing the heroic exploits of the soldiers (who were bloody brave men; look up Randy Shughart), the fact that it was such a massive fuck-up gets forgotten. Lone Survivorstarring Mark Wahlberg and soon to be released in cinemas (I think) will likely go the same way. It will portray Operation Red Wings, during which Naval Special Forces were defeated by Islamic militants, and a rescue helicopter full of yet more Navy SEALs was shot down, killing everyone onboard. One member of the original recon team, Marcus Luttrell, managed to escape, and I thoroughly recommend reading the book on which the film is based.

However, if you bother to look up Operation Red Wings on Wikipedia, you will notice that the result is described as a ‘Temporary US Pyrrhic victory’. A Pyrrhic victory, to those not in the know, is a win that costs the victor extreme casualties, although I confess I’ve never heard of a ‘temporary’ variety. Clearly the article was written by an American who could not bear the thought of admitting that the elite US military operators were beaten by amateur goatherds and farmers. And Muslims at that.

(And two other pieces of Hollywood manipulation spring to mind: U-571 is by far one of the most criminal, since it shows American sailors capturing and decoding critical German enigma machines during the Second World War. This was actually carried out by the Royal Navy. The movie attracted such criticism it even got to Parliament, and even Tony Blair condemned it (the only good thing the bastard ever did, mark you). Another is Master and Commander, an American film which for once portrays the British in a positive light. It takes the plot of one of Patrick O’Brian’s naval Napoleonic period novels, and portrays Jack Aubrey and his crew pitted against a bigger, stronger and faster French ship…more or less the plot in the book, except the Acheron of the book is an American vessel, not French.)

The French are another people who are touchy about their military history, most likely due to the emphasis placed on the way in which France suffered during both World Wars and the performances of the French armed forces. British, Commonwealth and American people frequently mock the French for their lack of martial prowess, but in the Germans they faced a formidable enemy who had trounced them in the 1870s. I honestly believe that psychological perceptions affect the performance of soldiers; I’m no psychologist myself, but I feel I can make the comparison with boxing. A few years ago, I got into the ring with a guy who I expected to walk over, but he hit me harder than I’d ever been hit before and I wonder that I survived that fight. I fought with him a few other times over the following months, and although I could dominate other opponents, I could never get going against this man…I believe due to the fact I could not forget what a mess he’d made of me the first time. 

A will to win is something civilians don’t always appreciate. I wasn’t there in 1940’s France, but after suffering against the Germans twice in living memory, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to wonder if the French honestly believed they could win. It reminds me of Georgians I’ve spoken to, who believe that Russia is an indestructible wrecking ball of a country whose soldiers cannot be defeated, when in fact all available evidence suggests the contrary. Outdated vehicles that break down, poorly trained conscripts which make up 50% of the army’s ranks, low morale, widespread corruption, and far too many officers. I’ve written about that elsewhere, though. Feel free to look at it (and tell me I’m wrong if you’re Georgian). 

I’m told that when the Falklands War broke out, the reaction within civilian and military circles was dumb shock. We were the British, we’d had the largest empire the world had ever seen, and who the hell were these damned Argies to attack our territory? We were going to get the bastards; nobody touches us with impunity, d’ye see, and Johnny Foreigner was going to get what was coming to him.

All in all, it just strikes me as odd that in today’s world, wherein patriotism and national pride are almost illegal in the eyes of the ‘enlightened’, there’s still a lot of pride in military history; it’s by far one of the most common put-downs used in arguments between people of different national origins. I could write more but I feel far too lazy. Leave your thoughts. Or don’t. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What next for GGG, and why Andre Ward hates me.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Gennady Golovkin is the future of the middleweight division; his solid skills and knockout power likely mean that he will continue to steamroll his way through the ranks until he has unified the 160-pound titles or moved on to claim a belt at a higher weight class. 

Last weekend saw Golovkin retain is WBA middleweight title after a eighth-round stoppage of Curtis Stevens. It was an excellent contest, made all the better by Stevens’ tenacity which allowed him to stay in the fight until the eighth session; only one fighter in the last five years has done the same. The question now, of course, is who GGG will move on to next. 

