O wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursel’s as ithers see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us. And foolish notion; What airs in dress and gait wad lea’e us, And ev’n devotion!
To a Louse Robert Burns
70 years ago today Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany after its invasion on Poland.
This significant anniversary of the outbreak of World War II has been rather overshadowed by another anniverary in Libya – one of the key theatres of war in that conflict.
Many Kiwis were among the Allied forces to see active service at Tobruk, fighting the Germans Afrika Korps over parts of the desert. The El Alamein offensive, led by Montgomery, was a turning point in the war.
They would have been rather bemused that three score and ten years later, 60 Kiwi Highland pipers and drummers from the lowlands of Canterbury and further afield in Godzone are in Libya as guests of Muammar Gadaffi as he celebrates his 40th anniversary as absolute ruler.
They have been flown, all expenses paid to perform in a midnight military tattoo, complete with heavy woollen tartans and matching burqa for females. The Colonel obviously decided to scotch any attempts to recruit some real Scots skirlers from, say, Lockerbie, which already suffered a recent reduction of population by one when Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence agent convicted of blowing up the passenger jet Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, was jetted home to Libya to rapturous welcomes last week, just in time for the big knees up.
A British brass band from south Wales also took part in ceremonies in Tripoli, as did military bands from France, Italy and Australia, while an acrobatic team from Italy’s air force trailed patriotically colour coded contrails, a change from the ordnance on their 19303 flyovers.
It is Ramadan in the Moslem country so alcohol is banned. The overall celebrations, overseen by ubiquitous portraits of the gadfly Gadaffi in a whole range of costumes and attitudes, including one projected by lasers onto a large oil tanker in the Port of Tripoli, is on the scale of the Beijing Olympics. No doubt Libyan law enforcers, the military and the intelligence services will be represented in ratios reminiscent of those Olympics, to protect the public relations patina.
Four decades in office is a longer tenure than any other current world leader. It seems that banning political parties, except your own, rather helps political longevity, avoids the need to rig elections like Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and gives you more time to go shopping.
Gaddafi commisioned 250 Special limited edition watches, each bearing his own likeness, from Swiss luxury watchmakers Chopard. The move was politically interesting, because Gaddafi was very ticked off at the Swiss because his son Hannibal was recently arrested in Geneva. Gaddafi actually ordered a complete import embargo on all Swiss goods due to the arrest. Interestingly enough he made an exception for his own timely order, which, with Libya’s black bonanza, would definitely not have been bought on tick.
In another dodgy deal the Scots released the Lockerbie bomber as part of a deal to do with BP and oil and other trade matters, after Hannibal crossed the Alps as part of an official Libyan delegation at trade talks. In the meantime Gordon Brown has been as acrobatic off-stage as the Italian jets were on it.
Libya is redolent of history: about 700 BC the Phoenicians settled Tripolitania; the Greeks arrived in 600 BC; the Vandals in 400 BC for a series of away matches, then the Arabs from 600 to 1500 AD. For the 1500 as to the 1900 is Libya, was part of the Ottoman Empire centred in Turkey, before Italy gained control in 1912. The UN declared Libya independent in 1951.
Until the discovery of oil in Libya in 1959, the country was poor, because natural resources were scarce. Today income from oil makes up about 80 per cent of the government’s revenue. It allows the country to import more guns than butter, though these days, in a quest for respectability, fewer arms are recycled to terrorist groups than hitherto.
Liberal Libya is not. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and the Colonel has been calling it for a long time.
At least Gaddafi has remained a Colonel, almost as well known as Colonel Sanders, albeit in a splendid bemedalled military fancy dress , trimmed with shoulder brushes and braid, accesorised with trademark luxury dark glasses and other bling, and protected by a bevy of female bodyguards. He is not quite in the league of Idi Amin, who selflessly bestowed on himself a rainbow array of honours and awards and wore so many medals he didn’t need body armour.
I wonder what real VC winner Cantabrian Charles “Pug” Upham thought of Amin, Gaddafi and other African strongmen who needed their own army to stay in power. The “for King and Country” rhetoric of 1939 would have worn a bit thin in the North African desert during World War II.
As New Zealand’s wartime Long Range Desert Group covertly covered the wide open tracks of Libyan desert, who would then have thought that just beneath the surface was black gold sufficient to oil the wheels of 21st century diplomacy for quite a long time?
Gaddafi Endorses Obama Bet the President was pleased about that.
Lyall Lukey 3 September 2009 http://www.lukey.co.nz/