Monthly Archives: April 2010

The World Cup as War by Other Means

‘Just don’t mention the war” was the cardinal rule when hosting German guests at Fawlty Towers, the eponymous hotel in the ’70s British TV sitcom. But it has never applied to England football fans: whenever their team plays Germany, they taunt the opposition with a ditty (to the tune of The Camptown Races) with the lyrics: Two world wars and one world cup, dooh-dah, dooh-dah …

The English are hardly alone in linking football and war. When Holland beat Germany in a Euro ’88 semifinal, literally 60% of the Dutch population took to the streets to celebrate, many of them chanting “Hurrah, we got our bikes back!” That was a far larger crowd than the one which celebrated Holland’s victory over the Soviet Union in the final of the same tournament days later, but the bicycle reference said it all: Dutch people had had their bikes confiscated when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands 48 years earlier. Those who fell/rose cheering from their graves, wrote Dutch poet Jules Deelder, while a veteran of the underground resistance enthused: “It feels as though we’ve won the war at last.”

Payback for wartime humiliation was also the Argentine narrative for Diego Maradona’s notorious “hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup (and the “goal of the century” he added later in the game). Sure, Maradona used his fist to prod the ball over Peter Shilton for the opening goal, but for a country still smarting from the wounds of the Falklands/Malvinas War four years earlier, England had to be beaten by any means necessary. As Maradona said afterwards: “We knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys (in the Malvinas), killed them like little birds. And this was revenge.” Sure, Maradona had cheated, but so had the British, in Argentine minds, by sinking an Argentine warship outside the zone of exclusion around the islands, killing some 323 sailors. Jorge Valdano, who was on the field that day, knew Maradona had cheated, but said “at that moment we only felt joy, relief, perhaps a forced sense of justice. It was England, let’s not forget, and the Malvinas were fresh in the memory.” Continue reading

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Why Karzai Won’t Do as He’s Told


To some it may seem as if President Hamid Karzai has a death wish. The Afghan leader has lately begun sticking it to the U.S. and its Western allies — the only force protecting him from a surging Taliban, which hanged the last foreign-backed President when it reached Kabul in 1996. But Karzai is doing it not just because he can get away with it, knowing he’s the only game in town for Washington, but also because he must if he’s to survive in the Afghan political environment once the U.S. leaves. Continue reading

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Obama Reproduces Bush’s Iran Failure


Iran diplomacy in Washington these days consists principally of coaxing the likes of Russia and China to support new sanctions – and persuading gullible journalists that Moscow and Beijing are “on board”.

On Friday, the US president Barack Obama told CBS television that Iran is trying to get the “capacity to develop nuclear weapons”, and that he and his allies “are going to ratchet up the pressure … with a unified international community”. Nobody sets much store by such talk, of course, because President George W Bush had been saying the same thing since 2006 with little effect. Continue reading

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