About 200,000 Palestinians lived in the Yarmouk camp in a suburb of Damascus for more than 50 years. They were once held up as a symbol of Syrian support for the Palestinian cause, but when Syrian opposition forces moved in two years ago, Assad turned on the Palestinians, laying siege to the camp and blocking water and electricity supplies. Now Islamic State (‘Daesh’) jihadists have moved in, while Assad’s forces barrel-bomb the camp. The remaining Palestinians are trapped between the two forces of mass-murder.
Yet the UN stands by and does nothing. And the so-called Palestine Solidarity Campaign organises no protests and rounds up no celebrities to sign letters to the Guardian. Why not? Surely it’s not because on this occasion, Israel can’t be blamed?
To his credit, Mehdi Hasan speaks out.
Correction: the PSC has issued a statement … blaming Israel …
70 years on from the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz, where at least a million died, Steven Spielberg’s film, which includes testimonies from survivors is essential viewing; put aside 15 minutes to watch:
I am a woman. I am a Kurd. And since I entered this world, this is the second time that my family and my people are experiencing a genocide and massacre. And this is the story of our life.
This is the second time in 23 years, because of the threat of a genocide, there has been a mass exodus of my people to the borders of a hostile state, only to be shot at and beaten as they sought refuge from a greater evil.
This is the second time, in 23 years, that our girls have been carried away, erased from history; left only in the memory of those who loved them, forever left wallowing in the pits of the darkness that the evil in the hearts of some men forced on them. Their lives, their hopes, the love that they carried in their young hearts blowing away in the wind like the barely written pages in the rarest books; and surely each and every one of them was as rare and as precious as the next.
There is a certain beauty in the fleeting nature of life. The meaning of life is in the nature of our experiences and what these experiences teach us. Some of us go through life never knowing any better, never questioning life or our value or place in the scheme of things. We know with certainty that the wheel of time spins a life of joy and immense privilege. We know that only good things come to us tomorrow, and we lay ourselves to sleep each night knowing the certainty of a blessed life.
And then there are others who carry a load so heavy that the weight of their pain is enough to break a lessor person a million times over. And I think of the elderly Yazidi woman who had no one left but a son that she raised with the tears of her loneliness; only for him to be lost careless in the dozens of massacres by ISIL. As if his life was not worth every ache in the bones of this mother, whose hopeless weeping should have shamed a thousand men- if we lived in a better world. I think of the force of her despair as her tears burst from her broken heart, and I wonder, as my own heart bleeds in response, “how can she persevere?”. And I think of the five year old boy who carried his 18 month old sister across miles, in extreme heat, with no water or food with his little feet, so that he could escape from grown men meaning him harm his innocent mind could not fathom; and I think a child should never have to live such a terror- but I am only reminded of my own childhood, and I realize my heart is twisting because he reminds me of my older brother and how we grew up in war, in refugee camps, escaping another genocide, another massacre, in hunger and poverty and I KNOW that reality is different. And still, I think of the Yazidi girls, renowned for their beauty, being carried away for the pleasure of men who, surely if hell existed, deserve no better place. And I think of the mother whose six daughters and new bride had been carried away by this same evil, and I struggle to understand; and surely, “how can we ask them to bear such pain?”
And YET, today is Eid- the Festival of Sacrifices. And TODAY my people were meant to be sacrificed by ISIL as a gift to their people. And today is day 19 of the siege of Kobane. 19 days in which no support, food, aid and supplies have entered Kobane to the YPG AND YPJ forces simply because they are Kurds, and they are homeless, and because they dare to ask for the same right that so many people enjoy each and every single day. And, YET, against all odds, they persevere; because their brave hearts hope that one day they will leave this world a little bit better than when they entered it. One in which the Yazidi girls are safe and the little children are safe and in which Kurdish mothers do not celebrate their Eid in the graveyards of their sons and daughters, lost for a homeless nation.
And yet, we persevere. We persevere despite our tears. We persevere, because we must
NB: Coatesy’s coverage of the fight against IS (ISIS/ISIL), the need to stand with the Kurds, and the bankruptcy of the wretched ‘Stop The War Coalition’ (and its supporters at the Guardian) has been outstanding. He excelled himself today.
This is part one of a brilliant 1964 BBC series on WW1. It contains the best archive film then available, and is narrated by Michael Redgrave. It gives due emphasis to the socio-political background to the conflict, including the role of the labour movement. Well worth watching the whole series if you have the time:
H/t James Bloodworth
Coatesy has some interesting stuff on France’s entry to WW1 here
[Please note that I shall be incommunicado for the next week or so. I’m hoping Rosie and/or one or two other occasional Shirazers will step into the breach while I’m away, but if not normal service will resume on my return – JD]
Ernest Mandel once proposed that World War Two should be seen as, simultaneously, an inter-imperialist dispute and an anti-fascist struggle. The two elements are difficult to disentangle, even in retrospect, but both should be recognised and, insofar as we can, distinguished between. D-Day was, I’d contend, indubitably part of the anti-fascist struggle. The young workers who fought and died then, and the dwindling band of elderly survivors, deserve our profound respect and gratitude.
