Above: Charles Lindbergh puts the Stop The War case for non-intervention in WW2
BBC Radio 4′s ‘Any Questions’ is a pretty reliable barometer of middle-England, middle class opinion. These days, anyone on the panel who denounces intervention of any kind in overseas conflicts, can be guaranteed a big round of applause, regardless of whether the speaker is from the isolationist right or the ‘anti-imperialist’ left.
This week’s programme, inevitably, included a question about Syria, and the panel was unanimous in opposing the idea of arming the opposition, to the obvious approval of the audience. Right wing Tory isolationist Daniel Hannan put the non-intervention case most succinctly when he said “It’s not our business… in Syria we have no connections …we have no particular interest.”
Smug, shallow leftist commentator Mehdi Hasan (New Statesman and Huffington Post) chimed in with his familiar, sanctimonious riff along the lines of one sides’s as bad as the other … both sides have been accused of using chemical weapons … sending the rebels weapons or imposing a no-fly zone will just make matters worse…etc. etc…
Hannon, who made it clear that he agreed with Hasan’s isolationist conclusions, was honest enough to chip in with the following:
“A one-sided arms embargo is a form of intervention, as it was in Bosnia, as it was in the Spanish Civil War. If you’re allowing one side free access to global weaponry and denying the other [weapons] then you are in practice intervening.”
An important point, that the isolationist movement of both left and right rarely acknowledge. The assumption, all too often, is that only military intervention costs lives, while staying out of it saves lives. Patent nonsense, once you think about it, but that’s the presumption upon which people like the so-called Stop The War Coalition and their media stooges, expect us to accept their case.
Hopi Sen puts the contrary view very well in a recent piece on the cost of non-intervention in Syria:
The last decade has been a steady retreat from intervention.
We know why. We saw the terrible costs of intervention first hand, while the deaths of the Marsh Arabs, the repression of the Kurds, the brutality of Saddam’s regime (and yes, our real-politik driven complicity in that regime) were somehow forgotten. We even managed to forget that the cost of containment was a society trapped by sanctions, a price worth paying for the containment of a regime we did not wish to overthrow.
Yet now, in Syria, we also see the price of inaction.
I make the following comparison not to compare the loss, or the war, or the justice of either, but to compare our reaction to each.
The rate of violent death in Syria is already more than double that in the bloodiest year of the Iraq war. Around 170,000 have died in Iraq in the decade since the war. More than half that are dead in Syria already, and the violent deaths are increasing rapidly. Where is the outrage of the humanitarian left? Where are the marches and the vigils? The petitions and the disbelief? Where are the Anti-War Marches?
Further, doing nothing has increased regional instability. Already Hizbollah are killing Syrian rebels, with who knows what consequences for Lebanon. Israel is both nervous of Islamism and of an unstable Syrian government. Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan and Jordan are having to cope with some one and a half million refugees.
These are the results of the policy we chose.
Would things have been better if we had intervened directly? Would the slaughter have been less with a No Fly zone, or airstrikes on Syrian forces mounting aggression, or if we had supported secular, moderate rebels early? Would things have been better if we had even made it clear to Russia that there was some action that we would not tolerate?
That I can’t know, just as I cannot know what would have happened in Iraq this past decade if Saddam had been left to imprison and murder his people under a sanctions regime that killed innocent civilians in order to constrain their torturers.
No-one can really know “what if“.
The awful truth is that inaction and intervention both have terrible costs, and those who decide between them cannot ever truly know what will result. Some forgot that in the last decade, choosing to believe that only intervention could have a terrible price. I don’t forget the reverse now.
Just because the policy we have pursued has become a catastrophe does not mean the policy was undoubtedly and obviously wrong.
But by God, I wish we felt more shame for what we have not done for the people of Syria.
(Read the full article here)
Exactly 100 years ago, Emily Davison was trampled by King George V’s horse Anmer when she burst onto the track at the Epsom Derby. She died four days later from a fractured skull and internal injuries caused by the incident.
She was a courageous campaigner for women’s suffrage, who had already shown herself willing to put her life on the line in the course of the struggle for women’s votes. She’d been imprisoned no less than nine times, force-fed, her cell flooded by the authorities, and flung herself down a staircase in Holloway prison.