Clearly the fight everyone wants to see is Golovkin against WBC and The Ring belt-holder Sergio Martinez. Both men are hard hitters and come-forward fighters, and both men have legitimate claims to be the king of the middleweight division. However, Sergio Martinez has undoubtedly aged over the last few years, and it is likely that the Maravilla of today is not the same man as the one who almost decapitated Paul Williams. Martinez was almost knocked out by an overblown Chavez Jr., whose inability to be disciplined during his training camps is almost as legendary as his father’s record; in his next contest, he defeated Britain’s Martin Murray on points, but many pundits and fans (including myself) are of the opinion that Martinez had been gifted the decision, and that the Englishman had done enough to be awarded the victory. 

Martinez has a deserved reputation for being iron chinned, but the image one has of Chavez Jr. being replaced by Gennady Golovkin in the last round of their fight last year would not be an attractive one for Maravilla; Golovkin is far more technically skilled than Chavez Jr., and undoubtedly hits harder. Martinez also prefers to adopt a low guard, a tactic that would likely be suicide against the Kazakh-born Russian…whatever punch-resistance Martinez has shown in the past, it is debatable whether he has retained this trait after so many hard battles, and even if he has, whether he can still stand up to Golovkin’s devastatingly hard attacks. Besides, Martinez remains a small middleweight, since he began his career in the lower weight classes.

This, however, is still the most desirable fight in the middleweight division. The other belt holders, Peter Quillin of the United States (WBO) and Darren Barker (IBF), are unlikely to give Golovkin much trouble. Barker has been hurt before (most notably in his 2011 KO loss to Sergio Martinez, and again during his ultimate victory over Daniel Geale), and Quillin has arguably not done enough to deserve a unification bout with Triple G; the opposition he has fought have not been well-known or talented enough to really warrant making the fight happen. In addition, Quillin himself does not boast an army of fans who would purchase pay-per-view or tickets. The other key contenders (Daniel Geale, Felix Sturm, Matthew Macklin, Martin Murray) are also unlikely to provide Golovkin with much of a challenge. 

Aside from Martinez, then, the most logical thing for Golovkin to do is to move up to super-middleweight (it is unlikely either GGG or Floyd Mayweather will attempt a catchweight fight), wherein the No. 1 and 2 fighters, Andre Ward and Carl Froch, would surely provide challenges to the Russian. Froch would be the far more exciting fight; Ward would provide the first real risk of Golovkin losing. 

Carl Froch could claim to have one of the greatest chins in modern boxing, though he is seemingly easy to hit and has been hurt before. Froch’s high knockout ratio stems from a host of TKO victories, usually awarded after he unleashes a barrage of heavy shots (see Froch vs Bute, perfect example). He struggles against boxers who move well and use the ring (such as his contentious points win over Andre Dirrell and his later defeat against Andre Ward), and Golovkin has displayed a high ring IQ. Carl has also been stunned in the past, even by punchers such as Andre Ward who are not notorious heavy-hitters…I can see a Froch/Golovkin fight playing out like Froch/Abraham, except when Froch opens up against GGG, the Russian would fire back from a tight guard while Carl is exposed mid-swing. I hope not, though. I like Carl Froch. 

I do not, however, like Andre Ward. I agree that he is the most pound-for-pound pugilist in the game right now, sitting behind Floyd Mayweather, and only a fool would decry his achievements. He has never been visibly troubled by anyone; Carl Froch is the best fighter Ward has faced, and he made the Englishman look decidedly average during their 2011 contest. His technique is flawless, his defence is tight and his record impeccable. 

But I don’t like the man’s smug tone, or the way in which he whines whenever he is criticised. The man even blocked me from following him on Twitter because I said that I didn’t like the way he was being disrespectful to Carl Froch and recommended he be the bigger man and not engage him in trash-talk. The man is supposed to be a prize-fighter, and there he was being as sensitive as a small child. He complains that people criticise him for not leaving his home town to fight, although I understand him in that regard; even within the sport of boxing, he is not a big draw. His style, while effective, is boring to watch, and his whiny (yet apparently Christian) personality does not make him a compelling character to draw fans from in or outside the sport. He would not come close to filling Madison Square Garden or the MGM Grand, unless he was fighting someone compelling like Gennady Golovkin. 

I think GGG would struggle to penetrate Ward’s defence, but if he did then it is nowhere near certain that the American would be able to withstand a barrage of Golovkin’s punches. But would Gennady get tired chasing Ward around the ring, all the while being subjected to withering jabs and straight right hands? Who knows? There’s only one way to find out.

Despite the recent enmity between Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward, I think the latter is equally as protective of his undefeated record as the former, if not more so. For a long time, Ward has been saying he intends to go up to 175 pounds and clean out the light-heavyweight division in the same way he did the super-middleweights, but it doesn’t look that close to happening as he takes on Edwin Rodriguez, a man no-one has ever heard of, defending his WBA and The Ring titles (he was stripped of the WBC belt due to inactivity). I think Ward is deservedly worried about moving up to 175…I know I would be if I were him. Bernard Hopkins, despite approaching fifty, is almost as awkward a fighter as Ward himself is, but he has ten times the experience; beyond B-Hop is Sergey Kovalev, Golovkin’s equivalent at light-heavyweight, and Adonis Stevenson, Tony Bellew and Jean Pascal are all worthy challengers. 

Personally, I’d like to see Golovkin and Ward both move up and take on the best in the respective divisions. But with the politics of boxing being equally as complicated as the politics of running nations, it will likely not even come close to happening.

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Writing & Agents Part 3: Pet Peeves

I am currently submitting my manuscript to every and any appropriate agent I can find. Because this process is incredibly frustrating, I’d like to vent a few pet hates that you too may have encountered/will encounter during your own writing adventures. Enjoy. Or don’t.

1. ‘At this time’.

This is a very typical corporate phrase that I hate so much it gives me energy. Because we live in a world wherein nobody has the right to offend anyone else (despite the fact free speech is bandied about left, right and centre), agents often seem to like to say ‘we cannot accept your work at this time‘. This was more from my last manuscript than the current one since I’ve only started dispatching my latest brainchild very recently, but this petty and vague terminology drove me mad. ‘At this time’? So you’ll accept it tomorrow? In another week? Have the balls to say ‘never’.

2. Submission guidelines.

It must be a pain in the arse having to read so many submissions from so many people, most of which will be utter rubbish, so I understand that agents want their submissions to be concise. But surely reading partial manuscripts for a living isn’t really that hard…not when you compare it with jobs done by doctors, nurses, soldiers, firemen or police officers. Therefore it is very annoying when submission guidelines are less than ideal. For example, when you have a complicated plot to explain, a double-lined spaced one page synopsis gives you sweet fuck all to work with to make your story seem tempting and your characters relatable. Similarly baffling are the agents who request the first five or ten pages; it gives them a good idea of your writing style, but not that much else.

What makes even less sense is when agencies don’t want any attached synopsis or sample chapters at all, and instead demand only a query email or letter. It is very difficult to do justice to your story in this case, especially as agents approach all submissions with a negative attitude from the outset (they don’t call it the ‘slush pile’ for nothing, after all). 

On the other hand, there are agencies who request far too much. For example, there are some which demand a one-page synopsis for every chapter as well as a detailed account of the entire plot. In some ways this is a lot better, since with a blow-by-blow description of your book you can really sell it. On the other hand, since rejection is borderline inevitable, it is a lot of work for absolutely nothing. 

3. Demanding exclusivity.

People on writers’ forums describe agents as being out of touch, and this is something that I think demonstrates that fact admirably. A few agents state that they don’t take kindly to writers carpet bombing submissions to every agent in the country, but since response times are 6-8 weeks, I’m not sure who they expect is going to wait that long to hear from a single agency that won’t even bother to reply if they haven’t got the gig. Beyond that, full manuscript requests are rare and offers of representation even scarcer, so I don’t know who they’re trying to kid when they think people are actually going to send off to them. Authors with no representation owe loyalty to no one, and I think it’s rather arrogant for these people to expect to be treated with such deference. I do what I imagine everyone else does, and send off to them anyone, pretending to do as they say but in truth writing to anybody and everybody who’ll accept submissions. Yeah. I’m a badass. Fuck the police.

So there you go. Three pet peeves that piss me off. I’ll probably post another one of these next week when I’ve thought of some other things. 

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Reise, Reise. (Das ist der titel, nicht das lied von Rammstein. Entschuldigung.)

Natia und ich daruber wo wir leben mochten denken; ich bin sicher dass ein weiteres jahr von Georgien wird genug sein. Ich liebe Frankreich, wo meine Eltern leben, aber es ist sehr ruhig dort…ich bin kein stadtmensch, aber ich denke dass wir auf dem land vielleicht langweilen, wenn wir es fur zu lang sind.

Wo sollten wir dann leben? Ich weiss nicht.

Ich weiss dass ich will ein land im norden Europas; es gibt nicht viele unterschiede zwischen Grosbritannien, Osterreich, Deutschland, Schweden, Norwegen…und Natia lebte in Manheim vor funf jahren. Ich glaube sie will dort wieder leben, und ich wurde gerne; ich liebe Deutschland, ich war dort einmal mit dem Heer, und Deutschland ist eine logische wahl, weil wir zu sprechen sowohl die sprache…aber der universitat ist frei in Schweden und Finnland. Wirklich, ich weiss nicht.

Mochte ich ihre hilfe (daher ich dies schreibe in Deutsch heute…danke Steffi und lingq.com haha). Sagen sie mir was sie denken, wo ist der beste platz fur uns? Sind Englisch, Deutsch oder Russisch dort viel gesprochen? Ich weiss dass die informationen ist auf das Internet, aber ich bevorzuge Erfahrungen (und ja, ich habe ein Worterbuch). 

Also, meinen ersten artikel in Deutsch. This was much better practice for my German than I thought it would be…and I only had to consult the dictionary nine (hundred) times. I might make this a thing. La semaine prochaine, nous allons ecrire en francais? Ili vih xaditye russki yazik? (And yes, I’m too lazy to get up the thing that lets me type in Cyrillic.)

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Agents & Writing: Update

I recall writing in my last post about my pursuit of publication that I had written to an agency who requested my full manuscript which I worked on over the summer. They finally got back to me about three weeks ago, and while they were very positive in their feedback, the agent, Hanna, suggested some minor changes to the plot and urged me to resubmit the novel. I was initially reluctant to do it, since the changes would be quite annoying to implement and I was (and still am) very nearly done with my latest manuscript, a work with which I am infinitely happier. My family and friends, however, recommended I resubmit the manuscript with the changes Hanna had suggested. After all, she had near enough stated outright that if I complied with her suggestions the agency would take me on.

So I did it, working slavishly for three days editing the manuscript and making sure I changed everything that Hanna said I should. This is where the frustration started. You or I would probably think that the simplest thing to do would be to send it straight back to Hanna saying ‘How-de-do, this has been edited in the ways in which you suggested, enjoy’. But no, I had to resubmit it as though they’d never seen the novel before in their lives. Today I had a reply from another agent, Zoe, who said she didn’t like it.

I wouldn’t mind that so much if the reason she’d given hadn’t been so totally stupid. I’ll not bore you with the plot, but in layman’s terms a new virus strain wipes out a large portion of the global population. Simplicity in itself. Zoe didn’t like the way in which I never said why the characters are naturally immune to the virus. I honestly didn’t think I needed to. I’d have thought the fact that every different person has a different body chemistry is so blindingly obvious, that when the characters conclude they have a natural immunity, that would be that. It annoys me because that was the only stumbling block, and there are series such as The Walking Dead wherein you never find out why the fuck zombies have appeared, and apparently nor are we likely to. So yeah, Zoe. Fuck you in the neck. I’d also hoped that since Hanna had been the one with whom I’d had so much correspondence, common sense would have dictated that my new and improved manuscript would have found its way back to her. Apparently not.

(In all honesty, though, I’m still quite pleased. At the moment I’m reading a lot of writers’ forums for wannabe authors, and a lot of them have submitted dozens of manuscripts over the years and never even had a reply from an agent, so it could be going a lot worse.)

I can see why a lot of people don’t have time for agents and traditional publishing, though I’ll stick with them for submitting my newest manuscript. When I was at Heathrow airport the other day, I looked around the books on sale in Waterstone’s, and absolutely nothing took my fancy. Not even a little. On the other hand, I read about some of these writers on the forums who have very original ideas for novels that I would buy in a heartbeat. But self-publishing is a nightmare, because Amazon and iTunes etc. are just so clogged full of shit that nobody is ever going to read; any moron can publish a book with them, and they don’t bother filtering the trash from the genuinely original.

But I’m optimistic, because my latest work stands a much better chance…I hope. The only thing is it’s very controversial. I can’t put the details down here because (if it ever gets that far) I’ll have to publish it under a pseudonym anyway. Still, I’d like opinions on my latest idea, so if you’re interested, email me at darkmark669@hotmail.com and let’s talk. Or don’t.

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