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Europe faces a 1945 moment

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs 
August 28, 2015

Europe’s dysfunctional and divisive refugee policies have now collapsed entirely in the face of the onslaught of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa.

Among the hundreds of people dying in the sinking of rickety boats being used by people traffickers to take refugees from Africa to Europe are many Eritreans. Italy / boat people / The Italian Coastguard ship Gregoretti disembarks refugees and migrants rescued from the Mediterranean. / UNHCR / F. Malavolta / April 14, 2015

Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us. The Italian Coastguard ship Gregoretti disembarks refugees and migrants rescued from the Mediterranean in April, 2015. UNHCR/F. Malavolta

The latest visible expression of that collapse is Hungary calling out the army and rushing to build a massive barbed wire fence along its southern border. The soldiers and the wire are intended to block the passage of the surge of refugees from wars in Africa and the Middle East who are travelling up through the Balkan’s to their imagined havens in the countries of the European Union (EU).

Less visible but far more pertinent was the announcement by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, earlier this week that she is abandoning the so-called Dublin Convention, a feeble structure that passes for the EU’s migrant policy. People fleeing the civil war in Syria, Merkel said, will be allowed to apply for refugee status within Germany and not, as the Dublin Convention requires, in the EU country where they first land. Merkel undoubtedly thinks she’s being generous in taking the pressure off countries like Italy and Greece, which have proved incapable of processing the thousands of refugees that every day are clambering onto their shores from inadequate and make-shift boats. But the upshot of Merkel’s decision will only be to further encourage this floodtide of humanity and to add extra layers of chaos to an already collapsed system.

We have already seen the sort of obscenities this breeds in the thousands of people who have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean from Turkey and North Africa, and the Hungarian truck found today in Austria containing the bodies of dozens of asylum seekers who apparently suffocated to death. There is no sign that the EU is ready to take any action that will end what is a heyday for human traffickers.

There is also the increasing probability of a popular backlash against the unwanted migrants, many of whom appear intent on making Europe their permanent home. There are already public protests in Germany, where 800,000 asylum seekers are expected this year, mostly Muslims from Syria and Iraq. Public discord is also rising in another favourite destination for the refugees, Britain. (The migrants head for the EU countries with the strongest economies and where the governments abide by the rules offering generous benefits for refugees.)

The migrant pressure has a particular political context in Britain where newly-re-elected Prime Minister David Cameron has promised an “in-or-out” referendum on the country’s continued membership of the EU. This vote will probably be held next summer. There is strong antipathy in Britain, and especially in Cameron’s Conservative Party, to the number of matters of national sovereignty that have devolved to the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. Control over immigration is high on the list.

The EU’s inability to organize a functioning processing system for the asylum seekers, much less agree a common desired outcome to the situation is astonishing. It is, after all, not the first time Europe has faced this kind of flood of displaced humanity and the political uncertainty that goes with it.

The last time Europe faced a similar crisis on this scale was at the end of the Second World War. The collapse of the Soviet Union and integration into the EU of Moscow’s former satellites was orderly by comparison.

The end of the Second World War and its aftermath were, of course, very different challenges from those Europe faces now. But that period from 1944 until about 1950 carries many experiences and lessons, some of which are worth examining in the light of what is happening today. Not least of the questions is whether the people fleeing the civil wars in Syria and Iraq, and the insecurity and lack of opportunity in northern Africa, are to be considered permanent migrants or only guests until peace and some order are established in their homelands? If they are to be temporary refugees in the true sense, then there is perhaps a duty to make it clear that permanent migration to Europe is not on the cards. This would instantly lessen the number of people heading for Europe and severely limit the traffickers’ evil trade. At the same time there should be an investment to ensure those people have a good chance of success when they do return home.

Some of these questions faced Winston Churchill and the British government in mid-1944. The eight-month long Battle of Stalingrad, the decisive battle of the war, had ended with the defeat of the German armies in February, 1943. The allied invasion of Western Europe in June, 1944, meant the end was in sight. Churchill and his advisers began thinking about the reconstruction of Germany when peace arrived. Particularly pressing was how to create a soundly based democracy in Germany so that its erratic politics which dominated the first half of the 20th century in Europe did not yet again threaten the peace of the world.

What was immediately obvious was that Britain had in its prisoner of war (PoW) camps the generation of young Germans who would decide for good or ill what sort of country their homeland would become. In a similar way, Europe has now among the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa the brightest and best of their generation. They are among the best educated of their countrymen and women and thus best equipped to establish sound and long-lasting political, administrative and economic systems in their home countries.

In 1945 and onwards, on Churchill’s instructions, the PoW camps in Britain became, in essence, de-Nazification centres. There was much more to the program than that. The camps also became university colleges where the inmates were offered tuition on how to build a democratic society, and, after the years of brainwashing under Adolf Hilter, the freedom to think for themselves.

Many of the key figures who inspired and managed this program were German Jews who had escaped to Britain in the 1930s. One was Herbert Sulzbach, who fought in the German army in the First World War, but fled to Britain to escape the Nazis in 1937. At the outbreak of war in 1939 he was interned on the Isle of Man as an enemy alien, but the silliness of that soon became evident. He first joined the Pioneer Corps, but in early 1945 began work as an interpreter in a camp for captured German officers at Featherstone Park in Northumberland in northern England. Sulzbach quickly extended his duties to trying to impart to the prisoners, many of them hardened Nazi SS officers, the virtues of tolerance, democracy and humanity. He was hugely successful and many of the thousands of PoWs who went through Sulzbach’s training sessions at Featherstone Park went on to senior positions in post-war Germany. He also inspired a good deal of affection. On November 11, 1945 –the first British Armistice Day after the Second World War – 4,000 German PoWs with whom Salzbach had spent the previous year, stood to attention with him and pledged to return home “to take part in the reconciliation of all people and the maintenance of peace.”

