Tag Archives: Jonathan Freedland

taking stock of Corbyn’s heroic election campaign — what’s the opposite to a Pyrrhic victory?

A screenshot of the wikipedia page on ‘moral victory’

The image above is a screenshot of the wikipedia entry for “moral victory” as it appears at present. As you can see, presented as examples of “the opposite of a Pyrrhic victory” it lists just three: The Alamo, the Battle of Thermopylae and the United Kingdom 2017 General Election!

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the #ToriesOut post-election rally organised by the People’s Assembly:

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Before reading on, I encourage readers to reflect on a short but detailed article by independent journalist Jonathan Cook entitled “The facts proving Corbyn’s election triumph” in which he scrutinises Corbyn’s results compared with those of his predecessors. Based on the evidence, he writes:

He won many more votes than Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, who were among those that, sometimes noisily, opposed his leadership of the party. They lost their elections. […]

In short, Corbyn has proved himself the most popular Labour leader with the electorate in more than 40 years, apart from Blair’s landslide victory in 1997.

And concludes:

Here is a graph that offers another measure of the extent of Corbyn’s achievement last night.

It shows that he has just won the largest increase in the share of the Labour vote over the party’s previous general election performance since Clement Attlee in 1945. In short, he’s turned around the electoral fortunes of the Labour party more than any other party leader in 70 years.

And unlike Blair, he’s done it without making back-room deals with big business to eviscerate his party’s economic and social programmes.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

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A tale of two leaders

When May called the snap General Election on April 18th, she and her Conservative Party were riding high in the polls with a twenty point lead. In office for just nine months, she had been hastily crowned Prime Minister after Cameron fell on his sword in the wake of his own humiliating EU referendum defeat, but quite wisely afterwards had kept a mostly low profile. In this way, and with her oft-repeated pledge to honour the pro-Brexit result, May cultivated the appearance of reliability and toughness – she was Thatcher 2.0 but with a more daring wardrobe.

“Brexit means Brexit” is almost as nebulous as it is defiant, but the Tory’s tiresome mantra was also serving May’s purposes well. Her image as a “bloody difficult woman” given an extra boost thanks to Jean-Claude Junker’s odd cameo at Downing Street right on cue as the campaign got underway: their reportedly “frosty dinner” doing little to dent the popular belief that May was a safe pair of hands.

In short, the Tories were bound to win last month’s General Election and everyone was simply waiting to find out how historic their historic landslide would finally be. Indeed, given the dire circumstances, some on the left openly expressed the opinion that Corbyn ought to have blocked her opportunistic move by rallying support against the Commons’ vote, even if this meant giving the Tories a free pass until 2020. (The horns of Corbyn’s dilemma clearly point to inherent shortcomings in our new Fixed-Term Parliaments Act – five-year terms that are prescheduled up until the moment any government decrees otherwise.)

On the other hand, May’s call for a needless election did open up a small chink in her otherwise shining armour. For having repeatedly assured the nation she would do no such thing, this act was literally the only moment she’d dropped her guard since becoming PM.

Her campaign underway, May now resolved to basically disappear from sight. Shirking the TV debates, placing unprecedented restraints on press access, and avoiding all but the most fleeting encounters with the hoi polloi, her strategy was one of total control. Although this quiet contempt for democracy was not going to pass unnoticed.

By contrast, the Labour Party was forced into the campaign when already in complete disarray. Seldom mentioned, the polls had in fact narrowed considerably twelve months earlier during the run up to the referendum vote, and also immediately after Cameron’s defeat (see above), yet the Blairites wasted no time undermining Corbyn on the grounds of his lacklustre performance stumping for the “remain” campaign. Since it suited their purpose, they simply ignored what the polls were actually telling them, and seized on this flimsiest of excuses to stir the pot a whole lot more in the hope of finally deposing the leadership.

Former leader Neil Kinnock was perhaps first up, delivering what the Guardian soon afterwards reported as “a remarkable speech” to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

(Strictly in private) Kinnock said this:

I quote one person, just one, out of hundreds in Cardiff three weeks ago. Well, he complained about Jeremy and I said, ‘Honestly, his heart’s in the right place, he wants to help people, he wants to help people like you.’ He’s a working-class guy, a fitter on what remains of the docks. And he said: ‘I know he’s saying it, because he thinks we’re easy. We’re not bloody easy. We’re not listening, especially since he’s weird.’

Now that is unfortunate. But you know. Everybody in this room knows, canvassing in the Welsh elections, in the Scottish elections, in the local elections, in the referendum – you know that is what you’re getting from people who yearn to vote Labour but are inhibited by the fact that Jeremy is still our leader.

Reprinted in full, Kinnock’s “remarkable speech” is really just a tub-thumping (quite literally) rant. But then Kinnock didn’t need to try too hard because he was preaching to the converted, one of whom evidently saw fit to leak the recording of this beer hall putsch to the press:

PLP meetings are private, but Kinnock’s speech was recorded by someone in the room and it was passed to Ben Ferguson, a freelance filmmaker who recently made a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Corbyn for Vice News 1

Neil Kinnock is famously unelectable, of course, so I suppose we ought to marvel at the sheer brass neck of the man. His “we’re all right” Sheffield debacle was the single most excruciating misjudgement made by any Labour leader since Jim Callaghan’s “Waiting at the Church” moment of hubris.

However, Lord Kinnock has certainly done all right – at least for himself – since those formative hiccoughs: appointed to the European Commission in 1995, then rapidly promoted to Vice-President in 1999, and awarded a life peerage in 2005. Wife Glenys ploughed a similar furrow, becoming an MEP in 1994 and receiving her own life peerage in 2009, whilst son, Stephen, a current Labour MP and another uninhibited Corbyn critic, is married to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former MEP herself before becoming Danish PM. The Kinnocks have built a tidy little empire for themselves.

Although a year ago, the self-serving Kinnocks took time off from feathering their own nests to help spearhead the growing PLP demands for Corbyn’s resignation. Popularity within the rank and file of the membership (who have twice elected Corbyn leader of course) must not be put ahead of party unity, “electability” and that kind of thing – to paraphrase his Lordship, this time speaking to Andrew Marr on the BBC:

Meanwhile, in light of the PLP’s motion of no confidence in Corbyn (more below), son Stephen penned the following rationalisation for the relentless backstabbing and published it as an opinion piece also in the Guardian:

The referendum campaign was a sorry affair and it’s clear that it was not the Labour party’s finest hour. Every pro-Remain member will be feeling the same deep sense of disappointment and regret that I am feeling this weekend, as we have failed, collectively, to save the UK from a reckless leap into the unknown, and we fear it is the people we came into politics to represent who will be hurt first and worst.

Looking back, it’s clear that once the Scottish, Welsh and local elections were out of the way on 6 May [2016], then we should have treated the period through to 23 June as if it were the short campaign period leading up to a general election. Judged against that benchmark, it is equally clear that our leader fought a lacklustre and half-hearted campaign. He spoke at a total of 10 rallies between 6 May and polling day, whereas the party leader would normally expect to achieve that level of activity in a week, when in full campaigning mode.

We must, therefore, have a full and frank discussion when the parliamentary Labour party meets on Monday, to look at what went wrong, and what we should learn. Our leader must be held accountable for the failure of the “Labour In For Britain” campaign, as must we all.

Following which, Kinnock Jr. takes aim at Corbyn’s purported lack of skill as a future Brexit negotiator, which is curious given that no members of the opposition have ever been invited to the talks:

There is no doubt that Jeremy is a great campaigner, but this is not a time for campaigners. This is a time for hard-headed negotiators. And it is also a time for people who have more than a passing knowledge of, and interest in, the EU. […]

We may have no say over who the Tories send to the negotiating table, but we do have a say about who Labour sends. Jeremy Corbyn is a seasoned and highly effective campaigner, and he was elected to lead our party on the basis of a thumping mandate. But that was then and this is now.

Now should not be about the past. The British people have spoken, the decision is made, and we must look forward. British politics is going to be dominated by these Brexit negotiations for the foreseeable future. It is vital that Labour has a seat at the top table, and critical that we have a leader who has the right experience and skills for the task at hand.

And it is for that reason that I am supporting this motion of no confidence. 2

Titled “Jeremy Corbyn is a great campaigner – but we need a hard-headed negotiator”, Kinnock might have borrowed ammunition for his snide hit piece directly from the arsenals of Tory HQ. He’s just not “strong and stable enough”… a claim that belies the truth if we listen to the judgement instead of Conservative MP and current Brexit Secretary David Davis. Together with Corbyn, Davis had negotiated the release of the last British prisoner, Shaker Aamer, from Guantánamo, and shortly after Corbyn was voted party leader, Davis was interviewed on Sky News. This is what he said:

“I think that the odds of our winning the next election after yesterday are higher, but I don’t think it’s an open and shut case by any means. I think complacency would be absolutely the daftest thing to go in for now…

You’ve just had Frank Field on, talking about how Jeremy in other circumstances is able to work with other people… he is very polite, very courteous, listens to arguments. So we want to be a bit careful. We certainly don’t want to go in for ad hominem attacks – that would be a disaster.”

But the Tory attacks could wait. During the notorious post-referendum ‘chicken coup’, no less than 44 frontbench Labour MPs resigned their positions in as many hours.3 Alongside Stephen Kinnock, leading lights of this suicidal insurrection included Deputy Leader Tom Watson, Angela Eagle, about-to-be leadership challenger Owen Smith, and then-Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn – reluctantly sacked by Corbyn before he had chance to resign. Each of the above publicly declared their loss of confidence in the leadership: a transparently lame excuse given how the self-same “rebels” had shown no loyalty whatsoever during any earlier stage of Corbyn’s brief tenure.

When the PLP balloted for a vote of no confidence a few hours later, it was passed by a truly astounding 172–40: but it remained a vote which as Corbyn correctly asserted had “no constitutional legitimacy”. Nevertheless, the stage was set, and for the next three months the party tore into itself as it entered the throes of a hugely divisive and unwarranted leadership election.

Inevitably, this infighting took its toll. Labour support tumbled in the polls, as did support for Corbyn’s leadership. Unsurprisingly, salt was liberally rubbed into these same gaping and self-inflicted wounds by both the Tories and the media alike, who cultivated the opinion already expressed by 80% of Labour MPs, that Corbyn – freshly re-elected as party leader – was in fact “unelectable”.

Ken Loach interviewed on BBC Radio 5 shortly after the General Election: “Just think, if the MPs had been arguing for those policies for two years, if they hadn’t been feeding stories to the press, if you hadn’t had Peter Mandelson being quoted saying ‘I get up every morning to undermine him,’ and interviewed on that agenda on a number of occasions. Just think if he’d had that support – I think he would have won.”

Click here to watch a montage put together by Channel 4 News featuring senior Labour MPs (including Stephen Kinnock again) who publicly excoriated Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

Even with the general election campaign underway, prominent Blairites and faux progressive commentators continued to put the knife into Corbyn. On May 5th, on the back of disappointing local and mayoral election results, Jonathan Freedland wrote this:

What more evidence do they need? What more proof do the Labour leadership and its supporters require? This was not an opinion poll. This was not a judgment delivered by the hated mainstream media. This was the verdict of the electorate, expressed through the ballot box, and it could scarcely have been clearer – or more damning.

The headline figure is a projected national share of 27%, the worst recorded by an opposition since the BBC started making such calculations in 1981. The Tory lead of 11 percentage points is larger than the one Margaret Thatcher enjoyed as she headed into the elections of 1983 or 1987, when she won triple-figure landslides.

“Why has this happened?” barked a furious Freedland, answering to his own smug satisfaction:

The good news for Labour is that what I saw in the focus groups were people unimpressed by the Tories, desperate for an opposition and itching to vote Labour again if only Corbyn would get out of the way. It suggests a new leader could take the fight to Theresa May very rapidly. The bad news is that once people have broken a lifelong Labour habit – and shattered a taboo by voting Tory – they may never come back.

According to Freedland, it was just wrongheaded of “the Corbynistas” to try to blame disloyal MPs or, heaven forfend, the “metropolitan pundits who [they] can slam as red Tories” for what he described hyperbolically as “the disaster” and “this meltdown”:

Blaming others won’t do. Instead, how refreshing it would be, just this once, if Corbyn and McDonnell put their hands up and took even a small measure of responsibility for this calamitous result. 4

And a month on, after it transpires that news of the Labour Party meltdown was exaggerated, has Freedland eaten his words? Well, here’s what he wrote on June 10th:

[P]oliticians and pollsters alike did not see this coming. But nor did most pundits – including me. I opposed Jeremy Corbyn when he first stood for the Labour leadership in 2015, and thereafter, and I did so on two grounds. First, on principle: I was troubled by his foreign policy worldview, with its indulgence of assorted authoritarian regimes, and by what I perceived as his willingness to look past antisemitism on the left. But more immediate was an assessment of his basic electability. I wanted the Tories gone, and simply did not believe Labour could pose a serious electoral threat under Corbyn.

My principled objections have not faded, but Thursday’s results make clear that on the electability issue, I was wrong. 5

Freedland’s “principled objections” are in fact bogus (read earlier posts here and here) and his apology is long overdue. Surely the big question, however, is why anyone still takes the opinions of liberal gatekeepers like Freedland at all seriously. In the space of a month he had managed to eloquently flip-flop from “Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown” to “Corbyn successfully framed voting Labour as the only way to say enough is enough” and “He’s rewritten the rules.” Hallelujah! (I suppose.)

So please allow me to briefly digress, because today’s media, so narcissistically in love with its own reflection, has become the very definition of an echo chamber: newspaper headlines are a mainstay of TV debate and what is broadcast on TV and radio then siphons back into the newspapers. Additionally, there is increasing reliance on so-called vox pops: phoney snapshots of public opinion, meticulously edited into tidy bundles of required thought. Cheap to produce, they maintain the delusion that media is representative of what people like you and me actually think. In reality, of course, ordinary Joes and Joannas are commandeered to provide off-beam refractions simply to bolster a prefabricated message: Obama is cool; May is serious; Trump is an idiot; and Corbyn is hopeless.

For months on end, the mention of Corbyn elicited titters from the commentariat alongside the required level of derision from the (assiduously selected) ‘man on the street’. Likewise, without fail, each week an audience member on the BBC Question Time would prime the panel with one of those tired old questions about his “unelectability” or the purported “lack of any effective opposition”. Thus, Corbyn was roasted on all sides: by media hacks and politicians from every camp, including nominally his own colleagues.

But then, with the election called, this changed. Legal requirements would ensure some better measure of balance in the debate. Thus, with the playing field abruptly if only partially levelled (our right-wing newspapers are free from such constraints), Corbyn got the chance he’d been waiting for: able at last to make the case for a fairer and more caring society and not to be instantly drowned out by the clamour of critics.

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Project Fear

“Hope always wins over fear” – John McDonnell (post-election interview 6)

“I am a treat” my friend said as I pointed out the large black billboard ahead. His unconscious was momentarily getting the better of him and suggestively reworking the slogan to ensure it was functioning as ads generally do: as promotions for a product. But instead, this image, one I had walked past daily for almost a week, with its Big Sister portrait of May – former Home Secretary behind the Snooper’s Charter – sternly peering out like a stony-hearted headmistress, was issuing the country an exceedingly stark but fair warning.

Put together by anti-austerity campaign group the People’s Assembly, its message was bleak yet factual and accurate. It branded May a threat to our hospitals, our schools, our job security, our pensions and our peace and security. And who could deny any of it?

Sam Fairbairn, People’s Assembly National Secretary described the poster as a response to the Tories’ “manifesto of misery”, adding “she is a threat to everything we rely on from cradle to grave”:

“The crisis in the NHS was created by the Conservative government and they’re doing nothing to address it. She’s snatching free school lunches off infants while her plans to restructure our education system will leave schools without proper funding. University students are being strapped with lifelong debt.” 7

In fact this portent of doom had only recently replaced another. The face of Donald Trump and around it the words “Advertising works… look what it did for me”, but now with a toothbrush moustache inked above those all-too familiar pouting, foul-mouthed lips. Soon afterwards the same billboard had been further subverted when someone had the wherewithal to scrub over ‘advertising’ and substitute a far more appropriate four-lettered word: ‘HATE’ in block capitals. Yes, I mused philosophically, as I passed under it each day… hate does indeed ‘work’ in a political sense.

In our own election hate had mostly remained on the backburner. Instead, the campaign was framed about Brexit, and with emphasis not on immigration this time around. Instead it was supposedly all about leadership. About “strong and stable” government. The hate could wait…

The Sun has since issued a statement to the effect that this headline was not released immediately after the Manchester atrocity but shortly before it occurred. Evidently its editor did not, however, find the conscience to remove it or issue an apology for it remaining published online. Nor did The Sun and other press outlets refrain from issuing follow-up smears against Corbyn, McDonnell and Diane Abbott in the wake of the London Bridge attacks. In fact, on the eve of the vote, The Sun ran with the absolutely disgusting headline “Jezza’s Jihadi Comrades” while the Daily Mail devoted no less than 13 pages to pillorying those same “Apologists for Terror”:

Did the hate work? Below is a screenshot of The Independent on the morning after the London Bridge attacks – the polls were again narrowing and rather rapidly:

Also take a close look at the graph above and see how the convergence between the Labour and Conservative polling slows directly after the Manchester atrocity on May 22nd. Given that campaigning was suspended this is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising that in a state of shock and heightened anxiety, voters will tend to be more inclined to support an incumbent government or, still more, to turn toward the party most traditionally trusted on law and order. Yet the surge for Labour was only partially held back, and the pollsters were found wanting all over again – except for the exit poll, that is.

There was also the honourable exception of polling company Survation who had bravely forecast a hung parliament and were ridiculed for sticking to their guns…

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The real unelectables

The night before the election, with the polls which had certainly tightened still remaining wildly divergent, I decided to check out the odds at the bookies, given how bookies obviously have a vested interest in getting their numbers right. And a Tory majority then remained odds on, with many punters betting on who might be the next Labour leader. Although May’s position had become shaky too, the smart money was very much backing an increased Tory majority with gains of up to a hundred seats. My heart sank, just as it did immediately upon hearing May’s election announcement. Like many Labour supporters, I was still braced for a trouncing.

Most polls are unreliable, but exit polls are different. They have a special legitimacy and have in some cases been applied as a standard of verification for elections across the world.

