The one-man Irish Hansard – Sir Henry Cavendish – On this day, 29 September 1732




On this day, 29 September 1732.

Given the fact that today’s politicians complain bitterly that there is very little reporting of parliamentary proceedings, and that, if people choose to do so, they can catch elements of pretty much any parliamentary debate on radio, TV or the web it is difficult to get one’s head around the fact that it is only relatively recently that it has been even legal to report the proceedings of the British House of Commons in newspapers. The same was true for the Irish Houses of Parliament for much of their existence prior to their disappearance in 1800.

Which makes the achievement of Henry Cavendish of Lismore, member of the aristocratic family that was to provide the Dukes of Devonshire, all the more startling. Cavendish personally recorded 3,000,000 words of debate in the House of Commons in London from 1768-74. Without his furious note-taking the contributions to that parliament of the likes of Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox might have gone unrecorded.

However, Cavendish was not some freelance scribe chancing his arm, he was himself a member of parliament. The journal he kept was for private consumption only. However, had he not filled fifty notebooks, the record of that particular period, including important debates on North America, would have been rather more sketchy. Cavendish had done the same thing when he was an MP in the Irish House of Commons between 1776 and 1789. Using a shorthand system developed by Thomas Gurney Cavendish filled more than 15,000 pages in noting down the speeches of the House of Commons in London.

Cavendish served as a member of the Irish parliament for Lismore for three periods prior to the Act of Union. He also, somewhat bizarrely, was the member for Killybegs for six years between 1791-97. His period as an English MP was spent as representative for one of the most notorious rotten boroughs in the British Commons, Lostwithiel in Cornwall. By the time of its abolition in the great reform act of 1832, it could only muster 24 electors and had long been in the pocket of the Earls of Mount Edgecombe.

While Cavendish didn’t exactly invent shorthand (though he is credited by some with the achievement) he made valuable use of the technique in an astonishing display of energy. The fact that he wasn’t expected to do much for his constituents, numbering in the dozens, gave him considerable freedom to indulge his hobby.

Sir Henry Cavendish, the one man Irish Hansard, was born 181 years ago on this day.

The two Ferriters theory.





This coming weekend, along with a few hundred others, I will sit in the audience in the Dunamaise theatre and watch Professor Diarmaid Ferriter chair a session of the inaugural James Fintan Lalor Summer School. He will do so with his customary courtesy, firmness, erudition and aplomb. Diarmaid is to chairing what Robin van Persie is to the six yard box.


Like all the others gathered for the session ‘A country in crisis’ I will marvel at his intellect and his energy. I will wonder, not for the first time, how does he do it? We will gaze, and our wonder will grow, that one small head can carry all he knows. Diarmaid is a towering intellect, a skilled and committed commentator, a thoroughgoing and methodical researcher and an apparently effortless writer.      You would hate him with all the ferocity of an Iago if he wasn’t also charming, affable, modest, engaging and funny.


And, as if all that’s not bad enough, he’s only recently had the decency to be forty!


His productivity is staggering, his ubiquity … incredible.


And that is where he has made his first mistake!


Because I am wise to Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, historian, broadcaster, and author of a gazillion books. He cannot fool this clever-clogs any more. He has finally been rumbled. Because if you actually examine his output closely it rapidly becomes clear that this simply cannot be the work of a single person.


I’m not suggesting for one moment that he has a gifted amanuensis hidden away writing every second volume. No, it is far worse than that.


It was while re-reading T.F.O’Rahilly’s The Two Patricks recently that the truth hit me like a Patrician (or Palladian) crozier. Why had I never thought of it before? It is all so breathtakingly simple.


 Clearly there are TWO Professor Diarmaid Ferriters.


Setting aside my penchant for the works of W.S.Gilbert – in which mistaken identity and separated twins are a sine qua non – this is how I think Diarmaid has managed to hoodwink an Irish public eager to believe that one of their own is capable of such Olympian achievements, a sort of intellectual Katie Taylor if you will.


It is my absolute conviction that the man we know of as Professor Diarmaid Ferriter is actually one of a pair of easily interchangeable identical twins. 