After the war former prisoners formed “Arbeitskreis Featherstone Park,” an association dedicated to improving relations between the British and German peoples. Sulzbach was honourary president of the association until his death in 1985.

Meanwhile, further south, another German Jewish refugee who had become a lecturer in history at Magdalen College, Oxford, Heinz Koeppler, was put in charge of organizing a more formal program among Nazi officer PoWs at a camp at Wilton Park in Buckinghamshire west of London. Between January 1946 and June 1948 more than 4,000 German PoWs attended Koeppler’s classes. His stature in British society was such that he could call on some of the leading figures of the age to give seminars. Among those who held classes at Wilton Park were the philosopher Bertrand Russell, the father of Britain’s “welfare state” William Beveridge and the first woman British Member of Parliament, Lady Astor. Graduates of Koeppler’s prison camp included the post-war German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Willi Brundert, who went on to become Mayor of Frankfurt. Brundert wrote later: “I cannot describe the encouragement and confidence Heinz Koeppler and his colleagues gave us, German prisoners of war, by having ministers of the British Crown, leading Opposition speakers, economic leaders come and talk to us. He did not ‘re-educate’ us, he did not tell us how things ought to be handled in Germany, but he made us think for ourselves.”

Even before the last of the PoWs left Wilton Park in June 1948, the place had become an institution. It became so highly regarded that civilians from Switzerland, Finland and France talked their way into taking part in some of its courses from early 1947. Bowing to an intense lobby, mostly from former German PoW inmates, the British government agreed to keep funding Wilton Park. In 1951 it moved to another old country house, Wiston House on the Sussex Downs not far from the coast, where it continues to thrive to this day.

In the early years Wilton Park remained a forum dealing mainly with Anglo-German relations and the fundamentals of managing a democratic society. But in 1957 the Wilton Park conferences opened their doors to all the European countries, plus Canada and the United States who were members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Wilton Park’s horizon has continued to expand and participants now come from around the world to take part in what is perhaps the premier forum for discussion of social, economic and political issues among the people charged with making the decisions.

But the lesson from the early years of Wilton Park, Featherstone Park, and other PoW camps for German officers is that Europe today has among the hordes of Middle Eastern and African refugees the people who can make their homelands succeed.

Here is an opportunity to give them the encouragement and the tools to do it. But that needs resolve and investment, neither of which are in evidence among European leaders at the moment.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Related on F&O:

Refugees are now the biggest crisis facing the European Union, by Jonathan Manthorpe

Eritreans take perils of the Mediterranean over torment at home, by Jonathan Manthorpe

Ethnic groups flee as Syrian Kurds advance against Islamic State. By Humeyra Pamuk

Migrants: A Train Towards a New Life. Photo-essay by Ogden Reofilovski, Reuters

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

 

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Refugees are now the biggest crisis facing the European Union

A boy walks through Gevgelija train station near the Greek border with Macedonia July 30, 2015. Tens of thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, use the Balkans route to get into the European Union, passing from Greece to Macedonia and Serbia and then to western Europe. After walking across the border into Macedonia to the small local station of Gevgelia, migrants pile onto an overcrowded four-carriage train in sweltering heat, young infants among them, to travel about 200 km north. Their aim: to enter Serbia on foot, another step in their uncertain search for a better life. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

If you are already a supporter of F&O, thank you. If you value our work and wish for us to continue, please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us. A boy walks through Gevgelija train station near the Greek border with Macedonia July 30, 2015. Tens of thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, use the Balkans route to get into the European Union, passing from Greece to Macedonia and Serbia and then to western Europe. After walking across the border into Macedonia to the small local station of Gevgelia, migrants pile onto an overcrowded four-carriage train in sweltering heat, young infants among them, to travel about 200 km north. Their aim: to enter Serbia on foot, another step in their uncertain search for a better life. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs 
August 20, 2015

Among the many compelling pictures in recent weeks of would-be refugees swarming across the Mediterranean one from the Greek island of Lesbos caught my attention in particular.

It was a short video of an infuriated Greek woman confronting a milling throng of young and apparently fit and healthy Syrian men who had recently made the short passage to her island from Turkey in hope of sanctuary in Europe.

“Go home and fight,” she yelled repeatedly at the young men. “Go home and fight.”

I could see her point. But the young men took not notice of the outraged woman as they scrambled and fought among themselves to get the travel papers that would allow them to get to their imagined promised lands in northern Europe.

The tidal wave of illegal migrants fleeing wars in the Middle East and dead end lives in Africa is now the most pressing problem confronting the 28 members of the European Union (EU). It is a far more immediate and politically charged issue than the economic crisis of the common currency, the euro. There is no agreement on what to do or how to do it, though German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans over the coming months to press for a new, integrated asylum policy. A major aim will be to spread more evenly the “burden-sharing” of resettling the migrants, most of whom head for the vibrant economies of northern Europe, especially Germany, Britain and Sweden.

Germany in particular is seen by the migrants as the place where the streets are paved with gold. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere this week forecast that Germany alone would receive 800,000 asylum applications this year, nearly double the previous high in 1992 when the country was the destination of choice for people fleeing the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Last year there were over 626,000 asylum applications in the whole of the EU.

De Maiziere’s prediction is more pessimistic than that of the United Nations, whose refugee agency says about 264,500 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year.

The EU is torn both in how it should confront the fleets of overcrowded and unseaworthy boats attempting to make the passage from North Africa and the Middle East – conservative estimates are that at least 2,300 people have died attempting the crossing – and what to do with those who do make it to Europe’s shores.

Rules and regulations at the moment are based on the Dublin Convention, named for the city where agreement was reached in 2009, but which has been amended several times since. The basic approach is that asylum seekers should be registered and fingerprinted in the country where they land. Officials from that country then oversee the transfer of the migrant to his or her eventual destination. The idea is that creating one file for each refugee makes it more difficult for them to manipulate the system or to disappear.

But the flood of would-be refugees has overwhelmed officialdom in the frontline countries where most land. Last year, for example, over 170,000 asylum seekers arrived by boat in Italy. But the Italian authorities registered only 65,000 new asylum applications, claiming that the Dublin rules gives it an unfair share of responsibility. What happened to the over 100,000 people the Italians didn’t register is anyone’s guess.

There is also a major imbalance in where the migrants end up. Thirty-two per cent of the migrants last year went to Germany, which has only 16 per cent of the EU population. Even more pronounced was the second favourite destination, Sweden, which took 13 per cent of asylum seekers, but which has only two per cent of the EU’s population. Mind you, Sweden became a natural target when it announced that all Syrian applications will be given permanent residents status.

The contrast between Sweden’s open door and the response this week from Slovakia to suggestions it take more migrants illustrates the conflicting political emotions in the EU. Slovakian Interior Ministry spokesman Ivan Metik said his country will take more migrants, but only Christians. Muslims, he said, would find it difficult to integrate into predominantly Christian Slovakia. Most of the North African and Middle Eastern refugees besieging Europe are Muslims, but Slovakia says it plans to restrict its intake to 200 Syrian Christians.

What is strange in this climate of internal discord in the EU and the threat that they may be overwhelmed by the tide of migrants, is that Europe is putting too little effort into seriously addressing the reasons for the deluge. The United States-led military campaign against the barbarous Islamic State (IS) fanatics in Syria is all well and good. But it does nothing to confront the power vacuum created by the civil war to oust President Bashar al-Assad that has allowed IS to flourish.

Over four million of Syria’s 23 million people have fled to neighbouring countries in the four years since the civil war started, according to the United Nations, and countless hundreds of thousands more are displaced within Syria. The Syrian war has become a proxy conflict for regional influence between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. It has already spread into Iraq and now threatens to spin off another war between the Turkish government and the Kurds. This conflict needs to be brought to a close and a political process begun before it spreads even more widely.

Equally, to the south Europe is now reaping the results of the decision by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2011 to aid rebels in Libya to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi by giving them air cover – a campaign in which Canada, to its shame, took part. No thought was given to who or what would replace Gaddafi. The inevitable outcome is that Libya has become a failed state of warring tribal and religious factions. The chaos is the perfect haven for the smuggling gangs who are relieving people from the North, West and Horn of Africa of their life savings as the price of taking them to Europe. UN officials are trying manfully to find a political solution to the Libyan debacle, but the country is likely to remain a highway for trafficking migrants for many months or years to come.

At a meeting of the European Council in April the leaders agreed on a list of four priorities for addressing the migrant crisis. One is to reinforce the Dublin Convention by giving more resources to the frontline states where the asylum seekers land. The second is to increase funding for the EU’s maritime missions aimed at rescuing migrants who come to grief in the Mediterranean.

Germany and Italy are also talking about adopting the Australian system of detaining all sea-borne migrants before they reach shore. They would then be taken to camps in foreign countries where their asylum applications are processed. Those found not to merit asylum would be sent home. There is, however, much squeamishness in the EU about the Australian system, which some countries see as grossly unsympathetic to the plight of migrants.

Only the third and fourth of the EU’s priorities look over the horizon at why and how the migrants are assaulting Europe. One priority of these priorities is to fight people traffickers, especially those involved directly in smuggling migrants. The other is to increase co-operation with the African countries from where the migrants are coming or through which they travel.

These are weak and ineffectual responses to the problem. They fail totally to address the root causes of why people are flooding out of Africa or, for that matter, the refugee camps in countries neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

And stopping the exodus from Africa and the Middle East is not just a matter of easing pressure on European societies. It is also a matter of securing the future of the migrants’ homelands. Inevitably, it is the most inventive, educated and wealthy Africans and people from the Middle East who are taking the risks and have the resources to try to move to Europe. The migrant flood is robbing the Middle East and Africa of many of its most skilled people and thus making more difficult the eventual social, economic and political development of their home countries. A World Bank study of African migration patterns published in 2011 found this problem is particularly acute in the former French colonies of West and North Africa. Nearly nine million people, for example, have emigrated from the Maghreb countries of North Africa – Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania. Ninety-three per cent of them have gone to Europe.

Rather than immersing itself in self-indulgent angst about how to treat the flood of asylum seekers, surely Europe would do better to focus its efforts on encouraging and enabling the would-be migrants to contribute to their own societies.

If what is driving them to Europe is the conflict, corruption, unaccountable political leadership and lack of opportunity in their own countries then, surely, one legitimate option is, as the Greek woman said, to help them to “Go home and fight.”

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

If you are already a supporter of F&O, thank you. If you value our work and wish for us to continue, please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us.

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In the past month, an estimated 30,000 refugees have passed through Macedonia, another step in their uncertain search for a better life in western Europe. They all travel in harsh conditions and face many challenges en route. In this photo-essay,  Ogden Reofilovski of Reuters documents migrants passing through the small railway station of Gevgelia, a stone’s throw from the border with Greece:

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

 

Thank you for your patronage. Please help sustain us by telling others about us. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O provides journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising, you will never see “branded content” pseudo-articles on our pages, and we do not solicit donations from foundations or causes. Subscribe by email to our free FRONTLINES blog, find evidence-based dispatches in Reports; commentary, analysis and longer form writing in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS.  Thank you for your patronage, and please help sustain us by telling others about us. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

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European Scientists and Yankee Managers build ‘The Bomb’

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES  
August, 2015

A week short of a year after America’s entry into World War II, on December 5, 1942, an enemy alien set off a nuclear reaction about five miles south of the Loop in Chicago.

An Italian scientist, and Nobel Prize winner, Enrico Fermi, directed a team of scientists, casual and construction workers and military personnel in the building and operation of the world’s first attempt to generate a nuclear ‘critical mass’. The makeshift reactor was built in a squash court underneath the Stagg Field stands at the University of Chicago. Fermi had fled fascist Italy when Mussolini began to imitate Hitler’s anti-Jewish laws, as his wife was Jewish. They had not been in the United States long enough to qualify for American citizenship and Italy had been at war with America since mid-December, 1941. Hence, the enemy alien.

Enrico Fermi. Photo courtesy Argonne National Laboratory.

Enrico Fermi. Photo courtesy Argonne National Laboratory.

We have to consider the process that was going on here. Today, the terms ‘research’ and ‘development’ tend to be mixed together in the acronym R&D. Research is a process of figuring out what is possible based on theories that might support the possibilities. Development is a process of figuring out how the ‘possible’ might be put to practical use. In the case at hand, the research had to do with the radioactivity in uranium and what might happen if a lot of radioactive material was brought into close proximity.

Once the research established what seemed to be true on paper, then someone had to build a device that would test it out. Fermi showed you could make a natural uranium reactor that would generate heat. He did the critical research on that. Now, somebody would have to make a real reactor, which is in the development realm. To make an atomic bomb and see if it would work—what would happen—would take more than a pile of graphite sheets and some uranium pressed into bricks. Developing the working product would be expensive. Developing it fast enough to use the product in wartime would be seriously expensive.

 Fermi and his team had scored a touchdown in Chicago. With the chain reaction success, it was clear that a device was feasible and could potentially be built that, if the nuclear reaction were done fast enough, could result in an enormous explosion. At the same time, were the chain reaction kept slow enough and stabilized, a reactor could generate enough heat to provide steam to electrical generation turbines. But power generation could wait. The question of the day became one of whether this whole ‘game’ could be won, and Nazi Germany be beaten to the atomic bomb.

The men who basically ran the project to create the atomic bomb were all of Yankee descent. We will meet them in turn.

The required mass for a bomb was small, perhaps a dozen pounds at minimum, but getting this much U235 was a problem, because the two uranium isotopes were mixed together in proportions of about 140 to 1, U238 to U235. As isotopes, they had the same chemical properties, so some form of diffusion by centrifuge was needed to separate them. Without enriching the U238 isotope with U235, no bomb was possible.

Enter Vannevar Bush. Bush was a scientist who had been a Dean and Vice-President at MIT. He left to run the Carnegie Foundation, which supported scientific research. He became convinced that America would both enter the war and needed to be the first to develop an atomic bomb. After meeting with President Roosevelt in June, 1940, Bush found himself in charge of a new government committee, the National Defense Research Committee (NRDC), which considered a range of scientific issues including atomic fission.

Bush attracted James Conant, the President of Harvard University, to work with him. The committee had a number of research scientists as well as some corporate members, but no military ordnance people. The committee also was provided with funding to support various research and development projects. Bush and Conant insisted that their funding was not to be used for stand-alone operations, but for contracting out to existing laboratories and other institutions. Money began to flow for research into a number of atomic energy projects, such as Fermi’s reactor piles, cyclotron development at Berkeley in California and to look at various methods to separate U235 from U238.

There was another wrinkle; sometimes when uranium was bombarded with neutrons, the result was not fission but the production of a larger, artificial element, which was called plutonium, was discovered. It was a bit more stable than neptunium and would potentially make as good a bomb as U235. Plutonium could only be produced in quantity inside the core of an operating reactor. So, by 1941, there were two ways available to make an atomic bomb: with U235 and with plutonium.

Once he was convinced that a bomb was feasible, general policy was set by the President himself, along with a small group of advisors, including the Vice President, Henry Wallace, the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, the Army Chief of Staff, George Marshall, Vannevar Bush and James Conant. Arthur Compton, a Nobel Prize winner in physics from the University of Chicago, chaired the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which acted as the clearinghouse and ‘highest court’ for wartime scientific research, reported to Bush and Conant. Compton had the reactor research and testing centralized at Chicago. Stimson could enforce Army co-operation and access budget money through its channels, Gen. Marshall could integrate the bomb program into overall military strategy. Project execution could begin. This ‘Top Policy Group’ knew that the plant required to separate U235 from U238 might cost many times as much as a major oil refinery. As it proved out, that was a major understatement.

Producing the bomb would be a massive project and the man chosen to direct it came from the Army Corps of Engineers. Leslie Groves had just finished overseeing the construction of the Pentagon. At first, Groves, the deputy chief of construction for the Army, had watched over others as they began to tackle the development of what would become the Manhattan Project. He was not unaware of what was going on, but he had just applied for and was accepted to lead some forces into combat overseas.

Bush and Conant had other plans, ones that ended up unintentionally including him. They were unhappy at the speed of the officers leading the project and, through bureaucratic maneuvering, forced the Corps to find a replacement. In September, 1942, Groves was ordered to remain in Washington and to head it up. ‘On the day I learned that I was to direct the project which ultimately produced the atomic bomb, I was probably the angriest officer in the US Army’. He knew it was a risky assignment: ‘If our gadget [the atomic bomb] proves to be a dud, I and all of the principal Army officers of the project….will spend our lives so far back in a Fort Leavenworth dungeon that they’ll have to pipe sunlight in to us.’

Groves was authorized to take charge of the entire project and promoted to the brigadier general rank to give him some extra clout. One of his aides later said Groves was ‘the biggest sonuvabitch (sic) I’ve ever met in my life, but also one of the most capable…He had absolute confidence in his decisions and was absolutely ruthless in how he approached a problem to get it done’. Tact was not his strong point. 

Almost immediately, Gen. Groves asked about the supply of uranium necessary for the project. There were 1250 tons of uranium oxide sitting abandoned on a wharf on Staten Island. Groves ordered his aide to go and buy it immediately. The next day, he got an AAA priority designation for what Groves described as the Manhattan Engineer District project. When the bureaucrat in charge refused Groves’ request, Groves told him that he ‘would recommend to the Secretary of War that the project should be abandoned on the grounds that Mr. Nelson refuses to carry out the wishes of the President.’ Nelson promptly reversed himself. The day after that, Groves approved the acquisition of 52,000 acres of land in eastern Tennessee for what became Oak Ridge. Four days later, he departed from a Top Policy Group meeting early to go south and inspect the Oak Ridge property, where he planned to build a diffraction plant and a reactor. Not bad for a week’s work.