On the night of the 1911 census, Davison hid in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster overnight so that on the census form her place of residence that night would be recorded as “The House of Commons.” In 1999 a plaque to commemorate that event was set in place by Tony Benn.
But her very courage has allowed detractors over the years to brand her as a suicidal obsessive, not the principled and courageous campaigner that she was.
Now, a detailed analysis of the film from the three newsreel cameras that recorded the incident, has shown that Davison did not deliberately martyr herself, but was almost certainly trying to attach a ’votes for women’ sash to the bridle of the King’s horse.
The film of that day still has the power to shock, 100 years on:
The fatal incident occurs at about 6.08, but it’s well worth watching the entire film.
PS: We should also remember the jockey, Herbert Jones. He suffered mild concussion in the incident, but was “haunted by that poor woman’s face” for the rest of his life. In 1928, at the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst, Jones laid a wreath “to do honour to the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and Miss Emily Davison”. In 1951, Jones committed suicide in a gas-filled kitchen.
Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (‘Le Sacre du Printemps’) opened 100 years ago in Paris, to derisive laughter that quickly developed into a riot. The orchestra was bombarded with vegetables and other missiles, but kept playing. Nijinsky’s choreography, featuring dancers dressed as pagans, caused as much outrage as Stravinsky’s polyrhythmic and dissonant score.
The critics (and some fellow-composers) were savage:
“The work of madman …sheer cacophony” - Giacomo Puccini
“A laborious and puerile barbarity” Henri Quittard, Le Figaro
“If that’s a bassoon, then I’m a baboon!” – Camille Saint-Saëns
It was “a revolutionary work for a revolutionary time” as George Benjamin writes in today’s Graun.
‘Riot of Spring’: Norman Lebrecht in Standpoint, here.
Above: Stephen Malinowski’s animation of Part 1 ‘The Adoration of the Earth’ (from NPR)
Where have we encountered views like this (see below) before?
A UKIP candidate has blamed the holocaust on Jews, claiming that World War II was engineered by “Zionists”. According to local press reports, Anna-Marie Crampton wrote on her Facebook — which also contains pictures of her with Nigel Farage:
“The Rothschilds are Zionists. There is a difference between Jews and Zionists. These Psychopaths hide behind and use the Jews. It was thanks to them that six million Jews were murdered in the War along with 26 million Russians.”
Crampton — who will be on the ballot paper in East Sussex whether UKIP sack her or not — also references the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-semitic hoax professing to be a plan for worldwide Jewish domination:
“Read the Protocols of Zion, all you need to know is in there and it’s in their own words”
Above: Jenny, Laura and Eleanor in the foreground; Engels and KM behind
“there is a deep and enduring connection between the reconstruction of socialism as an enlightened, cosmopolitan radicalism and the overcoming of anti-Semitism in all its shapes and forms” - Bob Fine (see below)
The present issue if the neo-con magazine Standpoint carries a pretty vicious attack on Karl Marx as an individual, including the old canard of his alleged anti-Semitism:
Much more serious than plagiarism is the fact of Marx’s anti-Semitism and racism. Many Marx scholars are still squeamish about this subject, but the evidence is undeniable. The authorities on this subject are Julius Carlebach and Robert Wistrich, neither of whom is cited by the new biographers, but who agree that Marx went beyond any previous expressions of anti-Semitism by blaming Jews for the corruption of Christian society and demanding their “abolition”. Marx’s early essays “On the Jewish Question” are, in the words of Carlebach, “a logical and indispensable link between Luther and Hitler”. Marx vilified Jews — “whose god is the bill of exchange” and who created Christianity in order “to attain world dominion” — and Judaism, a religion so “anti-social” that it “makes even the lavatory an object of divine law”. Later, his anti-Semitism became less Hegelian and more racist. His notorious description of his benefactor and rival Ferdinand Lassalle as “a Jewish nigger”, whom he accused of selling out the socialists to Bismarck, is all the more odious when one considers that Marx had in fact allowed himself to be used by the Austrian government as a source of intelligence on the exiled revolutionaries in London. He also demonised Jewish bankers in his 1856 article “The Russian Loan”: “Thus we find every tyrant is backed by a Jew, as is every Pope by a Jesuit.” Marx loved conspiracy theories: he believed, for instance, that the English ruling class, led by Lord Palmerston, was in the pay of tsarist Russia.