My proof is, I must admit, a tad insubstantial. It was while he was filling in for Sean Moncrieff, or maybe it was George Hook during the summer. I was listening idly on my iPhone while wandering towards the National Archives in Bishop St. It was the merest glimpse, more a hint than anything else, a Macavity moment, but as I rounded the corner from Aungier street, I was morally certain that while I was listening to Professor Diarmaid Ferriter performing live on radio, I distinctly saw him darting into DIT. There was a nano-second when I believe he spotted me and immediately aborted yet another trip to the Archive. But by the time I had reached the side entrance to DIT, like T.S.Eliot’s feline master criminal, he had vanished.


I encourage those attending the James Fintan Lalor Summer School to observe him closely for telltale signs – the butterfly tattoo that is obvious on Friday evening but mysteriously absent on Saturday, the strawberry birthmark that migrates from one side of the neck to the other on alternate days.  (Please forgive me, I am straying into The Gondoliers again) Somewhere there is proof of my thesis. Like a roomful of Skibbereen Eagles we simply need to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the star of UCD History.


My anxiety in coming out into the open with this theory at this time is that it will be seized on by the most ardent Ferritophiles and twisted into egregious heresy. Conscious that their hero, already two persons in one, is a mere persona shy of divinity, they will advance the theory of a mythical ‘Holy Spirit’ Ferriter, a dove-like deity who haunts the National Library. This is not to be confused with the many pigeons who do actually frequent the old pile in large numbers.


Another fear is that one or other of the two Ferriters will simply rebel, drained from the ceaseless demands of Vincent Browne, Bryan Dobson, the Royal Irish Academy, University College, Dublin, the Irish Times, Twitter and the oddball in the queue for the 39A who thinks he knows who shot Michael Collins. I am concerned that he will burn out, become disillusioned, suffer the fate of all disenchanted academics and move into an obscure branch of psychology – perhaps making regular appearances with Marian as a cognitive behavioural therapist.


I would urge Diarmaid, as a friend and admirer, to come clean before such a tragedy occurs. Confession can be liberating. It is high time he fessed up. A forgiving nation will not hold such a trifling peccadillo against him. It’s not, after all, as if he’s a banker or something equally Gothic.


I look forward to reading the first chapter in The Transformation of Diarmaid 2013-2014 (Profile books, €28 hardback, €17 trade paperback)



(Professor Diarmaid Ferriter and Dr.Myles Dungan will be chairing sessions at the forthcoming James Fintan Lalor school in Portlaoise on Saturday. Dungan will also be interviewing the aforementioned Lalor on Friday evening – he kids you not – in the Dunamaise theatre.)






On this day – 20 September, 1803

They are two very different orations. One is short, a mere 269 words and lasting barely three minutes. The other is in excess of 3,000 words, and must have taken closer to half an hour to deliver. The earlier speech was given by a man marked for a judicial death, the later by one who would be mown down by an assassin’s bullet within eighteen months.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America, was born five years after the execution of the young rebel United Irishman, Robert Emmet, but the bizarre connections between the two men are compelling and inescapable.

Both were Republicans, both are perceived by their acolytes as martyrs and both have become elements of two distinct Pantheons. Emmet, a post- Enlightenment Irish Republican, atoned for the hapless nature of his one day rebellion on 23 July, 1803 in Dublin by making the single most famous, effective and affecting speech in Irish nationalist history. Lincoln was one of the founder members of the anti-slavery Republican party and its first successful Presidential candidate in 1860. His election precipitated the debilitating four year American Civil War (or the War Between the States if you happen to be a southerner). His Gettysburg address was a model of rhetorical clarity, creativity and brevity. Ironically, the principal speaker on the day was Edward Everett, an unsuccessful Vice Presidential candidate in 1860. His speech was a whopping two hours long. In central Pennsylvania. Outdoors. In November.

Emmet’s speech, made after his conviction for High Treason in Green Street courthouse in Dublin, is famous for its passionate peroration, made as he faced death by hanging the following day.

‘Let no man write my epitaph: for as no man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them, let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. Let them rest in obscurity and peace, my memory be left in oblivion and my tomb remain uninscribed, until other times, and other men, can do justice to my character. When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.’

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, made on 19 November, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetry at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, scene of the decisive battle four and half months earlier, is more famous for its iconic opening line  – ‘Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’

Emmet’s speech marked the death of one man – Lincoln’s grieved at the sacrifice of thousands. They do, however, have one thing in common. No one is agreed on what exactly was said. There are five extant versions of the Gettysburg address and as many of Emmet’s Speech from the Dock.

