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Tony Benn R.I.P.

Nice tribute in the Guardian from Michael White, which charts Benn’s course from titled right of centre moderniser to left wing radical. The quote ‘I was the Peter Mandelson of the 1959 election’ highlights that Benn took the opposite journey in political stance through life from most, including Mandelson.

Never afraid to pitch himself in support of unfashionable or unpopular causes. His opposition to the modus operandi of the EU was based on his view that Brussels was not only undemocratic but also anti-democracy

‘(Benn) was almost the last of a disappearing species’ says the Guardian obituary and that’s hard to disagree with.

He said of the following interview ‘I think Ali G did me a huge amount of good with the young. He came to this house and completely took me in and I argued with him when he said “bitches only get pregnant in order to get benefit” and “people only go on strike to chill out”. And I said: “Don’t be ridiculous”. You see, a lot of the people he interviewed were frightened of him.’

Hard to disagree with that, but it was very funny as well.

Hiroo Onoda R.I.P.

onoda

Hiroo Onoda in 1996

Who he?

Well you may not recognise the name but I am sure that those of you of a certain age will remember why he became famous in 1974.

He was a wartime Japanese officer who surrendered only in 1974, having hunkered down in the jungles of the Philippines for nearly three decades in defiant honour of the Imperial Army.

His exile on Lubang Island, 93 miles south west of Manila, was a rebellious response to the American invasion in February 1945. Onoda, who was a young Intelligence lieutenant at the time, had taken literally his final order to stay and fight. Most of the island’s Japanese troops either withdrew or surrendered, yet, along with other splinter groups, Onoda went into hiding in the mountains.

For the next 29 years he survived on a diet of rice, coconuts and meat (from cattle slaughtered during farm raids), and he tormented the Filipino forces on his trail. Onoda maintained his rifle, ammunition and sword in impeccable order and when finally discovered — still wearing his, now tattered, army uniform — stated that his mind had been on “nothing but accomplishing my duty”. As one of the last of the “Znryu nipponhei” (or “Japanese Holdouts”), he was greeted as a hero on his return to Japan — a country which he was shocked to find had changed beyond recognition.

He was finally located in 1974 through the efforts of Norio Suzuki, a Japanese student with aspirations to be an explorer. Suzuki had read of the killing of Kozuka and concluded that he wanted to search for “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order”. Where the Philippines’ police and military had failed, Suzuki succeeded in four days.

japanese-soldier-hiroo-onoda-361054

The encounter was as dramatic as that between Stanley and Livingstone. Onoda set his rifle on the young adventurer but was assuaged by the young man’s calm approach. “Onoda-san,” said Suzuki, “the Emperor and the people of Japan are worried about you.” It was an effective opening. “This hippie boy Suzuki came to the island to listen to the feelings of a Japanese soldier,” recalled Onoda. He would not surrender, however, until he had a direct order from his commanding officer. The following month Suzuki returned with Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, by then a bookseller. Taniguchi assured Onoda that the Imperial command has ceased all combat activity and he should lay down his arms.

Onoda accordingly presented his ceremonial sword to President Marcos, who in turn granted him a pardon for his guerilla activities and handed the weapon back.

On his return to Japan, Onoda was feted, and briefly tipped to run for the Diet, the Japanese bicameral parliament. Fiscal rewards also materialized through a military pension and publication of his best selling memoirs, No Surrender: My Thirty Year War (1974).

Thanks to this article

Mandela

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realised. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Nelson Mandela at the culmination of the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

I remember when Nelson Mandela came to Glasgow to thank the city who had been first to offer him its freedom. By then he was well on his journey from becoming an imprisoned man dubbed a terrorist by the government of South Africa, to being a world statesman and perhaps the most universally revered and genuinely loved politician ever.

Several years earlier, the award to Mandela of freeman of the city wasn’t quite so well received. It was controversial and many saw it as gesture politics. In those early days of Thatcherism it went against the UK Zeitgeist and to be honest had limited support in Scotland.

Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

I have enjoyed the reflective coverage of his life over the last couple of days.”We must liberate not only the oppressed but also the oppressor” is one quote which epitomised his approach to presidential power. This was demonstrated with his approach to the Rugby World Cup in 1995. Previous to the tournament there was a meeting of the fledgling democracy’s sporting committees at which they had just voted to change the traditional green and gold strip and the emblem of the Springbok. Mandela arrived having heard of the decision and urged them to think again, making clear that his choice was to keep the colours and the emblem despite their association with the previous apartheid state.  The vote was retaken and the strip and emblem remained.