Read the whole article here.
The charge of anti-Semitism against Marx has also been made recently by Nick Cohen in an otherwise quite good article. It is undoubtedly true that ‘On The Jewish Question’ contains some (to contemporary sensibilities) unpleasant formulations that have given some latter-day “Marxists” an excuse to engage in unforgivable anti-Semitism (including in below-the-line comments on this blog in the past).
But Marx was a person of his time, and deserves to be judged accordingly. Hal Draper (a strong opponent of anti-Semitism) defended Marx against this charge in a 1977 article , but the best answer (imho) has been provided by Bob Fine on the ‘Engage’ website in 2006:
Let us explode the myth that Karl Marx was in some sense anti-Semitic in his critique of capitalism. The myth arises in part out of the inability of a very diverse array of commentators to read Marx in the original, in part out of a deafness to the uses of the ironic style in Marx’s writings, and especially out of the presupposition of an intimate association between revolutionary socialism and anti-Semitism. From his earliest writings Marx sought to develop a radical critique of all existing conditions which distinguished itself from other forms of radicalism by its complete and explicit rejection of any anti-Semitic coloration.
There were to be sure, strong anti-Semitic currents on the European left in Marx’s time, but Marx defined himself and his own radicalism in opposition to such currents. In the latter half of the nineteenth century the ‘left’, if we can call it thus, was a battle ground on which anti-Semitic and anti-anti-Semitic currents battled with one another right up until the Dreyfus case in France. The position of Marx was one which clearly and distinctly had no truck with anti-Semitism in any form and his particular supplement was to show that anti-Semitism was a symptom of deep political problems within what might broadly be called the communist or anti-capitalist movement. On the whole, Marx did not see anti-Semitism as a motivating force on the left but rather as a sign of other political and intellectual deficiencies.
Marx’s 1843 essay On the Jewish Question was an important and early case in point. In this essay Marx’s aim was to defend the right of Jews to full civil and political emancipation (that is, to equal civil and political rights) alongside all other German citizens. The target of Marx’s critique was one of the mainstays of the young Hegelian movement, a well-known radical by the name of Bruno Bauer. In the previous year Bauer had written a text called The Jewish Question, in which he argued that Jews had to give up their Judaism if they were to become worthy of equal rights. His core argument was this: that as long as Jews remain Jewish, they are too consumed by Jewish self-interest and communalism to be worthy of full citizenship. In effect, Bauer was calling for opposition to the nascent movement for Jewish emancipation in Germany. His long essay was replete with anti-Semitic themes: if Jews were ill-treated in the Christian world, they provoked this mistreatment by their obstinacy; Jews were not hated because they were misunderstood since true understanding ought to lead to hatred; Jews had lost interest in the progress of man and concentrated entirely on personal advantage; Jews had evolved no moral principle from their suffering; and so forth. Read the rest of this entry »
Cartoon by Gerald Scarfe
Guest post by Dr Ian Taylor
Some will say this is too soon, and others will say it’s a bit late, but in my judgement now is probably the most appropriate time to look back on the Thatcher years and decide whether they were good or bad for Britain. I guess it’s fair to say that the title I’ve gone with gives a fairly big clue as to where I stand on this one. Nonetheless, I seize on her incompetence for a reason: Her supporters will often concede that she may not have been the nicest person in the country, but argue that at least she turned this place around. The fact that she made a difference can hardly be disputed. But it certainly wasn’t for the better.
All I really want to do with this posting is present a few facts about the economy which is where her greatest achievements were supposed to lie. I’ve also given the crime figures. If the analysis that follows seems somewhat detached and dispassionate, that too is for a reason. My intention is simply to get a few important facts into the public domain to provide some ammunition against the ‘wasn’t she wonderful’ crap that we’ve had to endure over the past fortnight or so. As a middle-class teenager in the 1980s I can certainly remember her reign, but I am sure that others can speak with far more authority about what it was like to endure record levels of crime, poverty and/or unemployment. If not, I leave it to the reader’s powers of empathy and imagination to figure out what that must have been like.