Max Hastings (yes, I know he’s a Tory, but he’s also a damned good military historian), wrote in his superb book on WW2, All Hell Let Loose (Harper Press 2011):
Meticulous planning and immense armaments promised Overlord‘s success, but the hazards of weather and the skill of the German army fed apprehension in many British and American breasts. The consequences of failure must be appalling: civilian morale would plummet on both sides of the Atlantic; senior commanders would have to be sacked and replaced; the presige of the Western Allies, so long derided by Stalin for feebleness, would be grievously injured, likewise the authority of Roosevelt and Churchill. Even after three year’s attrition in the east, the German army remained a formidable fighting force. It was vital that Eisenhower should confront von Rundstedt’s sixty divisions in the west with superior combat power. Yet the invaders were supported by such a vast logistical and support ‘tail’ that, even when they reached their maximum strength in 1945, they would deploy only sixty American and twenty British and Canadian combat divisions. Air power, together with massive armoured and artillery strength, was called upon to compensate for inadequate infantry numbers.
For the young men who made the assault on 6 June 1944, however, such grand truths meant nothing: they recognised only the mortal peril each one must face, to breach Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. The invasion began with drops by one British and two American airborne divisions on the night of5 June. The landings were chaotic but achieved their objectives, confusing the Germans and securing the flanks of the assault zone; paratroopers engaged enemy forces wherever they encountered them with an energy worthy of such elite formations.
Sgt. Mickey McCallum never forgot his first firefight, a few hours after landing. A German machine-gunner mortally wounded the man next to him, Private Bill Atlee. McCullum asked Attlee ‘if he was hit bad’. The soldier replied, ‘I’m dying Sergeant Mickey, but we’re going to win this damn war, aren’t we? You damn well A we are.’ McCallum did not know where Atlee hailed from, but thought his choice of words suggested an east coast man. He was passionately moved that this soldier, in his last moments, thought of the cause rather than himself. In the hours and days that followed, many other such young men displayed similar spirit and were obliged to make a matching sacrifice. At dawn on 6 June, six infantry divisions with supporting armour struck the beaches of Normandy across a thirty-mile front; one Canadian and two British formations landed on the left, three American divisions on the right.
Operation Overlord was the greatest combined operation in history. Some 5,300 ships carried 150,000 men and 1,500 tanks, scheduled to land in the first wave, supported by 12,000 aircraft. On the French coast that morning, a drama unfolded in three dimensions such as the world would never behold again, British and Canadian troops poured ashore at Sword, Juno and Gold beaches, exploiting innovative armoured technology to overwhelm the defences, many of them manned by Osttruppen of Hitler’s empire. ‘I was the first tank coming ashore and the Germans started opening up with machine-gun bullets,’ said Canadian Sgt. Leo Gariepy. ‘But when we came to a halt on the beach, it was only then that they realized we were a tank when we pulled down our canvas skirt, the flotation gear. Then they saw we were Shermans.’ Private Jim Cartwright of the South Lancashires said, ‘As soon as I hit the beach I wanted to get away from the water. I think I went across the beach like a hare.’
The Americans seized Utah, the elbow of the Cherbourg peninsula, with only a small loss. ‘You know, it sounds kind of dumb, but it was just like an exercise,’ said a private soldier wonderingly. ‘We waded ashore like kids in a crocodile and up the beach. A couple of shells came over but nowhere near us. I think I even felt somehow disappointed, a little let down.’ Further east at Omaha beach, however, Americans suffered the heaviest casualties of the day — more than eight hundred killed. The German defending unit , while no elite, was composed of better troops than those manning most of the Channel front, and kept up vigorous fire against the invaders. ‘No one was moving forward,’ wrote AP correspondent Don Whitehead. ‘Wounded men, drenched by cold water, lay in the gravel … “Oh God, lemme aboard the boat,” whimpered a youth in semi-delirium. Near him a shivering boy dug with bare fingers into the sand. Shells were bursting on all sides of us, some so close that they threw black water and dirt over us in showers.’
A private soldier wrote: ‘ There were men crying with fear, men defecating themselves. I lay there with some others, too petrified to move. No one was doing anything except lay there. It was like mass paralysis. I couldn’t see an officer. At one point something hit me on the arm. I thought I’d taken a bullet. It was somebody’s hand, taken clean off by something. It was too much.’ For half the morning, the Omaha assault hung on the edge of failure; only after several hours of apparent stalemate on the sands did small groups of determined men, Rangers notable among them, work their way up the bluffs above the sea, gradually overwhelming the defenders.
