Women who made a difference – Nancy Wake

Having had my arm twisted to do another article in the series I remembered a very brave woman, Nancy Wake. I found out about her returning from a trip in the Gran Massif in France with my daughter and French son-in law. I saw a museum signposted about the French Resistance where her contribution to helping the Resistance was documented. Her exploits and others of the Special Operations Executive inspired the film ‘Charlotte Grey’.

She was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1912, but grew up from the age of two in Australia. After training as a nurse she used an inheritance, when aged 19, to travel to Paris, New York and then study journalism in London. She then landed a job as correspondent for the Chicago Tribune in Paris. In 1933 she was sent to interview the German Chancellor, Hitler, in Vienna and as a result she was filled with fear of the Nazis then on.

Having married a French industrialist, Henri Fiocca she was living in Marseilles when WW II broke out. Together they helped British Servicemen and Jews escape the occupation before Henri was killed by the Gestapo. Nancy then helped the evacuation of troops from Belgium before returning to France to join the Resistance forces and was such a ‘thorn in the side’ of the Germans they put a price of 5million francs on her head. She evaded capture on numerous occasions leading to her nickname, ‘Le Souris Blanche’ (white mouse). Her network was betrayed in 1940 but Nancy managed to travel through Spain to reach England despite being captured and tortured at one point.

She joined the Special Operations Executive (now the SAS) and was quickly trained up and parachuted back into France. Nancy helped to train and arm forces fighting the Germans in the lead up to the D Day landings. From April 1944 until the liberation of France, she fought alongside 7,000+ resistance forces against 22,000 German soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties, while suffering only 100 themselves. She was a fearless fighter, even killing a SS sentry with a judo chop. When the group she was with were compromised by German intelligence she cycled 300 miles in 72 hours to find another group with a radio operator to obtain new codes to get information back to Britain. Captain Henri Tardivat, one of her comrades in the Resistance, later described her as ‘the most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts. Then, she is like five men.’

After the war Nancy continued to work for British intelligence until 1957. Having married again to John Melvin Forward, a former RAF fighter pilot, she returned to live in Australia, making unsuccessful attempts to get elected to parliament. She felt unappreciated by the country of her childhood. This led her to refuse decorations from the Australian government, with characteristic bluntness, she said they could “stick their medals where the monkey stuck his nuts”. In February 2004, she relented and was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. This was along with the George Medal from Britain and ten other honours from France, USA, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, making her the most decorated woman of the war.

“Freedom is the only thing worth living for. While I was doing that work, I used to think it didn’t matter if I died, because without freedom there was no point in living”

Her husband died in 1997 and Wake settled for a final time in London. There was little she enjoyed better than “a bloody good drink”, and to fund her lifestyle she had sold her war medals. “There was no point in keeping them,” she explained, “I’ll probably go to hell and they’d melt anyway.” In spite of this she did not die until August 2011, just short of her 99th birthday.

The Crisis Of Our Own Making

The times are trying to those who identify as leftist, liberal or progressive; the line between satire and reality has been decidedly blurred, leading to day to day reality having become a cruel joke for those detesting the rise of the far right.

The far right in the UK and the US has been riding on the waves of the current refugee crisis (or ‘migrant crisis’, as they prefer to call it), yet those on the right seem eager to forget the refugee crisis was created by ourselves, especially the UK and US.

If we rewind the clock to 2003, the US and UK invaded Iraq, quoting the danger of Saddam Hussein and his supposed WMDs. Before long, Saddam was toppled and the invading forces prided themselves on having delivered ‘freedom’ to the Iraqi people. The WMDs were never found because they did not exist.

Iraq’s ‘freedom’ quickly imploded as the UK and US had created a power vacuum. Not surprisingly, it saw the rise of multiple militias and terrorist groups scrambling for power which the Allies and the newly formed Iraqi government couldn’t contain.