Some of Mandela’s supporters obviously saw this as a sell out. However, he saw this as an opportunity to break the ice with people who were most certainly not his supporters – indeed a chance to ‘liberate the oppressor’.

The gesture of turning up to the final dressed in the Springbok strip and a supporter’s baseball cap was one which he and only he as a president could have carried off. That was the moment of apotheosis for his philosophy and at a stroke, the perceived threat of civil war and the fear of another Zimbabwe situation receded.

There wasn’t universal acceptance of him at that moment but he certainly won over thousands of sceptics as he gloried in South Africa’s victory on that day even dancing a victory jig.

Only his election made that day possible. South Africa had been banned from participating in the first two world cups in 1987 and 1991 due to the apartheid regime. Having facilitated not only their participation but also the hosting of the tournament, Mandela was entitled to the political benefit which accrued from it. The winning of that trophy was the icing on the cake.

Although he later clashed with the director of South African rugby  Dr Louis Luyt, branding him a ‘pitiless dictator’ the mould had been broken. By 2005 there were nine blacks in the Springboks’ squad.

Important and symbolic though that event was, it was Mandela’s realisation and admission that the ANC had to drop its commitment to nationalisation which secured the economic short and medium term. He must have shuddered as he contemplated some of the other African countries living under faux Marxism. He realised that if the Rainbow Nation was to survive and prosper, the first step would be to grow the economy, held back for so many years under the sanctions and trade embargoes from  abroad.

It couldn’t have been an easy step to jettison his and his party’s political manifesto in the quest for a cohesive society. Again though, pragmatism won over ideology. He saw that imposition of some regimented collectivism of the type that was being rejected by the people in Esatern Europe and Asia would lead to a different but continued isolation for his country.

It didn’t stop him being political. It never stopped him fighting for equality and justice. He continued to do these things with the hard bitten determination he always had at the same time achieving so much more than if he had gone down the Mugabe path. He spoke out against international events which needed speaking out against. Things like the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for example.

The end of apartheid in South Africa resonated way beyond the shores of that country and continent. Before the release of Mandela there was a sometimes virulent racism in even the most democratic of countries. It hasn’t disappeared of course but it is much, much less in evidence today in the country where I live. Racism has been marginalised and is now the political football of the extremist. That is largely down to the man who took his long walk to freedom from prison in 1991.

A one minute applause before all football matches in Scotland would have been unthinkable to mark the passing of Margaret Thatcher earlier this year but yesterday that gesture was afforded to Nelson Mandela with enthusiasm. Maybe proof, if it were needed, that Mandela’s assertion that love is a more natural human condition than hate is indeed the case. He certainly practiced what he preached in that regard.

The greatest human being of the 20th century?

Very probably.

Madiba

From The Glasgow Story

mandela place

Nelson Mandela’s lawyer, Ishmail Ayob, at the launch of the Freedom at 70 campaign in Nelson Mandela Place. Also in the picture, which appeared in the May 1988 issue of Glasgow City Council’s newspaper The Bulletin are Scottish anti-apartheid chairman Brian Filling, singer Jim Kerr and councillor Danny Crawford.

Nelson Mandela Place was originally St George’s Place. Glasgow City Council signalled its support for the campaign to free Nelson Mandela by renaming the street in honour of the political prisoner in 1986, much to the annoyance of staff in the South African consulate there.

Jim Kerr was lead singer and founder member of Glasgow rock band Simple Minds, formed in 1978. During the 1980s they established themselves as one of the most popular acts in the country, with hits such as Don’t You Forget About Me and Belfast Child and a series of successful albums. The group helped organise and performed at two Nelson Mandela tribute concerts in 1988 and 1990, the second of which was attended by the newly-released Mandela himself.

Ray Manzarek RIP

Storm Thorgerson R.I.P.

Who?

He was the man responsible for this artwork:

Dark_Side_of_the_Moon_dark_side_9064

And this:

ledzep

And more recently, (amongst many others) this:

muse

The Poll Muddle Tartar