Two years ago the exit poll had been a shattering blow. In the weeks leading up to the vote the opinion polls consistently pointed to a hung parliament, whereas the exit poll had quite correctly forecast a Tory majority. On this occasion I was anticipating the worst. Given the unbridgeable six point gap (and an enormous spread of polls between 1% and 15%) combined with the traditional last minute shift in favour of the Conservatives (the shy Tories emerging from their closets), damage limitation was all any Labour supporter could conceivably wish for.

“And what we’re saying is, the Conservatives are the largest party”, David Dimbleby announced to the nation shortly after the polls closed at ten, continuing “but note they don’t have an overall majority at this stage…” soon afterwards conceding, “we’ll be hung, drawn and quartered” if our exit polls are wrong. Although defeated, Corbyn’s many supporters, myself included, were tasting something closer to victory:

Not only the Tories, but every other mainland political party were about to be humiliated in their own special way. Ukip were rather predictably annihilated. Yet to think how a mere four months earlier, so many pundits had been licking their lips at the prospect of leader Paul Nuttall stealing Stoke-on-Trent Central in a by-election, and running Labour and Corbyn out of town. Now Nuttall was ruined instead.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems whose entire campaign was devoted to their bizarre since unrealisable promise of an EU referendum rerun, gained a measly four seats to prop up the meagre eight they already held. Former leader Nick Clegg who had helped the Tories remain in power during the miserable days of the Con-Dem Coalition lost his seat just up the road from me in Sheffield Hallam; like many across the country, I cheered his just demise. A few hours later, hopeless leader Tim Farron did the honourable thing.

In my own constituency of Sheffield Central, former leader of the Greens, Natalie Bennett, came to contest what is a comparatively safe Labour seat, rather than more profitably fighting her corner in a Conservative marginal – so much for forming a “progressive alliance” against the government. Once again, justice was served and Bennett lost, finishing an embarrassing third behind the Tories, with incumbent Paul Blomfield swept back into parliament with a hugely increased majority now approaching 28,000.

North of the border, the political landscape was being even more dramatically reshaped. After the Brexit vote, the SNP had been calling for a new independence referendum – a replay of that “once in a lifetime decision” barely more than two years on. But this divisive move soon became an albatross, and as the SNP tried to backslide on their promises and downplay calls for Indyref2, the Scottish Conservatives no less opportunistically cranked up the pro-unionist rhetoric (a flavour of things to come). It proved a winning tactic with many disaffected Scottish voters.

Even so, not all the angry Scots were turning back to the Conservative and Unionist Party. Studiously under-reported in the media, a great many were evidently returning to Corbyn’s Labour too – Labour regaining six of the seats lost during their humiliating wipe-out in 2015. Either way, the outcome had been a disastrous one for the SNP, losing more than a third of their seats as the vote collapsed by over 13%. By the end of the night, the SNP’s leader in Westminster Angus Robertson lost his seat in Moray, and, most memorably, Scotland’s former First Minister and long-time talismanic party leader Alex Salmond was defeated in Banff & Buchan. More cheers! (I speak for myself obviously.)

Then we must come to the forlorn figure of Theresa May. Has any winner of any general election ever appeared so dejected? She would try to paint some gloss on it later, naturally enough, but there is simply no convincing way to disguise the fact that her anticipated triumph had crumbled to unmitigated disaster. Indeed, only one leader would be able to claim any sort of victory on the night: the “unelectable” Jeremy Corbyn. The rest of the field, slipping backwards in their different manners, were evidently just too electable by far! Astonishingly, May and her Conservative government were left clinging to power only by the tassels of an orange sash. 8

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 ‘Theresa May and the Holy Grail’: having lost her majority, and with complicated Brexit negotiations and fields of wheat on her doorstep, Theresa May is determined to ‘get on with the job of government’ (and to seek the Holy Grail). Click here to watch the original upload at Australia’s ABC.

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A moral victory

A week prior to the general election I had a dream and woke with a vision of Jeremy Corbyn walking into Downing Street as Prime Minister. The dream genuinely happened, but then dreams are rarely prognostic. Instead, the Tories clung on as the main party of government, which is the very best they can say for themselves. May’s re-election was the very epitome of a Pyrrhic victory.

Instead of the envisaged landslide, her government is suddenly in retreat, and clinging to power by its political fingertips, made all the grubbier by that desperate £1.5 billion deal with the political arm of Ulster’s loyalist paramilitaries. How long this weak and wobbly ‘coalition of chaos’ can hobble along together is anyone’s guess.

Regarding my dream again, it obviously owed much to my own psychological investment in the election. Like many thousands of others who had never before been actively involved in campaigning, for six weeks I was out and about leafleting, running street stalls, and door-to-door canvassing. I remain very much committed to the cause. Although the Tories won the battle, suddenly they are losing the war: Corbyn may yet walk into Downing Street…

More speculatively then, the dream seems to me prophetic in a truer sense of the word: that intuitively I was picking up on quite seismic upheavals that were very hard to comprehend, or even to register, during my various interactions on the doorstep. Thus, routinely faced with antipathy and aversion toward Corbyn’s leadership, a common reaction coming from many one-time Labour voters, it became easy to overlook the surge in Labour support from less expected quarters.

This groundswell, as we now know, involved more than just an increased turnout of first-time voters, since it mostly comprised disaffected Lib Dems, wavering Greens, and, more interestingly, some half of former Ukip supporters, plus thousands returning from the SNP, and most surprising of all, a significant proportion of affluent middle-class who are traditionally Conservative supporters. In short, my dream had detected a sea change taking place in our society; shifts in outlook that Corbyn and others in the Labour leadership were directly responding to.

Very skilfully, they had steered the whole debate away from Brexit (May’s original pretext for calling the election) and away from personality too (May’s team had embarked on a presidential-style campaign) by redirecting attention firmly back on to policy instead. In the manner of a musical maestro who responds to applause from his audience by holding up the score, Corbyn consistently drew the public gaze back to Labour’s bold and very thoughtfully composed manifesto: “For the many, not the few”. A manifesto launched not once but twice – funny that! Fully-costed, anti-austerity populism; this was certainly a masterstroke.

Corbyn and McDonnell survived the election against all the odds, and having thus achieved a result beyond common expectation, they have managed to reunite the party behind a commitment to democratic socialist policies. These policies have become Labour’s main strength again. So although Corbyn didn’t win the vote, the Labour manifesto actually did, and as a direct consequence, temporarily at least, it has produced a measureable shift leftwards in the mythical ‘centre ground’ of politics. Those of us determined to say “enough is enough” now have a place to turn and a leader they can get behind.

Jeremy Corbyn gives an impromptu but impassioned speech to the ‘Left Field’ fringe event at this year’s Glastonbury Festival:

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Update:

The latest poll of polls (Friday 7th) now puts Labour eight points ahead of the Tories with a record high of 46%. Meanwhile in Scotland, the poll puts Labour ahead of the SNP by 36% to 31%:

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1 From an article entitled “Secret recording of Kinnock’s anti-Corbyn speech to MPs – in full” written by Andrew Sparrow and Harrison Jones, published in the Guardian on July 8, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/08/secret-recording-neil-kinnock-jeremy-corbyn-step-down-speech-to-mps-in-full

2 From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn is a great campaigner – but we need a hard-headed negotiator” written by Stephen Kinnock, published in the Guardian on June 25, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/25/jeremy-corbyn-leadership-challenge-no-confidence-motion

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Remember those few days in June when Labour MPs couldn’t stop resigning? That long Sunday after the country had voted for Brexit, when every time you turned on the radio another shadow cabinet minister had stood down, calling for Jeremy Corbyn to do likewise? Or the next day, when the only thing you wanted to quit was the non-stop news, just for a few hours, but there was Angela Eagle in tears at her own resignation? Before June, the mass resignation of 44 frontbench politicians in as many hours, all citing a loss of confidence in their leader, would have led to said leader being turfed out of office. But we didn’t count on Corbyn.

From an article entitled “The fate of the MPs who plotted a coup against Corbyn” written by Jane Merrick, published in the Guardian on December 20, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/20/mps-plotted-coup-jeremy-corbyn-coup-where-are-they-now

4 From an article entitled “No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on May 5, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/05/jeremy-corbyn-blame-meltdown-labour-leader

5 From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn didn’t win – but he has rewritten all the rules” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on June 10, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/10/jeremy-corbyn-general-election–labour-rewrites-rules

6 Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and financial journalist Paul Mason discuss the election result with the Artist Taxi Driver (viewer discretion advised):

7 From an article entitled “Theresa May branded a ‘threat’ to peace, hospitals and schools in nationwide billboard campaign” written by Dan Bloom, published in the Daily Mirror on May 22, 2017. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/theresa-branded-threat-peace-hospitals-10474044

8 Quip stolen from George Galloway.

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anti-Zionism ≠ antisemitism: Jewish voices against the pro-Israel witch hunt

Ask yourself a simple, but serious, question. You go for a job interview. Which trait is most likely to work against you: if you’re ugly, if you’re fat, if you’re short, or if you’re Jewish? It’s perhaps a sad commentary on our society’s values, but the trait most likely to elicit a rejection letter is if you’re ugly. Then fat; then short. The factor least likely to work against you is, if you’re Jewish.

says American Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein.

Finkelstein, who is the son of holocaust survivors, a leading authority on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and a fierce opponent of Zionism, was replying to questions about Labour’s alleged “antisemitism problem”. Asked about the current campaign against Corbyn, he continued:

The question you have to ask yourself is, why? Why has this issue been resurrected with a vengeance, so soon after its previous outing was disposed of as a farce? Is it because of a handful of allegedly antisemitic social media postings from Labour members? Is it because of the tongue-in-cheek map posted by Naz Shah? That’s not believable. The only plausible answer is, it’s political. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the factual situation; instead, a few suspect cases of antisemitism – some real, some contrived – are being exploited for an ulterior political motive. As one senior Labour MP said the other day, it’s transparently a smear campaign.

Finkelstein has chosen to break his silence on this latest pro-Israel witch hunt by giving an interview to Jamie Stern-Weiner. A transcript published May 3rd is available here.

He concludes the interview as follows:

Labour has now set up an inquiry that is supposed to produce a workable definition of ‘antisemitism’ – which is to say, to achieve the impossible. It’s been tried countless times before, and it’s always proven futile. The only beneficiaries of such a mandate will be academic ‘specialists’ on antisemitism, who will receive hefty consultancy fees (I can already see Richard Evans at the head of the queue), and Israel, which will no longer be in the spotlight. I understand the short-term political rationale. But at some point, you have to say, ‘enough already’. Jews are prospering as never before in the UK. The polls show that the number of, so to speak, hard-core antisemites is miniscule. It’s time to put a stop to this periodic charade, because it ends up besmirching the victims of the Nazi holocaust, diverting from the real suffering of the Palestinian people, and poisoning relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities. You just had an antisemitism hysteria last year, and it was a farce. And now again? Another inquiry? Another investigation? No.

In order to put an end to this, there has to be a decisive repudiation of this political blackmail. Bernie Sanders was brutally pressured to back down on his claim that Israel had used disproportionate force during its 2014 assault on Gaza. He wouldn’t budge, he wouldn’t retreat. He showed real backbone. Corbyn should take heart and inspiration from Bernie’s example. He has to say: no more reports, no more investigations, we’re not going there any more. The game is up. It’s long past time that these antisemitism-mongers crawled back into their sewer – but not before humbly apologising to Naz Shah, and begging her forgiveness.

It is true that Bernie Sanders’ response is an exemplary one, but we should of course bear in mind that he is a Jewish candidate. This provides immunity (at least to some extent – though not entirely as we shall see) from spurious charges of antisemitism.

Incidentally, the published interview was afterwards appended with the following clarification:

Readers have expressed shock at the scandalous remarks attributed to Jonathan Freedland. Finkelstein decided to amend the paragraph so as to quote Freedland word-for-word. Readers will now perhaps be even more shocked.

Here’s what Finkelstein said that caused such a furore:

You can see this overlap between the Labour Right and pro-Israel groups personified in individuals like Jonathan Freedland, a Blairite hack who also regularly plays the antisemitism card. He’s combined these two hobbies to attack Corbyn. Incidentally, when my book, The Holocaust Industry, came out in 2000, Freedland wrote that I was ‘closer to the people who created the Holocaust than to those who suffered in it’. Although he appears to be, oh, so politically correct now, he didn’t find it inappropriate to suggest that I resembled the Nazis who gassed my family.

We appeared on a television program together. Before the program, he approached me to shake my hand. When I refused, he reacted in stunned silence. Why wouldn’t I shake his hand? He couldn’t comprehend it. It tells you something about these dull-witted creeps. The smears, the slanders – for them, it’s all in a day’s work. Why should anyone get agitated? Later, on the program, it was pointed out that the Guardian, where he worked, had serialised The Holocaust Industry across two issues. He was asked by the presenter, if my book was the equivalent of Mein Kampf, would he resign from the paper? Of course not. Didn’t the presenter get that it’s all a game?

Click here to read the full transcript of Finkelstein’s scathing rebuke of all accusations of latent racism within the Labour Party, including those levelled at Ken Livingstone.

*

Naz Shah has been hung out to dry today. She has confessed, recanted and repented. Her shame is absolute. She has had the Labour Party whip withdrawn and people like the rapidly moving rightwards airhead, Owen Jones, was in the vanguard of the witch hunt calling for her suspension John McDonnell was right to swiftly force Naz Shah’s resignation – but now the party has to suspend her. All we need is the scaffold and then she could literally be hung out to dry.

writes founding member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Britain and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Tony Greenstein, who has also written a number of articles for the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’, before “being censored because he rejected the idea that comparing Zionism and the Israeli State to the Nazis was anti-Semitic.”

Greenstein continues:

Indeed Naz Shah has confessed to her comments being anti-Semitic. Isn’t that enough proof? No. The defendants in the Stalin purge trials also confessed to being Trotsky’s agents and more. It is perfectly possible to create a psychological atmosphere such that people will confess to all manner of things, even though they are not guilty. Police interrogators have, throughout the years, been quite skilled in obtaining false confessions without the need to beat people up or torture them.

So let me say it here – there is nothing anti-Semitic in what Naz Shah has said. She made what was quite a flippant humorous joke in the midst of something that was anything but funny – the merciless use of American planes, white phosphorous and the most modern missiles and rocket technology against a people who had nothing except pea crackers to fire back with (the ‘rockets’ that Israel used as a pretext for the bombardment and invasion). Let us not forget that 2,200 people were murdered in Gaza including 551 ‘terrorist’ children.

He adds:

The anti-Semitism talked about today is nothing more than an attempt to defend Israel. It has nothing to do with actual anti-Semitism. Zionists (no it’s not a term of abuse it means those who defend the State of Israel – they do after all have a World Zionist Organisation) find it difficult to defend incarceration and torture of children as young as 12 (if they are Palestinian). Jewish children of course can’t be locked up unless they are at least 14 and they have social workers and parents accompanying them unlike Palestinian children who are kept in solitary confinement, beaten and worse. It is difficult defending a system where 93% of Israeli land is reserved wholly for Jewish use. It is much better to cry ‘anti-Semitism’ and attack the messenger rather than the message.

What is happening is that the millions of pounds that the Israeli government has devoted to propaganda is being spent now to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn and the new Labour leadership.  They are hunting down every tweet, email etc. in order to create an atmosphere of permanent instability. I know because tweets I have issued have been taken totally out of context to suggest I am anti-Semitic. If someone calls me a ‘self-hater’anti-Semite’ etc. I will accuse them of being ‘zio scum’ or whatever. Anti-Semitic? Get a life.

Greenstein is another to have been caught up in the recent witch hunt, when he was prominently featured in an article published by The Telegraph on April 1st entitled “Activist who derides critics as ‘Zionist scum’ admitted to Labour in latest anti-Semitism scandal to hit the Party”. The piece very studiously avoids any mention of the rather glaring fact that Greenstein is from an Orthodox Jewish family, although at the end a clarification has since been added that “we have been asked to make clear that we had not intended to imply that Tony Greenstein is anti-Semitic. We are happy to do so.”

Click here to read more from Tony Greenstein’s extended piece entitled “Naz Shah – More False Allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ – British Jews are NOT oppressed: This is a Bogus Campaign Worthy of Stalin’s Purges”

*

As the witch hunt gathered pace, the Jewish Socialists’ Group issued a formal statement. Thanks to social networking forums it quickly gathered a sizeable audience across the internet. However the corporate media turned an immediate blind eye instead.

I recommend reading the full statement, but here is a flavour:

Accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism. This is despite Corbyn’s longstanding record of actively opposing fascism and all forms of racism, and being a firm a supporter of the rights of refugees and of human rights globally. […]

The attack is coming from four main sources, who share agendas: to undermine Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour; to defend Israeli government policy from attack, however unjust, racist and harmful towards the Palestinian people; and to discredit those who make legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy or Zionism as a political ideology. As anti-racist and anti-fascist Jews who are also campaigning for peace with justice between Israelis and Palestinians, we entirely reject these cynical agendas that are being expressed by:

  • The Conservative Party
  • Conservative-supporting media in Britain and pro-Zionist Israeli media sources
  • Right-wing and pro-Zionist elements claiming to speak on behalf of the Jewish community
  • Opponents of Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour party.

[…]

The Jewish Socialists’ Group sees the current fearmongering about antisemitism in the Labour Party for what it is – a conscious and concerted effort by right-wing political forces to undermine the growing support among Jews and non-Jews alike for the Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and a measure of the desperation of his opponents.

We stand against antisemitism, against racism and fascism and in support of refugees. We stand for free speech and open debate on Israel, Palestine and Zionism.

*

Concluding remarks:

Back in March, as the current witch hunt was just brewing, I posted an extended article entitled “anti-Zionism ≠ antisemitism: playing the race card cannot diguise Israel’s guilt”. As an epigraph, I quoted a dictionary definition of the word ‘racism’. My idea was to encourage readers to reflect on the strict meaning of the word so as to reach an appreciation that this has significantly drifted and, more importantly, been diluted.