But did Emmet’s speech influence the creation of the most famous short speech in history? Very likely. As a boy in Indiana (where his family had migrated from Kentucky) Lincoln is known to have learnt Emmet’s valedictory off by heart. As a gangly teenager he would often deliver it as a party piece for dignitaries visiting Perry County, where he lived.

More than a quarter of a century later, at the first Republican National Convention, in New York, in 1856 the explorer and ‘pathfinder’ John C. Fremont was chosen as the party’s Presidential nominee. Soundly defeated by William L. Dayton for the Vice Presidential slot was Abraham Lincoln. The Chairman and keynote speaker at the Convention was a New York Judge and politician, Robert Emmet, the Dublin-born son of Thomas Addis Emmet (United Irishman and 1798 revolutionary) and nephew of his celebrated namesake. In his speech Emmet attacked the rival Democratic Party and how its newly chosen standard bearer, James Buchanan, had proven himself to be aligned with slave interests.

In February, 1865 Lincoln, who had been forced to grapple with many grave moral dilemmas during the Civil War, was reviewing the death sentence on a young Confederate spy. He was considering an appeal for the boy’s life from a Delaware Senator, Willard Saulsbury. The identity of the petitioner alone would have been enough for lesser men to have arbitrarily confirmed the sentence. In January, 1863, Saulsbury had referred to the President as ‘a weak and imbecile man, the weakest that I ever knew in a high place.’

Saulsbury was both frank and astute in his appeal to Lincoln. He wrote –  “You know I am no political friend of yours. You know I neither ask or expect any personal favor from you or your Administration . . . All I ask of you is to read the defence of this young man, (Saml B. Davis) unassisted by Counsel, compare it with the celebrated defence of Emmet, and act as the judgment and the heart of the President of the United States should act.”

Saulsbury knew his man. The death sentence was duly commuted.

In 1939 the distinguished playwright Robert Sherwood, friend of Dorothy Parker and one of the original members of the Algonquin Round Table, won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Abe Lincoln in Illinois. It starred Raymond Massey, who later reprised the role in the 1940 film version directed by James Cromwell. Massey, after playing the role 472 times on Broadway, seemed to take on the form and characteristics of Lincoln. He spoke and dressed like him. This caused his friend, the playwright George S. Kaufmann, to observe that ‘Massey won’t be satisfied until someone assassinates him.’  The significance of the play is in Sherwood’s middle name, Emmet. He was the great-great-grandnephew of the executed patriot. It was as if the Emmet family, having accepted the homage of the young Lincoln, was repaying the compliment.

Emmet  would have been proud of the peroration of his celebrated acolyte – ‘ . . we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’

Robert Emmet, died on a scaffold in Thomas Street in Dublin 210 years ago, on this day

Article on James Fintan Lalor, banksters, gombeen men and other pillars of society – for and JFL summer school

Image     Image



His is not a name well known to the casual student of Irish history. His contemporaries, William Smith O’Brien, Thomas Davis, Thomas Francis Meagher, John Blake Dillon, John Mitchel, and Charles Gavan Duffy have acquired almost legendary status in the Irish nationalist canon. Such fame has eluded a man seen by many as their philosophical and intellectual superior, James Fintan Lalor.

In one sense at least Lalor’s father, Patrick, otherwise a rather mainstream O’Connellite, is almost as interesting as his eldest son. Patrick Lalor, was the first Roman Catholic MP (1832-35) for Laois (Queen’s County). In 1831 he announced that he would refuse to pay tithes (a tax on produce owed to the Church of Ireland) and that he intended to take a leaf from the book of the Quakers and base his opposition to tithes along civil disobedience lines.

In so doing he was one of the earliest progenitors of what would become, in the 1880s the sport of ‘boycotting’. Before Patrick Lalor’s sheep were seized to pay his ‘church cess’ he painted the word ‘tithe’ on each of them in a vivid red. He asked his neighbours not to bid on the animals when they came up for auction. His campaign was successful. Lalor’s sheep remained unsold and were shipped to Britain. There the red paint also had a salutary effect and the boycott continued. Lalor had made his point. According to one account, however, the big losers were the sheep, who ‘died at the side of the road’.

So Patrick Lalor was a good many years ahead of his time.

As with the father so with the son.

James Fintan Lalor, born in 1807, did not have a particularly easy life. A childhood accident left him deformed and his health was always delicate. He also had a hugely problematic relationship with his father. His rejection of O’Connell’s Repeal movement (and his offer to the Tory Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, to do anything in his power to crush it) may have resulted in or from that sense of alienation from his surviving parent – his mother having died when he was younger. We are not entirely sure whether the father-son animosity in any way informed Lalor’s attitude to the Repeal Association or whether his emphatic rejection of repeal as a flawed policy was what actually caused the rift with his father.

It was the Great Famine that spurred Fintan Lalor into action. In a harbinger of the Land War of the early 1880s he sought to found a Tenant Right organisation and encouraged tenants to withhold rents. He was, therefore, already an advocate of ‘strategic default’ in the 1840s. In a series of ground-breaking letters to the Nation newspaper he announced his presence while pouring cold water over the much vaunted campaign for repeal of the act of Union (‘a petty parish question’).

For Lalor political activism in Ireland began and ended with the struggle for the land of Ireland and, ultimately, all politics proceeded from the barrel of a gun. He had no confidence that the concessions required to improve the conditions of a starving peasantry could be wrested from the establishment peacefully. 

Lalor was an agrarian radical who claimed that the land of Ireland belonged to the people of Ireland ‘from the sod to the sky’. It is never quite clear from his writings whether that was intended to mean ALL the people of Ireland or just those currently paying rent to often rapacious landlords. In a letter to the Nation on 19 April 1847 Lalor proposed an association between landlord and tenant. In a very real sense his memorandum could have been written in 2008 as the country approached the end of its rope.

He began by insisting that ‘Society stands dissolved … and another requires to be constituted.’ He went on to demand a new ‘social constitiution’ – ‘political rights are but paper and parchment. It is the social constitution that determines the condition and character of a people … we are now living in the midst of a social anarchy in which no man knows with certainty what he is or what he can call his own. Never was government or guidance more necessary to a people; but government or guidance there is none, for the one great purpose needed … a new structure of society has to be created.’ The more naïve amongst us cherished fanciful notions in early 2011 that just such fundamental societal change was on the horizon.

Lalor, however, rather spoils the effect of his rhetoric by adding a postscript.  Such is the state of the nation that ‘a clear original right returns and reverts to the people – the right of establishing, and entering into a new social arrangement. The right is in them because the power is in them. The right lodges where the power lodges.’

‘The right lodges where the power lodges’ – a dangerous assertion, given that power, rather than democratic rights, did not necessarily rest with the majority but with those strong and resourceful enough to wield it, whatever their numerical strength. The extreme social disruption caused by the Famine may have led to the expectation that civil society would be reformed and social conditions ameliorated. While that did happen to a limited extent it was a phenomenon based on demographic arithmetic rather than revolutionary change. There were far fewer people, so the cake was divided up just a little more evenly.

As far as our own post-Apocalyptic society is concerned it is merely a case of ‘plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’. Were Fintan Lalor writing today he would be as disappointed with the lack of political change wrought by the crisis of modern capitalism as he would have been by the state of Ireland in the 1850s. However, he was spared the resurgence of the landlord, the middleman and the gombeen man. His health failed and he died in 1849.

The landlord, the middleman and the gombeen man, however, survived and thrived. They remain with us today.    


 I’ll be interviewing said James Fintan Lalor (aka actor Paul Meade) in Mike Finn’s ‘From the sod to the sky’ at the Dunamaise theatre in Port Laoise on Friday 20 September as part of the JFL School. I’ll also be chairing a session on Saturday afternoon on ‘A Vision for Ireland’ – more info on 

An exceedingly brief history of American international interventions (or not) – Irish Daily Mail, 7 September, 2013.




The world is right to be outraged by the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The US administration is absolutely correct to assert that the Assad regime has crossed a ‘red line’. It’s just that their timing is a little off. These things can so easily happen with moral outrage. The Syrian government crossed a bloody ‘red line’ two years ago, when it began to kill its own citizens. The ‘west’ had its opportunity then to intervene and prevent a slow-motion carnage on a scale not seen since the even more dramatic genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when, quelle surprise, the ‘west’ chose not to get involved until hundreds of thousands had been slaughtered.


