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« Harbour view | Main | Smokin' Festival: music to our ears »

What did you do in the (Cold) War?

I am going to Scotland for a few days. While I am away I thought I'd leave you with this long (very long) post. Apologies if it seems a bit self-indulgent ...

I have just finished reading Ann Leslie's excellent book Killing My Own Snakes ("the extraordinary life of a Fleet Street legend"). Leslie has been a foreign correspondent for the Daily Mail for over 40 years and the book offers a fascinating insight into that rather murky world.

One chapter brought back a lot of memories. Leslie describes how a year after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 she and her husband Michael went on holiday to Austria where they got a tourist visa to cross the border into western Czechoslovakia to visit some Slovak friends:

Our little white Triumph Herald convertible glowed in the deserted, ill-lit streets as if declaring, 'I am a capitalist car containing imperialist, fascist, bourgeois spies - come and get them!' Naturally the police arrived within minutes, and, naturally, took Michael away for questioning.

I was left in the car, speaking no Czech, in a gaunt and silent city which seemed infused with a strange miasma of gas-like chemical smells, wondering what on earth was going to happen next. We'd agreed we would not mention our friends and would try to give the impression that we were just two daffy young tourists; and using his hesitant German Michael managed to convince them.

There followed three rather scary days for us. On our lengthy drive to the east of the country we saw fields full of Soviet tanks. Our friends would lean out of the windows and yell in English, 'Go home, Ivan!' I kept thinking to myself, please, please, don't do that! We're the only real English speakers in the car and we'll get arrested!

And then I felt ashamed of myself: the worst that would happen to us would be that we'd probably spend a few days in jail, the Foreign Office would have 'discussions' with the Czechs, and then we'd be expelled. But for them, yelling 'Go home, Ivan!' might even be classified as a 'counter-revolutionary' crime, for which people got shot.

The worst moment for us came on departure. Our friends - and other Slovaks whom we'd never met before - asked us if we would smuggle out letters addressed to contacts in the West. What should we do if the border police searched us? One of our friends told us firmly, 'In that case, you must eat letters. Authorities must not read them!'

I felt that even the stupidest border guard might find his synapses sparking with suspicion if he saw two Western tourists suddenly gobbling down wads of paper. But we didn't feel we could refuse to do this when our anti-Soviet friends took many more extreme risks every day of their lives.

Between Bratislava and the Austrian border we stopped the car and, amateurish to a degree, decided to hide the letters under the carpets. At the border post we joined a lengthy queue of Austrian-registered cars. And to our horror saw that every one of them was being meticulously searched. 'My God, they're even removing the hub-caps,' I quivered to Michael. When the border police eventually reached us they made a thorough search of our luggage, removed the hub-caps, looked underneath the car but, eventually, waved us through.

Back in London, as I posted the letters, I felt a huge swell of anger about a political system which was so cruel, so utterly pointless.

Five years later, in 1974, Leslie joined a small tour group visiting Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg):

Leonid Brezhnev was in power and the Soviet gerontocracy ... presided over a vast, decrepit, corrupt, shambolically incompetent and heavily armed empire covering eleven time zones - which, by then, was only being held together by the glue of fear.

Communist ideology as a quasi-religious faith had long ago died in the crushed citizenry's hearts (although it still showed signs of extremely vigorous life in the West among those who Lenin had called the 'useful idiots' of the Left).

In its Russian heartland it only existed in bombastic Party slogans on red banners plastered over public buildings: 'Let Us Make Moscow the Model Communist City!', 'Let Us Celebrate the Triumph of the Proletariat!, 'We Will Drive Mankind Forcibly Towards Happiness!'

Killing My Own Snakes by Ann Leslie, Macmillan, 2008

The same banners were still decorating public buildings and the Soviet Union was still held together by the "glue of fear" when I paid my own visit to Moscow in 1981, nine months after leaving university.

Time tends to dull the memory. However I discovered recently that my mother has kept some of the letters that I wrote when I was a student at Aberdeen and when I first moved to London after graduation.