On reflection the use of such a device was gauche and may have appeared sententious, although in light of what has since transpired my concern was surely a justifiable one. Indeed, the need to reclaim the word ‘racism’ is becoming an urgent one. Casually brandished by those whose sole purpose is to blacken the name of their opponents, its proper meaning is cheapened. This is an exceedingly dangerous game. For words very often act as safeguards against the gravest of our errors: ‘racism’ serves as just such a safeguard. We undermine its correct meaning at our collective peril.

*

Update:

Jackie Walker, Vice Chair of the grassroots movement Momentum that helped Jeremy Corbyn become party leader, is another Labour activist who was suspended over alleged antisemitic comments posted on social media.

Walker, who is a black activist of Jewish heritage and lifelong anti-racist campaigner as well as a signatory to Jews For Justice For Palestinians was interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground on March 21st:

 

On May 21st, Walker was invited back on the show to speak about the charge of antisemitism against her and how the suspension has affected her life:

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anti-Zionism ≠ antisemitism: playing the race card cannot disguise Israel’s guilt

racism n.1 a a belief in the superiority of a particular race; prejudice based on this. b antagonism towards other races, esp. as a result of this. 2 the theory that human abilities etc. are determined by race. 1

As you read on please keep in mind this dictionary definition of racism. Reflect upon it and consider if this definition better fits the supporters of Israel’s policy against the Palestinians, or those who support Palestinian rights and in turn accuse Israel of being an apartheid state. Ask too whether in accordance with the strict definition, it is antisemitic, and thus racist, to take either an anti-Israel or an anti-Zionist stance.

*

On August 14th 2002, Democracy Now! interviewed Shulamit Aloni, leading Israeli civil rights activist and former Knesset member who headed the Meretz Party. In reply to the question “Often when there is dissent expressed in the United States against policies of the Israeli government, people here are called antisemitic: what is your response?” she said:

Well, it’s a trick. We always use it.

Continuing:

When from Europe somebody’s criticising Israel then we bring up the Holocaust. When in this country [America] someone is criticising Israel then they are antisemitic… It’s very easy to blame people who criticise certain acts of the Israeli government as antisemitic and to bring up the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish people and that justifies everything we do to the Palestinian people.

Click here to read a full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website. [The extract above begins at 51 mins in]

Please note that I added the above section with a view to better framing the article. The post originally opened with the dictionary definition directly followed by my own views below.

*

Signs of antisemitism?

As the Conservative party divides its time between running the country and tearing itself apart over Europe, Labour has been consumed with a rather different problem. In the past two weeks, it has had to expel two activists for overt racism. That follows the creation of an inquiry into the Labour club at Oxford University, after the co-chair resigned saying the club was riddled with racism. The racism in question is hatred of Jews. 2

writes Jonathan Freedland in a recent Guardian article entitled “Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem”.

Antisemitism has a diabolical history, so can this really be true? Is the Labour Party deeply infected with racism? Or is this really another salvo in the war against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters – a war that began even before he was elected leader? More later.

*

Meanwhile, over at AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Hillary Clinton last week addressed the more than 14,000 delegates gathered for their annual Policy Conference. She said:

Many of the young people here today are on the front lines of the battle to oppose the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS. Particularly at a time when antisemitism is on the rise across the world, especially in Europe, we must repudiate all efforts to malign, isolate and undermine Israel and the Jewish people. I’ve been sounding the alarm for a while now. As I wrote last year in a letter to the heads of major American Jewish organizations, we have to be united in fighting back against BDS. Many of its proponents have demonized Israeli scientists and intellectuals, even students. To all the college students who may have encountered this on campus, I hope you stay strong. Keep speaking out. Don’t let anyone silence you, bully you or try to shut down debate, especially in places of learning like colleges and universities. Antisemitism has no place in any civilized society—not in America, not in Europe, not anywhere. 3

Of course antisemitism – and every form of racism – has no place in any society. But since when did boycott, divestment and sanctions constitute racism? And is it true that antisemitism is on the rise again and “especially in Europe”? Where in Europe is it on the rise? More later.

*

AIPAC greets The Donald

Attending this year’s AIPAC convention alongside Hillary were all the presidential hopefuls with the exception of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein of the Green Party, the only Jewish candidates in the race. Keen to curry favour with their influential hosts, the rest were soon falling over themselves to heap praise and promise unreserved support to Israel.

Prior to his appearance at AIPAC, Trump had declared that he would remain “neutral” in brokering any peace deal between Israel and Palestine. But fickle as ever, ‘The Donald’ was not about to be outdone by his rivals and overeager to push the right buttons. So besides reassuring the audience of his absolute determination to overturn the Iran deal, here is a sample of what else he said last Monday [March 21st]:

When I’m president, believe me, I will veto any attempt by the U.N. to impose its will on the Jewish state. It will be vetoed 100 percent.

And he said:

When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one.

And:

Already half of the population of Palestine has been taken over by the Palestinian ISIS and Hamas, and the other half refuses to confront the first half, so it’s a very difficult situation that’s never going to get solved unless you have great leadership right here in the United States.

We’ll get it solved. One way or the other, we will get it solved.

And:

We will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel.

And:

The Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is absolutely, totally unbreakable.

And then he said:

They must come to the table willing and able to stop the terror being committed on a daily basis against Israel. They must do that.

And they must come to the table willing to accept that Israel is a Jewish state and it will forever exist as a Jewish state. 4

And finally he told everyone in the room how much he loved Israel and how much he loved the people in the room who shared his love for Israel and then they all applauded him until their hands were stinging.

Here is how Haaretz correspondent Chemi Shalev reported on Trump’s performance:

Trump entered the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. as a prime suspect but emerged clean as a whistle. In less than half an hour, he took a skeptical and apprehensive audience and turned them into gushing cheerleaders. He went into the arena as a racist demagogue but soon came out as an ostensibly serious contender. He faced a tough test of his mettle but passed it with flying colors and hardly any effort. He came away with a kosher “K” certificate, issued by one of the most powerful and influential organizations in America.

Adding:

In honor of AIPAC… he undertook an extreme makeover, reading a tightly formulated speech from the kind of teleprompter that he usually mocks. He didn’t deviate from his prepared text, which wasn’t any different from the addresses made on Monday by Hillary Clinton, John Kasich and even House Speaker Paul Ryan, another AIPAC favorite. Ted Cruz, usually considered a far better speaker than Trump, suddenly sounded dazed and confused. 5

There were also a handful of delegates who opted to boycott Trump’s appearance on the grounds that Trump himself is a racist. Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld was one of the few and he wrote afterwards:

[And] the laws and teachings of Judaism make it clear that Trump qualifies as wicked. He has equivocated about whether he would disavow support from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. He has called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. He has suggested that torture be made legal and that the U.S. military kill the families of terrorism suspects (a war crime in international law as surely as it would be an ethical crime in religious law). Sure, he walked back some of those comments, but there is no question that his campaign is inspiring and nourishing the bigots and racists of the world. Lately, he has openly encouraged violence at his rallies. This combination of providing sustenance to racists and encouraging violence is a deadly one that represents an existential threat to our country. That certainly qualifies as wicked.

Before Trump’s speech, I asked other attendees at the AIPAC conference whether they would walk out to protest. Some small groups did leave, to study Torah elsewhere during his address. But most stayed, and many applauded. People told me that they wanted to hear what he had to say. They wanted to hear whether he would be supportive of Israel.

Whether he supports Israel is irrelevant to me. If a person inspires bigotry and racism, we should not overlook those character traits just because he says something with which we agree. Just the opposite: that he does agree with us on some issues makes his message even more dangerous, as it can make his bigotry and racism more palatable. 6

Rabbi Herzfeld is correct and I commend him. The jury can no longer be out on Donald Trump. Trump is an unabashed ethnic supremacist and a racist – he ticks all boxes of any definition. Moreover, those who loudly applaud him, whether within the capricious ranks of America’s so-called libertarian right, or its more rabid offshoot the Tea Party, or amongst Monday’s cheering crowd at AIPAC, thereby condone his racism. To oppose racism, you must denounce Trump.

[But] it is important to note that AIPAC inviting Trump is not an aberration, it is in line with AIPAC’s mission to support Israel regardless of how illegal and repressive its policies are.

writes Samantha Brotman from Jewish Voice for Peace in an article entitled “If Trump’s Racism Shocks You, So Too Should AIPAC’s”.

Brotman continues:

The reality is many of the alarming statements and political proposals that have even AIPAC goers up in arms over Trump’s participation are already policy in Israel. Israel’s Law of Return privileges Jewish immigrants over non-Jews, Israel already refuses to open its doors to Syrian refugees (many of whom are of Palestinian origin), and is building  highly militarized walls both on its southern border to keep out migrants and refugees, and throughout the West Bank to seize land and limit Palestinian freedom of movement. There is not much difference between Netanyahu’s racist fear-mongering to get votes in the 2015 Israeli election, and the blatant racism of Trump, or the no-less-racist dog-whistling by other candidates. And AIPAC unquestioningly supports Israel’s rights to continue these oppressive practices.

She concludes:

If Trump’s racism or policy proposals shock us, then so too should AIPAC. If the other candidates’ dehumanizing rhetoric about Palestinians makes us uncomfortable, then so too should AIPAC. If the claim that the BDS movement—a nonviolent movement that includes many Jews and emphasizes human rights—is essentially anti-Semitic confounds us, then so too should AIPAC. AIPAC represents everything we should seek to purge from politics: racism, inhumanity, fear-mongering, and entrenched commitment to the status quo. 7

Click here to read the full article published by Mint Press News.

*

Crying wolf at the ADL

Yoav Shamir is an Israeli Jew and an award-winning documentary filmmaker who set off in the late noughties to answer a nagging question. Having never experienced it, he asked himself, “what is antisemitism today?”

Along the way Shamir posed this same question in various ways to amongst others, political scientist John Mearsheimer, who co-authored The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, and Norman Finkelstein, the son of two Jewish concentration camp survivors and a fierce critic of Israeli policy. But central to his search for answers was the Anti-Defamation League (ADL); the biggest organisation in the world fighting antisemitism with an annual budget at the time of over $70 million. Happily, Abraham Foxman, the then-head of the New York-based ADL, had agreed to give Shamir unprecedented access to his organisation.

Yoav Shamir’s film “Defamation” is also available without subtitles by following the link: http://www.disclose.tv/embed/108237

The ADL tell Shamir that they receive reports of about 1,500 incidents of antisemitism a year but are detecting “a spike” in levels which appears to be centred on New York. As Shamir soon realises, however, supporting evidence for this claim is scant. Instead, those inside the ADL have evidently fallen into the habit of mistaking and reclassifying minor irritations and petty disputes as racist assaults.

ADL Regional Director, Bob Wolfson explains the levels to Shamir with the help of a flip chart and a roughly doodled pyramid:

“It starts with an insult, a denigrating statement, and at the very top what you have is genocide—and in between is every bad thing that can happen to someone.”

The film Defamation (2009 – embedded above) is a masterpiece of even-handedness and understatement. What Shamir discovers is how in contrast to very real and often acute feelings of Jewish vulnerability to outside threats and hostility, this sense of jeopardy (certainly in the western world) is for the most part groundless. Moreover, that the ADL itself, having a need to justify its own existence, helps to promote such a culture of suspicion and hypersensitivity by priming a feedback process which promotes and amplifies these anxieties. Unsurprisingly, his documentary was not well-received in all quarters. Shamir answers his critics here.

Today, when Clinton adjudges the BDS campaign antisemitic and places this in the context of the general though unsubstantiated claim that “antisemitism is on the rise across the world” she is appealing to an already heightened anxiety felt by her audience before skilfully playing on its uncertainties and suspicions. In doing so, she further aggravates the situation by saying: “we must repudiate all efforts to malign, isolate and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.” A quite deliberate muddling together of Israel with the Jewish people that would itself be deemed racist, were it not for Clinton’s pro-Israel stance.

*

The Corbyn affair

Jonathan Freedland, who describes himself as a ‘liberal Zionist’, wrote in the aftermath of Israel’s euphemistically named “Operation Protective Edge” military offensive of 2014:

Never do liberal Zionists feel more torn than when Israel is at war. 8

Yet the “war” he speaks of was in reality a one-sided massacre in which more than a thousand totally innocent Gazans lost their lives. Just another of Israel’s perennial acts of bloodletting that its most heinous apologists describe as “mowing the lawn”.

In a separate piece published a month later (also in The New York Review of Books), Freedland added:

In the toxic environment that characterizes much, if not most, debate on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a special poison is reserved for the liberal Zionist. Such a person, who stands by Israel even as he yearns for it to change, is fated to be hated by both camps: hawkish Zionists despise the liberal for going too far in his criticisms, accusing him of a hand-wringing betrayal of the cause that can only comfort the enemy, while anti-Zionists denounce the liberal for not going far enough, for failing to follow the logic of his position through to its conclusion and for thereby defending the indefensible. The liberal Zionist is branded either a hypocrite or an apologist or both. 9

Freedland’s self-pitying sticks in the throat, the more so after one also reads (within his reflections on “Operation Protective Edge” in the first article):

So there is a weariness in the liberal Zionist fraternity. Privately, people admit to growing tired of defending Israeli military action when it comes at such a heavy cost in civilian life, its futility confirmed by the frequency with which it has to be repeated. Operation Cast Lead was in 2008-2009. Operation Pillar of Defense followed in 2012. And here we are again in 2014. 10

This refrain of the ‘liberal Zionists’ is a familiar one. When we strip it to the bone we see how casually it reduces the murder of civilians to an awkward necessity. “Its futility” – its ineffectiveness – as Freedland says, “confirmed by the frequency with which it has to be repeated”. But because Freedland is an artful wordsmith he is seldom so careless when it comes to abetting Israel’s hypocrisy and defending the indefensible.

*

Freedland’s current dispute with the Labour Party is ostensibly about two party activists:

The cases of Gerry Downing and Vicki Kirby certainly look pretty rotten. The former said it was time to wrestle with the “Jewish Question”, the latter hailed Hitler as a “Zionist God” and tweeted a line about Jews having “big noses”, complete with a “lol”. 11

These opinions are abhorrent and offensive and in light of which the Labour Party has acted to suspend Downing and expel Kirby. 12 But these tweets, undeniably antisemitic as they are, represent the views of two individuals and are not ones held by the Labour Party or shared by Jeremy Corbyn.

Incidentally, at the time these cases came to light, the Labour leader was not Corbyn but Ed Miliband – Miliband who is the son of Polish Jews who had emigrated to Belgium but later fled the Nazi occupation. Furthermore, “Red Ed” as the tabloids soon labelled him, was the preferred choice of those ‘on the left’ of the party – the constituency Freedland wishes to hold to account.

However Freedland also has a bigger axe to grind and goes on:

[But] this is the brick wall Jews keep running into: the belief that what Jews are complaining about is not antisemitism at all, but criticism of Israel. Jews hear this often. They’re told the problem arises from their own unpleasant habit of identifying any and all criticism of Israel as anti-Jewish racism. Some go further, alleging that Jews’ real purpose in raising the subject of antisemitism is to stifle criticism of Israel.

So does Freedman deny that critics of Israel are routinely pilloried both on the trumped up charge of antisemitism, or, if the critic happens to be of Jewish ethnicity (as increasingly many are), then on grounds that they are “self-hating Jews”. Well, let’s go on:

What of those who attack not Jews, but only Zionists? Defined narrowly, that can of course be legitimate. If one wants to criticise the historical movement that sought to re-establish Jewish self-determination in Palestine, Zionism is the right word.

But Zionism, as commonly used in angry left rhetoric, is rarely that historically precise. It has blended with another meaning, used as a codeword that bridges from Israel to the wider Jewish world, hinting at the age-old, antisemitic notion of a shadowy, global power, operating behind the scenes.

So being anti-Zionist is equivalent to antisemitism too? Read on further:

To state the obvious, criticism of Israel and Zionism is not necessarily anti-Jewish: that’s why there are so many Jewish critics of Israel, inside and outside the country. But it doesn’t take a professor of logic to know that just because x is not always y, it does not follow that x can never be y. Of course opposition to Israel is not always antisemitic. But that does not mean that it is never and can never be antisemitic.

Any clearer? Well let me translate it. Freedland is saying that if I (a Jew) use the word Zionism to criticise Israel then that’s fine, but if you (a non-Jew) make a parallel argument then there may be grounds for suspicion…

Which brings us to Jeremy Corbyn.

Of course it does – where else could his meandering diatribe possibly have been heading?

No one accuses him of being an antisemite. But many Jews do worry that his past instinct, when faced with potential allies whom he deemed sound on Palestine, was to overlook whatever nastiness they might have uttered about Jews, even when that extended to Holocaust denial or the blood libel – the medieval calumny that Jews baked bread using the blood of gentile children.

Thus begins Freedland’s repetition of an old calumny against Corbyn about how he once unwittingly brushed shoulders with a holocaust denier called Paul Eisen. 13 Corbyn might not be an actual in-the-flesh antisemite, Freedland argues, but perhaps antisemitism doesn’t matter enough to him, which self-evidently explains why he is rude about Israel.

Guilt by association is a recognised type of ad hominem fallacy, as any professor of logic would also know, and literally proves nothing. Moreover, by mudslinging of this sort, Freedland and fellow inquisitors of the “new antisemitism” commit a second fallacy: precisely the one they rightly accuse their enemies of. By concatenating Israel with Jewishness and Zionism with Judaism, as they do, they conjure up spurious accusations that ultimately trivialise the true meaning and evil of racism.

*

This is Jeremy Corbyn being arrested at an anti-apartheid protest demo outside the South African embassy in 1984.

And here is Corbyn talking about the incident in the House of Commons later:

*

Racism and the Z-word

Here’s what the Urban Dictionary tells us about the word “Zionist”:

1. A person, Jewish or non-Jewish, who, by some action, supports the State of Israel.
2. A substitue [sic] word for ‘jew’ used by anti-semites who, for whatever reason, wish to hide their racist intent.

1. Robin moved to Israel because he is a Zionist. 
2. Any quote by George Galloway using the word ‘Zionist’.

That qualifies as satire apparently.

For the record, I have never heard George Galloway confuse Israel and Judaism. When he was put on trial last February by BBC’s Question Time, denounced by an unbalanced panel (that included Jonathan Freedland) and heckled by hostile audience, he very assiduously outlined the distinction, saying:

“This is a dangerous conflation. It’s a false synonym. Zionism and Israel are different things from Judaism and Jewishness. And anybody who confuses these two things, whether they are an antisemite, or whether they are so-called leaders of the Jewish community is making a grave mistake.”

[from 6:20 mins in]

As I wrote then in an earlier piece, there are plenty of accusations that can be fairly levelled at Galloway, but antisemitism is not on that list. Galloway is not a racist. Indeed, he has consistently spoken out against all types of racism. However, by speaking out loudly against Israel and Zionism, he is now presumed guilty of the “new antisemitism”.

All that said, Galloway’s roasting on Question Time did provide a rare moment of television for another reason. It had been a very long time since such an extended debate about Zionism was broadcast on the BBC.

Today, the word ‘Zionism’ itself is seldom heard in the mainstream media or anywhere respectable outside of Zionist forums themselves. Although within Zionist circles, it is breezily described as the Z-word. For instance, when Ed Miliband visited Israel back in April 2014 and remarked to students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem that “For me, Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people”, adding that:

“I come here very conscious of my family’s history and also with a deep sense of gratitude to Israel for what they did for my grandmother. Israel was a sanctuary for her from the most indescribable grief. So it’s a personal journey for me as well.”

He was rounded on by some pro-Israel voices for “being afraid to use the Z-word”. The Times of Israel afterwards reported:

It was a full and personal answer, but at the same time a dodge and obfuscation. Miliband managed to say he believed in the necessity of Israel and its right to exist without having to use the Z-word. He had landed himself in hot water for calling himself a Zionist once before in March 2013 – a declaration he had to walk back within twenty-four hours, his office clarifying he had “not used the word Zionist to describe himself” – and wasn’t about to do it again. […]

Since he became the first Jewish leader of the British Labour Party in September 2010, Miliband has made a conscious attempt to court Jewish community leaders and institutions. In contrast to the obviously strong relationship between the community and David Cameron and Boris Johnson, Miliband was unknown and is still, to an extent, distrusted.

The big problem for the “Jewish community”, according the same article, was that Miliband had “come out in strong opposition to Operation Protective Edge”:

While it might at first seem incongruous to have come out against Operation Protective Edge at a time when relations with the Jewish community were just beginning to warm up, it should be understood that the considerations of the Jewish community were very much separate and secondary to internal Labour Party politics. Within the Parliamentary Labour Party, it is fair to say, a majority of MPs subscribe to the view articulated by Miliband. 14

The article I quote above is entitled “Ed Miliband has a very Jewish problem”. But does he really? Or might it be fairer and more accurate to say The Times of Israel has a very Zionist problem? A problem that once again involves the all-too casual muddling up of Jewishness with Israel.

There is plenty of reason, of course, for Miliband to have steered clear of the Z-word, since it is one of those words that encourages asymmetric interpretations depending upon who is using it. Zionists may use it freely amongst themselves, but once anyone from an anti-Zionist quarter picks it up, then no matter how carefully they tread, they are more than likely to be accused of the “new antisemitism” – of racism by stealth – a very serious charge and one that is next to impossible to defend against.

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There has in fact been overall decline in the usage of the Z-word that can be traced back to the late 1970s. 15 So what happened to cause the drop-off?

To understand it helps us to go back to 1975 when the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelming in favour (72 votes to 35) of a resolution calling for the “Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination”. What was remarkable and perhaps shocking about Resolution 3379 was that it directly pointed to the equivalence between “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regimes in Zimbabwe and South Africa”. The Resolution ended with this uncompromising declaration: “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. 16

When this resolution was repealed in 1991, The New York Times reported:

Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who led the American delegation at this afternoon’s session, argued that repeal would bring the United Nations better into line with the realities of the post-cold-war world.

Equating Zionism with racism, Mr. Eagleburger said, “demonstrated like nothing else before or since, to what extent the cold war had distorted the United Nation’s vision of reality, marginalized its political utility and separated it from its original moral purpose.”

Alternatively:

Speaking against repeal on behalf of the Arabs, Lebanon’s representative, Khalil Makkawi, warned that it would hinder the peace process by whetting the appetite of “Israeli extremists wishing to pursue their policy of creeping annexation.”

It would also, he went on, “fuel the passions” of those Arabs “who believe the whole peace process is an exercise in futility which gives Israel more time to expand and achieve its revisionist Zionist project.”

But he said the Arab group “will revise its assumptions” if the sponsors of today’s repeal motion can now persuade Israel to comply with the Security Council’s demands that it cede occupied Arab lands in return for peace. 17

Sadly, post-Cold War history has shown Khalil Makkawi’s forecast to be the accurate one. Palestinian lands do indeed continue to be eaten away by the never-ending construction of illegal Israeli settlements, and as the Palestinian lands are stolen, their non-Jewish population is subjugated in a myriad ways and subjected to collective punishment that includes the partial starvation of those blockaded inside the Gaza Strip. 18

Given the terrible history of racism and oppression that culminated in the Holocaust, it is understandable and justifiable that the Jewish population demanded a right to sanctuary after the Second World War. But to settle the land of Israel those who arrived then callously swept aside a local people and in doing so transformed from victims into oppressors.

Not all Zionists are hawks, of course, and not all endorse the Zionist hawks of Israel’s right-wing Likud government. But Zionists today, liberal Zionists very much included, who unreservedly defend the right to a Jewish homeland are implicitly committed to supporting Israel’s founding principle of division along ethnic lines. They thereby tacitly approve all Israel’s past and current crimes including the horrors of the Palestinian exodus (or al-Nakbah, literally “the disaster”), an ethnic cleansing of more than 700,000 Palestinians during 1948 that was long denied. Somehow after a further half a century of brutal occupation, they can square all of this with their conscience.

Meanwhile, the men running Israel today are avowed Zionists of the most fundamentalist hue and the hard-line agenda they adhere to remains one of segregation and victimisation of the Palestinian people. It is a cruel expansionist apartheid system that is racist by any definition.

As Yousef Munayyer, executive director of U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, replied to political scientist Robert Freedman on a recent episode of Democracy Now! [March 22nd], responding to his claim (like Clinton’s) that BDS means “singling out Israel, when there are so many worse things happening in the world, [and] I think, is in fact antisemitism, and there’s no other way of looking at it”:

It’s the same exact argument, and you can go back and read the op-ed pieces that were written by the apologists for South African apartheid. It’s the same argument that we used to hear back in the ’70s and ’80s. When people were saying it’s time to divest from the apartheid system in South Africa, the apologists for apartheid were saying, “Look, there’s all kinds of horrible things going on in Africa and elsewhere. Why are you singling out South Africa? Don’t you understand the blacks in South Africa have it so much better than blacks elsewhere in Africa?” I mean, the arguments are almost word for word the same. And the reality is that the outcome has to be the same, as well, and the apologists for apartheid cannot be allowed to win. It’s only through the efforts—the nonviolent efforts—of civil society to hold Israel accountable for its violations of abuses—and abuses of Palestinian human rights that we are going to see any kind of change on the ground, especially if governments like the United States government, which is playing such a large role, continue to abdicate in their responsibility of doing something. [from 23 mins in]

Click here to read a full transcript or watch the discussion on the Democracy Now! website.

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The final words I leave with Rachel Sandalow-Ash of Open Hillel:

It’s sort of easy to call anything we don’t like anti-Semitism, but that’s sort of to diminish what real anti-Semitism is. And I think it’s very important to call that out when and where it exists but not to use anti-Semitism, and the fear of it, as a way of shutting down voices that challenge accepted viewpoints in our community.

Taken from an excellent recent article published by Mondoweiss entitled “Zionism is finally in the news, as officials seek to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism”.

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Update:

Since I posted this article, Bernie Sanders – “the first Jew in American history to win a delegate, much less a primary” (as CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out) – has likewise been accused of “blood libel”. The accuser on this occasion is former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, an American-born historian who now serves in the Knesset. Oren, who is an unrestrained pro-Israel attack dog, claims that Sanders owes Israel an apology after he inadvertently misstated the number of Palestinians massacred in Gaza in 2014.

On April 14th, Democracy Now! invited Joel Beinin, Professor of Middle East history at Stanford University and the former Director of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo, to share his thoughts on Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton’s stance on Israel. Beinin said:

Bernie has been evolving. If we remember the summer of Israel’s assault on Gaza, when he tried to shout down people in a town meeting who asked him to be more critical of Israel, he was toeing the Democratic Party line. He has now backed off from that. He wants to be more balanced. He has appointed Simone Zimmerman as his Jewish community outreach coordinator. She recently wrote an op-ed in Haaretz, the leading liberal daily of Israel, saying that we should talk about boycott, divestment and sanctions; very friendly to Jewish Voice for Peace. A lot of what he’s saying is still a good bit away from where I think he should be. But compared to Hillary Clinton, who pretty much parrots the Likud line, he’s in a different place.

And regarding Clinton:

Hillary Clinton was giving you the standard cant. Nobody says Israel has the most powerful military between Morocco and Pakistan. They really don’t need any more armaments. They have 200 nuclear weapons and so on. And moreover, yes, there have been terrorist attacks against Israel. None of them, altogether, represent anything remotely resembling an existential threat to Israel. They’re unfortunate. It’s a tragic loss of civilian life when that happens. But from a security point of view, it’s not a big deal. On the other hand, Israel has aggressively attacked its neighbors in 1956, in 1967, in 1982. On balance, Israel has been the aggressor for most of its historical existence.

Hillary, I don’t know if she knows the history, doesn’t care about the history. She says what candidates need to say in order to get elected. Bernie Sanders is inching his way towards a more reasonable position. He is pointing out that Israel is expanding settlements. He mentioned in the interview with the New York Daily News that the settlements are actually illegal, although he wasn’t clear that every single one of them is illegal according to international law. And that’s not a matter of who thinks international law means what. But he’s moving along. It’s clear that the millennials who support him 85 to 15 are more critical of Israel, and he’s getting closer to their views.

Click here to watch the interview or read the full transcript at the Democracy Now! website.

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1 Definition taken from The eighth edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary published by Clarendon Press, Oxford. 1990.

2 From an article entitled “Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on March 18, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/18/labour-antisemitism-jews-jeremy-corbyn

3 A full transcript of Hillary Clinton’s speech to AIPAC is available here: http://time.com/4265947/hillary-clinton-aipac-speech-transcript/

4 A full transcript of Donald Trump’s speech to AIPAC is available here: http://time.com/4267058/donald-trump-aipac-speech-transcript/

5 From an article entitled “Trump’s Hypnotic Gig at AIPAC Will Go Down in History – or Infamy” written by Chemi Shalev, published in Haaretz on March 22, 2016. http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/u-s-election-2016/1.710222

6 From an article entitled “Donald Trump is wicked. As a rabbi, I had to protest his AIPAC speech” written by Shmuel Herzfeld, published in The Washingon Post on March 23, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/03/23/donald-trump-is-wicked-as-a-rabbi-i-had-to-protest-his-aipac-speech/

7 From an article entitled “If Trump’s Racism Shocks You, So Too Should AIPAC’s” written by Samatha Brotman, published by Mint Press News on March 22, 2016. http://www.mintpressnews.com/trumps-racism-shocks-aipacs/214961/

8 From an article entitled “Liberal Zionism After Gaza” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in The New York Review of Books on July 26, 2014. http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2014/07/26/liberal-zionism-after-gaza/

9 From an article entitled “The Liberal Zonists” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in The New York Review of Books on August 14, 2014. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2014/08/14/liberal-zionists/

10 From an article entitled “Liberal Zionism After Gaza” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in The New York Review of Books on July 26, 2014. http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2014/07/26/liberal-zionism-after-gaza/

11 From an article entitled “Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on March 18, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/18/labour-antisemitism-jews-jeremy-corbyn

12

At the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday night, MPs urged Jeremy Corbyn to act after it emerged Ms Kirby had recently been given her new post – and that the party had said new evidence was needed of further misconduct to expel her.

The decision to simply issue Ms Kirby with a warning was taken by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee in 2014, under Ed Miliband’s leadership.

But today, as the NEC met for its quarterly meeting, the party changed its position. A spokeswoman said: “Vicki Kirby has been suspended from the Labour party pending an investigation.”

Gerry Downing, who had also spoken of the need to “address the Jewish question”, won an appeal against his suspension as a Labour member, but was eventually expelled after “new evidence” came to light.

From an article entitled “Labour Suspends Party Member Vicky Kirby AGAIN After MPs Urge Jeremy Corbyn To Take Action On Anti-Semitism” written by Paul Waugh, published by Huffington Post on March 17, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/jeremy-corbyn-vicky-kirby-anti-semitism_uk_56e80319e4b03fb88ede23bf

13

The most shocking accusation, originating with The Daily Mail, is that Corbyn has “long standing links” with Paul Eisen, a “notorious” Holocaust denier involved in the group Deir Yassin Remembered.

Eisen certainly expresses disgusting views, denying the Nazi Holocaust took place and frequently expressing other anti-Semitic opinions on his blog.

However, his only real notoriety is for his attempts to infiltrate the Palestine solidarity movement.

Once it became clear what his views were, he was widely condemned and shunned by a movement which is fundamentally anti-racist in its basic principles. Indeed, even in the blog post which the Mail relied on as the source for its smear, Eisen admits that the movement has long “despised me.”

The only real link between the two men (as the Mail conveniently omitted) is that Eisen happens to live in Corbyn’s Islington parliamentary constituency in North London.

Eisen claims to have met him in that capacity – as Corbyn is his member of parliament. It is nonetheless odd that the Mail would be so keen to take the word of a Holocaust denier when it comes to his relationship with Corbyn.

From an article entitled ‘4 reasons the “anti-Semitism” attacks on Jeremy Corbyn are dishonest’ written by Asa Winstanley, published by The Electronic Intifada on August 19, 2015. https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/4-reasons-anti-semitism-attacks-jeremy-corbyn-are-dishonest

14 From an article entitled “Ed Miliband has a very Jewish problem” written by Liam Hoare, published in The Times of Israel on August 14, 2014. http://www.timesofisrael.com/ed-miliband-has-a-very-jewish-problem/

15 You can find a plot of usage with time here: https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=7&case_insensitive=on&content=zionism&direct_url=t4%3B%2Czionism%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3BZionism%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BZIONISM%3B%2Cc0

The graph peaks in 1978 and then declined by about a third in little more than three decades.

16 You can download the document containing Resolution 3379 (XXX) from the United Nations website following this link: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/30/ares30.htm

The full text is also available on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_Resolution_3379

17 From an article entitled “U.N. Repeals Its ’75 Resolution Equating Zionism With Racism” written by Paul Lewis, published by The new York Times on December 17, 1991. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/17/world/un-repeals-its-75-resolution-equating-zionism-with-racism.html

18

Documents, whose existence were denied by the Israeli government for over a year, have been released after a legal battle led by Israeli human rights group, Gisha. The documents reveal a deliberate policy by the Israeli government in which the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are “putting the people of Gaza on a diet”.

From an article entitled “Israeli Government Documents Show Deliberate Policy To Keep Gazans At Near-starvation Levels” written by Saed Bannoura, published by International Middle East Media Center on November 10, 2010. http://www.imemc.org/article/59843

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25 lost years in a vicious circle of war: from the fall of the wall to Cold War 2.0 and beyond (absit omen)

On April 19th, James E. Cartwright, a former Marine Corps general, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commander of the United States Strategic Command, and Vladimir Dvorkin, a retired major general who headed the research institute of Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces, co-authored an op-ed published in the New York Times entitled “How to Avert a Nuclear War”. It began:

We find ourselves in an increasingly risky strategic environment. The Ukrainian crisis has threatened the stability of relations between Russia and the West, including the nuclear dimension — as became apparent last month when it was reported that Russian defense officials had advised President Vladimir V. Putin to consider placing Russia’s nuclear arsenal on alert during last year’s crisis in Crimea.

Diplomatic efforts have done little to ease the new nuclear tension. This makes it all the more critical for Russia and the United States to talk, to relieve the pressures to “use or lose” nuclear forces during a crisis and minimize the risk of a mistaken launch. 1

I shall return to consider the recent warning put out by Generals James E. Cartwright and Vladimir Dvorkin, but wish first to review just a few of the many foolhardy steps that have led us right back to nuclear confrontation with Russia.

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Birth pangs of the New Cold War

The world is facing the prospect of major war, perhaps nuclear war – with the United States clearly determined to isolate and provoke Russia and eventually China. This truth is being turned upside down and inside out by journalists, including those who promoted the lies that led to the bloodbath in Iraq in 2003.

These are the words of veteran investigative journalist John Pilger speaking at The Logan Symposium back in December:

You can also read a full transcript of his speech in the form of an article entitled “War by media and the triumph of propaganda”.

As the Berlin Wall came tumbling down on that wintery evening twenty-five years ago, so many (myself included) breathed a tremendous sigh of relief and thereafter fell into a stupor. The peace dividend was coming at last, and we couldn’t go on waiting to enjoy it. Instead, the party started up right there and then, and no-one wished to look back.

But it turned out that there was no peace dividend, for the simple reason that there was no lasting peace. In fact, the western powerbrokers – the undisputed victors of the Cold War – didn’t find the prospect of peace especially attractive. Seeing their main competitor suddenly against the ropes, and thus finding themselves unrivalled, they instead spied an opportunity. The way was temporarily clear for the pursuit of an unassailable global supremacy, and if realising this half-disclosed ambition required more war rather than less, as indeed it would, then so be it – in both military and economic spheres, the unofficial demand was to let battle commence! To maximise success, the empire must be rapidly expanded, and without delay.

Any understanding of the history of the past quarter of a century requires a recognition of this overarching geopolitical thrust for a unipolar world order (one that was openly declared at the turn of the millennium by Washington’s already rampant neo-con faction who named it “Project for a New American Century” or PNAC). It is the same reason why, as The Nation magazine reported back in 2014:

In 2013, elite US forces were deployed in 134 countries around the globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM [Special Operations Command] Public Affairs. This 123 percent increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the US has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection. Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences. 2

Click here to read more about “America’s Secret War in 134 Countries”.

Here is another empire on which the sun never sets, but the novelty of it is, that this time around the empire pretends to be no empire at all.

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The road to hell

When the lies have been stacked up so high and for such a long time, it is becomes an exhausting and demanding effort to try to peer beneath them. But we have to keep trying. As a free society we simply cannot afford to let the truth of recent historical events be sacrificed to the memory hole, and a false narrative hoisted in their stead. When truth is discarded to the flames, freedom shrivels with it. This was the main message Orwell was trying to tell us in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

During the twenty-five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West has never stopped the fighting. The peace dividend entirely spent on armaments and bloodshed.

Indeed, it took less than a year following the heady celebrations of November 9th 1989, before George Bush Snr set about launching the first fresh offensive. It happened against our former ally Saddam Hussein when a dispute over oil rights with the neighbouring dictatorship in Kuwait provided the excuse to attack. The First Iraq War (or Gulf War) kicked off under Operation Desert Shield on August 2nd 1990.

As these two despotic regimes butted heads, the average American needed a good reason to get behind a western intervention in favour of either one, and so the world’s largest (as of then) public relations firm Hill & Knowlton were hired – incidentally, H & K are the same firm who ran campaigns to discredit medical research on the dangers of smoking, and who now work for the fracking industry.

Back in 1990, it was Hill & Knowlton who found a fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl, known only as Nayirah, who described in the most harrowing details what she personally witnessed in Kuwait City:

“I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital,” she said. “While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where … babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.”

As it transpired, however, Nayirah was no ordinary Kuwaiti citizen. She was, in fact, a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family. Moreover, heartbroken Nayirah was simply acting out her part, having been coached by none other than Hill & Knowlton’s vice-president Lauri Fitz-Pegado, whilst her own father, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait’s US Ambassador, was sat listening to her entirely fictitious sob story.

More than anything else, it would be Hill & Knowlton’s elaborate deception that helped propel the West into its first war of the ‘post-wall’ era (if I may coin a useful term). The direct human cost would be more than 20,000 lives.

But the First Iraq War did not last long. It was a blitzkrieg and one that merely whet the appetite of our slavering military-industrial complex. By February 28th 1991, the Iraqis were fleeing Kuwait, and this rapidly retreating convoy offered a tantalising target for the generals. Photojournalist Peter Turnley later wrote:

During the Persian Gulf War, 1991, the pool system created by the military was meant to be, and was, a major impediment for photojournalists in their quest to communicate the realities of war. This fact does not diminish the great efforts, courage, and many important images created by those among my colleagues who participated in these pools. While you would have a very difficult time, now, finding an editor of an American publication who wouldn’t condemn that pool system and its restrictions, most publications and television entities at the time more or less bought the program before the war began. This reality has been far less discussed than the critiques of the pools themselves.

I refused to participate in the pool system. I was in the Gulf for many weeks as the build-up of troops took place, then sat out the air war, and flew from Paris to Riyadh as soon as the ground war began. I arrived at the “mile of death” the morning of the day the war stopped. It was very early and few other journalists were present. It was a scene of incredible carnage. Strewn over this one-mile stretch of highway were cars and trucks with wheels still turning, radios still playing, and there were bodies scattered along the road. Many people have asked, “How many people died during the war with Iraq?” The question has never been well answered. 3

Click here to view a slideshow of Peter Turnley’s Gulf War photographs including those taken of one of the massacres on the so-called “Highways of Death” out of Kuwait City.

How many thousands were killed during this retreat is disputed, but what is known with greater certainty is that although the war was ended, the slaughter was only beginning. After the war, two “no-fly zones” were put in place and these remained until a more intensive “shock and awe” bombing campaign in December 1998 called Operation Desert Fox, which itself cost an estimated two thousand lives. But worse than this ongoing war of attrition were the sanctions which had first been imposed shortly after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, and which persisted long after Saddam was deposed. Sanctions being another form of warfare, and costing the lives of many hundreds of thousands more, a disproportionate number of whom were also children.

In 1998, then-US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, described the United States as “the indispensible nation”, saying: “But if we have to use force, it is because we are America.” 4 Two years earlier, when in the midst of US sanctions, which as US Ambassador to the United Nations she had been in large part responsible for, she was asked “We have heard that half a million children have died, I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima… is the price worth it?” Albright replied bluntly: “We think the price is worth it.” 5

And let us not forget the still rising numbers of casualties who have had their lives ruined because of our extensive use of depleted uranium. I refer you to a short post I wrote about the terrible effects on the residents of Fallujah in particular.

Embedded below is investigative journalist John Pilger’s documentary “Paying the Price – Killing the Children of Iraq” which was produced by Carlton Television and first aired on ITV in 2000:

 

Even before the 2003 war, we were attacking Iraqi civilians with our inhumane economic sanctions. Yet where were the media protesting against this injustice?

So wrote John Pilger in an article entitled “Why we ignored Iraq in the 1990s” which he published in the New Statesman in October 2004 (the ‘Second’ Iraq War now well underway). He continues:

In October 1999, I stood in a ward of dying children in Baghdad with Denis Halliday, who the previous year had resigned as assistant secretary general of the United Nations. He said: “We are waging a war through the United Nations on the people of Iraq. We’re targeting civilians. Worse, we’re targeting children . . . What is this all about?”

Halliday had been 34 years with the UN. As an international civil servant much respected in the field of “helping people, not harming them”, as he put it, he had been sent to Iraq to implement the oil-for-food programme, which he subsequently denounced as a sham. “I am resigning,” he wrote, “because the policy of economic sanctions is . . . destroying an entire society. Five thousand children are dying every month. I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.”

Halliday’s successor, Hans von Sponeck, another assistant secretary general with more than 30 years’ service, also resigned in protest. Jutta Burghardt, the head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, followed them, saying she could no longer tolerate what was being done to the Iraqi people. Their collective action was unprecedented; yet it received only passing media attention.

John Pilger had been one at the forefront of opposing the sanctions against Iraq during the 1990s, but his had been just another voice in the wilderness. The reason was simple as Pilger points out:

“When truth is replaced by silence,” the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, “the silence is a lie.” He might have been referring to the silence over the devastating effects of the embargo. It is a silence that casts journalists as accessories, just as their silence contributed to an illegal and unprovoked invasion of a defenceless country. […]

Up to the fall of Baghdad, the misinformation and lies of Bush and Blair were channelled, amplified and legitimised by journalists, notably by the BBC, which defines its political coverage by the pronouncements, events and personalities of the “village” of Whitehall and Westminster. Andrew Gilligan broke this rule in his outstanding reporting from Baghdad and later his disclosure of Blair’s most important deception. It is instructive that the most sustained attacks on him came from his fellow journalists. 6

Click here to read John Pilger’s full article.

In brief, this is how the war party seized power. They have maintained themselves ever since by force feeding the general public, through the conduit of a subservient and compliant media, a diet of poisonous lies and murderous deception. What began with Bush Snr’s “humanitarian intervention” in The Gulf, then after 9/11 became a “war on terror”, has slowly and surreptitiously been morphed again into a series of “humanitarian interventions”.

‘Interventions’ that have helped to spread the ‘terror’ (meaning ‘terrorism’), deliberately so, thanks to support for the al-Qaeda ‘rebels’ first in Libya and later in Syria. Western foreign policy during the last quarter of a century has been ruinous for anyone who dared to step in the way and disastrous for those who wish to have a sustained peace. It turns out that the notorious “highways to death” in Kuwait were to be precursors for a road to hell for the whole world.

And so we leap forward to Ukraine…

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Kiev as our dubious ally

The name of “our” enemy has changed over the years, from communism to Islamism, but generally it is any society independent of western power and occupying strategically useful or resource-rich territory. The leaders of these obstructive nations are usually violently shoved aside, such as the democrats Muhammad Mossedeq in Iran and Salvador Allende in Chile, or they are murdered like Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. All are subjected to a western media campaign of caricature and vilification – think Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, now Vladimir Putin

This is John Pilger again (a decade on), in an article published last May. And Pilger is better informed than most on how bloodthirsty and duplicitous the West’s stop-at-nothing quest for neo-imperialist expansion has been, because he has personally plotted the tracks of its devastation during the last half century from South East Asia to South America, and from the Middle East to Africa. Pilger continues:

Washington’s role in Ukraine is different only in its implications for the rest of us. For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is threatening to take the world to war. With eastern Europe and the Balkans now military outposts of Nato, the last “buffer state” bordering Russia is being torn apart. We in the west are backing neo-Nazis in a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler. Having masterminded the coup in February against the democratically elected government in Kiev, Washington’s planned seizure of Russia’s historic, legitimate warm-water naval base in Crimea failed. The Russians defended themselves, as they have done against every threat and invasion from the west for almost a century. […]

Like the ruins of Iraq and Afghanistan, Ukraine has been turned into a CIA theme park – run by CIA director John Brennan in Kiev, with “special units” from the CIA and FBI setting up a “security structure” that oversees savage attacks on those who opposed the February coup. Watch the videos, read the eye-witness reports from the massacre in Odessa this month. Bussed fascist thugs burned the trade union headquarters, killing 41 people trapped inside. Watch the police standing by. A doctor described trying to rescue people, “but I was stopped by pro-Ukrainian Nazi radicals. One of them pushed me away rudely, promising that soon me and other Jews of Odessa are going to meet the same fate… I wonder, why the whole world is keeping silent.” 7

And in February, Pilger added a hard-hitting follow-up entitled “Why the rise of fascism is again the issue”. He begins:

The recent 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was a reminder of the great crime of fascism, whose Nazi iconography is embedded in our consciousness. Fascism is preserved as history, as flickering footage of goose-stepping blackshirts, their criminality terrible and clear. Yet in the same liberal societies, whose war-making elites urge us never to forget, the accelerating danger of a modern kind of fascism is suppressed; for it is their fascism.

“To initiate a war of aggression…,” said the Nuremberg Tribunal judges in 1946, “is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Had the Nazis not invaded Europe, Auschwitz and the Holocaust would not have happened. Had the United States and its satellites not initiated their war of aggression in Iraq in 2003, almost a million people would be alive today; and Islamic State, or ISIS, would not have us in thrall to its savagery. They are the progeny of modern fascism, weaned by the bombs, bloodbaths and lies that are the surreal theatre known as news.

Like the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s, big lies are delivered with the precision of a metronome: thanks to an omnipresent, repetitive media and its virulent censorship by omission.

After first reminding the reader of the secret history behind our interventions in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Kosova, Afghanistan, and Libya, he then returns to Ukraine, writing:

In the 1990s, as former Soviet republics, eastern Europe and the Balkans became military outposts of Nato, the heirs to a Nazi movement in Ukraine were given their opportunity. Responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews, Poles and Russians during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Ukrainian fascism was rehabilitated and its “new wave” hailed by the enforcer as “nationalists”.

This reached its apogee in 2014 when the Obama administration splashed out $5 billion on a coup against the elected government. The shock troops were neo-Nazis known as the Right Sector and Svoboda. Their leaders include Oleh Tyahnybok, who has called for a purge of the “Moscow-Jewish mafia” and “other scum”, including gays, feminists and those on the political left.

These fascists are now integrated into the Kiev coup government. The first deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Andriy Parubiy, a leader of the governing party, is co-founder of Svoboda. On February 14, Parubiy announced he was flying to Washington get “the USA to give us highly precise modern weaponry”. If he succeeds, it will be seen as an act of war by Russia. […]

[At the same time,] The Kiev regime turned on the ethnic Russian population in the east with the ferocity of ethnic cleansing. Deploying neo-Nazi militias in the manner of the Waffen-SS, they bombed and laid to siege cities and towns. They used mass starvation as a weapon, cutting off electricity, freezing bank accounts, stopping social security and pensions. More than a million refugees fled across the border into Russia. In the western media, they became unpeople escaping “the violence” caused by the “Russian invasion”. The Nato commander, General Breedlove – whose name and actions might have been inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – announced that 40,000 Russian troops were “massing”. In the age of forensic satellite evidence, he offered none. 8

Incidentally, for anyone who believes that talk of a fascist coup in Kiev is merely the repetition of Kremlin propaganda, I direct you to read my earlier posts on the subject, but first to simply reflect upon the image below. It shows the headquarters of the “Euromaidan” protest movement and features as its centrepiece a portrait of Nazi collaborator and mass murderer, Stepan Bandera:

I also recommend watching this excellent overview (embedded below) by psychologist Stanislav Byshok, a leading authority on the rebirth of fascism in Ukraine who co-authored with Alexey Kochetkov Neonazis and Euromaidan: From Democracy to Dictatorship, which provides a comprehensive study of how fascist groups, covertly backed by the US State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, ousted the elected government and seized power in Ukraine (warning: many of the images are disturbing):

However, as the war drums continue to be pounded hard in America and Britain, strain does appear to be developing between the Nato powers. Especially after German chancellor, Angela Merkel, alongside French president, François Hollande, were able to broker a peace deal between Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. With the fragile ceasefire of the Minsk II accord in place, Der Spiegel also went on the offensive, most especially against neo-con hawk General Breedlove:

On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine — with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” having been sent to the Donbass. “What is clear,” Breedlove said, “is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”

German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove’s numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America’s NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO.

It wasn’t only General Breedlove who found himself in Der Spiegel’s firing line:

In reporting on the meeting later, the German tabloid Bild reported that [Victoria] Nuland referred to the chancellor’s early February trip to Moscow for talks with Putin as “Merkel’s Moscow stuff.” No wonder, then, that people in Berlin have the impression that important power brokers in Washington are working against the Europeans. Berlin officials have noticed that, following the visit of American politicians or military leaders in Kiev, Ukrainian officials are much more bellicose and optimistic about the Ukrainian military’s ability to win the conflict on the battlefield. “We then have to laboriously bring the Ukrainians back onto the course of negotiations,” said one Berlin official. […]

Nuland has also been open — at least internally — about her contempt for European weakness and is famous for having said “Fuck the EU” during the initial days of the Ukraine crisis in February of 2014. Her husband, the neo-conservative Robert Kagan [co-founder of PNAC], is, after all, the originator of the idea that Americans are from Mars and Europeans, unwilling as they are to realize that true security depends on military power, are from Venus.

When it comes to the goal of delivering weapons to Ukraine, Nuland and Breedlove work hand-in-hand. On the first day of the Munich Security Conference, the two gathered the US delegation behind closed doors to discuss their strategy for breaking Europe’s resistance to arming Ukraine.

On the seventh floor of the Bayerischer Hof hotel in the heart of Munich, it was Nuland who began coaching. “While talking to the Europeans this weekend, you need to make the case that Russia is putting in more and more offensive stuff while we want to help the Ukrainians defend against these systems,” Nuland said. “It is defensive in nature although some of it has lethality.” 9

Of course, the despicable Victoria Nuland and fellow neo-con General Breedlove are the new imperialists. Openly so, even if they do speak from both sides of their dishonourable mouths.

*

Reductio ad Hitlerum

The “coming of Hitler” is a rallying cry of war lovers. It was heard before Nato’s “moral crusade to save Kosovo” (Blair) in 1999, a model for the invasion of Iraq. In the attack on Serbia, 2 per cent of Nato’s missiles hit military targets; the rest hit hospitals, schools, factories, churches and broadcasting studios. Echoing Blair and a clutch of Clinton officials, a massed media chorus declared that “we” had to stop “something approaching genocide” in Kosovo, as Timothy Garton Ash wrote in 2002 in the Guardian. “Echoes of the Holocaust”, said the front pages of the Daily Mirror and the Sun. The Observer warned of a “Balkan Final Solution”. 10

These are words of John Pilger taken from in a short and very pointed article titled “The war lovers” which he wrote nearly a decade ago. The greatest fear at that time was that Bush looked dead set on attacking Iran (Iran having been designated the last to fall on Wesley Clark’s well-known list of neo-con targets), but thankfully history played out differently. Attack on Iran was indefinitely postponed, although if Netanyahu gets his way, it may not be delayed for much longer.

Also at the time of Pilger’s piece, with the neo-cons even more ascendant in Washington, we had the unseemly spectacle of Donald Rumsfeld comparing Hugo Chavez to Hitler. 11 Of course, Chavez had earlier compared Bush to the Devil 12, however the difference was that Chavez had no intention of attacking America (since obviously Venezuela is no position to attack), whereas Washington, as Chavez knew very well, had certainly been behind the coup of April 2002, which briefly succeeded (albeit for less than 48 hours) in toppling his elected government.

As Pilger says, whenever the West starts likening any foreign leader to Hitler, then this marks a point in an escalation that brings us closer to declaring war. Because comparing anyone to Hitler is tantamount not only to saying that such a person is impossible to negotiate with, but that it would be wilfully irresponsible to do so. It would be an act of collaboration, of appeasement. This is unthinkable:

Poor Prince Charles got into terrible trouble last week for stupidly saying something sensible. He was stitched up by the only witness to his perspicacious outburst, 78-year-old Marienne Ferguson. During a tour of the Canadian Museum of Immigration, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she was telling him how her family had fled Poland in 1939 just as the Germans invaded, when the prince apparently said: “And now Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler.” “I must say I agree with him,” Ferguson later said, as she dobbed him in to the world’s media, heralding headlines proclaiming that “Prince Charles says Putin is like Hitler!”

This is the opening paragraph of a Guardian article written last May by comedian David Mitchell. Mitchell then continues:

I agree with him too – and he’s not the first to say it. He’s echoing the views of former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Canadian foreign minister John Baird, Czech senate speaker Milan Stech and German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Vladimir Putin’s current foreign policy towards Ukraine is uncannily similar to Hitler’s behaviour towards Czechoslovakia and Poland in advance of his annexation of those countries in the 1930s. The prince’s comparison is apt and chilling, and the fact that Putin shows no sign of wanting to exterminate an ethnic group, but is content merely to marginalise and harass a sexual orientation, does nothing to undermine it. 13

So Putin is Hitler says Prince Charles. Says Hillary Clinton. Says Wolfgang Schäuble. Says (as we will see) David Cameron along with no lesser authority on fascism than Senator John McCain – someone happy to associate with the likes of Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of the right wing nationalist party Svoboda…

… and such a friend to Kiev that he was more recently invited to join Poroshenko’s International Advisory Council on Reforms:

“I was honored to be asked to join Ukraine’s International Advisory Council on Reforms, a forum for discussing ways to ensure Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security and support the country’s democratic future in the face of Russian aggression. However, under provisions of the U.S. Constitution concerning the interaction of Members of Congress with foreign governments, I am obligated to decline the invitation.” 14

And so says marvellously perspicacious comedian David Mitchell; let us never forget the heavyweight intellects too.

Come the end of the year, however, and the Guardian’s sister paper, the Observer, was presenting the case with more restraint and a modicum of circumspection – this time it was left to Lincoln Mitchell (no relation I presume) to dish the dirt, while offering an assessment of Putin that is actually more credible:

Following the Russian invasion of Crimea, however, Hitler analogies dominated western perceptions of Mr. Putin. Among those making that comparison were British Prime Minister David Cameron, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Paul Johnson writing for Forbes, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Most of these comparisons focused on Hitler’s brutal policies towards Germany’s neighbors in the late 1930s, rather than genocide and mass murder, but a Hitler comparison is always made with the deliberate aim of making the target seem as evil and dangerous. Gradually the Hitler meme faded away; and in recent days the media has been filled with stories about how the Russian economy is in collapse and Putin may not last in power much longer.

Mr. Putin cannot both be Hitler and so weak that a rise in global oil prices threatens his regime. Similarly, he cannot simultaneously both pose a Hitler-like threat yet be unable to maintain his grip on power due to a currency devaluation. The narratives about Mr. Putin that dominated 2014 are thus mutually exclusive, but they are also individually suspect. 15

Truth be told, there are an awful lot of deeply unpleasant world leaders today, just as there were yesterday. Some of these are our allies and some are not – but we pick and choose with little regard for morality or integrity, and according instead to what is more profitable and most expedient. Now if the principle charge to be made against Putin (once an ally but now a foe) is that he is responsible for the oppression of minority groups in Russia, then on that charge he stands justly accused. If you charge that he is a nationalist, this stands too. But if your charge is that he is an incorrigible military expansionist – which is the principle charge in these rather daft comparisons to Hitler – then the facts, duly considered, stand very much against you.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, this terrible conflict in Ukraine was started with horribly bloody massacre and the overthrow of an unpopular but still elected government. News of who was really behind that the Maidan “protests” was drip-fed by our media, but prominent amongst the protagonists were the leaders of Svoboda and, worse again, of Right Sector. Thus the so-called Ukraine crisis began with a fascist-led coup and not an invasion. Indeed, there never has been any kind of Russian invasion and there is no verifiable or even convincing evidence that Putin has ever intended one – here is a little more from Der Spiegel:

[But] For months now, many in the Chancellery simply shake their heads each time NATO, under Breedlove’s leadership, goes public with striking announcements about Russian troop or tank movements. To be sure, neither Berlin’s Russia experts nor BND intelligence analysts doubt that Moscow is supporting the pro-Russian separatists. The BND even has proof of such support.

But it is the tone of Breedlove’s announcements that makes Berlin uneasy. False claims and exaggerated accounts, warned a top German official during a recent meeting on Ukraine, have put NATO — and by extension, the entire West — in danger of losing its credibility.

There are plenty of examples. Just over three weeks ago, during the cease-fire talks in Minsk, the Ukrainian military warned that the Russians — even as the diplomatic marathon was ongoing — had moved 50 tanks and dozens of rockets across the border into Luhansk. Just one day earlier, US Lieutenant General Ben Hodges had announced “direct Russian military intervention.”

Senior officials in Berlin immediately asked the BND for an assessment, but the intelligence agency’s satellite images showed just a few armored vehicles. Even those American intelligence officials who supply the BND with daily situation reports were much more reserved about the incident than Hodges was in his public statements. One intelligence agent says it “remains a riddle until today” how the general reached his conclusions. […]

At the beginning of the crisis, General Breedlove announced that the Russians had assembled 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and warned that an invasion could take place at any moment. The situation, he said, was “incredibly concerning.” But intelligence officials from NATO member states had already excluded the possibility of a Russian invasion. They believed that neither the composition nor the equipment of the troops was consistent with an imminent invasion.

The experts contradicted Breedlove’s view in almost every respect. There weren’t 40,000 soldiers on the border, they believed, rather there were much less than 30,000 and perhaps even fewer than 20,000. Furthermore, most of the military equipment had not been brought to the border for a possible invasion, but had already been there prior to the beginning of the conflict. Furthermore, there was no evidence of logistical preparation for an invasion, such as a field headquarters. 16

Click here to read the full report in Der Spiegel.

And back to John Pilger:

If Putin can be provoked into coming to their aid, his pre-ordained “pariah” role in the West will justify the lie that Russia is invading Ukraine. On January 29, Ukraine’s top military commander, General Viktor Muzhemko, almost inadvertently dismissed the very basis for US and EU sanctions on Russia when he told a news conference emphatically: “The Ukrainian army is not fighting with the regular units of the Russian Army”.  There were “individual citizens” who were members of “illegal armed groups”, but there was no Russian invasion. This was not news. Vadym Prystaiko, Kiev’s Deputy Foreign Minister, has called for “full scale war” with nuclear-armed Russia.

On February 21, US Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, introduced a bill that would authorise American arms for the Kiev regime. In his Senate presentation, Inhofe used photographs he claimed were of Russian troops crossing into Ukraine, which have long been exposed as fakes. It was reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s fake pictures of a Soviet installation in Nicaragua, and Colin Powell’s fake evidence to the UN of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Yes, Russia has covertly backed the anti-government rebels in the East, just as parties within the West (often with ties to George Soros) covertly instigated the “revolution”, then backed the unelected provisional “government”, and since then have cozied up to the partially elected government in Kiev (a government not recognised by the majority in the East). Yes, Putin annexed Crimea, but Russian forces were already based on the peninsula and the seizure was bloodless because the majority of people living in Crimea urgently wanted to be with Russia. After all, if Crimea had stayed within Ukraine, then it would doubtless have been dragged into the civil war too. Instead of relative prosperity, it would presumably have suffered shelling by its own government forces and been raided by their closely-allied fascist brigades.

So if Putin is a villain in this piece, then he is very far from alone – Pilger once more:

The intensity of the smear campaign against Russia and the portrayal of its president as a pantomime villain is unlike anything I have known as a reporter. Robert Parry, one of America’s most distinguished investigative journalists, who revealed the Iran-Contra scandal, wrote recently, “No European government, since Adolf Hitler’s Germany, has seen fit to dispatch Nazi storm troopers to wage war on a domestic population, but the Kiev regime has and has done so knowingly. Yet across the West’s media/political spectrum, there has been a studious effort to cover up this reality even to the point of ignoring facts that have been well established… If you wonder how the world could stumble into world war three – much as it did into world war one a century ago – all you need to do is look at the madness over Ukraine that has proved impervious to facts or reason.” 17

Click here to read John Pilger’s complete article.

*

The fog of war

By February this angle was starting to alter. If the equation Putin equals Hitler now looked flimsy, there were alternative comparisons that might be made to “skilful, ruthless dictators” who are less historically outstanding. To present the case afresh, the Guardian gave the floor to Oxbridge historian Tim Garton Ash, who drew up new parallels as follows:

Vladimir Putin is the Slobodan Milošević of the former Soviet Union: as bad, but bigger. Behind a smokescreen of lies he has renewed his drive to carve out a puppet para-state in eastern Ukraine.

And this “Milošević of the former Soviet Union: as bad, but bigger” (which translates as something akin to ‘Hitler-lite’) must be stopped, of course, because the whole point of comparisons like this is that room for negotiation can again be abruptly closed off:

Preoccupied by Greece and the eurozone, Europe is letting another Bosnia happen in its own front yard. Wake up, Europe. If we have learned anything from our own history, Putin must be stopped. But how? In the end, there will have to be a negotiated solution.

In the end, yes – but not right now. Instead, Garton Ash implores the West to “ratchet up the economic sanctions” (warfare by economic means) as well as ramping up the propaganda (and apologies here for any disturbing images that may be conjured to mind after reading Garton Ash’s next paragraph):

Last year a Russianist of my acquaintance was sitting naked and at ease in the hot tub with a friend of his in Moscow after several vodkas, as is the Russian custom [just so you know], when this highly educated Russian asked: “So tell me, honestly, why do you support the fascists in Kiev?”

We need to counter this propaganda not with lies of our own but with reliable information and a scrupulously presented array of different views. No one is better placed to do this than the BBC. The US may have the best drones in the world, and Germany the best machine tools, but Britain has the best international broadcaster. 18

Propaganda directed towards the Russians (sorry, I mean “reliable information”) is however unlikely to strike such a blow. Most Russians do indeed speak excellent English and would doubtless be lulled by the unimpeachable voice of “the best international broadcaster” were it not for the peculiar fact that history leaves them better equipped at sifting news than those of us who grew up in ‘the free West’ – if your only source of information is Pravda, you soon get wise to “reliable information”!

But never mind, because this latest propaganda offensive, which is what Garton Ash is really announcing in his article, will not be so strictly targeted at the Russian people. Not if the powerbrokers in the West have realised, as they surely must, that most Russians are already a lost cause. No, the latest rounds of propaganda will be disseminated to influence attitudes on the home front in the information war. In fact, reading deftly between the furrowed lines of his agitation, Garton Ash is explaining how brainwashing is good for us – our brainwashing, obviously.

Because propaganda is rather desperately needed if we are to keep these wars going:

So the challenge is to shorten that period and stop the mayhem. To do this Ukraine needs modern defensive weapons to counter Russia’s modern offensive ones. Spurred on by John McCain, the US Congress has passed a Ukraine Freedom Support Act which allocates funds for the supply of military equipment to Ukraine. It is now up to President Obama to determine the timing and composition of those supplies. […]

Only when Ukrainian military defence can plausibly hold Russian offence to a stalemate will a negotiated settlement become possible. Sometimes it takes guns to stop the guns.

Yes, “sometimes it takes guns to stop guns” and especially when you’re dealing with a person like “the Slobodan Milošević of the former Soviet Union: as bad, but bigger.”

Now please let’s remember too that Tim Garton Ash has a prodigious record as warmonger (I’ll bet he was the bully’s mate at school), also leading calls for earlier Nato “interventions” like the one in Kosovo with pronouncements quoted above, but ones I will quote again: that “we” needed to stop “something approaching genocide”. As it transpired, however, Kosovo was just the latest in our production line for wars, sold to a still naive western audience (since this was prior to the Iraq War Part 2) on the tried and tested basis of exaggeration and lies.

More from John Pilger and that same New Statesman article published March 2006:

The “mass graves” in Kosovo would justify it all, they said. When the bombing was over, international forensic teams began subjecting Kosovo to minute examination. The FBI arrived to investigate what was called “the largest crime scene in the FBI’s forensic history”. Several weeks later, having found not a single mass grave, the FBI and other forensic teams went home.

In 2000, the International War Crimes Tribunal announced that the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s “mass graves” was 2,788. This included Serbs, Roma and those killed by “our” allies, the Kosovo Liberation Front. It meant that the justification for the attack on Serbia (“225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59 are missing, presumed dead”, the US ambassador-at-large David Scheffer had claimed) was an invention. To my knowledge, only the Wall Street Journal admitted this. A former senior Nato planner, Michael McGwire, wrote that “to describe the bombing as ‘humanitarian intervention’ [is] really grotesque”. In fact, the Nato “crusade” was the final, calculated act of a long war of attrition aimed at wiping out the very idea of Yugoslavia.

Noam Chomsky was another of exceptionally few political commentators to raise questions at the time of Nato’s involvement in Kosovo:

The tumult having subsided, it should be possible to undertake a relatively dispassionate review and analysis of NATO’s war over Kosovo. One might have expected the theme to have dominated the year-end millennarianism, considering the exuberance the war elicited in Western intellectual circles and the tidal wave of self-adulation by respected voices, lauding the first war in history fought “in the name of principles and values,” the first bold step towards a “new era” in which the “enlightened states” will protect the human rights of all under the guiding hand of an “idealistic New World bent on ending inhumanity,” now freed from the shackles of archaic concepts of world order. But it received scant mention.

A rare exception was the Wall Street Journal, which devoted its lead story on December 31 to an in-depth analysis of what had taken place. The headline reads: “War in Kosovo Was Cruel, Bitter, Savage; Genocide It Wasn’t.” The conclusion contrasts rather sharply with wartime propaganda. A database search of references to “genocide” in Kosovo for the first week of bombing alone was interrupted when it reached its limit of 1,000 documents.

As NATO forces entered Kosovo, tremendous efforts were undertaken to discover evidence of war crimes, a “model of speed and efficiency” to ensure that no evidence would be lost or overlooked. The efforts “build on lessons learned from past mistakes.” They reflect “a growing international focus on holding war criminals accountable.” Furthermore, analysts add, “proving the scale of the crimes is also important to NATO politically, to show why 78 days of airstrikes against Serbian forces and infrastructure were necessary.” […]

Despite the intensive efforts, the results of “the mass-grave obsession,” as the WSJ analysts call it, were disappointingly thin. Instead of “the huge killing fields some investigators were led to expect,.. the pattern is of scattered killings,” a form of “ethnic cleansing light.” 19

 

Ostensibly the fight for Kosovo had been a purely “humanitarian intervention” – a phrase that has since taken on a far hollower ring – and for many, especially amongst those notionally of the left, this became adopted as something like an article of faith (we can consider the reasons for this in a moment). In reality, however, the Nato campaign had been just another strategic conflict, and with victory against the Serbs, the West immediately took up an option to annex a new state. Yes, Kosovo was our Crimea, except with land seized for what is now the largest foreign US base set up since the Vietnam War, Camp Bondsteel, by means of a high-intensity bombing offensive. By contrast, the Russians, who already had military presence including a large naval base at Sevastopol, captured Crimea without any bombing whatsoever – no loss of life, because the majority in Crimea, ethnic Russians who had better reason to fear Kiev than the Kremlin, welcomed the transfer of control. 20

Pilger again:

For me, one of the more odious characteristics of Blair, and Bush, and Clinton, and their eager or gulled journalistic court, is the enthusiasm of sedentary, effete men (and women) for bloodshed they never see, bits of body they never have to retch over, stacked morgues they will never have to visit, searching for a loved one. Their role is to enforce parallel worlds of unspoken truth and public lies. That Milosevic was a minnow compared with industrial-scale killers such as Bush and Blair belongs to the former. 21

Click here to read John Pilger’s short article “The war lovers” and here to read Noam Chomsy’s longer “Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo”.

*

All war is an abomination and, as General Smedley Butler very ably dissects in his famous pamphlet, it is always a racket. But worse, war then serves as a putrid breeding ground for further atrocities. For these and other reasons, war ought to be reserved as a desperate fallback and a last resort, but instead, and especially so during this quarter century after the Berlin Wall fell, and since the West was free to operate within a de facto unipolar world order, we have never stopped going to war.

To justify this reign of terror, our propaganda machine has been working tirelessly too. For extended periods, mere recourse to threats of terrorism have served this purpose extremely well, however, whenever those nominally of liberal-leftist persuasion are sworn into office, the humanitarian excuse plays better again. And the advantageous repetition of this alternative catalogue of lies then depends upon the obedience and compliance of those parts of the media also nominally progressive and supposedly speaking from the left:

The Guardian‘s role in the Kosovo campaign, along with its Sunday sister paper, the Observer, was a crucial one—even within the framework of the near unanimous support offered by the media to NATO. The newspapers are widely regarded as the house journals of Britain’s liberal intelligentsia and were previously seen as a forum for dissenting views—including criticism of the military activities of the major powers.

So writes Mike Ingram in an article published by the World Socialist Web Site, continuing:

Like so many former reformists, liberals and pacifists, however, the Guardian and Observer have lurched ever further to the right. Their hawkish stand in defence of NATO’s bombardment of Serbia aided the Blair government in its efforts to both justify the war and intimidate the relatively small numbers of liberals, intellectuals and artists who maintained an oppositional stance.

The Observer editorialised against the war’s opponents, claiming in March last year, “There is no alternative…. We have to live in the world as it is, not some Utopia.” Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland wrote on March 25, “The old left needs to look at the world that’s actually taking shape. Wednesday’s Lords ruling on Pinochet suggests a new brand of international law, one that doesn’t allow heads of state to kill and maim indiscriminately, even within their own sovereign lands. The night-sky over Belgrade tells the same story. Together they’re making the world a less cosy place for dictators—and safer for the weak and powerless.” Whole articles were devoted to denunciations of those who opposed the war and exposed NATO propaganda, such as the playwright Harold Pinter and journalist John Pilger.

With such a despicable record to defend, the Guardian clearly did not feel it could simply ignore The Hague tribunal’s latest admissions. Instead, it felt obliged to reiterate NATO’s own threadbare rationale for the bombing of Serbia in a pathetic attempt at self-justification. It is to be hoped that those who in the past naively took the newspaper’s claim to editorial integrity at face value will draw the appropriate conclusions from this sorry episode. 22

Click here to read Mike Ingram’s full article.

Admitting to responsibility for any part in the prosecution of illegal (or merely illegitimate) wars would mean accepting a heavy burden of guilt, and the mainstream media (especially those sham left broadsheets with their liberal reputation to uphold) ought to carry that burden. Instead, they would prefer that we forget the key role they had in permitting such carnage. We must not follow them into amnesia.

Neither should we forget any of the atrocities. The “shock and awe” unleashed over Baghdad as well as over the cities of Tripoli and Sirte in Libya, and the daily horrors of our other victims like those in Fallujah, including the babies not yet born, but already poisoned by the Nato’s huge arsenal of chemical weapons – white phosphorous and (worse) depleted uranium.

For whenever the wish is to incite new wars, we must anticipate that this same media will again play along just the same, promulgating official rumours of another foreign menace that has drifted into the neo-imperialist crosshairs. Phrases like “mass graves”, “ethnic cleansing” and even words like “genocide” will be promptly bandied about. But it is war alone that unfailingly produces “mass graves”, whilst “genocide” is a word we reserve and use only when our enemies are doing the slaughtering. The first casualty of war is indeed the truth, and since we are perpetually at war, truth has little part to play in any of the justifications for the West’s ever more capricious response to what is really taking place in the killing fields of today’s constantly expanding warzone.

*

Interlude: so who won the war anyway?

“Two World Wars and One World Cup” goes the stupid football chant: half-jesting, three quarters-jeering. Claiming the bragging rights to results in a war is never a seemly matter; but then this is straight off the Jeremy Clarkson page of humour. Less snide than grand petrolhead poobah, but awash with the same undercurrents of latent bigotry; the pretence is all in the feigning of those chanting that we are actually laughing up the xenophobia itself. It’s clever. It’s post-ironic.

In exchange, the German fans sing back in full-throated unison: “Football coming home”; the English anthem of the Euro ’96 tournament skilfully adapted by deliberately missing out the apostrophe-‘s’ and misplacing the Anglo-Saxon emphasis – after all, we know their English is as immaculate as their football – but to maximise the more Teutonic staccato impact such alterations were demanded. And you have to laugh at the genuine double irony of their gesture: double because it nods to how they recognise that the English imagine they don’t even have a sense of humour… genuinely sophisticated (and typically German!)

All of which is absolute unadulterated silliness: the chant, my analysis, the whole shebang. Silliness because frankly I needed a respite (and perhaps you did too); a break from the unremitting seriousness of thinking and writing about war and its atrocities. For war itself is silly, brutally and horrifically so. A stupendously absurd human folly. Or why else would we find Dr Strangelove so hilarious (I speak personally), if not because it is both one hundred percent believable and one hundred percent pure farce.

On the whole, Hollywood gets war all wrong – just as it gets most other things all wrong – but on this occasion quite deliberately so, because Hollywood is literally in the business of selling, and whenever war becomes one of our primary commodities, then Hollywood pitches war. But Kubrick was a maverick. And he got war consistently right, though differently so in each of his three markedly different war films.

First he presents the tragedy of the First World War in Paths of Glory and next he brought us the farce in his Cold War masterpiece, Strangelove, the ultimate black as pitch comedy, and finally, he brilliantly fused those twin faces into the stunning Vietnam War tragicomedy, Full Metal Jacket. The most lasting evil of warfare is the way it dehumanises, he tells us, the unremitting horror ending in “the thousand-yard stare”, and with it, every evil numbed and absolutely banal. In the film’s final scene, Kubrick sums up perfectly; our heroes marching through the smouldering ruins of Huế (one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war) singing: “Who’s the leader of the club, that’s made for you and me…      M-I-C– K-E-Y– M-O-U-S-E!

By virtue of such obscene consequences, comparison of war with all other human activities fails. Comparisons with football are as ridiculous as they are dubious, as most football fans know. Yet comparisons to games are inevitable and unavoidable, heinous and sickening as war is, for so long as we continue fighting. For war has so many hallmarks of a game. It has rules and strategies; advances and setbacks; and, most importantly, winners and losers – winning and losing being as determinable outcomes in every war as in any game. So we all-too easily get into the habit of playing at this war game just as little boys like to play cowboys and Indians, or if we are more cerebrally inclined, chess perhaps… these are war games and football is too (most games are war as allegory).

However, this particular English football chant is sillier again, because it also expresses an overarching and rather commonly held English delusion. A national myth that England (meaning Britain, obviously!) somehow singlehandedly won not just the World Cup in 1966 (thanks to a Polish linesman), but also both world wars. And though it is correct to say that Germany was twice defeated, whilst adding that reparations demanded after their first defeat, fuelled a nationalistic fervour for a rematch; with respect to who actually “won the war” – well, that has always been more debatable.

Obviously, no-one dwells very long on claims to victory in World War One in any case: that mud-drenched stalemate of “the war to end all wars”. All that warrants remembrance is how 16 million people lost their lives and 20 million more were wounded, and perhaps that the highpoint was a Christmas truce and truly extraordinary football match (in reality lots of informal games), whilst the vain horrors of trench warfare were temporarily suspended. But after the exchange of gifts, the sing-song and kickarounds, the men trooped across no-man’s land back to their gun emplacements and the thick mud of the long graves where most would perish. Which exemplifies the forlorn stupidity of war again – war being such an idiotic pursuit, and supremely so.

The Second World War, however, presents us with one of those exceptional instances when war itself most likely spared even greater horrors; on this occasion, reversing the otherwise inexorable advance of a truly monstrous ideology. It was the war that saved our humanity and what remained of European civilisation. With this firmly in mind, the bloodiest conflict in all of history must also be judged to have been a necessary evil; indisputedly so.

This is certainly not to say World War Two could not have been avoided. It might well have been if it were not for the failures of those in power, and especially some within the highest echelons of the Anglo-American establishment. Hitler’s rise to power and his subsequent rearmament of his Nazi regime depended upon friendly relations with major industrialists and financiers both in Britain and America. A few had backed him to the hilt. Without such generous support, as well as prior support for Mussolini’s rise in Italy, it is hard to refute the claims that fascism would never have needed defeating at all. But this is counterfactual history, and putting such what ifs also to one side, as the situation stood by the end of the 1930s, Hitler’s war machine was ready to crush all before it; the die had been cast. Leaving all else aside, war had become inevitable.

It is indeed pertinent to ask, therefore, who precisely did win the war against Hitler and fascism? But this involves two questions, not one. Irrefutably, in a vitally importance sense, the winner of World War Two was America, since America was the last major power still standing with its commercial and industrial capacity unscathed. Post-war America was bound to take the lead whilst all other developed nations both in Europe, as well as those in the Far East, lay in ruins. With next to no competition, where else could the world turn to procure its goods? This ensured boom times for those same American industrialists who had collaborated with the Nazi programme, not to mention financiers like Prescott Bush, who had bankrolled Hitler. Now they would reap the rewards not just of German annihilation, but of the annihilation of all of Eurasia. And let’s not pretend that the Second World War was not a racket too – indeed, that it was, provides a central motif for Joseph Heller’s classic anti-war novel, Catch 22 (its other central theme being the inane futility of all wars).

The other half of this same question “who won the war”, when less ambiguously framed, becomes a question regarding which of the Allied forces was most instrumental in defeating Hitler’s Nazi regime. And we love to believe, of course, as the terrace chant goes, that it was plucky little England (…I mean Britain, sorry) ‘who stopped his little game’ – which is also to paraphrase the wonderfully witty lyrics of the Dad’s Army theme tune – itself a wink and a genuine acknowledgement to the bigger, starker truth. Not that there is any doubting the extraordinary heroism of British or other Allied forces, but that flimsy claims to an entirely homemade backs-to-the-wall victory rest very heavily on collective amnesia.

For almost precisely four years following the Dunkirk evacuation in late May 1940 (in truth a desperate and humiliating retreat after the calamitous military failings of our first offensive onto the continent) and up until the heroic success of the Normandy landings in early June 1944, it wasn’t the British, or our Commonwealth allies, or even the mighty Americans, who were spearheading the desperate fight against the Nazi offensive. Instead, the British and Commonwealth forces had been initially redirected to protect the colonies in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and, in the aftermath of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the American forces were also helping out with our North African campaign, or else island hopping across the Pacific Theatre. Thus, for the longest span during the war, it was the Russians, with the aid of some logistical support but otherwise alone, who had faced down three-quarters of the entire German military, not to mention the armies of the other Axis powers (neighbours Finland included).

Certainly, they had enjoyed some indirect support, especially during the later stages of the war, by way of strategic bombing raids carried out by British and American pilots. These set back Germany industrial production (though not by much, nor for very long), whilst larger attacks against cities like Hamburg and then Berlin had also dented morale and redirected some of the German forces away from the Eastern Front – of course, the indiscriminate bombing of civilians is not just morally reprehensible, but strictly speaking a war crime, which is why “Bomber” Harris is rightly denounced for his love of setting cities ablaze (the firestorming of Dresden, his farewell atrocity), although he was only doing what the Germans did, and the Americans did (the area bombing of Tokyo also came very late in the war) and were yet to do (testing out their new A-bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki)… the rules of war are always infinitely flexible.

The bombs undoubtedly helped to weaken German resistance as the D-Day offensive approached, and then with a great deal of support from the French Resistance, the liberation of Paris and the Low Countries quickly followed, but much of this “Second Front” simply arrived too late to turn the war. And Hitler’s last gasp assault in the Ardennes, which ended with the famous coup de grace at the Battle of the Bulge, had been an ill-advised rearguard response to the Russian victory on the Eastern Front.

I once asked a friend who did wargaming as a hobby, why it was, in light of so many historical precedents of failure, the Germans had countenanced the idea that their own invasion of Russia would be other than disastrous. In reply, he told me how he had re-enacted the German campaign along the Eastern Front on more occasions than any other battle. I was fascinated, he said, that no matter what strategies I tried out, I could never get the Russians to win. Yet in reality, of course, they did win (just as they always do when playing at home) although the human cost of defending their nation is only barely comprehendible. Perhaps the reason my friend could never successfully re-enact the event is because here was a military victory that owed a great deal more to the stubborn endurance and sheer fortitude of the people as it did to the ruthlessness and cunning of the Soviet commanders, or even the ultimate military might of the Red Army.

The siege of the city of Leningrad would endure from September 1941 to January 1944 (872 days in total), and throughout this time its population were not only bombarded by the Wehrmacht but simultaneously starved into submission – Hitler’s plans were not just to conquer his “Lebensraum”, but to eradicate most of the native Untermenschen in the process, clearing the way for an Aryan repopulation. With the city blockaded and encircled by German artillery, those trapped inside were reduced to consuming bread made from sawdust, soup from wallpaper paste, rats and shoe leather.

At Stalingrad, the Russians hunkered down and fought a fierce guerrilla war not so much from street to street as from one building to the next. The death rate was higher still, and here the meat-grinder also kept on turning for nearly six months (Aug 1942 – Feb 1943); the city’s infrastructure likewise pulverised into a wasteland. 23 Yet more than any single battle, it would be the Russian defence of Stalingrad that turned the advantage in favour of the Allies.

By the end of the war, a greater number of Russians (civilians and soldiers) had been killed than people from any other nation – the scale of atrocities committed by the occupying Japanese puts China at a close second. But even compared to the Chinese, Russian fatalities surpass both in absolute terms and by percentage. Britain and America jointly suffered the loss of just a little fewer than one million lives; a figure comparable to Russian deaths at Leningrad alone (as well as those at Stalingrad). In fact, more lives were lost on the Eastern Front than from all of the other fighting during the war. Some 24 million Russian lives, a third of the final total. 24

Yet, after enduring the onslaught of the titanic “Operation Barbarossa” blitzkrieg, then grimly digging in to survive for two more terrible years, the Russians would ultimately succeed not only in halting Hitler’s advance, but in pushing the Eastern Front back from the gates of Moscow and then a thousand miles to Berlin. In short, it was Russia more than any other nation that might justly claim to have “won the war” – they simply had to, because we left them with very little alternative.

With a decimated population and their major cities pounded to heaps of rubble, in another important sense, Russia had been the greatest loser in the war too. So if the peril of history is that it will be forgotten, then let us continue to remember now the huge debt of gratitude owed to the sacrifice of the Russian people. And in the light of such comparatively recent national trauma, with the deaths of 24 million within living memory, we ought to be careful too before insinuating that Russians suddenly hate fascism any less than we do. Seventy years after the defeat of the Nazis, do we dare say so to their faces?

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The unthinkable climax (absit omen)

Those who remember the last Cold War may have noticed how that gnawing sense of doubt which once lurked at the back of our minds has returned to haunt us. The intimation, though faintly heard, that some day – a day very much like this one – the same faint and insubstantial dread will manifest a solid form and leap out from behind our backs to shout BOO – M! The intimation not merely of one’s own death, but of megadeath: annihilation so complete that our secret, unspoken wish is we don’t survive to see the aftermath. Of course, we did survive all those post-war decades, and twice only by the skin of our teeth (see addendum), but then, when it ended, it was as if we stuffed all our finger-bitten memories into an old suitcase and left them in the attic to accumulate dust…

The fact is that we are still living with the nuclear-strike doctrine of the Cold War, which dictated three strategic options: first strike, launch on warning and post-attack retaliation. There is no reason to believe that Russia and the United States have discarded these options, as long as the architecture of “mutually assured destruction” remains intact.

For either side, the decision to launch on warning — in an attempt to fire one’s nuclear missiles before they are destroyed — would be made on the basis of information from early-warning satellites and ground radar. Given the 15- to 30-minute flight times of strategic missiles, a decision to launch after an alert of an apparent attack must be made in minutes.

Also taken from the warning put out by Generals James E. Cartwright and Vladimir Dvorkin in their recent New York Times op-ed.

It did not take long from the defeat of the Nazis before the Cold War was in full swing. A nuclear arms race, very quickly turning thermonuclear, boosted thanks to the entirely erroneous and scaremongering supposition of the so-called “missile gap”. False intelligence reports indicating that the Soviet Union, not so long since ruined by a Nazi invasion, was somehow in possession of an arsenal of superior killing power. Although chimerical, this “missile gap” was eagerly seized upon, and especially by those in the business of selling arms. The military-industrial complex was about to flourish as never before.

It was Kubrick again, who most brilliantly parodied the sheer paranoia involved in much of the strategy at the height of Cold War tensions during the 50s and 60s. In the utterly insane climax to Dr Strangelove, those gathered in the war room, and abruptly confronted with the prospect of their own annihilation, listen to Strangelove’s plan for survival inside underground bunkers. But even sealed deep underground, the threat of the Red menace looms in a different way. The feckless and licentious General “Buck” Turgidson, played by a deadpan George C. Scott, explains the problem this way:

“We ought to look at this from the military point of view. I mean, supposing the Russkis stashed away some big bombs, see, and we didn’t? When they come out in 100 years, they could take over!”

Concluding with unfailing logic:

“Mr President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!” 25

Of course, whenever we come to talk about the end of the world, it becomes seriously hard to think straight. The idea itself is inclined to make us go potty. WWIII or WW3. Just the abbreviated monikers are freaky enough to cause a shiver. In full, the Third World War sounds improbably futuristic, as it genuinely will be, in the circumstance of its abominable occurrence. So we all try not to mention that particular war, just as we are disinclined to talk about death more generally, which is similarly hard to imaginatively get to grips with, if not quite so dreadful a prospect.

Talking about death is not polite behaviour, but then talking about WW3 is far worse again, although soon, if we let it, we make the unspeakable impossible to speak about. Then it becomes more literally unthinkable, which it is too, yet by being literally unthinkable it comes to seem absolutely impossible! It is tempting to stop there. Insouciance is appealing, and, after all, the leaders of our nations, crazed as many unquestionably are, are ultimately no less restrained than the rest of us by desires for self-preservation. And who amongst us would be crazy enough to unleash such an almighty and terminal firestorm of “mutually assured destruction”? (The Cold War doctrine nattily abbreviated as MAD).

It is comforting to put our trust in such common sense prevailing, however, memory tugs at my impassivity if I try. For besides the worrying shifts in both military capability as well as in doctrine (something I will briefly return to), recent history also gives cause for greater concern.

Conversely, there are a few I am now hearing who muse upon the imminent prospect of a general war as if its impending outbreak has become a fait accompli. A pair of colleagues at work, for instance, who ordinarily assume a more lackadaisical air, were earnestly discussing the very real likelihood of being conscripted in its event (they are younger than me). When I interjected that if they believed a world war might actually be on the cards, then oughtn’t they to strive harder to avert it, the one replied: “I can’t even persuade them to give me a pay rise.” An amusing retort, I had to admit.

The Doomsday Clock has recently been reset. In January, its committee of keepers took the decision to move its symbolic hands to three minutes to midnight:

The last time the clock read three minutes to midnight was in 1983 when “US-Soviet relations were at their iciest” according to the bulletin. The lowest ever reading was of 11.58 in 1953 when the US decided to pursue the hydrogen bomb, a weapon far more powerful than any nuclear bomb.

The highest reading was 17 minutes to midnight in 1991, when the Cold War officially ended and the US and Russia began cutting their nuclear arsenals. 26

So what, you might say, they are simply telling us what we knew all along. That old Cold War hostilities have been refrozen. Speaking as one whose childhood spanned more than a decade of those old Cold War tensions, this is surely bad enough, but what is worse is that thirty years ago it would have taken a catastrophic accident to have triggered all-out nuclear war. An accident that very nearly happened (twice)…

Well no, in fact, there are also other less infamous incidents when the world came to the brink of a nuclear escalation. One such may have happened during the Six-Day War in 1967, when the USS Liberty, an unarmed America reconnaissance ship, was attacked and nearly destroyed by Israeli forces. As a BBC documentary “Dead in the Water” (2002) revealed, once the attack had been falsely attributed to the Egyptians, the Americans, under the command of President Lyndon Johnson, launched but recalled (just in time) a nuclear-armed aircraft targeted against Cairo:

The deployment of nuclear weapons is officially denied, as indeed is “Operation Cyanide”, the alleged plan that allowed Israel to attack the Liberty, a sitting duck, in order to use the false flag to bring America into the Six-Day War. But then, the official story maintains instead that Israel’s attack was a terrible mistake, and this is completely untenable.

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Military technologies have since advanced, of course, but so too have the doctrines of war. In fact, during the first Cold War, Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, made a pledge of “no first use” (NFU); a policy that China still maintains today. 27 But with the development of shorter-range “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapons, the idea within military circles has grown that we must keep the option to deploy “sub-strategic” nuclear weapons for battlefield use. And this means that nuclear war has become a great deal more thinkable – with hindsight the old doctrine of MAD doesn’t look half so mad after all. Although as John Pilger exposed in his documentary The Truth Game (embedded below), this doctrine of deterrence had been superseded at least as early as 1983. In fact, his film contains footage of a NATO ‘limited’ nuclear and chemical war exercise in West Germany, which Pilger himself describes as “a dry run for the unthinkable”:

But today we must also speak of other unspeakables. Of the out and out madmen. The neo-cons, those neo-Strangeloves (aka Breedloves), as well as less prominent crazies at or close to the Nato helm:

“This is not about Ukraine. Putin wants to restore Russia to its former position as a great power,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s former Secretary-General, “There is a high probability that he will intervene in the Baltics to test Nato’s Article 5.”

From a report published in The Telegraph on February 5th, which explains how:

Article 5 states that a military attack on any one Nato country is an attack on all of them, triggering collective mobilization. It has been invoked just once in the 66-year history of the alliance, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. 28

Thankfully, Fogh Rasmussen is gone. Perhaps some better sense may now prevail, although that will be difficult so long as General Philip Breedlove keeps his post as Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe (SACEUR).

