Operation Bernhard


Operation Bernhard was the name of a secret German plan devised during World War II to destabilise the British economy by flooding the country with forged Bank of England £5, £10, £20, and £50 notes.

The plan was directed by, and named after, SS Major (Sturmbannführer) Bernhard Krüger, who set up a team of 142 counterfeiters from among inmates at Sachsenhausen concentration camp at first, and then from others, especially Auschwitz.

Beginning in 1942, the work of engraving the complex printing plates, developing the appropriate rag-based paper with the correct watermarks, and breaking the code to generate valid serial numbers was extremely difficult, but by the time Sachsenhausen was evacuated in April 1945, the printing press there had produced 8,965,080 banknotes with a total value of £134,610,810. The notes are considered among the most perfect counterfeits ever produced, being extremely difficult although not impossible to distinguish from the real thing.

Although the initial plan was to destabilise the British economy by dropping the notes from aircraft, on the assumption that while some honest people would hand them in most people would keep the notes, in practice this plan was not put into effect.

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Mussolini’s Rituals


‘Mussolini thought the Italians needed to be hardened, and he launched what he called an anti-bourgeois campaign. And among the things he banned, or tried to ban, anyway, was people shouldn’t shake hands, they should give the Roman salute, you know, raising their arm and their hand up in the air. […]

[A] man named Achille Starace, was kind of his circus master, who kept coming up with these ideas of rituals, mass rituals and other kinds of rites that he thought would make the Italians ever more devoted to their duce, which is the kind of Latiny term of leader that the Italians used to refer to Mussolini.

In fact, Mussolini required being referred to as DUCE, D-U-C-E,[1] it’s spelled, and it had to be written in capitals in the newspapers by the 1930s. It couldn’t just be written in the normal way.’

– Kertzer, D. (April 24, 2015) ‘Pope And Mussolini’ Tells The ‘Secret History’ Of Fascism And The Church. NPR.


[1] duce; ‘leader’ from Latin duco, meaning ‘I lead’. E.g. Il DUCE ha sempre ragione; ‘the leader is always right’.

Conversations: Dogmas Run Amok


Galene
I once heard someone say that Stalin was an atheist. They did not say much else, but I understood their statement to be critical of atheism, suggesting there must be some relation between atheism and totalitarian cruelties.

Sappho
This is a silly stab at trying to reach some sort of moral high ground; it is commonly employed by the more orthodox and fundamentalist theist.

Helena
Throughout history, totalitarian regimes have either embraced a religion, or rejected all existing religions and replaced it with a new one; the problem with totalitarian regimes is they behave too much like religions – they embrace utterly dogmatic systems of thought to validate the regime’s claim to power.

Galene
That seems a little strong. Continue reading

Conversations: The Preposterous


Helena
Clearly, it is time we all learned to meet our emotional needs without embracing the preposterous. We must find ways to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity—birth, marriage, death—without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality.

Galene
What does that mean in practice?

Sappho
I feel we should recognise that, for instance, the practice of raising children to believe that they are Christian, Muslim, or Jewish should be recognised as the ludicrous obscenity that it is. And only then will we stand a chance of healing the deepest and most dangerous fractures in our world.

Galene
That’s all very well and good, but I have no doubt that the acceptance—so to speak—of Christ coincided with some very positive changes in some people’s lives. Perhaps they now love other people in a way that they never imagined possible. They may even experience feelings of bliss while praying—say. Continue reading

On First Principles


“I was trying to get a program going about fundamentalist Islam, or not even fundamentalist actually beyond… where it’s extreme radical Islam, so-called you know, basically people who support ISIS, of which there are some in the UK. Although, they’re hard to interview because it’s actually a crime to Glorify Terrorism is what it’s called. And so they have to talk very gingerly around the subject.

But if you get into a debate with someone who is sincerely committed to ISIS’ brand of Sunni Islam, where they’re saying “Actually, yes, sex slaves are okay,” they’ll say “Slaves isn’t quite the right term but we approve of that.” And then they say, “By what authority do you challenge what we believe?” Continue reading

Conversations: Political Correctness


Xanthippe
We know that socio-economic factors explain most violence in societies.

Helena
This is true, but religion fuelled tribalism and bigotry should not be excused in its entirety. Consider the jihadist movement, how many more architects and engineers must hit the wall at four hundred miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that violence is not merely a matter of education, poverty, or politics?

Sappho
Good point. The exploitation of secular values, the demand for tolerance of misogyny and religious hatred, are not merely the result of broad socio-economic factors. Nor are forced marriages, honour killings, punitive gang rapes, or the homicidal loathing of homosexuals. Continue reading

On Western Civilisation


“What do I think of Western civilisation? I think it would be a very good idea.”

– Mohandas Gandhi

On Hopelessness


“There are no hopeless situations there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”

– Clare Boothe Luce