Ultimately, the shambles in Iraq gave rise to ISIS who optimally used the disarray Iraq was in, leading to them controlling swathes of land and instilling fear in the hearts of the Iraqi people with shocking acts of brutality. The power of ISIS subsequently spilled into Syria, as Bashar Al-Assad’s iron fist began rusting.

All this brought a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since WWII. Though Europe is the desired destination of many refugees, by far most have sought refuge in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Lebanon alone has taken in 1.5 million Syrians, (1 refugee per 4 Lebanese). The stream of refugees only increased due to the instability in Afghanistan which has lasted for many years now, in which the UK also played an important part.

The above doesn’t explain all the refuges taking the Mediterranean Route via Libya, but that was also of the UK’s and US’s making. The Route itself is nothing new as people smugglers have made use of it for decades.

The reason this didn’t bring on a crisis at first was because the Western World had struck a deal with Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi, who made sure Libyan beaches could not be used for smuggling purposes. This meant many refugees could not cross the Mediterranean from Africa.
When the Libyan Civil War broke out, the West (mainly the US, UK, France and Canada) aided rebels who aimed to overthrow Gadaffi’s regime. Ultimately, the Western forces played a decisive role in removing Gadaffi – descending Libya into anarchy.

Libya became a bonanza for people smugglers. Many of those trying to cross into Europe are from (South) Sudan, seeking to flee civil wars, whereas many are from Eritrea, whose regime is akin t North Korea (Eritrea has less freedom of the press than Kim Jong-Un’s country). It is little wonder that these desperate people are fleeing.

The conclusion, obvious yet generally ignored, is that the West removed two dictators and patted itself on the back, despite plunging Libya into disarray. This led to the refugee crisis we see today.
The UK played a major part in creating this crisis but fails spectacularly to take responsibility for it. Instead, the UK runs from this responsibility, and many of its mainstream media outlets find it acceptable to denigrate and abuse refugees.

It’s time that our government owns up to our country’s mistakes. This crisis is a direct consequence of our governments actions.

Scenes from Mosul

The recent advances by Peshmerga, Iraqi security forces and US led coalition forces (including Turkey) against Daesh positions in Northern Iraq (centered around Iraq’s second City, Mosul) seems a positive development on the surface, but dig a little deeper and worrying aspects appear. US motives in the area are to reassert their influence after the disastrous foreign interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, that ironically and tragically gave space for Daesh to grow in that vital part of the world. Saudi Arabia and Qatar seek to bolster radical Sunni groups seeking to overthrow Assad’s brutal regime (because of Iranian Shia support) with their own brutal version of Islam which most Muslims would contend. The scenes of retreating Daesh fighters and liberated villages in Northern Iraq are part of a media offensive to bolster US interests in this area, and show none of the analysis needed to illustrate how groups like Daesh came about.

The war on terror came out of the Afghan conflict to halt the Soviets there in 1979, all else runs from this. With the fall of the Berlin Wall adding to Russia’s increasing loss of superpower status allowed the US to think it could assert its interests and authority where it thought fit. What the US and most other Western commentators didn’t expect was the growing dissatisfaction across North Africa and Middle East with despotic dictators, themselves a reflection of post-colonial carve ups and Cold War era, which erupted recently in 2011. The growing dissatisfaction of the masses in Cairo, Tunis, across the whole Middle East could not be contained by the old power structures. The tragedy has been that in most cases the military have stepped in (backed by US support and Saudi subsidies in Egypt) or disintegrated, as Nato bombs destroyed much of Libya’s chance to start a peaceful road to democracy.

Radical Islam has grown at the same time, out of the despair that 40-50 years of despotic rule, backed by Western or Soviet interests, taking hold in many countries in Africa and the Middle and Far East. Such a toxic and smouldering cesspit will not be cured by bombs and arms pumped into the Middle East, it can only be helped by supporting democratic institutions in those countries, against the interests of both US inspired desires and Putin’s attempt to reassert his influence. The millions across the Middle East and further yearn for the justice that a poor Tunisian sought when he torched himself in 2011, at being arrested by state police for trying to sell vegetables at the side of the road. His death was not in vain as it as lit a fire which continues to burn today, in form of the women defying Saudi authorities by driving, to bloggers in Sissi’s Egypt prison camp still struggling for democracy, risking everything for it. Their courage and struggles are what the US, Putin and other so called ‘leaders’ never contend with, and always underestimate.

The Standing Rock Story

An early proposal for the Dakota Access Pipeline [DAP] had it cross the Missouri River by Bismarck, the ninety percent white state capital. The Bismarck Tribune claims this route was rejected because of the threat posed to their water supply.

The rerouted pipeline passes the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The pipeline passes sacred burial grounds; places of great significance, places protected by Federal law.

Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement and Vice-Presidential candidate, issued a declaration:

“The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the four states involved and the Energy Transfer Pipeline company have all entered into agreement to try to put the Dakota Access Pipeline through. They never once contacted the reservation to ask about the impact on their land or to ask for input on what could be a very dangerous project. People’s lives are at stake. Because of that, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has taken a very strong position to halt any kind of construction of pipeline underneath their land. Not only would the pipeline destroy the environment, it would poison and contaminate the water for years. This is why over 90 Native nations have come together. They’ve brought their tribal flags. That’s what is flying over Standing Rock.”

The DAP is controlled by the US Army Corps of Engineers. It may not seem a military action, but this Native American tribe is defending sovereign lands against the United States Military. The army is at their door, threatening their water supply, demolishing their sacred sites.

Tribal Chairman David Archambault II said “This demolition is devastating, these grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”

Former tribal historic preservation officer Tim Mentz said “I surveyed this land, and we confirmed multiple graves and specific prayer sites. Portions, and possibly complete sites, have been taken out entirely.”

The Standing Rock Sioux began a legal challenge to stop construction. The tribe says it was not properly consulted before the U.S. Army Corps fast-tracked approval. Jan Hasselman, the tribe’s attorney said “We’re days away from getting a resolution on the legal issues, and they came in on a holiday weekend and destroyed the site. What they have done is absolutely outrageous.”

Dennis Banks continued “The Army Corp of Engineers gave them permits. What business does the Corp of Engineers have giving permits to construct and destroy our environment without any kind of consultation? That’s what Judge James Boasberg was asking in court yesterday. What kind of consultation was done?

The answer of course, is none.

They never consulted with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

This action is as historic as the stand we took at Wounded Knee in 1973, and the widespread support is similar.

If the pipeline contaminates the water, the damage will last for generations. Look at what happened with the Gold King chemical spill into the San Juan and Animas Rivers last year, killing horses, sheep and crops of the Navajo Nation. People on the reservation still have no water! In Arizona, Resolution Copper Mining plans the largest copper mine in the continent, taking millions of gallons of scarce water if they succeed. They will destroy lands sacred to the San Carlos Apache.

This is why 90 Native nations are coming together at Standing Rock, along with people of all ethnicities. In all these confrontations with mining companies, Native people are the guardians of the land.

People should come visit us for the weekend. Bring your water, bring your camping gear. Some of the elders have gone inside, but people should come out and camp with us. The young people should come and see and hear. Come see the young kids who are having fun, who are feeling free.
That is how we felt at Wounded Knee. We felt free. This is our hope again.”

Those hopes may be short lived.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has issued permits allowing a corporate body to threaten their water, their sacred sites, their sovereignty.

These areas do not belong to the United States – they belong to the Lakota Nation; a sovereign nation governed by a sovereign people, a nation not of the United States.

Obama’s administration reaffirmed a commitment to preserve Native American sacred lands.

Donald Trump – who owns stock in the pipeline, who received funding from the pipeline, who calls for removal of regulations on the oil and gas industry – is now President Elect.

Standing Rock may be Trump’s litmus test. His handling of the DAP could allay the fears of non-white Americans. It could also warn of things to come.