From Amnesty International:
North Korea is in a cateogory of its own for scale and breadth of human rights abuses. Now is the time for action
When Kim Young-soon was sent to political prison camp Yodok for ‘gossiping’ about former leader Kim Jong-il, her parents, daughter and sons were also imprisoned for ‘guilt by association’.
Each day, they were woken at 3.30am and forced to work until dark. When her parents starved to death, she wrapped their bodies in straw and buried them herself. Her children all died in the camp too.
In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (widely known as North Korea), there is no political opposition, no independent media, and no free trade unions or other civil society organisations.
The country has been in the grip of a devastating food crisis since the early 1990s, and nearly a million people have starved to death
At the heart of this vast network of repression and cruelty, are the political prison camps. Watch our video: the inside story of the prison camps
At least 100,000 people live in the prison camps. Satellite images we commissioned last year show the largest covering an area of approximately 215 square miles. Some people are sent there without charge, let alone a trial, and forced to work with little food or sleep.
Many die of overwork or malnutrition. Torture is rampant, and executions are commonplace.
A former guard at the country’s largest prison camp, Kwanliso 16, told us of women being raped by visiting officials then disappearing:
‘After a night of “servicing” the officials, the women had to die because the secret could not get out. This happens at most of the political prison camps.’ Former prison guard
Armed with evidence of the scale and depth of abuse within the country, we have been lobbying the United Nations to hold a Commission of Inquiry into North Korea for many years.
The inquiry began in March 2013, and published its final report today, laying bare the gruesome reality of life in North Korea. Among testimony given was an account of a woman forced to drown her own baby.
The world can no longer say it does not know what is happening in North Korea. And the North Korean regime can no longer deny this is happening. The UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council must now use their power and influence to ensure action.
Assad’s friends and supporters on the Stalinist and semi-Stalinist “left” have had little – in most cases nothing – to say about the report accusing his regime of the “systematic killing,” with photographic evidence of torture and starvation, of about 11,000 detainees.
When the Guardian and CNN broke the story on Wednesday, they made no secret of the fact that the report had been commissioned by the government of Qatar, which of course backs the rebels: I expected Assad’s western supporters and apologists to use this to attack the report’s credibility, even though the three authors are all former war crimes prosecutors with impeccable records, and their main source, “Caesar” provided photographic evidence that experts have pronounced genuine beyond reasonable doubt.
In fact, Assad’s UK supporters – the Morning Star, and the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’ – have said simply nothing. One would like to think this was the result of embarrassment and shame. But these people know no shame. The truth is, they simply don’t care, and are betting on their man eventually winning. One doesn’t have to harbour illusions in the rebels (we at Shiraz certainly don’t) to be revolted by the degeneracy of a “left” that can give de facto support to this butcher, and turn a blind eye to killing and torture on an industrial scale.
One exception is the unabashed Assad supporter John Wight over at the miss-named Socialist Unity blog: this preposterous male model, jew-baiter and failed bit-part actor makes no secret of his panting, Gallowayesque admiration for tyrants and strong-men, and wallows in his world of conspiracy-theories. But at least (unlike his gaffer Nooman) he makes no secret of his love for the mass-murderer Assad, and – against all the evidence – simply refuses to accept the findings of the report.
I’ve received this, and would urge you all to respond:
Since you’re the type of person who believes no child should be left without an education, we’re writing to you with an important update on the crisis of Syrian refugee children. Back in September, A World at School delivered a petition at the United Nations calling on world leaders to provide education for nearly 400,000 Syrian children exiled in Lebanon.
Since then, leaders have developed a plan to deliver education in the worst refugee crisis since World War II. The plan is now ready to go and on Wednesday, major international donors will be asked to pledge their support for humanitarian relief to help victims of the Syrian conflict.
Now we need you to send a message to the international donor community to make the plan reality and get these children back to school.
Join our Thunderclap this Tuesday to call for swift action.
It can be done. Public support has put the issue on the table and pressure is growing for immediate action. We need you to remind the world’s leaders why they have to do something NOW.
We cannot let up. More than 5,000 young people are fleeing the conflict each week into Lebanon alone. Without education they face becoming a lost generation.
Click here and help make A World at School a reality for Syrian children.
PS: Join the Youth Education Crisis Committee Google Hangout this January 15 to learn more about how to create @aworldatschool for #childrenofsyria: http://bit.ly/KFCYeN
By Eric Lee (at the Workers Liberty website)
The downfall of Chang Song-thaek, once considered the second most powerful person in North Korea, is a lesson in history for a new generation – and not only in Korea.
