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Belmont Club

Strange Customs in Far Away Lands

January 19th, 2013 - 10:57 am

Blame it all on the movie Speed.

Harry: Alright, pop quiz: The airport. Gunman with one hostage, he’s using her for cover, he’s almost to the plane. You’re a hundred feet away.

Jack: …

Harry: Jack?

Jack: Shoot the hostage.

Harry: What?

Jack: Take her out of the equation. Go for the good wound and he can’t get to the plane with her. Clear shot.

Harry: You are deeply nuts, you know that? “Shoot the hostage”… jeez…

Life imitated art in Algeria, according to one Filipino worker who was taken hostage. The Algerian rescue force seemed relatively unconcerned who got hit as long as they took down the Masked Brigade, who depending on what source you believe, started their attack from either Libya or the Niger. “Ruben Andrada, 49, a Filipino civil engineer … described how he and his colleagues were used as human shields by the kidnappers, which did little to deter the Algerian military.”

With detcord wrapped around his neck and caught in the gunbattle between the Masked Brigade and Algerian forces, he regarded his chances of survival as doubtful. Andrada retreated into that classic Filipino attitude: “bahala na”. He thought ‘leave it to God’ as bullets kicked up the ground around him.

“When we left the compound, there was shooting all around,” Andrada said, as Algerian helicopters attacked with guns and missiles. “I closed my eyes. We were going around in the desert. To me, I left it all to fate.”

But when the vehicle carrying Andrada turned turtle in the desert, he gave fate a hand and scrambled from the wreckage to escape. His fellow hostages were not so lucky. All around him were strewn the corpses and body parts of people.

According to the Washington Post, the Masked Brigade destroyed more than the lives of innocent civilians. It wrecked the administration’s grand diplomatic plan for Africa. Craig Whitlock writes, “the hostage crisis in Algeria has upended the Obama administration’s strategy for coordinating an international military campaign against al-Qaeda fighters in North Africa, leaving U.S., European and African leaders even more at odds over how to tackle the problem.”

Algeria’s unilateral decision to attack kidnappers at a natural gas plant — while shunning outside help, imposing a virtual information blackout and disregarding international pleas for caution — has dampened hopes that it might cooperate militarily in Mali, U.S. officials said. The crisis has strained ties between Algiers and Washington and increased doubts about whether Algeria can be relied upon to work regionally to dismantle al-Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa.

“The result is that the U.S. will have squandered six to eight months of diplomacy for how it wants to deal with Mali,” said Geoff D. Porter, an independent North African security analyst. “At least it will have been squandered in the sense that the Algerians will likely double down on their recalcitrance to get involved. They’ve already put themselves in a fortress-like state.”

Part of the problem between Algeria and Washington might be what is called a cultural divide. The Algerians, according to the Telegraph, have adopted the Russian philosophy of warfare in which casualties and collateral damage are considered regrettable but ultimately unavoidable byproducts of combat.  Richard Spencer writes that the Western press is used to relatively bloodless hostage rescues, but the Russians — and their students the Algerians — do things differently.

The biggest exceptions in recent years have been two bloody massacres in Russia – the Moscow Theatre siege of 2002, ended violently by Russian special forces with the loss of 129 hostages and 39 attackers, and the Beslan school crisis, brought to an even more wretched conclusion with the deaths of hundreds of children held by Chechen separatists and Islamist terrorists.

The Algerian assault on the In Amenas gas facility appears to have followed the Russian model. It may be no coincidence that Algeria, long allied to the Soviet bloc, still relies on Russia for both weapons and special forces military training. …

French analysts said the Algerian force given responsibility was the “Special Intervention Group”, a force dating back to a now disbanded unit employed to brutal effect in the civil war. It would have regarded any escape by the militants as especially humiliating.

“They do not negotiate with terrorists,” Philippe Lobjois, an Algeria specialist, told Europe 1 radio. That point was reiterated by Algeria’s own communications minister, Mohamed Said Belaid on Wednesday as the raid was under way.

“We say that in the face of terrorism, yesterday as today as tomorrow, there will be no negotiation, no blackmail, no respite,” Mr Belaid said.

The Special Intervention Group turned out to be as good as his word.

But it may be more than Russian training. As events in places as far afield as the Congo, Sri Lanka, Libya, Syria and now Algeria show, much of the world has much more permissive attitude towards collateral damage than America and Western Europe. If an American handles a Koran without white gloves, the world rises in outrage. But elsewhere business is transacted according to the local custom. LP Hartley in his classic novel The Go Between wrote “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” He might have added that a foreign country is a foreign country too. They do things differently there also. They imitate Washington when they admire it. Do they admire it now? — well that is another subject.

It’s a complex world. Below is a trailer a documentary describing how the Commonwealth of the Philippines saved thousands of Jews during World War 2. That is probably as little known as the fact that the Battle of Manila cost more civilian lives than either Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Ironically the thousands of Jews given refuge by the Philippines were caught up in the Pacific War. However, the Japanese didn’t know the difference between the German Jews and German non-Jews. They were all white guys to them. The Japanese treated them as citizens of country allied to Nippon.

Interestingly enough many of the Spanish, Italian and German aliens fared worse than the American and allied prisoners because the camps at Cabanatuan, Sto. Tomas and Los Banos were liberated by US and Philippine forces practically without loss of life. Many Germans, Spanish and Italians, by contrast sought refuge in their embassies in Manila, where they were massacred by the Japanese for whom one white guy was identical to those in the First Cavalry bearing down on Manila.

The Jewish recollections of the Philippnes? It is the same as those of the guy in the second video: full of happy people. Of course to a large extent that “hapi-hapi”ness was a native survival adaptation. People have to remain optimistic in the face of adversity.

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The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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