Wednesday, September 9, 2015


"I knew it was my business to protest, however futile protest might be. I felt that for the honour of human nature those who were not swept off their feet should show that they stood firm."

This quote was taken from Adam Hochschild's excellent book, To End All Wars and when, as now, voices start calling once more for us to go to war or when the press start beating the drums of war and start calling anyone who questions the government, 'Cowards' it might do us good to remember this quote. 

The price many of those who objected to World War One paid could be high, especially in the early years when anti-war activists could be attacked by patriotic mobs or when one chose not to fight and ended up imprisoned and - in the case of c.30 concious objectors - threatened with the death penalty for refusing to fight. 

I've just finished To End All Wars, which I'm reading side-by-side with Douglas Newton's The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain's Rush To War, 1914, and the role of press barons and editors in pushing war and punishing and mocking dissidents hasn't changed much. The Sun branding the potential leaders of the Labour Party, 'Cowards' is part of the same culture even if the wars they want us to take part in are very different. 

So the calls have begun for us to bomb Syria. A country that has already been pretty comprehensively bombed. Our bombs, of course, are special stability bombs. Designed not to kill but to bring stability to a region that has clearly already massively benefited from our previous stability campaigns. And yesterday we announced the killing of two British ISIS fighters by drone. 

We're all supposed to be OK with this because these people were ISIS fighters. They, apparently, wanted to organise terrorist atrocities in the UK. So killing them without trial is perfectly fine. They chose to fight. They deserved to die. anyone else uncomfortable with a politician playing judge, jury and executioner without consultation? Is anyone uncomfortable with vague discussions of 'intelligence', which since the Iraq War is questionable in both accuracy and/or its use by politicians eager to make a case for war. 

We talk about how untrustworthy politicians are seen to be. We talk about cover-ups, sexed-up dossiers and conspiracies. Yet we seem willing to allow David Cameron to - effectively - reintroduce the death penalty with barely a whimper. 

These things matter because they set precedents. We have nothing to fear from our government, I hear, if we've done nothing wrong. And perhaps that is true but history shows that laws accepted on the basis of being used in the fight against terrorism have a tendency to creep into other areas. 

So I write this and paraphrase Bertrand Russell: I know it is my business to protest, however futile protest might be. I feel that for the honour of human nature those who are not swept off their feet should show that they stand firm.

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