On average the economy grew by about 2.3% from 1979 to 1990. This is hardly an amazing achievement: Tony Blair (of whom I am no fan) averaged 2.5%; while the average during the post-war Keynesian era was closer to 3%. And of course, Thatcher’s Premiership coincided with a time when Britain was best placed to exploit North Sea oil reserves. In terms of pure economic performance her record is distinctly unimpressive. Nonetheless, growth of 2.3% wouldn’t be so bad were her years in office not bookended by two recessions that gave us unprecedented levels of unemployment.
In 1979 unemployment stood at 1.5 million. Within a year of Thatcher coming to power it had rocketed upwards, and stayed at above 3 million from 1983 to 1987. Thereafter it fell slightly, although not below 2 million – a figure that would have been unthinkable in the ’50s, ’60s or even the ’70s. Unemployment then rose up again past in the 3 million mark in the recession of the early ’90s.
Thatcher’s apologists, like former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, like to point to the reduction in the number of days work per annum lost to strikes during her Premiership: down from 29.5 million in 1979 to 1.9 million by 1986 he says. What he’s rather less keen to talk about is the number of days’ worth of productivity lost in that year (or any other) due to unemployment. 3.2 million out of work that year multiplied by 240 working days a year amounts to 768 million days lost in 1986 alone.
In the 1980s interest rates rose to double figures – higher than they’d ever been before, or since.
This is something that her supporters like to harp on about, albeit without uttering the word ‘poll’. In truth, she cut taxes for the rich, whilst increasing them for the poor with the poll tax and through VAT rises.
This was, apparently, another big triumph of her economic policy. In truth, inflation rose to 18% in 1981, and moreover, was higher when she left office than when she came in: 11% compared to 10.3%. It’s true that on average inflation was lower in the ‘80s than in the previous decade, but then again inflation fell around the world during the 1980s: Given that inflation is largely determined by the price of raw materials the fall hardly seems like a major achievement, particularly in the light of the aforementioned figures.
Where to begin on this one? The proportion of children living in poverty in this country more than doubled under Thatcher: rising from 14% of children in 1979 to 31% by 1990. Meanwhile, according to a recent Guardian ‘Data blog’, the number of people living below 60% of medium income rose from 13.4% to 22.2% under Thatcher. These figures continued to rise under John Major, but when seen in comparative context it ought to be understood that they were far from inevitable. The number of people living in poverty had been falling throughout the 20th Century up until 1979, and, to give credit where it is due, the number of children growing up in poverty also fell slightly during the New Labour years.
In 1979 there were 2.5 million crimes recorded in the UK; by 1990 that number stood at 4.5 million. The 1980s also saw some of the worst rioting in British cities of the 20th Century. You’d think that things like this would embarrass the ‘party of law and order.’
In short, Thatcher’s legacy is a thoroughly shameful one.
“I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave. By my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people” - “The Last Letter from the Bund Representative with the Polish National Council in Exile”.
From the Economist blog:
By GG, Jerusalem, Warsaw
THE 19th of April 1943, exactly 70 years ago, saw the first insurrection against the Nazis in occupied Europe: the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The event symbolises both Jewish courage and Jewish suffering. For Poland, its anniversary is also a resonant event in the country’s ongoing reconnection with its Jewish heritage and fight against anti-Semitism.
Last week, more than a hundred volunteers showed up to work on cleaning and restoring the dilapidated Jewish cemetery, perhaps the strongest visual testament to the fact that this city was once one of the largest Jewish centres in the world – and is no more. Almost none of them were Jewish. They told me they had come out of a sense of duty.
The event had been listed on a website devoted to the anniversary commemorations, which are extensive. From now until the May 16th when the Great Synagogue on Tłomackie Street was destroyed, marking the end of the uprising and effectively of all Jewish life in Warsaw, the city hosts ceremonies, exhibitions, concerts and lectures devoted to Poland’s Jewish heritage.