One letter, written in April 1981 when I was 22, describes that trip to the USSR. At the time I was working for a PR company in London and I had told my parents that I was going to be "out of town on business". I was being economical with the truth. The letter, written a day or two after I returned, explains all:

Dear Mum and Dad,

First of all, I have a confession to make. I was indeed “out of town” last week but not, as I may have led you to believe, on business.

In actual fact I spent seven nights in Moscow. I travelled alone, although I was booked onto a Thomson package tour, and my job was to take various books and magazines into the country, give them to a contact, and then visit a second person who was to give me a letter which I was to bring out of the country.

Because there was an element of risk I decided not to let you know in advance. Not, obviously, because I thought you would react hysterically to the idea, but because it would have been natural for you to spend the week worrying. (Truth is, had I been caught they would probably only have deported me.)

Anyway, the story began in January when I was introduced to X, a Russian dissident living in London. (Funnily enough, he looks remarkably like Lenin!) Between then and leaving for Moscow I had around ten briefing sessions, each one lasting two hours, which covered such topics as cover story, how to detect if I was being followed, how to behave and what to do if caught etc etc.

In addition, I had to learn the addresses of my contacts, what they would look like, code words etc, none of which could be written down in case I was apprehended.

These meetings generally took place after work in the evenings, or occasionally on Sunday mornings. Sometimes we used Y’s flat in London but when that was not available X and I had to meet in coffee bars around Victoria Station, or in pubs. On one occasion we walked through Hyde Park discussing how I should pass the time if I was caught and put in jail!

I felt that this was a risk worth taking, if only because the opportunity may never come again. I must confess that my initial reaction, when asked to go, had been to think: “How nice, a free holiday in Russia!”. This attitude soon changed however and having met my contacts in Moscow I can’t tell you how exhilarating it was, knowing that I was helping them in some small way. But more of that later.

All the literature I was taking was printed in Russian. It was largely about Poland and Afghanistan. When I saw the amount I had to carry I was slightly dubious, particularly as I had to carry it on my body and not in my baggage which would almost certainly be checked at [Moscow] airport.

I should mention that the Helsinki Agreement allows for this sort of literature to pass from one country to another, but the Soviets won’t accept this. So the material, consisting of 12 books the size of a pocket diary, various magazines and leaflets, had to be sown into place - on my chest and under my arms - between two t-shirts. I then had to pull on a thick woollen jumper, a jacket and an overcoat which made me look like Billy Bunter! In addition I had a letter, typed on silk, sown into the sleeve of my jacket.

One problem, though: because all airport authorities sometimes do body searches, I couldn’t afford to be delayed at Gatwick trying to explain why I had Russian-language books and magazines stitched into my clothes, so I had to take everything on to the plane in my hand luggage. [Note: in those days outgoing hand luggage was rarely searched at UK airports.]

Once in the air I had to go to the loo where I struggled to put the t-shirts on under my rugby shirt, with my woollen jumper and jacket on top. As you can imagine, it got extremely hot!

We arrived in Moscow at 7.50pm and so to the most nerve-wracking bit of the whole trip. Several people had their luggage checked for books (which showed up on the x-ray machines) but all they found were novels or tourist guides. Worryingly, the person directly in front of me was body searched so the old heart began to pump a bit! Luckily it was all a bit random and I managed to get through without being searched at all – huge relief!

The hotel where I stayed was described as “small” by our Soviet guides: in fact it had 20 floors, six bars and three restaurants and was 400 yards from Red Square and the Kremlin.

We arrived at the hotel at 11.00pm and after checking in I walked the short distance to Red Square. It was incredibly quiet. The roads were empty and it was unbelievably cold. I have never felt so far from home!

I was due to drop off the material at the first address before breakfast on Sunday (our first full day in Moscow) but I slept in and had to go on a pre-arranged tour of the Kremlin instead. It would have looked suspicious had I missed it.

Of course, I had to keep the books and magazines on me at all times in case our hotel rooms were searched. In fact one of the first things I had to do when I checked in was to take off the t-shirts and put the books etc in a Russian-style shoulder-bag. Unfortunately no-one had told me that bags were not allowed inside the Kremlin so I had a slightly worrying two hours while my bag - with all the books and magazines - sat on my seat in the coach completely unattended.

