Online People

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A superb article by Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos

The Eurozone Crisis

On 26 October, the Euro-Summit issued another statement that included another decision of how to once again save Greece. This decision was once again hailed as a milestone, just like the decision of 21 July, similarly hailed as a European solution.
As far as Greece is concerned, the so-called 50% debt reduction was actually a reduction of 28%, since the decision states: ‘ ...we invite Greece, private investors and all parties concerned to develop a voluntary bond exchange with a nominal discount of 50% on national Greek debt held by private investors.’ Thus we are speaking of an amount of 100 billion Euros that will be written off Greece’s total debt of 350 billion Euros. For agreeing to the new austerity measures as per the 26 October decision, additional bailout money would be granted.
Greece is also expected to accept measures that ‘should secure the decline of Greek debt to GDP ratio with an objective of reaching 120% by 2020.’ In other words, the Greek people will be submitted to extreme austerity measures in order to reach the level of debt that existed in 2009 when the crisis broke out.
Unacceptable monitoring systems have been set up to control the full implementation of the programmes. Around 130 monitors are preparing to install themselves in sunny Athens to control Greece's economic policy. Thus Greece loses part of its sovereignty, which is quite humiliating for a nation with an unparalleled history. All economic decisions are to be controlled through the EU, including those that have to do with the purchasing of armaments from Germany, France and the USA. This part of the financial budget of Greece has been exempted from austerity restrictions so far.
In the meantime the situation in Greece is continuing to deteriorate as a result of the austerity measures imposed upon the country and which the government proudly displays in numbers. A 12% reduction of expenses in the health sector have resulted in severe problems for hospitals to adequately treat their patients. Deep cuts in salaries and pensions, increase of the VAT, imposition of so-called solidarity taxes and of more property taxes has led to a drastic decrease in consumption. This has led to an unprecedented number of business closures, not only of SME's but also of larger foreign companies closing down their Greek operations because of lack of profits. The increase in oil and gas taxes is very cold comfort for a population that has reduced heating to an absolute minimum. Cuts in education have resulted in a system with few books, and unpaid teachers. Young and talented people are leaving the country, which is experiencing a massive brain drain. Recession and unemployment have led to social unrest and civil disobedience, both with a tendency to increase rather than slow down. Supermarkets are being robbed by modern day Robin Hoods and the food stolen distributed to those who do not have. Many are reverting to bartering.
And the Greek politicians in the middle of this crisis prefer to play musical chairs, with many of them lining up for the new ministerial positions that will now open in the interim government. The former Greek Prime Minister made a wonderful move by proposing a referendum that would allow the people of Greece to decide on whether or not they agree with the 26 October decisions of the Euro-Summit. However, for some obscure reason he withdrew the proposal the next day. In the meantime, the proposal scared the world enormously and drove the global markets into a frenzy. Greece was being threatened by members of the G-20, Eurozone and EU. We all saw then the true meaning of so-called EU solidarity and the lack of the EU’s respect for democratic procedures. An immediate threat to kick Greece out of the Euro followed, disregarding the fact that in the Lisbon Treaty such a move is not even foreseen and would need year-long negotiations.
The new Greek Government is now composed of members of the two political parties that participated in the rape of the country and is being called to negotiate the details of the 26 October decision, before February elections. Only after the February elections and only after harsher measures have been imposed on the Greek people, might the EU realise its mistakes. And this is the essence of the EU's problem. It has not yet understood that the measures that it has been imposing on Greece for the last two years have not had positive results. On the contrary, they are increasing the debt of Greece and destroying what is left of its economy. Rather than telling Athens when it is convenient for the EU to hold Greece's election or demanding that the leaders of the two main political parties, the president of the Bank of Greece, the new Prime minister and the new minister of Finance confirm in writing their acceptance of the 26 October decisions, Brussels should better examine why the measures are not working. Otherwise the Eurozone will fall apart. Look what is happening in Italy. France is also adopting austerity measures.
The EU is telling the Greeks that the 26 October decision is the only way out of the crisis. Fortunately or unfortunately the people disagree - and so does the Greek economy, otherwise it would not insist on deteriorating in spite of all the bailout programmes. A rethinking needs to take place. And it will take place, with or without the participation of politicians. People have started bartering already, swap-markets, trade services, and voluntary neighbourhood-help programmes are increasing. All this shows a trend towards the creation of an alternative economy, building up of its own volition, by default, in the absence of a government programme corresponding to the needs and desires of the people. If the politicians want the support of the population, they must develop systems and measures that the population can agree to and which offer them a future. In properly functioning democracies, at least, policies cannot be made against the will of the population.
Such measures can range from initiating regional initiatives, like those already functioning successfully in more than twelve EU member states, to a total elimination of the Greek debt, on the condition, of course, that Greece would undergo structural changes. Such a solution would in the long run cost less to the EU than the bailouts and would be beneficial both for Greece and the EU. But before doing that, the Greek economy must start functioning again, by reducing or eliminating the austerity measures.
And since we are speaking about a total debt cut, why does not humanity think of pressing the reset button that would eliminate global debt, and allow it to start from the beginning on a new basis.

Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos
November 8, 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Death of Grammar

his paper traces how, in the nineties, the English were tampering with
educational methods in the teaching of foreign languages to English
school children. It criticises the trendy, often politically-motivated pseudoreasoning
of those who experiment with children for their own quasiintellectual
pleasure, while they bite their fingernails of ambition. The paper
stresses that grammar has always been, and always will be, the only certain
criterion in the teaching of foreign languages.
W i l l i a m M a l l i n s o n
William Mallinson
‘Nothing is, but thinking makes it so!’1
It is generally known that the English are as a rule somewhat averse to learning foreign
languages. One reason often put forward for this is that the imperial mentality has not yet
entirely disappeared. Another, connected to this, is that the English do not need to learn
foreign languages, simply because so many foreigners speak English. In fact, more people
speak English as a second language than as a first one, making it, in the words of the late
Jacques Derrida, a ‘substitute language.’ Be that as it may, one should also consider the
otiose penchant for fashion and trendiness, after disguised as ‘innovation’ or ‘progress’, as a
less well-known factor in England's linguistic deficit. It is this: the ‘communicative approach’
in the teaching of foreign languages in schools. By the time pupils have been through this
‘approach,’ they are likely to have forgotten much of what they have learnt, or be in too
weak a position to pursue language studies in higher education. In this context, then, this
essay might be of interest to university foreign language teachers. The ‘communicative’
approach, briefly, is a ‘method,’ pioneered in the Anglo-Saxon world, to teach language in a
‘natural’ way, by creating so-called ‘real life situations’ in the classroom and then feeding
language to pupils without using grammar as the starting point. In England, it has been
promoted particularly energetically at London University’s Institute of Education. Let us
now scrutinize the so- called communicative approach.
According to one modern languages expert:
The period of emphasis on free expression also saw a decline in the teaching of
formal grammar. Parsing of sentences was out, as was the use of grammatical
terminology […] it has certainly been disastrous as far as the teaching of modern
languages is concerned […] we have now reached the point in University language
departments where we are having to teach the basic grammar that used to be taught in
the “O” Level course […] it […] has to be recognized that an understanding of
sentence structure and the forms of words can only enhance clear and accurate
expression both in one’s native language and in foreign languages alike.2
This statement epitomizes the current, as well as recent, situation in the teaching of modern
languages in a large number of language departments in state schools in England.
Before we set out to analyse the causes of the drop in standards which has led to the
adoption of the “communicative approach” as a “pseudo-panacea,” let us quote another writer:
The linguistic training of Latin, emphasising as it does constant process of analysis and
synthesis, teaches clarity and precision of thought, lucidity of expression in English, and
in particular the ability to distinguish the thought and the form in which it is expressed.
The position of Latin is unique in this respect because, more than any other language
likely to be studied, it involves the translation not of single words but of ideas.3
E N O T H T A 2 : ° § o ™ ™ . , § . ° . Ä . A . ð . , ¶ . § ð Ä ð ™ . . ™
1 Epictetus.
2 Coggle, Paul, “The Culture Essay,” Sunday Times, 10 April 1994.
3 Kinchin, Smith, F., Teach Yourself Latin, English Universities Press Ltd., London, 1938, revised 1948, 1958
edition, pp. ix-x.
The same can of course be said for Ancient Greek.
Clearly, then, a basic understanding of grammar aids the language-learning process by
providing a solid base of understanding of structure which aids correctness – but not, thank
goodness, “political correctness” and “trendy,” half—baked, sycophantic ideas. “If language
is not correct,” says Confucius, “then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not
what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone.”4
It may be true that the rote system of learning grammar in the teaching of foreign
languages, when not allied to the application of the language, has the drawback that it will
enhance reading and writing skills, but little else. Indeed, some of the stimulus for introducing
the “communicative approach” came as an extreme reaction to the “extreme” use of
grammar, an approach doubtless easy to justify in the curious climate of the mid-to late
sixties, when modish theories abounded, and when “free expression” (and free sex) was all the
rage. Intellectual rigour suffered as a result, particularly since many of the current slab of
language (and other) teachers were indoctrinated during that period, and are themselves weak
in their knowledge of grammar and, therefore, understanding of language. Thus, the
communicative approach suits teachers with an inadequate knowledge of grammar.
An unfortunate “sub-trend” of the move into the “communicative approach” has been the
move towards more visuals and less dense reading texts. This is reflected in school textbooks
(if they can be called that) which resemble badly produced comics and shy away from long
sentences or texts, mainly in the name of creating “real and relevant meaningful situations”
with which pupils can “identify.” It is however not only in foreign language education that
this trend has manifested itself: a comparison of the “Times” of twenty years ago and that of
today shows that content and quantity have been replaced by more visuals, headlines and less
quantity, to the point where the newspaper is little more than an “up-market” quasiintellectual
“Sun.” The newspaper contrasts vividly with “Le Monde” (less photographs) and
“Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.” Whatever the causes for the alteration in the way in which
English newspapers are set out, the causes for the facile and simplistic layout of many of our
school language books lie in the “communicative approach,” where rigour and complexity
are non-starters.
Another “sub-trend” of the “communicative approach” is the common assumption that
one should be taught a second language in the same way that one has learnt one’s native
language.5 This in turn leads to many assuming that the best way to learn a second language
in a classroom is to equate it with learning it in a natural environment (as one has learnt
one’s native tongue). This has, in some quarters, led to a curious assumption that one can
teach a foreign language to English pupils in the same way that one teaches English as a
second language to foreigners. This false logic expediently avoids the rather obvious fact that,
teaching or no teaching, all human beings will always learn to communicate in their native
language (with the possible exception of the “enfant sauvage”), and that learning a foreign
language is invariably going to involve a different learning process, one based more on
juxtaposition and translation; hence the role of grammar.
W i l l i a m M a l l i n s o n
4 Gowers, Sir Ernest. The Complete Plain Words, revised by Sir Bruce Fraser, HMSO, 1973, p. 111.
5 Tony Roberts discusses this in “Please, Miss, what’s the French for…?” in Languages Forum, Vol. 1, No. 1,
February 1993, Institute of Education, University of London, p. 24.
This near equating of one’s native and foreign language has led to the curious assumption
that pupils must be taught in terms of what they can “do” in the language. A typical
“communicative” syllabus will, for example, list “getting things done,” which in turn will
subdivide into “suggesting a course of action, offering to do something, saying that something
is/is not obligatory and expressing want or desire, and so on.”6 Wringe questionably states
that “most pupils will best learn to communicate in the foreign language if they spend a good
part of their learning time in activities which as closely as possible resemble the act of
communicating in a situation they are likely to encounter.”7 At the same time he admits to
“raging controversy” among modern linguists. He does not choose to provide us with textual
references or research to back up his claim about “situations,” a reflection, perhaps, of
modern language teaching’s lack of its own research base.8
At best, the intellectual justification of the “communicative approach” is confused, and at
worst, chaotic: Mitchell, for example, writes:
Taken together, the sum of teachers’ remarks on this subject [grammar explanations]
may be given a rather worrying interpretation. If, as the evidence suggests, substantial
numbers of teachers do believe, on the one hand, that it is necessary to provide
grammar explanations for pupils to develop an advanced generative foreign language
competence under classroom conditions, and on the other hand, that substantial
numbers of pupils cannot benefit from such explanations, it seems that some confusion
persists in terms of the outcomes which may be expected in […] teaching.9
Curiously, he devotes very little space to grammatical explanation in his book on
“communicative language teaching.”
Given the almost pathological hatred of grammar on the part of some exponents of the
“communicative approach,” it is hardly surprising that comic books, flash cards, games and
the attempt to create “meaningful situations” have taken over in many language
departments, and no less surprising that many undergraduates are unable to write, or speak,
On one occasion, a language teacher was told not to answer a pupil’s question as to the
meaning of “auch.” Perhaps it is possible to mime the meaning of “laufen” (to run), but not
“auch.” Worse still, because translation is often frowned upon, so are dictionaries, so the
teacher was unable even to suggest consulting a dictionary. Generally, explanation is forbidden,
particularly if it touches on grammar. It is sufficient, claim the “teachers,” to help the pupils to
use “phrases” (often under the inaccurate, expedient and respectable-sounding label
“structures”). Show them some attractive pictures, throw in a few tape recordings and various
“teaching materials” and –Bob’s your uncle – they will “learn.” This is merely pseudo-reality.
Yet from this writer’s experience, they do not learn; they merely absorb for a short
while, and then forget. It is the worst kind of parrot teaching. Often, when asked a question,
E N O T H T A 2 : ° § o ™ ™ . , § . ° . Ä . A . ð . , ¶ . § ð Ä ð ™ . . ™
6 Wringe, Colin, The Effective Teaching of Modern Languages, Longman Group UK Limited, Harlow, 1989, p. 4.
7 Ibid. p. 3.
8 Roberts, op. cit., p. 24.
9 Mitchell, Rosemund, Communicative Language Teaching in Practice, Centre for Information on Language
Teaching and Research, London, 1988, p. 37.
the pupils will come out with such answers as “J’ ai content,” “Ich habe dix ans” (if they learn
a third language) and “Ich hei.e elf Jahre.” It is hardly surprising that constant revision
–under the expedient heading “reinforcement”– is required. A typical “communicative” class
is meant to be so brisk as to defy any semblance of thought on the part of the pupil. Phrases
are merely fed in pseudo-subliminally, without explanation; tape recordings are over-used,
despite the fact that they are unnatural. The pupils are turned into robots.
In short, pupils are not encouraged to think. This is the crux of the matter: to understand,
and therefore retain, one needs to think. Without the ingredients, thought is rendered
difficult. Some species of parrot could probably be taught to retain some of the phrases in the
same way as our pupils are, with the difference that they might retain them for longer,
through constant repetition (they have little else to do in their caged lives). Dogs, too, can be
trained through repetition and constant use of signs and sounds: they, too, have their cage of
captivity. The pupils, like the parrots and dogs, have their communicative cage, created by
the blind allegiance to believing that a second language should be taught in the way one learns
a first language. Thus we have the blind leading the blind, as standards continue to plummet:
parrots do not ask questions. In none of the classes this writer has observed, has a pupil ever
asked a question relating to why a word, phrase or sentence is placed or structured as it is.
Yet stimulating questions should be one of the prime objectives of a teacher of languages. Of
course, in the “communicative approach,” they are not, as a “sample lesson plan” given to
post-graduate students at the Institute of Education, shows. It is based on an obsession with
“structuring” a lesson around a “situation,” to the detriment of analysis and, therefore,
This is where we turn back to grammar: without a recognition that it provides the basis of
a language, there will be little thinking, let alone the independence of thought so vital to
understanding and, therefore, learning. Yet, perhaps for ideological reasons, grammar, or,
rather the teaching of it, is anathema to the so-called “communicative teachers.” One does
not need to know all about Dionysus Thrax10 or Aristarchus to understand this obvious fact,
but merely the importance of common sense: one can learn well a few pieces of the classical
guitar through imitation and constant repetition, but cannot progress further, and be creative,
without knowledge of the grammar of music – notes, arpeggios, keys and the rest.
The charlatans, and I call them so without malintent, do not realize that language itself is
artificial, that words, once they leave the mouth, are the subject of many interpretations,11 and
that it has developed only through grammar, and always shall. When it does not, you meet the
Dark Ages, where language is preserved in such places as monasteries (those that survive).
In other words, language is but a part of communication, artificial because it has to be
created by people, constantly sculpted and preserved. Grammar is the backbone, even the
skeleton, without which you have collapse. Grammar, then, is tradition, in the sense that it is
the living continuity of language, so vital to communication.
W i l l i a m M a l l i n s o n
10 One of the earlier exponents of grammar (c. 100 B.C.); lived in Rhodes for a fair chunk of his intellectual life; his
“Techne Grammatike” forms the basis of all European teaching on grammar, via the partial filter of the Latin language.
See also Lallot, La Grammaire de Dionyse de Thrace, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, 1989.
11 See Eco, Umberto, A Theory of Semiotics, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1979, and The Limits of
Interpretation, Indiana University Press, 1990.
The manic quest for process alone, as if the basics do not exist, is false: “The quest for
natural language processes may be exciting but it is ineffective, often bewildering for the
learner and occasionally perverse,”12 according to Roberts, who also writes:
[…] in recent years, the role of grammar in modern languages has been marginalized,
as communicative aims become the norm. Ironically enough, perhaps, it is precisely
those writers who were to the forefront in promoting such aims who are beginning to
recant and, as in the case of Ellis (1993), to advocate a return to structure (under the
guise of ‘grammar awareness’ programmes.13
The sheepish backpeddling has begun, in the effort to preserve “academic reputations;” but
the damage has been done; the adults have had their ideological, sub-intellectual orgasm, and
have experimented on the children. To reverse the damage, rigorous grammar training should
from part of any serious teacher-training course.
Grammar is old, hence its continued existence, older than the barely baked theories of the
There is nothing wrong with communication, indeed, speaking the language should be
encouraged; but only if it is understood that grammar is the vehicle of effective spoken (and
written) communication. Only in this way will children think and, therefore, understand what
they are saying, thereby committing it to memory, to be activated some day in France,
Germany, Italy or wherever. They will also be able to understand other people.
In much the same way as the confectioner would please customers’ palates by a clever
combination of flavours, so the Sophist would tickle the ears of an audience by attractive
combinations of words and phrases (Taylor, 1978, p. 110). The physician, on the other hand,
unlike the confectioner, would prescribe a wholesome diet. In short, the Sophist pretended to
teach knowledge without possessing it, thus neglecting the highest values. They were seen as
the ‘blind leading the blind’.14
After, all, if a child is fed with the sounds “Ichwerdemorgenindieschulegehen,” and is not
helped to use the vehicle, indeed the gift, of grammar, to understand this sound, the result can,
frankly, be damaging. In other words, the “communicative approach” detracts from
communication. Long live communication; but tempus fugit.
PS The comic book publishers must be laughing all the way to the bank.
William Mallinson
Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpretating
Ionian University
E N O T H T A 2 : ° § o ™ ™ . , § . ° . Ä . A . ð . , ¶ . § ð Ä ð ™ . . ™
12 Roberts, op. cit., p. 26.
13 Roberts, Tony, “Grammar: old wine in new bottles?” in Languages Forum, Vol. 1, Nos. 2/3, February 1994,
Institute of Education, University of London, p. 5.
14 Mallinson, Bill, “A Clash of Culture: Anglo-Saxon and European Public Relations. New versus Old, or just Dynamic
Interaction?” in International Public Relations Review, Vol. 14, No. 3, 1991, and Mallinson, Bill, Public Lies and
Private Truths, An Anatomy of Public Relations, Cassell, London, 1996 and Leader Books, Athens 2000, pp. 74-75.

Sunday, November 6, 2011



Some commentators, and not only Mannichean Cold War journalistic warriors, depicted Greek-Russian military co-operation at the end of the last millennium and the abortive delivery of two batteries of S-300 defensive missiles to Cyprus as unhelpful political opportunism. The typical argument runs that it is destabilising and bad for NATO cohesion, and that Greece is helping Russia to gain influence in the Eastern Mediterannean. This rather conveniently packaged argument is never elaborated on, just as US-Israeli-Turkish military co-operation was expediently accepted, with little more than a murmur. There is of course far more to the Greek-Russian relationship than meets the eye, and any serious pundit needs at least to be aware of the historical continuity of Greek-Russian relations, bedevilled only temporarily in the Cold War, and currently by a supine Greek government, to understand the background.
Long before Russia existed as a definable cultural, linguistic and geographic entity, Greeks had been settled around the Black Sea. When Russia began to emerge, it was the Greek monks Cyril and Methodius who laid the foundations of Christianity among the Slavs, creating a Slavonic alphabet, based on the Greek, but incorporating some non-Greek sounds. It is no exaggeration to say that the role of the Greek church in Russia rivalled that of the papacy in Western Europe.
After the fall of Constantinople, the memories of the Byzantine Empire lived on, not only in the Greek psyche, but in Russia. Some high points of Greek-Russian co-operation were the Orlov brothers' attempts to liberate the Peloponnese in 1769, and Catherine the Great's dream of capturing Constantinople and placing her grandson on the throne of a new Byzantine Empire. Of more practical help to Greece were the Treaty of Kütschük Kainardji, where Russia gained the right to protect Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire; the commercial treaty giving the Greeks the right to trade under the Russian flag (thus contributing to Greece's becoming the leading shipping power that she is today); the establishment of a military academy for Greeks in Russia; and Russia's crucial help in the war of Greek independence, which forced the British to intervene, more out of fear of Russia than sympathy for Greece. Modern Greece’s first leader, Capodistria, had actually been a Russian foreign minister.
Only ten years after Greek independence, the British Minister to Greece was to say: ‘A truly independent Greece is an absurdity. Greece can either be English or Russian, and since it cannot be Russian, it is necessary that she be English.’ Only a few years later during the Crimean War, British (and French) forces actually occupied Piraeus to prevent Greece helping Russia against a weakening Ottoman Empire. As recently as 1955, Winston Churchill himself (confirming that Stalin had agreed at Yalta to leave Greece out of the Soviet sphere of influence) wrote: ‘I must say, when I think of the risks I ran and the efforts I made on behalf of the Greeks, I feel they qualify for the first prize for ingratitude. But for my personal exertions they would be lumped with Roumania and Bulgaria inside the Iron Curtain.’ This was however an exaggerated claim, since in early June 1944, some four months before the infamous ‘percentages’ agreement, the Foreign Office wrote that the Russians [sic] had agreed to let them ‘take the lead’ in Greece.
The past has an uncanny way of influencing the present, whatever the Henry Fords of this world may claim: both Russia and Greece have been, and still are, worried by Turkish expansionism; both have been embroiled, and still are, in Britain's, now the USA's, concern to maintain a strong Turkey to combat what they see as Russian expansionism. Although Turkey does not dare to indulge in sabre-rattling against Russia, she is doing all she can to increase her influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus, resulting in Russia stepping up political pressure in Azerbaijan, strengthening political and defence ties with Moldova, and assisting Armenia. The quest for oil obviously plays its dangerous part, with the US and Turkey pushing for a Turkish solution, (Ceyhan) and the Greeks and Russians working on the Burgas-Alexandroupolis solution. This latter project, however, now looks under threat, thanks to Bulgaria looking increasingly like an American client state, and delaying the project on specious grounds, while the pro-US Greek Prime Minister, Papandreou, is happy to do nothing.
Until recently, the convergence of interests is clear. For economic, political, cultural and historical reasons, Greece and Russia were co-ordinating some of their foreign policy interests: in the same way that Greece did not wish to see a Turkish arc on its northern borders, nor did Russia on its southern and south-eastern flanks. Under Papandreou’s predecessor, Karamanlis, co-operation was improving. Karamanlis pushed hard for the pipeline. But now, with Greece under economic occupation, the Anglo-Saxon neo-liberal banking world is doing its best to destroy what might have been a strong Graeco-Russian partnership. Karamanlis, who seemed to be a man with some bottle, was almost certainly threatened, and is lying very low, while a bankrupt Greece is being ordered to continue buying expensive French, German and American arms, rather than cheaper, and often better, Russian ones.
The future is tricky. Russia no longer sees Greece as a reliable partner, but as a puppet of so-called ‘Western interests’. It is going to take a Greek leader with guts to help to re-establish the damage done. Without it, Greece could end up as a slave state of US-Turkish interests.

William Mallinson

Thursday, November 3, 2011


                                 CATHARTIC CRISIS

At long last, a man, a real hombre, Julian Assange, has arrived to outdo the revered American Daniel Ellsberg. He is aided, it must be said, by the manic electronification since Ellsberg’s heyday in 1971, of so many of the trillions of words produced by government officials. The Wikileaks story does not need to be put into any particular context or mind-freezing politically correct 'conceptual framework’ to understand. As a former diplomat, several things have struck me.

a) It is highly unfortunate that Wikileaks was not sufficiently developed in 2002 to expose the web of deceit and lies that led to the illegal attack on Iraq. The evil war might then have been prevented.

b) We should remember that state confidentiality is often a cover for illegality, and therefore needs to be exposed in the public interest. Although Harold Nicolson wrote that while negotiations should be private, policy should not, it is quite clear that nowadays, far too much policy is kept secret, usually for suspicious reasons.(no snide slurs about left-wingery, please: I am a true-blue British conservative, albeit a critical one).

c) Much of the subject matter in the leaked material merely shows the tendency of some Anglo-Saxon diplomacy to be supercilious in its sometimes cosily arrogant pseudo-ivory tower. I remember that when I was writing confidential and secret letters on various political topics in the country to which I was accredited, I took care not to write slanderous things. It seems that the lowering of educational standards in what we call ‘the West’ is reflected in the low quality of many of the current batch of diplomats' reporting.

d) The massive spread of use of the internet in sensitive government work has not only taken away the space to actually think about what one writes, but weakened security almost beyond repair. The asinine obsession with deadlines (usually false) and the sheer massive amount of extra paperwork and information overload created by the abuse of computers by lazy government departments has created confusion. Without the manic abuse of the internet, and the concomitant electronification of relations between – and within - states, this alleged scandal could never have occurred.

e) Much of what has been exposed (and I write as a diplomatic historian who deals almost exclusively with original documents, rather than with silly and conflicting theories) is remarkably similar in nature to what I have been recently reading in thirty-year old documents.  The only essential difference is the lower quality of the use of the English language, and a pleasing lack of paranoia in security matters. In a large number of cases, even as a former diplomat, I am surprised about what the fuss is all about. Most of the 'scandalous' information is obvious stuff.

f) There is an enormous level of hypocrisy in the whole orchestrated slur campaign against Assange, since governments, particularly the British and American ones, themselves regularly leak documents illegally to further their own sometimes dubious objectives. Most intelligence relies on the media to a large extent (it's a lazy business!), and is also polluted by chicken-feeding, disinformation, and officially sanctioned illegal selective leaking.

g) Thank goodness that the paranoid state surveillance with which we have to put up these days (so well depicted by George Orwell in '1984') is now rebounding on the state paranoids, and that normal people can now put these unaccountable control freaks themselves under surveillance. As Ellsberg said, they are the danger to security, by encouraging terrorism and feeding the springing up of primitive-minded and money-grubbing 'security companies'.

I suppose that I now run the danger of being murdered by the paranoid brigade of manichean neo-con slave-'thinkers', promoting their childish political realism theories, and lying themselves to hell, those such as the semi-literate and emotional Palin, who has issued some pretty rum statements about how to deal with Assange, statements which would send many people into paranoid paroxysms. But the cool, calm and collected Assange would certainly see off her and her ilk in any debate on the meaning of democracy.

In my diplomatic days, we had none of these problems, since our secretaries did not use even electronic typewriters, let alone computers. So perhaps we'll have a return to tradition, and scrap all the technological trash that has so befuddled and then lobotomised and de-sensitised the brains of so many. 

As for accusations that Wikileaks has endangered agents' lives, only a moron would put down the name of an agent on a document below the ‘Top Secret’ category. If any US diplomats have recorded the names of agents or informers on the leaked documents (which are of a fairly low security category), then they should be fired for having endangered them by recording their names on merely confidential documents in the first place.

The world, or rather the dirty and jingoistic side of the national and international  ‘Establishment’, has simply been gobsmacked by the publication of the documents. I am reminded of that scene in Bunuel’s The Discrete Charm of the Bourgoisie when, during a meal, the curtains are suddenly drawn, and the diners realise that they are on a stage, being watched by an audience. They simply do not know what to do. Despite several warnings of what was to come, it seems that the sheer volume of the information released (is ‘leaked’ really the right word, in the same sense that ‘whistleblowing’ is a sensational media word for ‘integrity’?) has left politicians and various pundits scrabbling around in their own dirt. Thus, a once proud Swedish state has shown itself to be wanting in honesty, indulging in its own leaking, but of a grubby and selective kind. Assange, after pleasuring two women admirers who were obviously out to have his body, continued to see them and to be friendly with them, after the alleged events took place. Although he remained in Sweden for several leaks (oops, I mean ‘weeks!), he was not charged. The affair stinks to high heaven, as does the current Swedish establishment. Perhaps the late Stieg Larsson’s portrayal in his superb trilogy about Lisbeth Salander is not pure fiction, and betrays a disturbing aspect of Swedish society. As for the fact that we are now being treated to a rehash of the fact that Assange has a son from a previous relationship, and went to a large number of schools in his life, the result of a broken family, this is far more likely to draw support and sympathy than the intended opposite. The fact that he has come through it all shows guts. He is clearly a great Houyhnhnm, under attack from a swarm of Lilliputian Yahoos. He is an hombre, and the more he is attacked, the smaller his detractors become. Thank you, Julian, for showing us how to be real men!

                                                         Dr. William Mallinson

                                                         Athens, 22 December 2010