The parallels to Soviet history are so striking that one almost wonders if Kim Jong-un read Robert Conquest’s “The Great Terror” – the classic history of the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s.
That’s not an entirely rhetorical question either, as Kim was educated abroad and may well have had access to history books denied to ordinary North Koreans.
In any event, the regime he now heads openly reveres Stalin and is perhaps the only one in the world that does so.
Fidel Castro has criticized Stalin, but also says “He established unity in the Soviet Union. He consolidated what Lenin had begun: party unity.”
People with only a passing acquaintance with Soviet history may be surprised to discover that nearly all the victims of Stalin’s massive purge which peaked in 1937 were not, in fact, oppositionists.
Nearly all the former White Guards, Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries had already been killed or exiled. And there were practically no survivors of earlier purges directed against Bolshevik opponents of Stalin such as Trotsky or Zinoviev by the time the Great Terror was unleashed. (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and others were kept alive – but their supporters were either dead or in the GULAG by the time of the great show trials.)
Stalin’s victims in 1937 were overwhelmingly loyal supporters of his regime, including almost the entire leadership of the Communist Party and the Red Army.
Chang Song-thaek was, as far as we know, a loyal supporter of the Kim dynasty and the North Korean regime his entire life.
His sacking, swift trial and and even swifter execution fit precisely the pattern seen throughout the USSR in the last years of the 1930s as thousands of Communist Party leaders went to their deaths – often believing that the great Stalin had nothing to do with what was happening.
Media coverage in the West shows some basic misunderstandings of how a classically Stalinist reign of terror unfolds.
For example, as soon as word came out that Chang Song-thaek was executed, some Western journalists speculated that his wife might come next.
But then reports came out saying that Chang’s widow, Kim Kyung-hee, had actually demanded his execution.
Instead of being arrested herself, she was promoted to a prominent state committee.
This process – leading the calls for her husband to be killed, thenapparently being accepted back into the fold – is classic Stalinist practice.
Unfortunately for Kim Kyung-hee, it will inevitably be followed with the discovery that she was as guilty as her late and unlamented husband. Her days are numbered – and she certainly knows this.
The language used by the regime – which referred to Chang as “despicable human scum … who was worse than a dog” reminds one BBC journalist of Shakespeare, but the inspiration surely is the Stalinist prosecutor Andrey Vyshinsky, who infamously declared during one of the Moscow trials:
“Shoot these rabid dogs. Death to this gang who hide their ferocious teeth, their eagle claws, from the people! … Down with these abject animals! Let’s put an end once and for all to these miserable hybrids of foxes and pigs, these stinking corpses!”
The chronology of Chang’s downfall also follows a template perfected by Stalin and his secret police boss Yezhov during the Terror.
First of all, Chang’s closest associates were brought down – and apparently, publicly executed.
It was standard practice in Stalin’s USSR to discover traitors and spies at lower levels, and then to use this to topple powerful men who had “protected” them and covered up their treason.
One cannot understand what is happening in North Korea without understanding Stalin. This lack of historical context is causing even academic experts to mis-read developments – and to make wildly inaccurate predictions.
One of these is the argument that the current purge will somehow weaken the Kim regime.
Some North Korean defectors now living in the South are spreading reports they’ve heard that some North Koreans consider the execution of Chang a sign of weakness by the young leader.
But this ignores not only the Stalinist template he appears to be following, but even the history of the specifically North Korean variant of Stalinism.
Kim’s grand-father, Kim Il-sung, did not inherit his post as Great Leader from his father, but rose to power on the corpses of political rivals – many of them loyal Communists.
His grandson is simply following in the family footsteps – and continuing with a tradition that began in Russia nearly eight decades ago.
JD adds: the editorial in Monday’s Morning Star indicates a rather dramatic change of line by the Communist Party of Britain since this 2003 internal report (written by our old sparring-partner Andrew Murray) stated “Our Party has already made its basic position of solidarity with Peoples Korea clear.”
Above: classic isolationism from Charles Lindbergh in 1941
Nick Cohen (in today’s Observer):
“The type of person who regards any western intervention as always wrong and every dictator as the “demonised” victim of “orientalist” prejudice will be pleased by that result. But I wouldn’t cheer too loudly if I were in their shoes. What the majority of the public believe cannot be translated into any kind of leftwing sentiment. They think, I guess, that Arabs and Muslims are all the same. They all want to kill each other. They are all barbarians. “Why should we try to save them? They will only turn on us if we do.”
We don’t always agree with Cohen, but his column in today’s Observer is right on the money.
Even (perhaps especially) those of us who, on balance, oppose intervention in Syria, need to read this, and reflect…