When, finally, I reached the block where my first contact lives, I found there was a door inside the entrance that I hadn't been told about. Needless to say it was locked. My contact lived on the sixth floor so there was nothing I could do to gain entry.

As a result I had to go back the next day, before breakfast. This time the door was open so I was able to climb the stairs to the sixth floor. I knocked on the door and a man opened it. I gave the password, he nodded. I handed over all the books and magazines. And that was it.

After dinner, following a tour of the city and a visit to the Exhibition of Economic Achievements, I set off for the second address. This was much further away and it was dark and very cold. I had some difficulty finding it because the directions I had been given were not very accurate. Eventually I found it but I was a long way from the usual tourist areas and I felt very conspicuous.

The man I was supposed to meet was out at work, even though it was 9.00pm. So I arranged with his wife to return at four o'clock the next day ...

The following day I returned to their apartment and spent over two hours with the pair of them. I cut the letter from the sleeve of my jacket and his wife sewed a fresh letter into the sleeve for me to bring back to London.

Z hardly spoke any English at all, although he could understand a fair bit, but his wife had studied English at university. She rarely gets the chance to practise and frequently had to look at her dictionary, which caused a lot of amusement. She was the same age as me. Z was nearer 30 and was very thin with a thickish beard.

We talked about all sorts of things and had a good laugh. I was very pleased when they asked me to come back later in the week. However I had been told that it was not a good idea to return to an address more than once, but Z and his wife didn’t think the risk was too great so I agreed to visit them again.

Throughout my stay I never felt worried about my own safety (apart from that brief period at Moscow airport) but I felt a lot of responsibility for my contacts. Z and his wife were so charming. Z’s mother lived with them but they were anxious that she wasn't implicated in anything so we were never introduced. When I asked them why they took such risks they were slightly embarrassed and said that if I lived in Moscow I would understand.

In fact a week in Moscow was more than enough to develop an impression of the place. Frankly, it’s a hell-hole. Apart from Red Square and the Kremlin, it’s grey and bleak – quite horrible. Everything seems to be in decay – paint and plaster falling off the walls, rubble everywhere. People queue outside shops, the liquor stores are full (vodka was always sold out by lunchtime) and the food is terrible – and never varies. Shortages are the norm.

My second visit to Z and his wife was on Saturday morning, prior to my flight home. Again I stayed for two hours before returning to the hotel. I had suggested that Z write a second letter for me to take to London, and this had to be sewn into my other sleeve!

There are many more things to tell you about my visit – for example, I saw the Moscow State Circus and visited Lenin’s Mausoleum. In the meantime, hope you understand why I decided not to tell you in advance …

Postscript: two years after my trip to Moscow Z was arrested and charged with anti-Soviet activities. He was sentenced, I believe, to three years in jail.

I was one of hundreds, probably thousands, of “couriers” who "smuggled" literature in and out of the Soviet Union. Several were friends from university. One was detained (at Moscow Airport) and deported within 24 hours. Another was arrested in Red Square handing out Russian language leaflets he had smuggled into the country. He too was deported. He is now a prominent local councillor and Conservative activist!

As for Lenin's "useful idiots", many of them are still with us, in the Labour party and elsewhere. Some are even in government and other senior positions. Draw your own conclusions.

Reader Comments (18)

The bravery of Ann Leslie as a young girl, and others, is truly astounding. I'm sure her book will be very interesting.
I would like to think that that same bravery would be still with us if Big Brother EU with their bans, restrictions on people's lives, rules and regulations, cctv cameras etc ever gets complete control.
Because it seems to me that the EU in its present form and the way that its heading now and with the compliance of various govts is not much different than life in Russia before the fall of the Berlin wall.
The only difference in my opinion is that the people in the eastern block could at least have a smoke indoors.