In four years of the Great War 100,000 people, mostly men, were killed by chemical weapons. This was out of a total of 17 million.  In Syria hundreds have died from chemical warfare as against the thousands who have perished as a result of the use of conventional ordnance. So why do chemical weapons get such a bad press? Is it merely because death comes more slowly and painfully to the unfortunate victims of sarin or good old-fashioned mustard gas?


No one has yet satisfactorily explained why the use of nerve gas is more heinous than the multiple rape and murder of Muslim women in Bosnia, the fire bombing of Dresden or the use of nuclear weapons on a beaten Japan in WW2 – the latter primarily as a warning to the Soviet Union as to its future behaviour. Just this week the NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen became the latest in a long line of statesmen who have failed to validate the distinction. He volunteered the observation that, ‘there is a reason that chemical weapons are banned across the civilised world. They are horrific and barbaric arms that have no place in the twenty-first century.’ Obviously the depleted uranium shells used by some of his organisation’s members (eg,the US in Iraq in 1991, Serbia in 1999, Iraq in 2003 and Britain in Iraq in 2003) are perfectly acceptable. The unanswerable logic and intellectual subtlety of Rasmussen’s argument might well elude a family in Homs sheltering from murderous artillery fire. He is saying, in effect, that chemical weapons are more odious than conventional weapons because chemical weapons are more odious than conventional weapons.


But let us, for the moment, assume that the use of sarin, mustard gas, chlorine, phosgene, VX, (are we allowed to mention napalm, the carcinogenic chemical defoliant of choice in Vietnam? – best not) is indeed more reprehensible than lobbing hundreds of tons of artillery shells into populated areas. Is the Obama administration intent on punishing the Assad regime because he has crossed a moral Rubicon? It would appear not. Talking to CNN last week the American President was refreshingly forthright in his justification of military intervention. He was quoted by CNN as saying that, ‘when you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale… that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.’ So, is that why the use of chemical weapons is a ‘red line’ issue?  Not because it contravenes the Hague treaty of 1899 or the Geneva Protocol of 1925, but because it violates US national interests?  If that is indeed the primary motivation of the Obama administration it would, at least, be consistent with US foreign policy since it became a global power in the early 20th century. The United States of America (and it is hardly unique in this respect) has generally intervened in foreign conflicts only when its own interests, vital or otherwise, have been threatened. 


It may appear somewhat unseemly for the citizen of a country which has relentlessly, if peacefully, pursued its own self-interest at EEC, EC, and EU level since 1 January 1973, to appear to lecture the USA for ceaselessly advancing its own foreign policy interests since the Spanish American War of the late 19th century (the genocide of the Native American being a purely domestic issue). But what follows should not be seen as a lecture. It is more of a gentle reminder of decades of realpolitik and the exercise of overwhelming power, lest we mistake military intervention in Syria for anything other than, to paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, ‘the continuation of self-interest by other means’.


Lets look at the recent history of crushing retaliation against chemical weapons use. When Saddam Hussein used mustard gas and nerve agents against Iranian troops in the Iran-Iraq war this, of course, sparked international outrage and a devastating military response? Similarly, the moral indignation of the civilized world was provoked into action when Saddam gassed his Kurdish opponents in Halabja in 1988?  Russia was made to feel the wrath of the free world in 1989 when it used WW1 chemical weapons against Georgian protestors in Tblisi? On the previous occasions when the Assad forces unleashed chemical weapons, in a reduced dosage, Syria was punished by air strikes and targeted drone attacks?  In a parallel universe perhaps, but not in the real world.


In fact in the former case the influential periodical Foreign Policy reported this week that CIA documents have revealed that the US acted as ‘spotter’ for Iraq in 1988, identifying Iranian troop locations, although fully aware that the Iraqi regime intended to use chemical weapons against their (mutual) enemy. But of course that was two years before the Iraqi dictator imprudently provoked western intervention when he invaded the oil-rich Kuwait and became, at last, persona non grata.


There is a phenomenon in behavioural economics known as the ‘say-do gap’. This is where people say one thing and then do something else. The ‘say-do gap’ does not just belong in the realm of economics, however. It has important applications in foreign policy as well. When it is accompanied by the crippling condition  ‘tut tut syndrome’ it is a recipe for strategic inaction. The ‘say-do gap’ and ‘tut tut syndrome’ are only trumped in diplomatic and political circles when a combatant is unwise enough to threaten the economic or political priorities of the USA, Britain, France, or Russia, then the altruism of self-interest kicks in and it’s time for a moral crusade. (Except, of course, in the case of Russia which tends, brutally but refreshingly, to eschew moral indignation)


America’s first major international intervention – unrelated, that is, to the simple acquisition of territory – was its declaration of war on Germany in 1917. Partly for Anglo-centric cultural reasons, but mainly to secure a seat at the post-war negotiating table, President Woodrow Wilson defied the sentiments of a nation, and of a huge ‘hyphenated American’ (German, Irish, Scandinavian) cohort within his Democratic party, and went to war. That adventure cost 120,000 American lives but earned Wilson a seat at the Versailles peace conference. There he was eaten alive by Lloyd George and Clemenceau.


John Kerry has warned the American people this week that this is no time for ‘armchair isolationism’. President Wilson would have been glad of a few more couch potato ‘little Americans’ back in 1919 when he returned from the Treaty of Versailles with the League of Nations in his briefcase. Instead, however, of any convenient slothful lassitude, America rewarded the man who had kept it out of the war – before bringing it into the war after his re-election – by rejecting his lovingly constructed new world order.  The USA decided that its national interest no longer included ‘entangling alliances’ or opposition to the subsequent European and African adventures of Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini.  The abysmal record of the League of Nations in the 1935 Abyssinian crisis suggests they got it just about right.


America might have similarly retreated into splendid isolation after another Anglo-centric president, Franklin D.Roosevelt, took his people into a second global war in 1941. The ultimate provocation offered by Japan at Pearl Harbour could hardly have been ignored. But it was Germany who, unwisely, made the first move against America, declaring war on December 11, 1941. So much then for the notion that Roosevelt set aside American interests to give ‘plucky little England’ and the Jews of Europe a dig out.


But a cynic might suggest that once on a war footing which offered  the prospect of wiping out a potentially dominant German economy  the Americans may well have warmed to the theme.


That the USA did not return to its shell in 1945 had nothing to do with any philanthropic urge to keep the world safe for democracy (many of the regimes it allowed to flourish had only a passing acquaintance with the concept). For the next forty years American foreign policy, though feigning altruism, was actually based on a version of George Kennan’s 1947 notion of ‘containment’ of communism. Out of this policy came the Korean war, the interminable conflict in Vietnam and a variety of other proxy clashes  – some collegial, others solitary adventures – where the USA and the other western powers merely had to convince themselves that their actions sprang from the loftiest of motives and their policies were for the greater good. 


In the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the self-destruction of communism, the genocide in Rwanda, Russian intervention in Chechnya, and Serbian ethnic cleansing in Bosnia were, by and large, allowed to play themselves out against a backdrop of western indifference and/or lethargic ineffectualism. The common thread between these vicious little civil wars was either that intervention would come at huge cost, or that no discernible western self-interest justified the effort involved.  


Occasional outbursts of humanitarian scruples, such as the 1993 mission to Somalia and the NATO (American) intervention in Kossovo, were either dilatory, under-resourced, or simply dysfunctional. Such rare manifestations of humanity tend, however, be weighed down by the intrusions of the USA into the Dominican Republic in 1965 – in the aptly named Operation Power Pack – Grenada in 1983 (‘a flagrant violation of international law’ according to the UK, Canada and the UN General Assembly), and Panama in 1989 (despite the military codename Operation Just Cause). And let us not forget the entirely philanthropic British and French enterprise in Suez in 1956, where even the USA baulked.


In season three of NBC TVs The West Wing, which captured the fictional incumbency of President Josiah Bartlett –  a presidency that never was but always will be – even the often-saintly Jed overcomes his scruples and orders the assassination of the defence minister of the equally fictional, but thoroughly believable, middle eastern state of Qumar. Bartlett, only the second Roman Catholic president of the USA, just as in the case of the first, John F.Kennedy, was always prepared to put American interests and security over any moral impulse or due process. Aaron Sorkin, the writer/producer of the award- winning series, got it just about right.

 When western nations go to war it is always self-interest that is the motivating force. World powers don’t do moral crusades.