My piece yesterday was entitled, “Retractions,” a typical act of mischief on my part. It was on two fronts. The first act of mischief was guessing the modern English reader would take a retraction to mean a recantation, a withdrawal, a revocation. Whereas, a thirteenth-century man like myself, with no patience for sixteenth-century innovations, uses the word in the old way, to mean a recollection or review. (This evolution of meaning was typical of the Reformation, incidentally, and thus typically modern: a both/and proposition being changed to an either/or.)

That is certainly what Saint Augustine meant by his Retractationes. He might be correcting some mistakes in old works, but he was hardly taking them back.

The second act of (no doubt childish) mischief followed from this wordplay. I was hoping to trick gentle reader’s attention with the suggestion that I would be “retracting” — in the sense of disowning — something I had written myself. Only to have him discover, no such luck.

Yet when I review old Idleposts I am, in fact, sometimes uneasy.

Just now I quietly deleted another couple of them, that were on the topic of Ukraine. A mere eighteen months after the events that occasioned them, I see that I was comprehensively misinformed by many of the sources on which I then relied. Not, necessarily, intentionally misinformed; but I have since learnt many things that did not “fit” with the media’s emotionally loaded coverage — which, in the main, I had taken to be at least partly true. And while I see that I was clever enough to drop the right qualifiers into place, I was wrong to fall back into my old cold-warrior mode, as it was not appropriate to the situation; though right to worry on behalf of Ukraine’s Eastern-rite Catholics, whom I now suspect were themselves conned by very cynical and violent nationalist agitators, whom the Western powers should never have engaged with, nor encouraged in the John Kerry way.

We, even I — who should know better from my experience “inside the machine” — must never trust media accounts of anything. Even when true, they are damnably selective, and even when the agenda is unknown to the journalist, he is likely to be serving it. Large events are not covered at all, because they are inexplicable to him. Conversely, things that never happened are reported because they seem plausible in the liberal media mindset. Always, today, there is emotional engagement in the presentation of news — whether from Left or Right. And what is true in political journalism has also become true in coverage of all other topics, especially “science.”

In a previous generation there were foreign correspondents who stayed in one place long enough to acquire some idea of what was going on there. Similarly, “special” correspondents would have some knowledge of their particular subjects. Both would enjoy some intellectual independence from the central editorial apparat. This is no longer the case — anywhere, so far as I can see. All coverage is now “professionally” guided from the studios of a mass-market entertainment industry, whose interest is in unified “messaging.” The “army of Davids” in Twitter and Facebook are just rings around this Saturn.

The contemporary journalist is voyeur to a “crisis.” He has been flown in, with a crew. He does not arrive knowing the way from the airport. He is taken for a fool by every interested party he encounters, and manipulated accordingly. He is like a rich hunter on safari who must employ beaters to drive a few game animals into his way. He has limited time, before his audience has lost interest in the latest crisis, and he is himself air-freighted to the next one. The result is reportage not quite so good as no information at all.


Does gentle reader know, for instance, that three-quarters of the “Syrian migrants” currently arriving in Europe are unaccompanied young men, an unknown proportion of whom did not come from Syria? The cameras are focused, whenever possible, on the minority of women and children, who present a more heart-rending picture; it is only in the occasional long shot that one may see the actual mix. Many, and possibly most of these refugees are well dressed and technologized. They have the money to get themselves to their intended destinations.

The foreground pictures offer many misrepresentations. We do not learn that, for instance, most of the boats were launched not from Syria but from Turkey, to make short distance to Greek islands offshore. Those aboard include genuine refugees — but they had already escaped the Syrian conflict. We must search diligently to discover that the “migrants” are extremely unwelcome in other Arab and Muslim countries; that anyway, it is to the rich offerings of Europe that most aspire. Effective charity, from the European side, positively requires better information.

Gradually, of course, the truth emerges; or gradually it does not emerge. A few of these young men will be potentially violent Islamists; perhaps not more than one in twenty. If the proportion is so low, this would work out to only a few thousand, entering Europe each month. Happily, the great majority are not psychopathic; but also, not quite what they claim. And meanwhile Europe’s will to detain and investigate each claimant in turn is sapped from the outset by emotional lies. Aeroplane passengers are searched meticulously, but these have barged en masse right through. Those who show intelligent scepticism towards them are presented in the media as advocates for racism and torture.

We have a (Christian) duty to help the helpless, as and when they appear. This is a question of conscience that is non-negotiable. Even the ne’er-do-well we are obliged to pick up from the street or beach; to feed, clothe, and shelter as necessary. But as I hope I made clear in essays last week, we do not have a duty to be taken to the cleaners, or to advertise ourselves as easy marks.

By the combination of universally false, often faked, ignorant, and emotional reporting — including the demonization of the overwhelmed “first responders” at Europe’s frontiers — the media have subverted the whole continent’s ability to think the situation through. In the longer run, they have contributed powerfully to the civil disorder that will result, from the irreconcilable differences between Mohammedan and post-Christian cultures.

Meanwhile the democratic politicians strut for the cameras, each in response to the latest “breaking news.”

Note, I have said nothing about defending Europe’s “Christian heritage.” For Europe is no longer Christian, except a small minority. Paradoxically, by conversion, as well as by the arrival, of Christians from the Middle East, the migration may provide Europe with more Christians over the longer run. I am not playing with the “demography is destiny” argument. Destiny will be destiny: we cannot know what tomorrows will follow after today. We can only know what is likely to follow, from past experience.


Once upon a time, the pagan and increasingly decadent Romans let in great hordes of barbarians from beyond their frontiers — peaceably, and by bureaucratic edict — to actual Roman citizenship. Their thinking was, that with their own birthrate falling, they needed these people to labour and pay taxes; to do the sort of jobs even the poorer Romans no longer wanted to do.

This didn’t work out for them quite as they had planned, however. The barbarians proved too numerous to assimilate, indifferent to the rule of Roman law, loyal to their own quaint customs, and ungrateful for the gifts they had received. All in all, they were inclined to continue acting like barbarians.

Angela Merkel apparently has the same clever idea — hard-working new immigrants to pay for otherwise unsustainable German pension schemes — behind her pose as Europe’s top humanitarian.

Alas, as Saint Augustine suggested, in his City of God, the direction of influence should be the other way. The more civilized should be expanding at the expense of the less civilized, rather than vice versa; God being on the side of sweetness and light, as opposed to bitterness and darkness.


Genuine refugees do not wish to leave their own country. Their first choice would be to stay. They flee, characteristically, for their lives, rather than for better economic opportunities. They’d rather the opportunities came to them. There are plenty of genuine Syrian refugees — millions of them, internally and externally — thanks to the rise of the Daesh, accomplished largely with our own assistance. And the truly desperate cases — which include women, children, and elderly that many of the intrepid young men have left behind — cannot get out.

We have the means to bring safety to the Syrians where they live, and want to live. But as I’ve said, this requires an unambiguously military operation — as most humanitarian missions do, including all in which the disaster has been caused by human delinquency. Verily: the longer it is left, the bigger the disaster, and thus the larger the military force that will be, finally and more or less inevitably, required.

Indeed, it has struck me that all these hordes of strong, healthy young men could be received in Europe on the one condition they be impressed into military service for the relief of their homelands. For surely under European discipline and direction they could be forged into a formidable fighting force, allied with us instead of with our deadliest enemies.

One wonders if this has occurred to anyone else.