The new Museum of the History of Polish Jews is co-ordinating much of the proceedings. It has used the occasion to officially open as an educational centre even though its permanent exhibition is a year away from being ready evidently hoping its impressive architecture and cultural programme will trump the dubious symbolism of its emptiness.
The guest of honour is Simcha Rotem (Wikipedia entry here), nom de guerre ‘Kazik’. At 89, he is the only former member of the Jewish Combat Organisation (ŻOB) still in good enough health to make the trip. I met him in Israel, where he has lived since shortly after the war, last month. Though tired and in low spirits, he told our correspondent he had decided long ago that if he could possibly make it to this anniversary, he would, regardless of what kind of commemoration was planned for the sake of the memory of his comrades who are no longer alive.
Some of those comrades did live for years after the war though—thanks to Kazik. His is an astonishing story of courage and luck in hellish circumstances. As a 19-year-old, fair-haired ruffian from the Warsaw district of Czerniaków, Kazik did not look Jewish. For that reason the insurgent leader, Marek Edelman, chose him to go to the Aryan side and try to organise a rescue operation for the Jews trapped in the ghetto, already in flames.
After a week on the Aryan side, Kazik finally found two sewer workers who thanks to much goading with vodka in one hand and a pistol in the other, showed him an underground route back into the ghetto. Emerging on Zamenhofa street, he found nothing but smouldering ruins.
It’s at that point that Simcha Rotem’s testimony ends Claude Lanzmann’s epic documentary, Shoah: he believes he is the “last Jew” and has nothing left to do but wait for the Germans. But that is not what he did.
Returning to the sewers, he hears voices: a dozen or so fighters. They say there are more hiding elsewhere, and he tells them to gather and make their way through the sewers to a manhole under Prosta Street, just outside the ghetto.
Simcha Rotem to this day does not know exactly people he saved: “A few dozen. Do you think I had time to count them?” he exclaims. After meeting the group in the sewer, he had returned to the Aryan side and organised for two vans to pick up the survivors at dawn. Only one van arrived, at 10am, and its driver had to be held at gunpoint to prevent him from driving off while the Jews were coming out of the manhole.
After it seemed that no-one else was emerging from the manhole, Kazik told the van to move off. Against all the odds, the few dozen made it to safety the forests north of Warsaw. Yet some had remained underground. Simcha Rotem has had to live with the idea that perhaps he could have done better. But today he says he feels it was the only decision he could make in the circumstances: “The Germans were 100 metres away. It was broad daylight. It was now or never.”
Asked whether his memory of that moment is still vivid today, Simcha Rotem is almost offended: “It is not the sort of thing a person could forget”. His anger at the Nazis is still very much alive, too: “I regret in a way that we didn’t get revenge on the SS. Because they were not conscripts, they chose to do what they did. So they were murderers. And murderers should be hanged. They were not people, but animals walking upright.”
Fear that the world could forget the horror of the Holocaust, or that it could happen again, animates those who do remember it ever more as their numbers dwindle. Irena Boldok, who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto aged eight or nine, gives talks in schools and elsewhere as a member of the Children of the Holocaust association. She speaks gloomily about the experience: “some of them understand, not many. It’s hard to talk to fourteen-year-old kids. It is like a history lesson for them.”
According to the Polish psychologist Barbara Engelking, one reason the ghetto uprising did not happen sooner is that Jews in the Warsaw ghetto maintained the illusion that they might live: the death camps were simply beyond human imagination. With fewer and fewer survivors around to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust, marking the anniversaries of its key events becomes an ever more important way of ensuring that we don’t forget something that was so unthinkable at the time.
While searching Youtube for the famous (infamous?) “Kinnock: The Movie” 1987 election broadcast, I came upon this less well remembered, but excellent broadcast from the same election. I understand that Ed Miliband’s in a rather awkward position right now (not helped by Blair’s disloyal intervention), but he really ought to have a look at this, and reflect on the fact that there was a time when the Labour leadership felt able to tell the unvarnished truth about Thatcher, the Tories and what they represent: