Above: Brown and Blair
Gordon Brown is in many respects a tragic figure: a man who lived and breathed politics, but when he finally achieved his burning ambition, blew it in spectacular fashion.
He also has had some real tragedy in his personal life.
By most accounts, a brooding, resentful character and (according to some) a bit of a bully, he can also (again, according to some) be very entertaining in private and is very loyal to his friends. Compared to his erstwhile friend, the superficial chancer Tony Blair, Brown is a deep and thoughtful character. In contrast to the lightweight and eclectic Blair, he is a man of the labour movement. – which makes his role in creating the foul aberration that was New Labour somehow more treacherous than that of the ideologically footloose semi-Tory Blair.
Brown’s splendid role towards the end of the Scottish referendum campaign gave us a momentary glimpse of just what a principled and passionate figure he could have been. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a traitor even to the reformist tradition in which he stands, but part of me can’t help liking him and even feels some pity for him. Perhaps, away from mainstream politics he’ll make some amends for New Labour and do some worthwhile campaigning on issues like girls’ rights, that are clearly very important to him and his wife Sarah. I certainly hope so, because I really want to like and respect him.
Forty years ago tonight, two bombs exploded inside busy pubs in the centre of Birmingham, killing 21 people and injuring another 182. In the light of atrocities that have happened since, this may not seem such a shocking incident, but at the time it was traumatic – we in mainland Britain had not experienced such an attack upon civilians since the Second World War. There never was any serious doubt that (with or without the knowledge of the Army Council) members of the Provisional IRA were responsible, though to this day Sinn Fein and their now-mainstream representatives have failed to acknowledge it.
An additional six people can be added to the tally of victims: the innocent men who were each deprived of 16 years of their liberty for a crime they didn’t commit.
I was living in Birmingham at the time, a young student member of the International Socialists. The bombings made a major and permanent impression upon me, but I’ll come to that later. First, I’ll deal with what happened within the working class in Birmingham, then with the response on the left.
There was a massive and vicious backlash against all Irish people in Birmingham. Anyone of Irish extraction or with any known Irish connection, was immediately put in fear of their life. A worker who was known to have played the pipes at an IRA funeral was strung up at Rover Solihull (he survived, but only by luck). Johnny Bryant, a member of ‘Workers Fight’ (forerunner of the AWL) was driven out of his job at Lucas, never able to return. In shops, offices and factories throughout Birmingham, people of Irish extraction or with Irish names were terrified and quite a few went into hiding. A massive march took place from the Longbridge car plant to the City Centre. Socialist activists at Longbridge had to make a quick decision as to how to react. The Communist Party who dominated the Longbridge Joint Shop Stewards Committee simply went to ground. The International Socialists, who had a few shop stewards and supporters in the plant, decided to join the march in order to argue against any anti-Irish backlash and to prevent the National Front taking the lead. They were surely right to do so. Immediately after the march, IS students (including myself) joined Frank Henderson and others in leafleting the city centre against any backlash.
To the best of my knowledge, no-one actually died as a result of the backlash in Birmingham, but that was purely a matter of luck. The atmosphere was murderous and Irish people, and those of Irish extraction, were living in real fear for their lives.
The left was in a state of shock, just like everyone else. The Communist Party and their Irish-in-Britain front, the ‘Connolly Association’, simply waited for things to blow over. The IS, which had shop stewards in major factories like Longbridge and Lucas, was in political disarray, though individual IS militants (notably Frank Henderson at Longbridge), often played principled and even heroic roles. As stated above, Frank and the other IS shop stewards and activists at Longbridge joined the protest march and argued against the anti-Irish backlash. IS members with Irish names simply went into hiding – and who can blame them?
But despite the brave and principled role of IS industrial militants like Frank, the organisation as a whole was disorientated and incoherent. No-one knew what the “line” was – whether we continued to give “critical but unconditional” support to the Provos or not. The following week’s Socialist Worker didn’t help: the headline was “STOP THE BOMBINGS – troops out now”, which didn’t really clarify matters. Was “STOP THE BOMBINGS” a demand on the Provos? Were we suggesting that the bombings were, in reality, a just and/or inevitable consequence of the presence of the troops? What the hell were we saying?
About a week after the bombings IS held an emergency meeting for all Birmingham members in the upstairs room of a city centre pub. Duncan Hallas did the lead-off, and quoted extensively from the Official IRA paper, denouncing the bombings. Inevitably, several comrades responded by asking why, therefore, we supported the Provos, instead of the Officials, whose ‘line’ on individual terrorism seemed much closer to ours. My recollection is that Hallas didn’t really have an answer to that, and the meeting ended in a sullen and resentful atmosphere of dissatisfaction. We all knew that Hallas had been talking bollocks, but we didn’t know what the answer was. The reaction of many IS industrial militants was that it was best to steer clear of any involvment with “difficult” issues like Ireland, and to stick to “pure” industrial work.
For myself, the bombing was a sort of political coming of age. It taught me that the IS was incoherent and unprincipled on the question of Ireland, and nationalism more generally. It taught me that international issues cannot be divorced from industrial work. Most importantly, it taught me that politics is not a game or a pass-time: working class people had died and we had to have something to say. Ultimately, it taught me that simplistic “anti-imperialism” that costs working class lives is no way forward. It helped me to grow up politically – but at a terrible price.
PS: an untold story: The role of the firefighters and cabbies.
Fire engine driver Alan Hill was on duty at Birmingham Highgate station that night, and was called to the scene of the first bomb, at the Mulberry Bush pub. He told Birmingham historian Carl Chinn (in the Birmingham Mail five years ago) the following:
“There was now complete gridlock in the city. The only option I had was to do a reverse run down the full length of Corporation Street against the one way traffic pouring out of the city centre. It was totally against brigade policy but I really had no alternative.
“When I reached the bottom of Corporation Street, I turned left into New Street.
“Talk about out of the frying pan into the fire. Seconds before, another bomb had expolded at the Tavern in the Town basement pub in New Street..
“The street was a scene of utter devastation.
“We sent a radio message to Fire Control explaining the position and requesting another four fire engines and forty ambulances to assist us. There was only the four of us. There were around 150 casualties. Many were trapped inside the dark basement.
“The officer in charge of the fire engine, John Frayne, who at the age of 28 was the oldest member of the crew realised it would be ages before assistance arrived.
“John explained our position to the crowd and asked for volunteers. Twelve brave men stepped forward to assist us.
“The other two firemen, Nigel Brown and Martin Checkley, were already down in the basement.
“Although I had requested 40 ambulances I realised we would be lucky to get any. It was a case of first come first served and I knew the firemen at the Mulberry Bush had already requested every available ambulance in the city. My stomach sank to my fire boots.
“With every alarm bell in the street ringing, it was difficult to hear yourself think, but about 12 minutes into the incident someone behind me was clearly shouting ‘Alan.’ I turned around. It was George Kyte.
“George was a taxi owner driver who lived in Corisande Road, Selly Oak. I knew George well I had worked with him in the past as his night driver.
“With typical understatement George said ‘I know you’re busy. I am on a rank in Stephenson Place. A couple have asked me to take them to hospital. Can I do that and will you need their details?’
“I could have kissed him.
“I told George, ‘Get on your radio. Make an emergency call. I need every available cab in the city here at this address now URGENT.’ Within seconds the message was sent via the TOA radio system.
“Access into New Street had been blocked by a cordon set up in St Martins Circus so the street was claer of passing traffic. Within a matter of moments the glow of an orange taxi sign became clearly visible in the darkness at the end of the street. It looked like a stretch limo. It turned out to be 25 black cabs nose to tail moving slowly towards us.
“It was the start of the ‘scoop and run’ method. As many casualties and carers as possible were packed into each cab and taken immediately to the Accident and General hospitals. Almost 100 casualties were removed from the scene outside the Tavern on the first taxi run.
“Other cabs appeared on the scene soon afterwards and were joined by cabs returning from the first run. Even two ‘black and white’ cars that shared the TOA radio scheme turned up.
“Considering that there would have been no more than 50 black cabs working the entire city at that time of a Thursday night, the reponse was overwhelming… without any shadow of a doubt there would have been far more fatalities that night from trauma and blood loss had the taxi drivers not responded in such a magnificent and selfless manner.”
The most famous World War One poets – Sassoon, Brook, Owen, Blunden and Binyon – were officers from the British middle and upper classes. Isaac Rosenberg (above) was different: he was from a working class background and, as his name suggests, was Jewish. He served in the ranks and turned down the opportunity to become a lance corporal.
Also unlike most of the better-known 1914-18 poets, he was critical of the war from the start, but enlisted in 1915 because he needed employment to support his mother.
He was killed on the Somme on 1 April 1918.
Break of Day in the Trenches
The darkness crumbles away
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies,
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver -what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.
The late Robin Williams was, by all accounts, a good guy. He was certainly on our side:
I was going to write a spoof article, loosely based upon the oeuvre of the Graun‘s Shameless Milne, blaming “the West” and the “fascist” Ukraine government for the MH17 atrocity. But I see that Mr John Wight of Socialist Unity (and Russia Today) has saved me the trouble. Only I fear Mr Wight’s piece is intended to be taken seriously. I republish it here as an (perhaps extreme) example of the crass stupidity, hypocrisy, pig-ignorance and wilful denial of reality that continues to infect sections of the so-called “left” when it comes to international affairs:
By John Wight (pictured above)
The downing of a Malaysian passenger aircraft over eastern Ukraine is a terrible tragedy. Almost 300 people have been killed in the most awful circumstances and though it is self evident that a full and thorough investigation must follow to find out what happened, its conclusions will be scant comfort to the families and loved ones of those who perished.
That said, the mind boggles that a civilian passenger aircraft should be flying anywhere near a war zone, especially one in which fighter jets, military aircraft, and military transport aircraft are playing such a key role in hostilities.
The alacrity with which Washington and its allies have sought to exploit this tragedy to attack Russia is as unedifying as it’s despicable. Whoever was responsible for downing the Malaysian passenger jet, it was clearly an accident. Moreover, the underlying causes of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, despite efforts to argue otherwise, is the toppling of the last legitimate democratically elected Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovich by an armed mob in Kiev in February, in which avowed fascists and neo-Nazis played a key role. Those fascists now occupy ministerial offices in the regime led by Petro Poroshenko and are prevalent in the violence that has been visited on the people in the east of the country, who have risen up in resistance to Kiev and its sponsors in the West.
The need for a political solution to the conflict is beyond dispute, and has been for some time now. The Russian government has been calling for a de-escalation in hostilities since the ill fated Geneva peace conference back in April, and has shown remarkable restraint in holding back from mounting a military intervention in response to the Poroshenko regime’s brutal military assault on Ukrainian citizens across its western border with tanks, artillery, fighter jets, and attack helicopters.
Let’s be clear: if Russia decided to deploy its military forces against those of Kiev it would crush them in a matter of hours. Sadly, though, when it comes to the US and its allies restraint when it comes to war and conflict is anathema. Indeed, the very word has been stricken from the dictionary where they are concerned. Consequently, Russia’s restraint has been taken for weakness, evidenced in a ramping up of the conflict since Poroshenko’s election as President of western Ukraine in May.
The recent signing of an association agreement between the EU and the regime in Kiev has brought the EU into disrepute. Just think about this for a moment: the EU has entered a state into its ranks which is bathed in the blood of its own citizens.
The pressure being brought to bear against Russia, exploiting this tragedy as a pretext, shouldn’t blind anyone as to the role of the West in fomenting and prolonging the ongoing military conflict for its own geopolitical interests. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Palestine – their crimes would shame all the devils in hell.
Only when Washington and its allies understand that their days of uncontested hegemony and unipolarity are over will there be a chance for a new global framework in which respect for national sovereignty and international law is returned to prominence and upheld as the non negotiable arbiter of international affairs and foreign policy. The alternative is more conflict and more of the chaos we are witnessing today.
This response to the present horror in Gaza is a little confusing:
BDS (total boycott of all things – and people – Israeli) activist Haim Bresheeth appears to be heavily involved in an appeal, also involving Noam Chomsky, which quite rightly, calls on Israeli academics to speak out against the bombardment and siege of Gaza:
How does this fit with his and others’ desire for a boycott? The appeal is signed by at least one SWP’er (Mick Cushman, assuming he’s still a member) and also by leading boycotter and Hamas apologist Ilan Pappé.
An account of the difficulties of getting Israeli signatures (written by a supporter of Pappé) is linked to, but criticised for being “too dismissive of the Israeli reaction.”
The actual statement has so far been signed by about 40 Israeli academics and is a clear call for a negotiated settlement and peace agreement that will end the occupation and settlements. Unless anyone tries to interpret this as a voluntary liquidation of Israel it can only be a call for a two state solution.
The signatories to this statement, all academics at Israeli universities, wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people, is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement.
So the BDS movement (SWP included) is calling for action, from people they say should not be engaged with in any way, advocating support for two states and laying into Pappé’s supporters for being unduly cynical about it.
Can anyone explain the logic behind this?
H/t: Comrade Pete
From the +972 website:
Attacks by Jewish hooligans on Arabs, unprecedented incitement by right-wing politicians and clashes between Israeli Police and Arab youth. We’ve been here before, but never like this.
By Ron Gerlitz
This article is written at the height of an extensive, violent escalation in the Jewish-Arab conflict, both within Israel and between Israel and the Palestinians in the territories and the Gaza Strip.
Regarding the events inside Israel, it is important to note the dramatic difference between the events of October 2000 and those of the past week. In October 2000, it was Arab citizens of Israel confronting the police. In contrast, during the past week, Jewish and Arab civilians have faced off and attacked each other. The majority of these incidents involved assault and manifestations of racism by Jewish Israelis against Arab Israelis.
Unfortunately, such attacks are not a new phenomenon, but their scope over the last week is unprecedented. This is not just an escalation – it is an entirely new reality. We have never been in a situation in which attacks against Arab civilians occurred daily and all over Israel. The following is a collection of statements I heard from a firsthand source in the last few days: “Death to Arabs” marches in the streets of Nazareth Illit night after night, gangs of Jewish hooligans roaming the Jerusalem streets and beating Arabs, violent attacks against Arabs on buses, and, in Pardes Hanna, dozens of young people entered a mall screaming “Death to Arabs.” Furthermore, there have been innumerable incidents of profanity against Arabs.
No one comes out unscathed
I didn’t comprehend the scope of this phenomenon from the media, but rather from the fact that every single Arab citizen I have met recently (and I meet many) has told me about an incident that happened to him or to his family. One tells me that someone cursed at his daughter on the bus: “Filthy Arab, get out of here, all of you.” Another one tells me that she went to a clothing store and heard from an Arab worker that all the Arab employees had been fired that day. A friend tells me that his daughter went to the mall where some people (who didn’t realize she was Arab) told her, “All Arabs are dogs.” A colleague who lives near a main thoroughfare in a Jewish town says that a bag of sand was thrown at her house; since then, she has not let her children go out to the yard. Everyone has a story from the last week, and I haven’t yet mentioned the shock waves created by the brutal murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir.
The result is that Israel’s Arab citizens sense a tremendous fear on a daily basis. Many of them avoid public areas; some have stopped showing up for work at shopping malls or riding public transportation, or they have prohibited their children from doing so. For many Arab citizens, the past week represents a turning point. Fear for their lives and their children’s lives have become a tangible, daily experience. This fear, in turn, gets linked to the insult and anger at the horrendous conditions in which they find themselves. The combination of increasing fear, anger, and sense of indignity is bad news for all residents of this country.
At the same time—and this is also important to point out—there have been attacks by Arabs on Jews: stones thrown at buses on the roads, Molotov cocktails thrown at passing cars, and, in the case that could well become symbolic—checking “who is a Jew” at the entrance to Qalanswa, taking Jewish drivers out of their cars, beating them, and setting their cars on fire. Even though these incidents are much smaller in scope than the attacks against Arabs, they are still a form of violence that is dangerous and morally repugnant. It is only by chance that these events have not yet resulted in casualties, and they have certainly increased the sense of fear and hatred among Jews.
On a personal note: I have worked on the issue of Jewish-Arab relations for a long time. I deal with issues of discrimination and racism, which evoke all kinds of feelings in me, such as anger, exasperation, frustration and a motivation to take action. We now find ourselves in a situation in which Arab citizens are genuinely afraid to walk in the streets, and rightfully so: when they do go out, they may well be verbally abused, or, in the worst case, be physically attacked. This causes me great shame.
And now for the bad news
I usually refrain from drawing pessimistic pictures of the future, but even according to the most cautious approach, it seems that the Jewish-Arab conflict in Israel might have entered a new and dangerous stage. Systematic discrimination by the establishment and popular racism have been some of the fundamental elements of the conflict to date. It seems that another element will now be added: violent conflicts between Jewish and Arab citizens. This is a nightmarish scenario that, unfortunately, no longer seems so imaginary. This is how civil wars in other regions of the world began. All those who value life must do everything in their power to stop this.
Where is the police?
As things stand now, the police have failed utterly to protect Israel’s Arab citizens. It is true that the police have prevented the lynching of Arabs wherever they have been on the scene, but the police do not work systematically to protect Arab lives. Many of the Arabs have been abandoned to the screaming, cursing and beating, and they are lucky that non-racist Jewish Israelis have saved them from the racists.
But it is also worth examining the protests in the Arab towns that included violent attacks on the police and sometimes on Jews as well. The difference between these events and those of October 2000 is clear. The police should now be roundly criticized: for the profusion of arrests, for the consistent and systematically discriminatory treatment of Arab protesters, and the suppression of demonstrations.
At the same time, it should be noted that the violent demonstrations transpired without any shots fired by the police or any casualties. Someone must have given the order to do everything to avoid shooting at the Arab protesters—and the order was carried out. Even though the police endured stones being thrown at them and the roads were closed, they managed to get through all the events without any casualties. In this sense, the police internalized and implemented the lessons of the October 2000 events. This is a positive development in the relationship between the state and its Arab citizens, and an example of how some of the recommendations made by the Or Commission were actually put in place. The police do not deserve a prize, but Noam Sheizaf was apparently right when he said they deserve a good word [Hebrew]. I would add: if only the Border Police and IDF acted this way toward the Palestinians in the occupied territories, many deaths could have been prevented.
There is leadership, and then there is leadership
The local Arab municipal leadership also deserves a good word. In almost all the localities where demonstrations took place, the heads of the local authorities intervened to prevent deterioration into even greater violence. Many of them went into the streets at night to try and prevent an escalation, and there is no doubt that they helped restore calm. At the time of writing, criticism of the heads of these local authorities is being voiced in Arab society. I do not share this criticism. Without their involvement, protestors or police officers may have been killed, and the situation would quickly have escalated from there.
Such an escalation would harm the Arab struggle to attain equality and break Jewish hegemony. At best, it would, strengthen, preserve and reinforce existing patterns of discrimination; at worst, it would contribute significantly to an additional infringement upon the rights of Arab citizens. All this is, of course, in the best-case scenario, in which the escalation does not lead to a civil war or an ongoing bloodbath.
Over the next few days, demonstrations are expected to take place in Arab localities. Both sides—the protesters and the police—will come with much more hatred and anger. One side sees its people subjected to nonstop bombings in Gaza, with more than 100 casualties and counting. The other side has to cope with protesters who, they believe, support the enemy even as their own families take cover in bomb shelters. This is a very dangerous scenario. The next few nights will be a litmus test for both the police and the Arab leadership.
In contrast to the local Arab leadership and the police – who have managed to cool down the flames – is the Israeli government. Not only is the government taking no action to reduce the escalation inside Israel, the past week has seen ministers fomenting provocation against Arab citizens. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have let fly harsh, racist statements directed at Arab citizens. Liberman, as usual, suggested that Arabs should be denied their citizenship.
After a weekend of violence between Arab citizens and the police and between Jews and Arabs, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself chose to address Arab citizens. He reminded them that they receive payments from the National Insurance Institute and made all kinds of demands of them in return. It is hard to conceive of a more wretched, divisive, and dangerous response by a prime minister in these times.
But it is easy to think of a much better response. No need to think hard, just read the words of President-elect Reuven Rivlin:
We must understand that we have no option other than living together. The bloodshed will only come to an end when we all realize that we are not doomed to live together, but destined to live together. Any vacillation or compromise on this issue will result in deteriorated relations that could result in tragedy, not only for shared life, but for life itself.
So what now?
I have not given up hope. I still believe that there can be a better future for the relationship between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. At times like these, I once again hold fast to the awareness (which I have also written about here) that ethnic conflicts far more intransigent and violent than this one have been resolved, while conflicts that seemed mild have declined into bloodshed. All options are on the table.
This is not the first time that I am ending an article with the words of the Arab citizen of Israel, Raef Zreik, which now seem more important than ever:
My optimism does not stem from the belief that one can decipher history’s hidden plan or hasten its evolution. My optimism is more modest: it is the result not of clear analytical thinking but of historical experience. Experience teaches us that sometimes—but only sometimes—there are also historical tales with a happy end. History also teaches us that this end is not happenstance; rather, there were those who toiled to bring it about. And it is worth remembering: Just as we have no assurance of success, neither is there any certainty of failure.
Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.
Ron Gerlitz is Co-Executive Director of Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel.
This is so desperately sad that I thought twice about publishing it. But it’s important to be aware of the immediate human consequences of young men being seduced by a fascist ideology – especially as some idiots seem to wilfully misunderstand what’s going on.
From the Daily Telegraph:
By Tom Whitehead
Young British jihadist Reyaad Khan was told he was “killing his parents” and had turned them against Islam, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.
His uncle texted the fanatic pleading with him to come home because he was tearing his family apart.
The stark message also warned Khan that his father would “pray he went to hell” if he did not come home.
The desperate attempts to get Khan back emerged as his mother Rukia made an emotional plea to her son to come home.
She also pleaded directly to terror group Isis to send her son back to her before she “died”.
Khan’s family said they were in shock when they discovered he had gone to Syria and believe he has been “brainwashed” by extremists, either over the internet or in Cardiff
He disappeared in November after telling his family he was going to Birmingham for talks.
He phoned his uncle, who asked not to be named, to reveal he was actually in Syria and asked him to “tell his mother”.
The uncle then embarked on a series of text message exchanges trying to persuade his nephew to return.
In one, he wrote: “I must let you know that you are killing your parents with worry and stress to the level that they hate Islam.
“Blame Islam for their son.”
He told him that his father had said “If you do not come back he prays for you to go to hell.
“Your dad curses you in a way you would not believe and hates the mosques.”
But Khan simply replied: “I’m fine. No reception, I cannot speak.”
The uncle told the Telegraph: “I was shocked and told him he should be here. I said to come back home now. I said ‘come home, you will kill your mother’.”
The uncle said he could not tell Khan’s mother at first “because she would have collapsed”.
She was devastated by the news and was “acting mad and screaming”, he said. “She was blaming everyone.”
In her own tearful appeal, Mrs Khan said: “Reyaad, please come back home. I’m dying for you. You’re my only son. Please come back Reyaad.”
She also begged Isis: “Please send my son back home. He is my one and only son. I and my family need him back. Please just send my son back to me before I die and it is going to be too late for Reyaad, he’s going to regret it for the rest of his life.
“Please send my son back to me and his family. We all need him.”
She told Sky News: “He is honest, always caring for his family, he always wanted to be there for them. He was one of the best boys a mother could ever have or want.
“I think they are brainwashed into thinking they are going to help people. I don’t know who it is but there is someone behind them keeping these young, innocent boys, brainwashing them into thinking they are going to help people. There is someone behind them, I don’t know who.”
The mother said the actions of her 20-year-old son had hugely impacted on her family.
“It is absolutely devastating. It has turned our lives upside down. I can’t sleep or eat, I am very ill,” she said.
Like most people, I’m watching in horror as Iraq disintegrates and the Islamist barbarians of ISIS continue to gain ground. I have no particularly profound insights to offer at the moment, so would recommend readers to check out the ever-reliable Juan Cole at the aptly-titled Informed Comment blog, and one Kyle Orton at this interesting blog, previously unknown to me.
In an extraordinary outburst of anti-American philistinism, Michael Gove seeks to remove Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice And Men’, and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ from the GCSE curriculum. What a disgrace!
‘Of Mice and Men’ may not be Steinbeck’s greatest novel, but it’s still a major work. The final scene is one of the most moving pieces of literature you’ll ever read, to be set alongside the best of Dickens, but without the mawkish sentimentality: Steinbeck’s terse, straightforward prose prevents that.
The book was originally going to be called ‘Something Happened’, which sums up Steinbeck’s approach to story telling. Like the book that preceded it, ‘In Dubious Battle’ and the book that followed, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, this is about itinerant agricultural labourers in 1930’s Carlifornia. But unlike those two books, there is little overt social or political context: it’s essentially a story of friendship, hope and loss. It’s a great modern tragedy and that final scene remains the only piece of fiction I have ever read that can, without fail, make me cry.
Lennie looked eagerly at him. “Go on, George. Ain’t you gonna give me more hell?”
“No” said George.
“Well, I can go away,” said Lennie. “I’ll go right off in the hills an’ find a cave if you don’t want me.”
George shook himself again. “No,” he said. “I want you to stay with me here.”
Lennie said craftily – “Tell me like you done before.”
“Tell you what?”
“‘Bout the other guys an’ about us.”
George said, “Guys like us got no fambly. They make a little stake an’ then they blow it in. They got nobody in the worl’ that gives a hoot in hell about ‘em -“
“But not us,” Lennie cried happily. “Tell about us now.”
George was quiet for a moment. “But not us,” he said.
“Because – “
“Because I got you an’ – “
“An’ I got you. We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us,” Lennie cried in triumph.
The little evening breeze blew over the clearing and the leaves rustled and the wind waves flowed up the green pool. And the shouts of the men sounded again, this time much closer than before.
George took off his hat. He said shakily, “Take off your hat, Lennie. The air feels fine.”
Lennie removed his hat dutifully and laid it on the ground in front of him. The shadow in the valley was bluer, and the evening came fast. On the wind the sound of crashing in the brush came to them.
Lennie said, “Tell how it’s gonna be.”
George had been listening to the distant sounds. For a moment he was business-like. “Look across the river, Lennie, an’ I’ll tell you so you can almost see it.”
Lennie turned his head and looked across the pool and up the darkening slopes of the Gabilans. “We gonna get a little place,” George began. He reached in his side pocket and brought out Carlson’s Luger; he snapped off the safety, and the hand gun lay on the ground behind Lennie’s back. He looked at the back of Lennie’s head, at the place where the spine and the skull were joined.
A man’s voice called from up the river, and another man answered.
“Go on,” said Lennie.
George raised the gun and his hand shook, and he dropped his hand to the ground again.
“Go on,” said Lennie. “How it’s gonna be. We gonna get a little place.”
“We’ll have a cow,” said George. “An’ we’ll have maybe a pig an’ chickens…an’ down the flat we’ll have a…little piece alfalfa – “
“For the rabbits, ” Lennie shouted.
“For the rabbits,” George repeated.
“And I get to tend the rabbits.”
“And you get to tend the rabbits.”
Lennie giggled with happiness. “An’ live off the fatta the lan’.”
Lennie turned his head
“No, Lennie. Look down across the river, like you can almost see the place.”
Lennie obayed him. George looked down at the gun.
There were crashing footsteps in the brush now! George turned and looked towards them.
“Go on, George. When we gonna do it?”
“Gonna do it soon.”
“Me an’ you.”
“You…an’ me. Ever’body gonna be nice to you. Ain’t gonna be no more trouble. Nobody gonna hurt nobody nor steal from ‘em.”
Lennie said, “I thought you was mad at me, George.”
“No,” said George. “No, Lennie. I ain’t mad. I never been mad, an’ I ain’t now. That’s a thing I want ya to know.”
The voices came close now. George raised the gun and listened to the voices.
Lennie begged, “Le’s do it now. Le’s get that place now.”
“Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta.”
And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie’s head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, and he lay without quivering.
George shivered and looked at the gun, and then he threw it from him, back up the bank, near the pile of old ashes.
The brush seemed filled with cries and with the sound of running feet. Slim’s voice shouted, “George. Where you at, George?”
But George sat stiffly on the bank and looked at his right hand that had thrown the gun away. The group burst into the clearing and Curley was ahead. He saw Lennie lying on the sand. “Got him, by God.” He went over and looked down at Lennie, and then looked back at George. “Right in the back of the head,” he said softly.
Slim came directly to George and sat down beside him, sat very close to him. “Never you mind,” said Slim. “A guy got to sometimes.”
But Carlson was standing over George. “How’d you do it?” he asked.
“I just done it,” George said tiredly.
“Did he have my gun?”
“Yeah. He had your gun.”
“An’ you got it away from him and you took it an’ you killed him?”
“Yeah. Tha’s how.” George’s voice was almost a whisper. He looked steadily at his right hand that had held the gun.
Slim twitched George’s elbow. “Come on, George. Me an’ you’ll go in an’ get a drink.”
George let himself be helped to his feet. “Yeah, a drink.”
Slim said, “You hadda, George. I swear you hadda. Come on with me.” He led George to the entrance of the trail and up towards the highway.
Curley and Carson looked after them. And Carlson said, “Now what the hell you suppose is eatin’ them two guys?”