August 27, 2009 at 9:30 | Unregistered Commenterann

I agree with everything that Ann has said. My own experiences during the cold war are vivid in my memory. It is a story too long to be told here and was far more up front than the voluntary secret courier activities of Ann Leslie.

Sufficient to say that should total dictatorship domination by the EU become a reality, the "press gang" might of the EU military force would definitely be turned against Russia. Russia is aware of this and Russia is governed by fear.

Nigel Farage is also aware of this and the UKIP policy, should they achieve an independent self-governing United Kingdom, is to leave well alone. We, as a comparatively small group of islands, would be no threat to the Russians.

It is small wonder that Vaclav Klaus is fighting tooth and nail NOT to have the Czech Republic ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

August 27, 2009 at 12:31 | Unregistered CommenterMargot Johnson

One of my brothers, four years older than me, graduated at Southampton University in 1968. He had earned a post graduate research which would lead to a PhD. His research was to take place in Czechoslovakia! Against expectations, he was able to go and study there. He arrived six weeks after the Russian Invasion.

August 27, 2009 at 20:42 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

To be honest, I don't really understand what this post has to do with the enjoyment of tobacco. I am trying my best not to be judgemental, but I still do not understand. I could post a review of a book that I have just read about 'Quantum Theory', but it would hardly progress our cause.

If the point is that the Soviet Union was a totalitarian state and that we are in danger of becoming a totalitarian state, ....erm, well, yes, but it is stretching the point......
But we must always remember that before the Russian Revolution, the vast majority of the people were 'serfs'. That is, literally, SLAVES - totally OWNED by the royal family, the aristocrats and the landowners. BE IN NO DOUBT, that if you, a serf, voiced an objection to the way in which you were being treated, you would be severely punished - if not executed 'pour encourage les autres'.
It seems, however, to be an historical fact that Revolutions produce in-fighting and consequent unnecessary blood-letting and despotism. It happened in Russia, it happened in China, it happened in Zimbabe, it happened in Iraq. But we should never forget that the original Revolution was just.

We should be thankful that we, in this country, avoided such a Revolution. Our Revolution was quietly achieved after a long struggle, and only because the rulers of this country (the aristocrats and landowners) around 1850 recognised that a Revolution in the nature of the French Revolution was likely to occur if more freedom was not extended to the people. Read Charles Dicken's novel 'A Tale of Two Cites' CAREFULLY and you will see what I mean.

The aftermath of the Great War was critical. It was realised by many intelligent people (NOT the aristocrats and landowners) that hundreds of thousands of ordinary, young lives had been sacrificed in order to defend the PROPERTY (both at home and abroad) of the Crown,the Aristocrats and the Landowners. The rising Trade Unions could not be denied (otherwise, they would have to have been supressed by force).

The Second World War furthered the emancipation of the people. It is no accident that the Churchill government was defeated in 1945, once the war was won. The people of the country realised that they had been fighting to retain our Nation (with all that that that implies), but NOT AS BEFORE. Ordinary people wanted a reasonable share of the wealth which was being created by their labour.

However, as had happened again and again in the past, the New Rulers fell out among themselves. While they argued among themselves, the opportunity was lost.

We are still suffering from this lost opportunity today. In the aftermath of the Second World War, there was the opportunity to NATIONALISE THE LAND. There would be no OWNER of the Land other than the PEOPLE.

I have wondered why the NATIONALISATION OF THE LAND was never persued. (Imagine the income to the Nation from the payment of land rents to the Exchequer rather than to the Aristocratic Landowners!) What actually happened was that the Aristocratic Landowners sold their landownings to companies such as British Land (or whatever), of which they took a shareholding. Wonderful, isn't it? The INDIVIDUAL owners of the land prior to the Great War transpose themselves into shareholders in landowning companies, thus avoiding PERSONAL tax liabilities!

Eventually, we come to the conclusion that there is STILL some sort if conspiricy among the Landowners to retain.

How far does this conspiricy go?

August 28, 2009 at 3:18 | Unregistered CommenterJunican


Although Simon is a director of FOREST, this site is his own blog. Its sub-heading is "Stuff & Nonsense". The archive headings cover many subjects such as Politics, Sport and Humour.

