Prior art claimed for concentration camp invention

It could only happen in Letters

Letters Afternoon, lovely readers, and welcome to Friday's trawl through the letters bag. We'll hand over to John Lettice to kick things off today:

Having suggested that the British invented concentration camps in South Africa, we naturally received several alternative suggestions, the earliest claimed sighting being the fate of the Athenian prisoners after their defeat at Syracuse in the 5th Century BC. We have already pointed out to the writer that we have read Thucydides several times, and much admire his work.

But we stand by our point. The term "concentration camp" was as far as we are aware first used by the British military and administration to refer to the camps set up to house non-combatants during the South African wars. The use of the term was our primary reason for labelling this an invention, and the detention of civilians, while by no means novel, sets them aside from the various prisoner of war camps suggested by some readers. It was not our intention to pass judgment on the camps. Although something in the region of 30,000 inmates may have died, their death was not actually the objective of the camps, and having the inmates in the camps was at least arguably more humane than leaving them outside to starve.

They only faced these options because the British had burned their farms in the first place, so one mustn't go confusing Kitchener with Florence Nightingale.

I'm sure John Lettice's heart was in the right place when he tried to claim the invention of the concentration camp for the British, but in Thucydides interminable account of The Peloponnesian War there is clear evidence that the wily Sicilians beat us to the punch.

The Athenians, feeling their oats and up for a bit of aggro, decided that it was high time those goat-cheese scarfing surrender monkeys in Sicily got what was coming to them. They assembled a mighty force and sailed straightway to Sicily where it all started to go pear-shaped in short order. The Sicilians defeated the Greeks and threw them in a huge pit, where they were left to die. I dunno about anyone else but this sounds like a good contender for the dubious title of "inventor of the concentration camp" to me.

A brief summary of the events can be found here. A rather more detailed and *way* more tedious account can be found in the "Penguin Classics" edition of "The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides".

On the plus side, Thucydides doesn't mention anything about primitive computers, so we don't have to rewrite history there (again).


Hi John,

I think you'll find it was the Americans, both Unionists and Confederates, who pioneered concentration camps during their Civil War.

We Brits thought they were a good idea and copied them in our war against Boer guerrillas and their families in South Africa.

Here is a good account.


Lord Sainsbury's attempt to placate the anti-patent lobby has not impressed everyone:

'He told The Register: "I'm not certain that it will affect the directive, but a workshop will be well worth having." If nothing else, he said, it will influence how the UK Patent Office thinks about the terms when it is examining patents. "It sensitises them to concerns that this not be abused."'

Right. If corporations do not abuse software patents, I will eat the Eiffel Tower whole, on live world-wide satellite broadcast, complete with tourists and skating rink.


El Reg's editotrial policy takes a hammering:

Can! You! Stop! Putting! Exclamation! Marks! After! Every! Bloody! Word! In! Every! Bloody! Yahoo! Story! Please?! It's! Annoying! And! For! Some! Reason! It! Takes! Me! Ages! To! Read! Them! Writing! Them! Must! Be! Excruciating! Too!


Jamie! Kitson!

One reader has taken issue with some of the correspondance in our letters round up, on Tuesday this week:

Lucy, I must strenuously object to your posting of a letter implying that MS is, has or will be using it's proprietary protocols for mischief. The letter I am objecting to is:

You are a cynical lot you are. Microsoft's plans to deal with Nimda-style outbreaks have not impressed:

I wonder what NAP's default behavior is going to be when sniffing around the network it comes across a non-MS OS to talk to. Oooh, say Linux perhaps. The Microsoft of old would have used this 'opportunity' to do more than a little mischief.

"Sorry Mr Customer, but NAP only talks to secure Operating Systems running NAP, and we don't consider Linux to be one of those. How about we offer you a free copy of Windows to replace it with? For your security and peace of mind, of cause."

Now, any rank amateur will know the above is simply not how MS operates, they would NEVER so much as consider behavior like that, lawsuits, antitrust, or whatever.

I think you should ask the author to retract his semi-slanderous statement that MS would offer you a free copy of Windows to move you off of Linux, it would never ever happen. Really. They would offer you a 30 day trial.

- Charlie

One thing is for sure. The ID card will not go as quietly as its biggest cheerleader. Earlier this month, a government think tank released figures suggesting that 81 per cent of the populace likes the idea of carrying an ID card, with 64 per cent agreeing with the suggestion that "The Government already runs large databases such as for passports and driving licences and it is quite capable of running a national ID database properly":

John Lettice wrote:- Now, if the running of these databases was viewed as totally satisfactory, why is it that David Blunkett places so much importance on not using them, and starting with his vaunted "clean database?"

I guess I'm an old cynic, and my immediate reaction was that these databases are yes, run satisfactorily, but hopelessly out of date. There will be cars for example that are all over the country in sheds and garages laid up or in bits that are not recorded on the dvlc data base as such.

We have a classic example here in Dorset of this kind of lack of data. The Dorset police regularly do an automatic/camera/ tax/numberplate check using a database supplied by the DVLC.

This is about five weeks out of date, the best the DVLC can provide. So what happens is this:

The cars that were taxed last month but are not taxed this month are not stopped and all the cars that weren't taxed last month but are taxed this month are stopped. So the net result is a complete waste of police time checking cars that are taxed but missing all the ones they are looking for. The real reason the Home Office wants a NEW database is it would be an accurate as can be at that moment in time, and they could then check this new one against all the others databases that are out of date.

They also want to put on record all the people of no fixed abode, all travellers and gypsies i.e. people that dont want to have a permanent place of residence.

Ted Frater

The discussion about rat brains refuses to lie down and die. And we think it's quite funny, so we're happy to keep it going:

I'm not too worried about rat brains that can run or fly - lower life forms such as houseflies and birds do it all the time. It's quite a leap (pun intended) to envision rat-controlled drones dropping ordnance on Fallujah. That behavior requires a fairly well-developed prefrontal cortex that can make a split-second moral judgement on whether that bomb can be dropped without unintended civilian damage. Military personnel are required to by military law to *refuse* an unlawful order and push the incident up the chain of command until that unlawful order is dealt with accordingly. That rule was made quite clear at Nuremburg.

I don't think the rats are quite there yet. Our fighter pilots remain among the best-trained and morally circumspect bio-control mechanisms on the planet, and I don't see that changing any time soon.



I've seen a lot from El Reg recently about the rat brain-controlled machines, but I think you folks are missing out on a big question. What happens when the rat-brain Asimo comes across a dairy section with cheese on display? The thought of a little robot standing transfixed in front of a glass case full of cheese comes to mind. And what about the F-22? What if it comes across a D-CON or Victor factory on its way to its target?

On a more serious note, what will the animal activist groups have to say about this? Growing living animal brain tissue and implanting it into machines that will be sent to their destruction?


So the country that's producing the rat brain controlled computer is also developing this web service; Lets hope the two never meet or rat brain may decide it has more vengance to serve on mankind than on wild animals...


This development is creepily scary, the kind of thing that makes you think of bad sci-fi (Dr Who's Daleks et al) I can't help pondering the morals of this story. I guess that because the brain cells were from a rat, the moral implication can be pushed to one side.

I feel though that (at least) two questions need to be asked. Does the 'brain' have a soul? Does the 'brain' inherit any rat-like tendencies, will it, for example, while flying the F-22, suddenly dive for cover under the nearest dustbin if it feels threatened? If so, will we find a collection of F-22s parked on the local rubbish dump?


The possibilities are frightening, are they not?

Taipei 101. World's tallest building. Or maybe not.


Regarding the bootnote "Ta very much to all those outraged Canadian readers who have written to say that in fact the CN Tower is the world's tallest structure at 553.33m (1,815 ft, 5 inches). We're staying out of this one, except to say why can't we all just drop this crowing about our enormous erections and just learn to love each other?"

Nope... sorry, can't do it. If they want love, they should acknowledge that their tower is not the tallest. While that building may be the tallest office tower, it's not the tallest free standing structure.

Too often, Canada doesn't get enough respect.

But the real question is... how high will someone be able to be inside the tower. In the CN Tower, the highest observation deck is 447m up.

Also, you mentioned that "As for us, we'll take the stairs, thanks very much". Funny you should mention that because every year there is a stair climb for charity in the CN Tower. Here is the link


Peter, in Toronto, Canada

or, more simply:

Taipei 101 is the world's tallest building.

The CN tower is the world's tallest free-standing structure.

The tallest structure (a guyed antenna) is the KVLY tower at 2,063 feet (628.8 meters).


Just to keep things 'accurate'...


Lovely. That's all folks. Back next week. ®

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