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Monday, 31 October 2011

Red Poppy Obscures history and state responsibility

As we approach 11 November 2011, and the red poppy once again appears on lapels, Richard Jackson reminds us of what the red poppy symbolises - militarism, unthinking patriotism, a second tax on citizens to make up for the state's refusal to pay the full costs of war, and the forgetting of civilian casualties of war. He urges we wear a white poppy instead which emphasises the need to make peace the cenral value of our society.

Why I wear the White Poppy, not the Red Poppy

I would wear a red poppy if it was a symbol of remembrance for all the victims of war, and not just the ones who did the killing. By excluding the non-military victims of war from remembrance, the red poppy upholds a moral hierarchy of worthy and unworthy victims: the heroic soldier who is worthy of respect and official commemoration, and the unworthy, unnamed civilians killed or maimed by the heroic soldier who remains unacknowledged and unremembered. This validation of those who wage war and the moral hierarchy of victims is a central part of the cultural architecture which upholds the continuing institution of war in our society. It is a central part of what makes war possible. When the red poppy comes to be associated with an honest public acknowledgement of all the people killed by our soldiers, enemy soldiers and civilians alike; when it symbolizes our sorrow and regret for all the victims of war, not just a chosen few; then I would consider wearing a red poppy.

I would wear a red poppy if it did not function to hide the truth and obscure reality – if it wasn’t a way of enforcing a particular kind of collective memory which is actually designed to forget uncomfortable realities; if it wasn’t intimately tied up with a whole series of myths and untruths about heroic sacrifice and necessary violence in war. The truth is that war is cruel, bloody, and inglorious, and that the soldiers we remember are there to kill and maim fellow human beings, and to die screaming for their mothers. The truth is that when we send soldiers to kill others, we consign those who survive to mental and moral injury; a huge proportion of them will attempt suicide in one way or another after they return home. The truth is that many of our wars are nothing to do with freedom, liberty, or democracy; they are often illegal, pointless, or predatory. When the red poppy is associated with an honest debate on the reality and morality of our wars; when it acknowledges the truth about the horror of war and its often pointless slaughter of our best and brightest; then I would consider wearing a red poppy.

I would wear a red poppy if its fund-raising and symbolism had the true interests of the military personnel it purports to support at heart. The fact is that the best interests of every military person would be to never have to kill or face death or mutilation ever again, and certainly not for the squalid purposes most often dreamed up by our venal and vainglorious politicians. The funds raised by the red poppy should be used to work for the end of all war, not to make up for the short-coming in state support for military personnel or to prepare the nation for the further slaughter of our fellow citizens in future wars.

I would wear a red poppy if it wasn’t a way for the state to offset the costs of war so that it can engage in ever more military adventures. In truth, the state sends the nation’s young people to war and then refuses to spend the necessary money on supporting them when they return home. Buying a red poppy is in effect a second tax for funding war, as it allows the state to spend the money it should have spent on rehabilitation on buying new weapons and training new soldiers. Instead of buying a red poppy, we should demand that the state pay the full support and rehabilitation of all soldiers who need it out of the taxes we have already paid to the military. If this means that there is not enough money for the next military adventure because we are taking care of the last war’s victims, then this is how it should be. It should not be easy for governments to take the decision to go to war; they must pay the full cost. If the red poppy came to symbolize a challenge to government to properly care for service personnel; if it was a means to really question the decision to go to war, instead of implicitly supporting every war regardless of its morality; I would consider wearing a red poppy.

I would wear a red poppy if it wasn’t used socially to enforce an unthinking patriotism, and to punish and discipline those who would question the morality of war or the values of militarism. Those who fervently promote the red poppy often assert that the soldiers we remember fought for our freedom, but this does not include the freedom to question military values or public displays of violent patriotism. Anyone should be allowed to refuse to wear a red poppy in public on the basis of conscience without being questioned or looked down upon, or even to wear a different coloured poppy.

I would wear a red poppy if it wasn’t part of a broader militarism in our society which makes war more likely, rather than less; if it wasn’t bound up with national narratives of heroism and the legitimacy and rightness of military force; and if it wasn’t implicitly supportive of military values. If the red poppy came to symbolize opposition to war and support for peaceful values; I would consider wearing it.

I wear the White Poppy because it is an unambiguous commitment to peace, the end of all war and opposition to militarism. The Red Poppy may have once been part of a commemorative culture shortly after the First World War that was aimed at working towards ensuring that no one ever had to experience the horrors of war again; but this meaning has long since vanished, replaced instead by an insidious military patriotism. The White Poppy is now the main symbol of a commitment to remember all the victims of war, to tell the truth about war, to work to ensure that no soldier ever has to suffer its horrors again, and to make peace the central value of our culture, instead of militarism.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Libya Expose Obama's Contradictions

Libya's contradictions are real enough and devastating in their consequences. But a couple of points missed by most commentators are worthy of note, adding to the strange mix of motives and actions that are the principal feature of the situation in and surrounding Libya. Possessing NO weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is no guarantee of regime survival; and having a black president in the White House offers no gurantees that the incumbent will stand up for blacks' rights.

The first, and most significant point, is this: that not having, or even planning, or surrendering in full view of the "international community" (i.e., the American hegemon and its, mainly western, core allies) one's weapons of mass destruction programmes, is no guarantee that the West will not continue to nurture the desire or to attempt forcible regime change.

It will be recalled that the erstwhile dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was removed from power due to his alleged WMD stockpiles, primed for action at 45 minutes' notice, the Britain's Tony Blair regime claimed, despite all the evidence compiled by Hans Blix's UN inspection teams. There "had" to be WMD in Iraq, so they were manufactured by false intelligence reports.

It was in the wake of that blatant violation of international law and the UN charter that Libya's Colonel Gaddafi gave up on his WMD programmes and embraced, and was embraced by, the West. And, despite that, or perhaps because of that "deadly embrace", the former Libyan dictator lies buried in the middle of the desert in an unmarked grave, brought down by NATO firepower. No claim this time round of WMD programmes as an excuse for intervention - but recourse to the favoured post-1989 rationale of "humanitarian intervention", a justification that proved enough to obtain a figleaf resolution at the UN Security Council, but was revealed as precisely that when Tomahawk Cruise missiles began raining down on Gaddafi's military forces, command and control centres, and private residences. The switch from humanitarian intervention to regime change was immediate and obvious, with results now apparent to all observers.

The lessons from this for Iran and Syria are all too clear - take the "North Korean" route and develop WMD as soon as possible, because the Western 'hand of friendship' which Obama proffers is just the beginning of a new phase of intervention with a view to regime change.

It is instructive that in proffering a hand of friendship, Obama's approach is identical to that of his predecessor, President George W. Bush. Far from being a break with the past, Obama's administration has just picked up where Bush's left off, although Obama clearly delivers a better speech to justify his actions.

One issue Obama has yet to make a speech about, however, is what's been happening to thousands of black Libyans and other black people who live and work in Libya as migrant labour. For many months both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty have noted the indiscriminate killing, detention and abuse of black Africans by so-called rebel forces, under the false argument that the former were mercenary fighters for Gaddafi. Despite reports from reputable sources, Obama has yet to speak up for the rights of black Africans.

This is hardly surprising: Obama has yet to speak up for the rights of black Americans. Atlantic Magazine noted some time ago that President Obama was seen by whites as a "no demands black" - a black American politician who did not demand radical change or redistribution of resources from better off whites to poor minorities.

They were right then, and they're right now as Obama exports his domestic policy. Because, even when it comes to the killing of blacks in Africa, Obama demands nothing.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Liam Fox et al: Corruption in domestic and foreign policy

Liam Fox has, rightly, been lambasted for his indiscretions as Defence Secretary and resigned in shame. His 'crime' - the one for which he was punished by a relentless media campaign - was that he may have benefited financially from arms and other deals done by his corrupt friend and unofficial adviser, Adam Werrity. Well and good.

What has hardly stirred the hearts or minds of the British media or political class is all the more instructive of their moral condition at this point in the 21st century: the pummelling of Gaddafi stronghold, Sirte, in Libya at the loss of countless lives, by the NATO-backed 'rebel' National Transitional Council's troops, followed by reports from the Washington Post and Reuters of looting on a massive scale, revenge killings, and a spiraling number of refugees from the war-torn city. No talk of humanitarian interventions any longer - the original fig-leaf for the Cameron-Sarkozy-Obama war on Libya.

Nor have recent events in Egypt - army-led and inspired divide and rule violence against Coptic Christians, leaving dozens dead and injured - led to any denunciations of, or sanctions against, the US-backed military regime that is supposedly the vehicle for a transition to democracy there. The Egyption army attacked and closed TV stations that showed army violence against peaceful protestors, moving one protestor to comment: "this is not religious strife, it is state-sponsored terrorism." (The Guardian, 15.10.11).

Nor was Liam Fox unduly detained or quizzed, while Defence secretary, by the exposure that he had effectively misinformed the country and Parliament time and again about the burgeoning costs of Britain's war in Libya. According to military journalist, Francis Tusa, who has dug deeper than anyone else into the murky world of the MoD's Orwellian accounting system, the real costs of Britain's military campaign in Libya is between £850 to £1.75 billion, NOT the ca £250 million figure bandied about by Liam Fox and his official advisers, and the official opposition foreign affairs spokesman, Douglas Alexander.

When it comes to foreign wars and military interventions, money appears to be no object. Take the estimated costs of the illegal Iraq war, for example: up to March 2010, Britain spent over £9 billion on the war there. In Afghanistan, over £11 billion has been expended since 2001, with other long term costs accumulating. No talk of deep cuts for foreign adventures, despite deep cuts to domestic social programmes.

Corruption - official and unofficial - is alive and well at the very apex of the British state and national life.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Political corruption is normal politics

Millionaires control British politics

Liam Fox's resignation has highlighted a deeper corruption in British politics and national life - over and above the goverment's slavishness towards American power: when free market capitalism becomes national ideology, the so-called drivers of growth and creators of wealth - private businessmen and major corporations - move into the very heart of the state, while practically all other political and social forces are elbowed out. With government and opposition armed with free market ideology, why wouldn't every problem look like it must have a private, 'big-monied' society solution?

It is hardly news to point out that the current British government of 'liberal-conservatives' is mired in free markets and corporate wealth, with social backgrounds to match: including premier David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, The Sunday Times counted 18 millionaires in the "austerity cabinet" (Sunday Times, 23.5.10).

The government's foreign and national security policy is in the hands of a group predominantly educated at exclusive public schools and Oxbridge, with previous careers in the City of London and big business. The Sunday Times calls them the "New Establishment...a new elite... pulling the strings in Britain".

And they govern as would be expected by any semi-impartial observer - an open door policy for practically anyone in big business to saunter into the most guarded of ministries, including the Ministry of Defence. Today's Guardian (17.10.11) provides the details on an open secret - that this government is wide open for business and wide shut to practically anyone else. While private corporations were met with by ministers across Whitehall over 1000 times in the 12 months to March 2011, trade union representatives were greeted under 100 times, while charities were entertained 640 times. The message is clear - working class politics (what's left of it) is out; corporate politics, with charities to look after the social fall out, is in.

In political science's mainstream, this is known as 'pluralism' - where competing interests ensure that no one interest predominates and the political system tends towards 'balancing' interests, producing governments that preside over the 'national' interest. How precisely do ordinary working people compete with corporate power?

The putative vehicle for the politics of the oppressed has embraced the free market, with some protections, itself, since the advent of New Labour. The last government also featured several millionaires, businessmen, and had cosied up to the City since the mid-1990s, and fetishised the 'market' to such a degree that it brought the 'market' itself into disrepute.

Ironically, it was a man called (Ralph) Miliband who wrote most cogently on this question, when David (Miliband) was still wearing short trousers, and Ed was yet to be born. In his classic study, The State in Capitalist Society (1969), Miliband argued that British (and Western) political systems were dominated by big business and their supporters who also determined the character of the 'national' interest in such a way that it enshrined the interest of big business into its very heart. Consequently, political philosophies and arguments could not be brooked that failed to take into account their impact on 'business confidence' and the 'markets', international or national.

Analysing the rest of the state, Miliband argued that the civil service, military, judiciary, BBC, among others, were led by (mainly) men drawn from the same elitist social backgrounds as the political elite, further reinforcing the 'conservative' character of the British state, and acting as a brake on radical political agendas.

Labour governments in the postwar era were structurally constrained by the character of the British state as well as the generalised power of big business over economic affairs and policy, not to mention 'popular' culture and thinking. But Miliband also emphasised that the Labour party was no vehicle for revolutionary transformation but a symptom of the development of capitalist industrialism, seeking concessions from big business and some measure of social protection for workers. In the main, Labour governments managed capitalism rather than damaging or undermining it.

Furthermore, Labour leaders were hardly revolutionary, even in the nationalising phase of 1945-50: Clement Attlee was educated at Haileybury College, an elite public school established by the East India Company to train its servants for service in the empire. Attlee's foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, who had headed the massive Transport and General Workers' Union since the 1920s, was authentically working class, of course, and offers an excellent example of how such individuals rise to the top of the greasy pole of British politics. He was deeply anti-communist and, like the majority of his party, an imperialist. Where the likes of Churchill openly declared Britain superior to all other races and nations and therefore justified in exploiting and dominating the colonies, Bevin et al wanted to 'develop' the 'backward' countries for the 'betterment' of their peoples. The old imperial ties and connections were maintained, despite (or because of) 'de-colonisation', along with Britain's large, but diminishing, global role.

While the benefits of a welfare state, inaugurated in 1945-50, are undoubted, it remained the case that at a fundamental level, the Labour project was at heart an ameliorative one of reforming capitalism and offering workers social protection from 1930s-style economic crises and deprivations. It did not fundamentally challenge 'market supremacy' in economic policy and the distribution of income and wealth.

Hence, we now have a situation where the government and opposition are dominated by rich and exclusively educated individuals, market-oriented in 'philosophy', and unrepresentative of the broad mass of British people. They claim to champion 'new politics' but are mired in the British aristocracy and the mindsets of the City of London. Like its American counterpart, British politics now features just one ideology - focused on free market economics and regular elections between parties that manage capitalism. There is a Centre, a Right but no Left in British politics.

When Cameron says that Britain is 'broken' he means that ordinary people are to blame for moral decline. He should look a bit closer to home - and his offices in Downing Street - to find the real heart of moral corruption in this country.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

British-American Project Needs Investigation Too

Although former British Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, has been forced to resign because of his relationship with an unofficial adviser, Adam Werrity, the saga reveals another example of the numerous networks - pretty much all of them under the cover of being non-political and/or charitable - that operate to strengthen and consolidate the so-called special relationship between Britain and the United States.

The Fox-Werrity Atlantic Bridge organisation was wound up earlier this year after the charities' commission ruled it had no charitable functions or benefits and seemed largely a vehicle for channeling funds in Werrity's personal direction. Yet, the political functions of the Atlantic Bridge, which unified elements of Britain's and America's aggressively interventionist establishments, should not be overlooked. Its members included William Hague, the current foreign secretary, as well as George Osborn, the chancellor of the exchequer; American members included US Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democratic hawk who backed the Iraq War. Its neoconservative ethos of aggressive support for military intervention is shared by PM David Cameron - as evidenced by his enthusiasm in backing military force to oust Colonel Gaddafi from office in Libya.

Yet, it is not only the extreme right in British and American 'mainstream' politics that maintains such 'charitable' networks: the British-American Project, funded by major oil and other corporations and by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the subject of little public awareness or enquiry, represents a similar network on the centre-left, along lines Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would have approved. Indeed, it complemented the various schemes under which the future leaders of 'New' Labour were primed for high office, under the tutelage of the FCO's Jonathan Powell, who later went on to become Blair's chief of staff. Indeed, Powell was a member of BAP, as was David Miliband for many years.

What precisely does BAP do that is 'beneficial'? Is it not overtly political in its aims of developing and nurturing British elites to steer a path close to Washington's? Does it also benefit from tax exemptions under charities law?,

The BAP is a political project aimed at incorporating and developing rising stars in Britain - in a diverse range of fields - and ever so subtly helping them conclude that the United States - for all its faults - remains the power to which Britain's own chariot must remain hitched. The propaganda, to be sure, is subtle and needs to be - the sort of people attracted - whether Trevor Phillips of the Equalities Commission or Yasmin Alibhai Brown or Anatol Lieven, all critics of George W. Bush's adventurism - are not dupes. Yet, it is the very presence of such 'critics' that lends such weight to BAP.

Famously, Henry Kissinger ran for over 20 years a transatlantic organisation out of Harvard University for the very same ends - a bridge between Europe's emerging leaders who appeared seduced by 'neutralism' between the US and USSR and the American foreign policy establishment. It cemented relations that endure to this day. They made possible almost seamless cooperation between the foreign policies of Labour's Tony Blair and Republican George W. Bush, and the current cooperation between Democratic Obama and 'liberal-conservative' David Cameron.

The power of networks is considerable - they ensure the flow of money, people, and ideas that strengthen certain lines of thought and action while simultaneously marginalising others. Networks tend to legitimise some ideas and policies, making them 'normal' or 'conventional', beyond dispute at basic level. They tend to unify a range of people and organisations -public and private - and help develop new ideas or leaders. Being elite networks, they are by definition well connected with the media and politics and thereby gain a broader audience, skewing the 'free market of ideas' in specific directions.

The Atlantic Bridge has been exposed for its overtly political character: perhaps the British American Project should be subject to much closer investigation too?