However, discussion of the Cold War IS relevant to the totalitarian EU dictatorship under which we now live. Hitler banned smoking as did many other dictatorships throughout history. It is a very effective way of dividing the community and closing down many public meeting places which could foster dissent.

My own experiences of the Cold War were horrendous and first hand. Due to a NATO pact agreement my husband had a three year diplomatic military posting. We had to live daily with the high ranking Soviet officers and their so-called wives, who were mainly KGB Officers themselves. We were under constant surveillance and in danger for our lives.

This surveillance and danger would be the situation throughout Europe if all EU Member States ratify the Lisbon Treaty. Our three ruling political parties voted the Lisbon Treaty through our parliament and ratified it. We are already living under the rule of the EU and our political leaders are simply EU puppets. It is no accident that we have not only a rigidly enforced smoking ban inside all public places but massive growing unemployment. We have about 5000 new laws which curtail our liberty in many other respects.

Gordon Brown stated earlier this year that he was expecting “rage riots" this August. He is known to have a heavily armed Europol police force standing by here in Britain, with more waiting across the Channel. The main Europol training school is situated in London. GB and the EU must be very disappointed that this has not yet happened. Europol take precedence over our own police force. They have powers of arrest without reason, deportation to unknown destinations and closed door trials. There is no trial by jury and no habeas corpus.

David Cameron may, as an electioneering ploy, be making pretty noises about holding a Referendum PROVIDED that all other EU states have not ratified the Lisbon Treaty. I do not believe in him or the LibDems. What were they doing when they voted the Lisbon Treaty through? Had they not read it? Shame on them. They are all tarred with the same brush. .

August 28, 2009 at 8:24 | Unregistered CommenterMargot Johnson

Margot wrote: Gordon Brown stated earlier this year that he was expecting “rage riots" this August.

I googled news for "rage riots" Gordon Brown and did not find any documents at all. I googled rage riots and found this:

Gordon Brown has stated many times that he anticipates "Rage Riots", [his words], this summer.

The author of these words was one Margot Johnson on Taking Liberties in May this year.

I take it, Margot, that you have special inside knowledge of the workings of Brown's mind, to which other people are not privy.

August 28, 2009 at 11:20 | Unregistered Commenteridlex

Try "summer of rage," much catchier.

August 28, 2009 at 12:04 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

Right ho! Reuters 23 Feb 2009:

Police said on Monday they feared a "summer of rage" with mass protests over the economic crisis...

Superintendent David Hartshorn, head of London's public order policing branch, said banks, multinational companies and other financial institutions could all be targeted.

"We've got G20 coming and I think that is being advertised on some of the (Web) sites as the highlight of what they see as a 'summer of rage,'" he told the Guardian newspaper.

Not Gordon, but a senior police officer, who seems to have been reading a bit too much internet gossip.

August 28, 2009 at 12:19 | Unregistered Commenteridlex

Oh dear, alarm bells are deafening. I certainly don't want anything I write to be accessable via Google. Back to the Cold War. or what! I felt vulnerab e as I wrote what I did above. Better shut up altogether if Big Brother is still watching me.

Actually, Gordon Brown DID say that. Anyone got time for Hansard?

My knowledge of the Europol preparations came from a different source - and I'm certainly not going to elaborate.

Anyone for tennis?

August 28, 2009 at 16:33 | Unregistered CommenterMargot Johnson

Margot, I'm afraid it has already happened.
On the news and media today it announced that Europol is actively monitoring 40 of ireland's most wanted criminals across europe and they will feature on '100 most wanted' list being compiled by the agency.
Its director Rob Wainwright said they have the best criminal analysts in Europe.
And Det Sgt John Reid head of the 'Irish Desk'!!! said that 20% of his work related to drugs.
He goes on to say that 130 europol investigations originated in ireland and wait for it ....
'A number of EU states had copied ireland's criminal assests bureau which is held up as best practice in europe and how it is an aspiration for each country to follow the example set in ireland'
Yes the old 'world leaders' syndrome is being trundled out again, just like the smoking ban.
Looks like we have the FBI of europe whether we like it or not.
So much for waiting for the ratification on Lisbon dont you think.