In short order, Groves chose those contractors he had found competent in his previous construction projects to develop the Oak Ridge site. He wanted the Berkeley scientist, Ernest Lawrence to lead the scientific/engineering team that was to design the features of the bomb, but found that he needed Lawrence more at Oak Ridge, where he oversaw the centrifuges that diffused U235 from U238. So then he decided upon Robert Oppenheimer, Lawrence’s colleague, to lead the large team of scientists and engineers who soon would move into the rough facilities at Los Alamos, New Mexico. From Chicago, Arthur Compton oversaw the Metallurgical Laboratory, a cryptic project title primarily covering a huge site in Hanford Washington, where three nuclear reactors were being constructed in order to produce plutonium, as well as to test another approach to the separation of U235 from U238.

The Project consumed millions of dollars every week. Meanwhile, the Germans found their economy was overstretched by Hitler’s ambitions toward the USSR, such that his people judged that the risks of not being first with an atomic bomb were secondary to winning the war in the East. So, resources were not diverted in any significant amount to nuclear research and bomb development. Even in midsummer 1944, American intelligence speculated the Germans were even with or ahead of them in developing a bomb.

In spite of the AAA priority and the massive investment in production facilities, the atomic age almost missed World War II. In May, 1945, the Germans surrendered and the European front grew quiet. The Japanese were effectively neutralized as a fighting force in the Pacific, but, if anything, they were more determined than were the Germans to hold out against the Allies until the bitter end.

Based on estimates of the human cost of invading the Japanese Islands, the medical personnel prepared for a half-million American casualties for a campaign set for November 1, 1945. Groves and others were convinced that two atomic bombs dropped on the country would be enough to end resistance. By the summer, on July 16, 1945, a plutonium bomb was successfully tested in the southern New Mexico desert. Almost immediately, components of a second and a third bomb were loaded onto ships and planes and transported to Tinian Island. The B-29, the Enola Gay, took off August 6 (local time) from Tinian for Hiroshima with ‘Little Boy’ on board and a second left for Nagasaki on August 9 when the Japanese did not surrender. Thankfully, a third was not needed. Seventy years later, these two bombs remain the only ones used in warfare.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2015

This column was adapted from volume II, due in 2016, of Jim McNiven’s book The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern Americawww.theyankeeroad.com

Further reading on F&O:

Shadows of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a photo essay  by Issei Kato

Japanese Remorse: Once More With Feeling, by International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe

Iran, nuclear waste, and Fukushima, by Penney Kome, F&O

Why do we pay so much attention to Hiroshima and Nagasaki? by Matthew Seligmann

 

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis. 

Jim McNiven’s new book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that created Modern America.

 

 

 

 

 

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Japanese Remorse: Once More With Feeling

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs  
August 14, 2015 

Saturday, August 15, is the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in the Pacific, and that anniversary pulls my memory back 50 years to 1965.

I was an apprentice journalist on a weekly newspaper in the small English country town of Newmarket, in the country of Suffolk, most famous as the home of horseracing. Journalism in Britain was considered a craft to be learned on the job (while earning a living wage) rather than to be pondered in classrooms (while clocking up student debt) and only learned later.

That’s why I’d gone to Britain after wasting a year at Canada’s McGill University in Montreal. As apprentices’ experience grew, editors expanded the complexity of events on which they were assigned to report. I was coming to grips with court reporting, an essential journalistic skill, not only for its important technical and legal skills, but also for the insights it provides into the human condition and the functioning of society.

The young always have a highly-strung sense of justice and I remember one Friday evening being in my local pub and complaining loudly to my companions about what had happened at magistrates court that day. I forget the details now, but it was a minor matter – at magistrates court it can have been nothing else – because of a procedural mistake by the clerk of the court. He was a local solicitor, an elderly man who I’ll call Harris, and in my youthful certainty I had come to the conclusion that he was incompetent and not up to the job any more.

My companions, all of them early men in their late 40s or early 50s and veterans of the Second World War, heard me out and then changed the topic of conversation. Later, one of the men who I knew best, pulled me aside.

“Jonathan,” he said, “Harris was our commanding officer at Singapore, Changi and the rest. We know he’s not always quite there. But that’s because he gave his sanity for us in the prison camps. You won’t hear a word against him in this town.”

The history of the Suffolk Regiment starts in 1685, when it was raised to support King James II against the rebellion by the Duke of Monmouth. It had a distinguished record as an infantry regiment in various parts of the world throughout Britain’s imperial heyday and the First World War. Deployments to India and Asia became a speciality of the Suffolks and in the first days of 1942 the Fourth and Fifth Battalions were part of the 85,000-strong garrison in Singapore, made up mostly of Indian troops and some Australians as well as the British. Japanese troops invaded from what was then Malaya on February 10 and after heavy fighting, the defenders surrendered on February 15. About 5,000 defenders were killed, many of them Australians, and most of the rest of the garrison was captured, among them the surviving Suffolks.

The next three years as prisoners of war of the Japanese were hell. The Suffolks were among the 60,000 allied prisoners forced by the Japanese to build the Burma-Thailand railway, a story immortalised in the 1957 movie, Bridge on the River Kwai. Indeed, Newmarket magistrates court clerk Harris carried similarities to the fictional Colonel Nicholson played by Alex Guinness in the film. Of the 60,000 POWs used by the Japanese as forced labour on the railway, over 13,000 died, among them 620 Suffolks, a majority of the members of the two battalions.

The Japanese treatment of their prisoners defied all the conventions of war and was brutal in the extreme. The treatment of subjugated peoples in the vast swathe of Asia captured by the Japanese was no better. Japan’s Imperial Army became the gold standard for the most gross inhumanity. It wasn’t always that way. There is nothing inherently inhumane in Japanese culture any more than Germans are inherently genocidal. When Japan decided in the late 1860s to emerge from its centuries of isolation and become an industrialised nation on the Western model, it also adopted many Western political and social values. Among these were the conventions governing the conduct of warfare, including the humane treatment of prisoners. Prisoners taken by the Japanese during its war with Russia in 1904, during the First World War and the first war with China in the 1920s were all treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

The boundless brutality crept in with the ascendancy of out-and-out militarists in the Imperial regime in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It was at this time that the mistreatment of prisoners became entrenched, but so did the expectation that all Japanese soldiers, sailors and airmen would fight to the death. Recruits were indoctrinated with the notion that if they were captured by the enemy they would be tortured or killed. The result was that until the closing months of the war, when Japan’s eventual defeat became obvious to all, relatively few Japanese soldiers were captured by the allies. Only about 25,000 Japanese were taken prisoner, most of those towards the end of the war. Others tried to surrender, but it became common among the allied troops to regard the Japanese as sub-human. Countless Japanese seeking to surrender were killed.

The hatred for the Japanese, among those who were their prisoners and many others caught up in the War in the Pacific, remains visceral to this day. The belief remains strong that Japan is still militarist at heart and the evidence produced is that Japan has not made the kind of abject apology made by German leaders for their country’s Nazi past. Yet in the decades since the war, various Japanese prime ministers, ministers and even the Emperor himself have given public expressions of remorse for the abuses and war crimes of their imperial forebears on at least 49 occasions. But few who had direct experience of the atrocities are mollified.

Two pressures have worked to raise questions about the sincerity of the Japanese apologies. One strand has come from the Japanese themselves. Some small ultra-nationalist groups have produced school history books that glorify Japan’s imperial era, and downplay or ignore the atrocities committed. These books are used, if at all, in very few private schools, but they are objects of massive international condemnation, especially from China.

The more questionable, persistent irritant is visits by political leaders to the privately-owned Yazukuni Shinto shrine, which memorialises those who died in the service of the emperor between 1867 and 1951. Of the nearly 2.5 million names contained in the shrine’s Book of Souls, over 1,000 are of people convicted of war crimes in the Second World War and 14 are Class A war criminals who were hanged.

What many find objectionable about Yazukuni is not the shrine itself, but a private museum behind the shrine. The displays and films at the museum cling to the old imperialist line that Japan’s foray into Asia was to free the region from western colonialism and to establish the “Great East-Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.” There is no mention of the attrocities.

Japanese leaders, such as former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who made a habit of visiting the shrine and enraging China every time he did, always say it is right and proper to acknowledge all those who sacrificed their lives for Japan. That’s all well and good, but it cannot avoid the reality that in many people’s minds the Yazukuni shrine is irredeemably tainted by the museum and the names of the Class A war criminals. A clever Japanese leader would have launched a campaign to build a new national shrine free of the Yasukuni’s smell.

The other pressures that have worked to cast down on the sincerity of Japanese apologies comes from outside. Some come from former POWs and their families and from people in countries occupied by Japan, especially South Korea, though, interestingly, not Taiwan, which was a Japanese colony for 50 years until 1945.

Beijing is never slow to rant and rave over any perceived indication of abiding Japanese militarism, whether it’s in school books or visits by leaders to the Yazukuni shrine. But in addition, for the Communist regime in China, inciting anti-Japanese sentiments among its people – including a campaign of indoctrination in schools – has become an essential element in promoting nationalism to justify authoritarian one-party rule. And it is not just at home that Beijing has worked to keep hatred of Japan alive. Its agents work world-wide, including in Canada, to promote organisations dedicated to defending Article Nine, the section of the United States-imposed constitution forbidding Japan from using its military forces overseas.

Chinese agents have also infiltrated organisations supporting surviving “comfort women,” who were either abducted or recruited in occupied countries to work in military brothels. Most of the people involved in these campaigns are, of course, entirely genuine in their mistrust of what they see as residual imperialism in Japan. But there are also Beijing’s agents prevocateurs, whose incitement of intemperate attitudes in these organisations make it difficult for Japan to address these questions. Most, if not all, surviving comfort women have been given compensation and formal apologies by the Japanese authorities. But because of the vehemence of the campaign on their behalf, the women find it impossible to acknowledge publicly the Japanese attempts at reconciliation.

Japan

Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan, is faced with consigning Japanese militarism to history while re-interpreting Japan’s pacifist Article Nine. (Japan government photo)

Japan’s current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is having another crack on August 15, the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in the Pacific, at finally drawing a line under the country’s imperial past. The context is difficult for him. As he tries to consign Japanese militarism to history, he is also working to re-interpret the pacifist Article Nine to allow Japanese forces to play a larger and freer role as an ally of the United States and other Asian nations. This is a pressing project in the face of a newly-assertive, expansionist and well-armed China, but sits uneasily against protestations of remorse for past militarism.

There is also a difficult nuclear context. There has always been a school of thought that because Japan was the first – and thus far, only – target of nuclear warfare with the attacks by the Americans on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it too was a victim of the Second World War. Some critics see this as a handy excuse for those Japanese who want to lessen national responsibility for the imperial age. At the same time, there is a strong anti-nuclear weapons movement in Japan. That has spilled over into a movement opposed to electricity generation by nuclear power, which provided 30 per cent of Japan’s electricity. That movement got a huge boost after the 2011 destruction of three reactors at Fukashima after the earthquake and tsunami. All 43 of Japan’s nuclear reactors were shut down for inspection and upgrading, at huge cost to the economy. Inconveniently for Abe, the first upgraded reactor came back on line this week, the beginning of a revived Japanese dependency on nuclear power.

Abe intends to mark the anniversary by making yet another statement of national apology. But, unlike in the past, an enormous amount of preparation has been put into trying to ensure that it will be widely accepted as a genuine expression of Japanese remorse. Abe’s government knows there is no hope of getting Beijing to accept an apology. The Communists have too much invested in Japan-baiting in efforts to ensure their own survival. There is more hope of getting acceptance from South Korea, Japan’s former colony where there has been a revival of anger against Japan in the last couple of years. That anger has been led by President Park Geun-hye, who as the daughter of a dictator in the 1970s appears to feel it necessary to burnish her nationalist credentials by criticising Japan. Abe’s government has confronted Park head on and has negotiated with her office over wording she would find acceptable in the prime minister’s 70th anniversary statement. Whether this has been successful will be seen in the next few days.

In February, Abe appointed an advisory panel of the great and the good to suggest what the statement should contain. They reported on August 6 and suggested two lines of approach. One is to fully acknowledge the evils of Japan’s imperial era; its aggression against much of Asia, especially China, and the harm it caused millions of people throughout the region.

The second strand is to look forward and to emphasise that “based on deep remorse over the war, Japan has been reborn as a country that is completely different from what it was in the first half of the 20th century. Peace, rule of law, liberal democracy, respect for human rights, the free trade system, self determination, support for the economic development of developing countries are what characterise post-war Japan,” the report says.

Neither this nor what has emerged so far from Abe’s deliberations contains wording that is significantly different from what has been said nearly 50 times before. So it is unlikely that the 70th anniversary of the end of the War in the Pacific will be the end of the ill feelings towards Japan.

Shortly before I left Newmarket and returned to Canada in 1969 to join the staff of The Globe and Mail, Britain’s Ministry of Defence made new moves in the progressive amalgamation of regiments. The Suffolks had already been grafted with the Royal Norfolk Regiment, the Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire Regiment, and The Royal Leicestershire Regiment to form the Royal Anglian Regiment. In Newmarket, the remnants of the Suffolk Regiment was a detachment of the Territorial Army – a militia and reserves unit in Canadian parlance. The new order from Whitehall was that the detachment was to close down and all its functions moved to the slightly larger county town 20 minutes drive down the A45 highway, Bury St. Edmunds.

There was outrage in Newmarket. The spark for the outburst was not so much the loss of the territorial detachment. It was the contents of the locked room behind the parade hall, items the Ministry said had to be moved to the new regimental museum in Bury St. Edmunds. These were the regimental drums. For Newmarket’s veterans the drums represented terrors overcome and friends long gone. They might not see the drums often, but just knowing they remained stacked, as though ready for a regimental drumhead ceremony affirming brotherhood, at the back of the Territorial Hall was a source of comfort. The Ministry was knocked back on its heels.

Before the Suffolk battalions were taken prisoner on February 15, 1942, Sergeants Ron Kitson and Ernie Morgan, and a guard of 20 men wrapped the drums in oil skins and hid them in Singapore’s Goodwood Park Hotel. In 1946, after the war, the drums were found by a Red Cross welfare officer, Mary Taylor, and were returned to the regiment.

They are known, of course, as “The Singapore Drums.”

jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Further reading on F&O:

Shadows of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, photo essay by Issei Kato, Reuters, August, 2015

China’s war for Asian domination going well, by Jonathan Manthorpe, April, 2015

 Japan deals itself in to the Asian poker game, by Jonathan Manthorpe, May, 2014

Beijing takes another major step to control the South China Sea, by Jonathan Manthorpe, May, 2014

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Thank you for your patronage.  Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Please help sustain us by telling others about us. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Canada’s pipeline project runs through swamp of Malaysian politics

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs 
July 31, 2015

One of the first things British Columbia Finance Minister Michael de Jong’s cabinet colleagues need to know after his quick flip to Malaysia this week is how closely the fate of the Canadian province’s $40 billion natural gas pipeline deal is tied to the survival of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Najib Razak, official Malaysian government photo.

Najib Razak. Malaysian government

It’s a question with two unsavoury answers as Najib tries to fight off moves from within the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) to jettison the leader who has become a threat to the party’s hold on power.

If Najib is removed his successor may see all the projects associated with him as being tainted. That would include the $40 billion scheme led by the Malaysian state-owned company Petronas to build a pipeline across northern British Columbia to a natural gas liquefying plant on the coast at Lelu Island near Prince Rupert. The project may have some protection, however, because major Chinese, Japanese and Indian oil and gas companies have significant minority interests in the Pacific NorthWest LNG company.

And the second unsavoury prospect is if Najib survives. The reason so many of his colleagues in UMNO want him out is that the stench of corruption – and worse – hangs heavy around Najib, and has done since before he became Prime Minister in 2009.

Does B.C. Premier Christie Clark relish the prospect of the northern pipeline project, in which she has invested so much political capital and of which she has such grandiose expectations, resting in the hands of a man, Najib, around whom swirls the smell of bribery, corruption and even murder? Probably not.

Much of the uncertainty bubbling around political stability in Malaysia’s immediate future flows from Najib’s insistence on keeping the country’s economic pillars under his own control. As well as being Prime Minister, Najib is his own Finance Minister. This gives him a very direct interest in Petronas, which provides between 40 and 45 per cent of all government revenue. Thus the northern B.C. pipeline is far more than a simple commercial enterprise for Najib government, and that will doubtless continue whatever the fate of the current Prime Minister.

It is, however, Najib’s hold on one of the other levers of economic power in Malaysia that has caused the rebellion against him in UMNO, which has led every government as head of a Barisan Nasional coalition since the country’s independence from Britain in 1957.

Malaysia has a sovereign wealth fund called 1 Malaysia Development Berhad or 1MDB for short. Najib chairs 1MDB’s board of trustees and advisors and, in effect, controls what the fund does with its money. Indeed, Najib was instrumental in the creation of 1MDB in 2008 when he was Deputy Prime Minister. The idea was that 1MDB would help facilitate investment in Malaysia from the Middle East. But the fund quickly took on $11 billion in debt as it bought real estate and energy resource assets. It has produced no operating profits since 2009 and has difficulty in servicing this debt. Auditors have been hired and fired, with the implication they were shown the door when they didn’t like what they found in the books.

Petronas image of potential LNG site on Lelu Island. Petronas via B.C. government

Petronas image of potential LNG site on Lelu Island. Petronas, via B.C. government

Well, in March 2013 the 1MDB transferred almost $700 million – that’s right, $700 million – into Najib’s personal bank account. This was reported early in July by The Wall Street Journal newspaper and a Britain-based blog site, The Sarawak Report. On July 21, a Malaysia-based business newspaper, The Edge Financial Daily, reported that it had gained possession of over 400,000 emails concerning 1MDB’s dealings with a Middle East oil exploration company, PetroSaudi International. The paper trail indicates that about $2 billion of 1MDB money has been stolen by fund officers and others.

I should say here that I know the owner of The Edge, Tong Kooi Ong, and his publisher, Ho Kay Tat. They have taken a big risk by publishing this material in a country like Malaysia, where politics often drives the police and judicial system. The two tried to cover themselves by immediately giving copies of the material they had obtained to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the police and the country’s central bank, the Bank Negara Malaysia. These bodies are all part of the commission investigating 1MDB. But on July 22 Publisher Ho was interrogated by the police for two hours and the government ordered The Edge to stop publishing for three months. The order says the newspaper’s reporting is “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion.”

Darned right. Among those alarmed by the 1MDB revelations is Najib’s brother, Nazir Tun Razak, who told a local newspaper “I condemn the suspension and my thoughts go out to all the affected staff.” Another outraged Malasyian is former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is the very public leader of a campaign to force Najib to resign.

Also perturbed by the affair was Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who early this week told a crowd of UMNO supporters that The Wall Street Journal’s report is a serious matter that needs explaining.

Now, it looks as though some if not most of the $700 million Najib acquired from 1MDB was used to dole out to UMNO candidates in the 2013 general election. This was Najib’s first election as Prime Minister and the results were abysmal for UMNO and its Barisan Nasional coalition partners. The alliance won only 60 per cent of the seats, the first time it had failed to win a two-thirds majority – and the power to change the constitution – since independence nearly 70 years ago. Even worse than that, the coalition won only 44.4 per cent of the popular vote. The opposition Pakatan Rakyat won 50.1 per cent of the popular vote, and but for well-established gerrymandering of constituency boundaries in favour of UMNO, would have gained power.

If Najib had managed to reverse the political decline of UMNO and the Barisan Nasional he might be able to avoid too much attention on the financial scandals that surround him. But his political failure has only intensified the focus on the sticky fingers issue. Not least of these is a bribery scandal that is going on in Australia. Newspapers owned by Fairfax Media have published a series of stories claiming that Najib and his predecessor as Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, are being investigated by Australian authorities over allegations they negotiated kick-backs from two companies associated with Australia’s Reserve Bank. The allegation revolves around Malaysia’s decision to contract the Australian companies to provide polymer bank notes for Malaysia to replace the old paper versions. (The Australian companies are world leaders in producing polymer for bank notes, which is more durable and difficult to counterfeit than paper. Canada is among many countries that buy the Australian polymer for their bank notes.)

Najib has vigorously denied the Australian allegations and is threatening to sue.

Najib has been less litigious in the case of Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa, Mongolian model and translater, who was murdered on October 18, 2006 by two of Najib’s bodyguards. Altantuyaa was the mistress of Najib’s policy adviser, Abdul Razak Baginda, when Najib was Malaysia’s Defence Minister from 2000 to 2008. She also acted as translator when Baginda negotiated with the French company, DCN, for the purchase of two Scorpene submarines for $2 billion. Essential to the deal, according to French investigators, was the payment of $200 million in bribes to companies owned by Baginda and his wife.

Things began to fall apart when Baginda tired of his affair with Altantuyaa. She is also alleged to have been Najib’s mistress before, but he passed her on to his chum for fear it would ruin his chances of becoming prime minister if the affair became public knowledge. Altantuyaa was distraught after being jilted by Baginda and took to demonstrating outside his house in Kuala Lumpur. She also, according to a letter found after her death, demanded $500,000 from Baginda for her silence over the $200 million bribes from DCN.

Her demonstrations ended when two of Najib’s bodyguards bundled her into a car, took her to the jungle outside Kuala Lumpur, shot her in the head and then used military explosives to destroy the body. It is rumoured that Altantuyaa was pregnant and the aim was to ensure there was no fetus left for DNA analysis.

A campaign by Altantuyaa’s family and a public outcry forced a police investigation. The two bodyguards and Baginda were charged with the model’s murder. Then, in a paroxysm of justice, the judge announced there was clearly no case for Baginda to answer. He fled to Britain where he has stayed since. The two bodyguards were convicted, but, strangely, no one during the course of the whole trial thought to ask them what is clearly the central question of the whole affair: who ordered them to kill Altantuyaa?

This week Najib moved to try to shore up his position and block the calls for his resignation. On Tuesday he shuffled his cabinet, removing his Deputy Prime Minister, Yassin, who the day before had publicly demanded an explanation for the $700 million transfer to Najib’s personal account. Another four ministers were also removed. Interestingly, some were replaced by members of the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, which is investigating the 1MDB affair. Buy off? That’s a shameful thought.

Najib, whose wife Rosmah Mansor, according to Kuala Lumpur street chatter, is the driving force of the family, has probably bought himself a respite, but only that. He is blessed at the moment by disarray in the opposition coalition. But the 1MDB scandal is not going away and any new allegations will seal his fate.

No doubt one of the things de Jong will have been keen to discover in Malaysia are the chances of Petronas and the Pacific NorthWest LNG project providing the next twist in Najib’s downward spiral.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related Jonathan Manthorpe columns:

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

 

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Facts and Opinions works on the honour system. We’re a boutique journal, of independent reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit partisan donations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters  paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

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