August 28, 2009 at 21:00 | Unregistered Commenterann

Junican -

Just a couple of points, really:

1) Please don't forget that Lenin and Trotsky (like Hitler, later) were both supported by American, British and German BANKERS: there would have been NO 'revolution' without them.

2) Re: "In the aftermath of the Second World War, there was the opportunity to NATIONALISE THE LAND. There would be no OWNER of the Land other than the PEOPLE."

Tell THAT to the millions of KULAKS who were murdered and starved to death by the commie gangsters who 'nationalised' Mother Russia.

In the name of The People, naturally.........

'Nationalistion' of the land is little more than State Theft.

When 'THE People' owns everything, People - save for the members of the New Aristocracy such as Beria, Stalin etc - own NOTHING.

Cheap vodka and bread queues might be somewhat better than serfdom - but not much.

As for the post-War 'reconconstruction' in the land of John Stuart Mill:

Much, of course, was achieved that was good - and necessary.

Nonetheless, it is from this PRECISE period that (IMHO) all our current woes also begin: the semi-collectivisation of England, the slow and remorseless erosion of our liberties, the theft of our children by 'social workers', the imposition of State-sponsored 'morality' on private conscience, the All-Seeing Eye of the CCTV camera, the dumbing-down of our education system, the gagging of inconvenient opinions, an increasingly thuggish police force, a preening and immoveable Apparat, and the long slow death of Real Politics.

I'd say that - far from failing - the putative 'dream' (a nightmare to an unreconstructed libertarian like me) of a Socialist Britain has been all but realised in my lifetime.

How ironic that it took another 'Blair' (aka 'George Orwell') to realise where things COULD lead.

Double-plus 'ironic', in fact............

Welcome to Airstrip One (a province of Oceania) !

August 28, 2009 at 22:10 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

Martin V

As usual, when you write things down, there are implications in the words that you use which are unintended. The word NATIONALISE suggests SOCIALISM -but that was not my intention. My intention was to suggest something like this:

"It is not possible for one individual to claim to own the whole of the surface of the Earth"

Do you see the point that I am making?

If you believe that it is possible for an individual person to OWN a piece of the surface of the Earth, then it is logically possible for one individual to own the WHOLE of the surface of the Earth.

It is because of this clear reasoning that I say that it is not possible for any individual person to OWN any portion of the surface of the Earth.

It is possible for an individual person to have the use of a piece of the surface of the Earth for the time being. But who is going to decide what piece and for how long and at what cost?

What seems to me to be totally wrong is that there can exist a Duke of Westminster who can rake in millions of pounds per annum from the rest of us for doing NOTHING.

To be specific, for a moment, I was Treasurer of a golf club. We were paying £20.000 per an for the use of the land of the golf course. Much of this land was totally useless because, underneath the surface, there were mine-workings, many of them uncharted, and therefore the land was very liable to subsidence. Also, the surface ground was (is) riddled with heavy metals of one sort or another as a result of the old mine workings. So why on Earth were we paying Peel Estates, Bridgewater Estates and the Local Authority £20,000 per an for the priviledge of walking about on totally useless land on grass which we had paid to cultivate?

It is clear to me that the ancient law that the land belongs to the King was 'invented' precisely to answer this problem. It seems to be clear that we have not yet got around to modernising a concept to replace this ancient thought.

One can understand when one considers the idea of the state trying somehow to VALUE any particular piece of land. Very problematical. What is the value of an acre of land near the top of mount Snowden? How about an acre of arable land in Kent? Or an acre in the centre of London?

IMPOSSIBLE! Therefore ignore it. Let the Duke of Westminster pocket the people's money.

Instead of bothering your head about such difficult problems, BAN SMOKING!

August 29, 2009 at 3:36 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

Junican -


"As usual, when you write things down, there are implications in the words that you use which are unintended."

That's news to me: I NEVER intentionally 'imply' anything in the words I use, and tend to MEAN what I say.

Perhaps you meant 'inferences' rather than'implications' ?

Never mind.

I fail, however, to see the logic of your interesting philosophical position with regard to land-ownership.

You ask whether I:

"believe that it is possible for an individual person to OWN a piece of the surface of the Earth............"

And why ever not...........? I do.........

There are essentially two ways to establish (and secure) 'ownership' of the land: by force of Law, or at the tip of a sword.

Duke William of Normandy, as I recall, chose the latter method in 1066 - as a result of which only the Crown technically 'owns' the land of England.

And that's as much a 'fiction' as the 'right' of woolly-hatted folk to go trampling through some poor farmer's field.

Tiresome as either may be to some of us.......

And I can see no LOGICAL reason why a future World Government should not do to the Planet what Duke William did to England.

And when that glorious day arrives, we may even see the return of serfdom. Who knows........?

As to:

"What is the value of an acre of land near the top of mount Snowden?"

Answer (in monetary terms): what people are prepared to PAY for it - as in your golf course example. What else ?

In the interim, may I suggest that you direct your fire, not at landowners-qua-landowners, but at that tiny group of Olympian puppet-masters among the international banking community and Eisenhower's 'military-industrial complex'.

So far as I am aware, neither the Queen nor the Duke of Westminster nor my nextdoor neighbour starts wars (which kill and maim millions), installs dictatorships (which oppress millions), provokes financial crises (which impoverish millions), or creates synthetic panics (which alarm millions).

And I don't believe they'd ban smoking, either !

No - for THAT enormity we have the Representatives of The People to thank........

Chesterton once remarked that the problem with Capitalism was not that there were too many capitalists - but TOO FEW.

He might have said the same thing of land-owners.

'Nationalisation' (however you define it) is NOT the answer, though.

September 1, 2009 at 0:10 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

Martin V,

When I said, "As usual, when YOU write things down.....", I was not referring to YOU personally. I think that I should have written, "When ONE writes things down...". In other words, I was referring to myself.

Regardless of that, what you say is interesting.


I would be interested to hear your response.

September 1, 2009 at 1:01 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

Junican -

My mistake. Apologies................!

However, I believe I DID answer your question.

Highly unlikely that ONE person could 'own' the surface of the Earth - but not impossible.

A legal 'person' in the form of a government, however, is (I fear) much less unlikely.

It certainly wouldn't be to MY liking, I can assure you.

For me, land-ownership is AN important measure of Freedom (I'm with Tom Jefferson on this one).

Hence, the more, the merrier..........

And - for the record - I'm the mortal enemy of ANYTHING that tends towards monopoly (difficult in the case of legal estates, thank God) - whether State-owned or private.

We in the West have been far TOO slack in this regard - with the result that Big Money can (and does) control entire governments.

BOTH need to be cut down to size - drastically.

How we may achieve that, however........that is THE question.

So few seem to be asking it, though.

September 1, 2009 at 15:57 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

Junican -

By way of a 'PS'.

Interesting to note that NASA (whether in real life or in a well-appointed film studio) 'claimed' the Moon for All Of Humanity.

But it made damned sure it planted the Stars And Stripes there - not QUITE the symbol of all mankind !

And I intend NO disrespect to our American Cousins..................

September 1, 2009 at 16:07 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

Martin V

I think that we just have to agree to disagree on this point! I don't think that we are as far apart as may seem since I too am 'for' private ownership of assets.
The point that I was trying to make was that I hate the idea of a person (or persons) 'owning', say 20 000 acres of England (as a result of some historical right of conquest) and raking in millions of pounds for doing nothing. That all!

September 2, 2009 at 1:05 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

Junican -

You asked me whether I thought it is/would be POSSIBLE.

It is.

You didn't ask me whether I thought it is/would be RIGHT.

I don't.

Hardly a Philosophical Chasm between us, I'd have thought...............

Now - let's start the ball rolling on the rather more topical 'Conservatives-and-the-Nanny State' theme at the top of the page (before WE get buried)........... ;-)

September 2, 2009 at 9:38 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

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