Moreover, it has become essential that voices within the media do begin to break the silence and speak with honestly about the nature and true cause of this escalating threat. In this respect, the report in Der Spiegel (quoted extensively above) is heartening. Let us pray too that the fragile Ukrainian ceasefire brokered by Merkel and Hollande continues to hold. But still we have the prospect of tensions escalating in the Middle East between Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria. All of these need to be defused, which itself relied upon cooperation between the major powers: Russia, China and America. So these are exceptionally dangerous times, but if enough of us choose to make a serious commitment to peace, then I believe that peace can and will ultimately prevail.

The final words I leave with John Pilger, who has a distinguished record of speaking both with honesty and with courage. This is how he finished his speech in December:

In the 18th century, Edmund Burke described the role of the press as a Fourth Estate checking the powerful. Was that ever true? It certainly doesn’t wash any more. What we need is a Fifth Estate: a journalism that monitors, deconstructs and counters propaganda and teaches the young to be agents of people, not power. We need what the Russians called perestroika – an insurrection of subjugated knowledge. I would call it real journalism.

It’s 100 years since the First World War. Reporters then were rewarded and knighted for their silence and collusion. At the height of the slaughter, British prime minister David Lloyd George confided in C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian: “If people really knew [the truth] the war would be stopped tomorrow, but of course they don’t know and can’t know.”

It’s time they knew. 29

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Additional:

‘American Committee for East-West Accord’ discuss Russia, Ukraine and the New Cold War

The following, two-part video roundtable discussion took place in Brussels on March 2, 2015. It featured Gilbert Doctorow, moderator, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Cohen and Katrina Vanden Heuvel. The presentations by the three speakers was followed by discussion with the audience.

The event was organized by the newly created ‘American Committee for East-West Accord’. This was its second event in Brussels. The committee has recently been registered as a non-profit association in New York state. Its next roundtable discussion will take place in Berlin in May on the subject of German foreign policy.

The extract above is quoted from a new website dedicated to the current crisis: http://newcoldwar.org/roundtable-discussion-in-brussels-with-john-mearsheimer-stephen-cohen-and-katrina-vanden-heuvel/

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Addendum: Memories of an older, colder war

Just inside the backdoor to my best friend’s house, underneath the washing lines close to where the bicycles were propped, and adjacent to the downstairs lavatory, there was a small grey box fitted to the painted exterior brick wall. The box had just one swivel switch with a milled edge that turned a loudspeaker on and the volume up. And whenever this switch was clicked on, the box emitted a continuous ticking tone – on and on like a mysterious telephone receiver eternally left off its hook.

My friend was the eldest son of the village bobby, so his house accommodated the village police station too. Occasionally we played with this little grey box, which was forbidden, but it was too tantalising to leave alone. Because if it were ever to alter its tone, my friend explained, no longer ticking but warbling instead and in some fashion we thankfully never heard, then this was the alarm that signalled we had passed a point of no return. For it meant that World War Three had started.

This box in the corner of his dad’s porch, with a tick that needed to be checked on daily, if not hourly (though, of course, never was), was apparently deemed an efficient way to relay such important news back in the 1970s. But then, under the circumstances, just what was his policeman father supposed to do, had he ever tuned in one morning to hear such strange apocalyptic warbling? I gathered that in such an event, his primary civic duty was to ensure that the church bells were ringing. But then who in the village would possibly have comprehended that church bells were communicating such a dire warning? It hardly mattered. We knew we would soon be dead. The bells were tolling for the loss of all life.

Meanwhile, there was also the then-famous government handbook, Protect and Survive. Maybe you remember it? In the event of all-out nuclear war, the best thing to do, it advised us solemnly but calmly, was to stay indoors and paint the windows white. Following which, we should then set about building our inner shelter. The recommendation was to lay low in a cubby-hole under the stairs for a few weeks. Failing that – for instance, if you lived in a bungalow – the advice was to take some doors off their hinges and lean them against an inside wall. Not an outside wall – you didn’t want to increase your risk of radiation sickness. Oh, and don’t forget the tin opener or the toilet paper… be sure to have ample. Nuclear dens might have sounded like fun, but actually they didn’t. The prospect of nuclear annihilation was nothing like the fear of the bogeyman: even to a child, the danger was palpable. The Cold War was no fun at all.

About the same time, a future friend, who being a decade older than me had already embarked on his economics degree at Sheffield, was selected for a walk-on part in the classic BBC TV docudrama Threads (1984). He was vaporised somewhere around the top of Fargate, he tells me.

Threads was a huge hit, of course. A horror show we could really believe in. Because life at the height of the Cold War meant adjusting one’s sense of everyday reality to accommodate the omnipresence of such a vague, yet inescapable, existential threat. At the backs of our minds, a barely conceivable awareness that all-out thermonuclear oblivion might be around the next bend – or four minutes away to be precise (so make sure you’ve got plenty of that white paint and a decent screwdriver handy). And each time my friend and I played with that little grey switch, turning its volume up and listening for its distantly pulsing mechanical heart, the dread was there, never getting closer or further away, just there, forever. Maybe a nuclear holocaust was about to burst out and devour us all… turn it off!

Meanwhile, behind the threat, a constant danger of sudden and total annihilation was real enough. My parents had lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when Kennedy and Khrushchev played out their notorious game of Russian roulette: Armageddon postponed thanks only to the good sense of the commander of a Soviet submarine, Captain Vasili Arkhipov 30 A little less well-known is that another Soviet officer saved our bacon as recently as September 1983, just a month prior to a top secret military exercise called Operation Able Archer. This involved the mass deployment of Nato troops very close to East European border, and it had caused senior Russian military officers to commence preparations for a counterattack.

Back in September, however, it had been the more mechanistic malfunctioning of one of the Soviet Union’s early warning systems that very nearly triggered doomsday. Fortunately, the cool-headed response of the station’s commanding officer, Stanislav Petrov, had averted catastrophe. 31 Then in November, with the Russians still twitchy, and this huge drill taking place on their frontier, with Margaret Thatcher and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl holed up in bunkers, and Nato simulating the release of its own nuclear arsenal, the Russians collectively maintained their cool once again. All of which passed with the vast majority of folks in Britain (my own family very much included) utterly oblivious to any of it. Which was certainly one less thing to worry about!

Skipping forward to the end of the Cold War, and as The Berlin Wall came tumbling down on that crisp October day in 1989, we might be forgiven for thinking that with the arms race over, soon we would have money and time for far more worthwhile and useful projects. That our grander hopes for a brighter and better future would soon be fulfilled. Yet our individual shares in the peace dividend have instead been frittered away.

Living conditions are worsening. Wages have stagnated. Housing is in increasingly short supply. And more and more of us are being forced to eke out a meagre, if survivable, living. This is intolerable foolishness, and worse, it is foolishness that, if a new Cold War is allowed to build, will only get more foolish and intolerable.

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1 From an article entitled “How to Avert a Nuclear War”, written by James E. Cartwright & Vladimir Dvorkin, published in The New York Times on April 19, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/20/opinion/how-to-avert-a-nuclear-war.html?_r=1

2 From an article entitled “America’s Secret War in 134 Countries” written by Nick Turse, published in The Nation magazine on January 16, 2014, and originally published at TomDispatch.com.

http://www.thenation.com/article/177964/americas-secret-war-134-countries

3 From an article entitled “The Unseen Gulf War” written by Peter Turnley in December 2002, first published with photographs by The Digital Journalist, and reproduced by Archipelago vol 7. http://www.archipelago.org/vol7-2/turnley2.htm

The article continues:

“That first morning, I saw and photographed a U.S. Military Graves Detail bury in large graves many bodies.

I don’t recall seeing many television images of the human consequences of this event, or, for that matter, many photographs published. A day later, I came across another scene on an obscure road further north and to the east, where, in the middle of the desert, I found a convoy of lorries transporting Iraqi soldiers back to Baghdad. Clearly, massive firepower had been dropped, and everyone in sight had been carbonized. Most of the photographs I made there have never been published anywhere, and this has always troubled me.”

4

“It is the threat of the use of force [against Iraq] and our line-up there that is going to put force behind the diplomacy. But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”

From an interview Madeline Albright gave in reply to Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today Show” on February 19, 1998.  http://fas.org/news/iraq/1998/02/19/98021907_tpo.html

5 Taken from an interview Madeline Albright gave in reply to Lesley Stahl‘s question on CBS’s 60 Minutes on May 12, 1996.

6 Taken from an article entitled “Why we ignored Iraq in the 1990s” written by John Pilger, originally published in the New Statesman on October 4, 2004. http://johnpilger.com/articles/why-we-ignored-iraq-in-the-1990s

7 Taken from an article entitled “Break the silence: a world war is beckoning” written by John Pilger, published on May 13, 2014. http://johnpilger.com/articles/break-the-silence-a-world-war-is-beckoning

8 Taken from an article entitled “Why the rise of fascism is again the issue” written by John Pilger, published on February 26, 2015. http://johnpilger.com/articles/why-the-rise-of-fascism-is-again-the-issue

9 From an article entitled “Breedlove’s Bellicosity: Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine” published in Der Spiegel on March 6, 2015. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/germany-concerned-about-aggressive-nato-stance-on-ukraine-a-1022193.html

10 From an article entitled “The war lovers” written by John Pilger published on March 23, 2006. http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-war-lovers

The same article was republished by News Statesman as “John Pilger doesn’t buy the sales pitch of political war lovers” on March 27, 2006.  http://www.newstatesman.com/node/152875

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld likened Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Adolf Hitler, reflecting continuing tension in relations between the United States and the Latin American government. […]

“He’s a person who was elected legally — just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally — and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others.”

From an article entitled “Rumsfeld Likens Chavez To Hitler” written by John Kreiser from Associated Press, published by CBS news on February 3, 2006. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/rumsfeld-likens-chavez-to-hitler/

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Brandishing a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, cemented his reputation as Washington’s chief irritant yesterday with a fiery performance at the United Nations.

In a 15-minute address to the annual gathering of international leaders in New York, President Chávez said he could still “smell sulphur” left behind by the “devil”, George Bush, who had addressed the chamber 24 hours before.

His speech, which veered between a rousing appeal for a better world and a florid denunciation of the US, included the claim that President Bush thought he was in a western where people shot from the hip: “This is imperialist, fascist, assassin, genocidal, the empire.”

Mr Chávez complained that his personal doctor and head of security had been prevented from disembarking at New York airport by the American authorities. And then he coined the phrase that will now forever be etched into UN history as one of the more colourful criticisms levelled at the US president from his own turf: “This is another abuse and another abuse of power on the part of the devil. It smells of sulphur here, but God is with us and I embrace you all.”

He went on to accuse the US of double standards on terrorism. “The US has already planned, financed and set in motion a coup in Venezuela, and it continues to support coup attempts in Venezuela and elsewhere … I accuse the American government of protecting terrorists and of having a completely cynical discourse.”

From an article entitled “Chávez attacks ‘devil’ Bush in UN speech” written by Ed Pilkington, published by the Guardian on September 21, 2006. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/sep/21/usa.venezuela

Not that the UN assembly was entirely in disagreement: after a sharp intake of breath, many delegates laughed and applauded:

Delegates and leaders from around the world streamed back into the chamber to hear Mr Chávez, and when he stepped down the vigorous applause lasted so long that it had to be curtailed by the chair. [Ibid.]

13 From an article entitled “Poor Prince Charles – it must be grim being haunted by Nazis at every turn”, written by David Mitchell, published in the Guardian on May 25, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/25/prince-charles-putin-hitler-david-mitchell

14 From a statement made by John McCain released on May 14, 2015. http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=48d5a75f-9c4a-44db-8908-02dccbbbcc71

15 From an article entitled “Is Vladimir Putin a Wimp or a Russian Hitler?” written by Lincoln Mitchell, published in the Observer on December 26, 2014. http://observer.com/2014/12/is-vladimir-putin-cool-or-hitler-or-both/ 

16 From an article entitled “Breedlove’s Bellicosity: Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine” published in Der Spiegel on March 6, 2015. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/germany-concerned-about-aggressive-nato-stance-on-ukraine-a-1022193.html

17 Taken from an article entitled “Why the rise of fascism is again the issue” written by John Pilger, published on February 26, 2015. http://johnpilger.com/articles/why-the-rise-of-fascism-is-again-the-issue

18 From an article entitled “Putin must be stopped. And sometimes only guns can stop guns” written by Tim Garton Ash, published in the Guardian on February 1, 2015. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/01/putin-stopped-ukraine-military-support-russian-propaganda

19 From an article entitled “A Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo” written by Noam Chomsky, published by Z Magazine in April–May, 2001.  http://www.chomsky.info/articles/200005–.htm

The piece continues:

“Most killings and burnings [were] in areas where the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA-UCK] had been active” or could infiltrate, some human-rights researchers reported, an attempt “to clear out areas of KLA support, using selective terror, robberies and sporadic killings.” These conclusions gain some support from the detailed OSCE review released in December, which “suggests a kind of military rationale for the expulsions, which were concentrated in areas controlled by the insurgents and along likely invasion routes.”

The WSJ analysis concludes that “NATO stepped up its claims about Serb ‘killing fields’” when it “saw a fatigued press corps drifting toward the contrarian story: civilians killed by NATO’s bombs.” NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea presented “information” that can be traced to KLA-UCK sources. Many of the most lurid and prominently-published atrocity reports attributed to refugees and other sources were untrue, the WSJ concludes. Meanwhile NATO sought to deny its own atrocities, for example, by releasing a falsified videotape “shown at triple its real speed” to make it appear that “the killing of at least 14 civilians aboard a train on a bridge in Serbia last April” was unavoidable because “the train had been traveling too fast for the trajectory of the missiles to have been changed in time.”

The WSJ analysts nevertheless conclude that the “heinous” crimes, including the huge campaign of expulsion, “may well be enough to justify” the NATO bombing campaign, on the principle of retrospective justification.

20 According to the 2001 census 1,450,400 (60.4%) of the 2,401,200  living in Crimea are ethnic Russians. This compares with 576,600 (24.0%) Ukrainians and 245,200 (10.2%) Crimean Tatars. Data from wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Crimea#Ethnicities_.26_languages

21 From an article entitled “The war lovers” written by John Pilger published on March 23, 2006. http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-war-lovers

The same article was republished by News Statesman as “John Pilger doesn’t buy the sales pitch of political war lovers” on March 27, 2006.  http://www.newstatesman.com/node/152875

22 From an article entitled “War crimes tribunal report shows Western powers exaggerated Kosovo victims of ethnic cleansing” written by Mike Ingram, published by the World Socialist Web Site on August 22, 2000. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/08/koso-a22.html

23 It is believed that between 1.1–1.3 million civilians died during the siege of Leningrad.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effect_of_the_Siege_of_Leningrad_on_the_city#Civilian_casualties

A further 1,017,881 Soviet soldiers were reported killed, captured or missing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Leningrad#Lifting_the_siege

At Stalingrad, the USSR reportedly suffered 1,129,619 total casualties;[96] 478,741 personnel killed or missing, and 650,878 wounded or sick. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stalingrad#Casualties

24 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties#Human_losses_by_country

25 General “Buck” Turgidson’s fuller quote is:

“Yeah, I think it’d be extremely naive of us to imagine that these new developments [i.e., the end of civilisation!] are gonna cause any change in Soviet expansionist policy. I mean, we must be increasingly on the alert to prevent them from taking over other mine shaft space in order to breed more prodigiously than we do thus knocking us out through superior numbers when we emerge. Mr President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!”

 

26 From an article entitled “Doomsday clock: We are closer to doom than at any time since the Cold War, say scientists” written by Tom Bawnden, published in The Independent on January 22, 2015.

27 http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-weapons/issues/policies/no-first-use_1995-04-05.htm

28 Taken from an article entitled “Putin could attack Baltic States warns former Nato chief” written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, published in The Telegraph on February 5, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/11393707/Putin-could-attack-Baltic-states-warns-former-Nato-chief.html

29 Taken from a speech and article entitled “War by media and the triumph of propaganda” written by John Pilger, delivered at The Logan Symposium on December 5, 2014 and published here: http://johnpilger.com/articles/war-by-media-and-the-triumph-of-propaganda

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“The nature of the threats was dramatically underscored last October, at the summit meeting in Havana on the 40th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, attended by key participants from Russia, the US, and Cuba. Planners knew at the time that they had the fate of the world in their hands, but new information released at the Havana summit was truly startling. We learned that the world was saved from nuclear devastation by one Russian submarine captain, Vasily Arkhipov, who blocked an order to fire nuclear missiles when Russian submarines were attacked by US destroyers near Kennedy’s “quarantine” line. Had Arkhipov agreed, the nuclear launch would have almost certainly set off an interchange that could have “destroyed the Northern hemisphere,” as Eisenhower had warned.”

From Confronting the Empire delivered by Noam Chomsky at the III World Social Forum, on February 2, 2003. http://www.chomsky.info/talks/20030201.htm

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“MOSCOW – It was just past midnight as Stanislav Petrov settled into the commander’s chair inside the secret bunker at Serpukhov-15, the installation where the Soviet Union monitored its early-warning satellites over the United States. Then the alarms went off. On the panel in front him was a red pulsating button. One word flashed: “Start.” It was Sept. 26, 1983, and Petrov was playing a principal role in one of the most harrowing incidents of the nuclear age, a false alarm signaling a U.S. missile attack… Petrov’s role was to evaluate the incoming data. At first, the satellite reported that one missile had been launched – then another, and another. Soon, the system was “roaring,” he recalled – five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched, it reported. Despite the electronic evidence, Petrov decided – and advised the others – that the satellite alert was a false alarm, a call that may have averted a nuclear holocaust. But he was relentlessly interrogated afterward, was never rewarded for his decision and today is a long-forgotten pensioner living in a town outside Moscow. He spoke openly about the incident, although the official account is still considered secret by authorities here… “I had a funny feeling in my gut,” Petrov said. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.” Petrov’s decision was based partly on a guess, he recalled. He had been told many times that a nuclear attack would be massive – an onslaught designed to overwhelm Soviet defenses at a single stroke. But the monitors showed only five missiles. “When people start a war, they don’t start it with only five missiles,” he remembered thinking at the time. “You can do little damage with just five missiles.”

Extract from “I Had A Funny Feeling in My Gut” written by David Hoffman of Washington Post Foreign Service, published on Wednesday, February 10, 1999; Page A19. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/coldwar/shatter021099b.htm

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Iraq, USA, Russia, Ukraine, Kuwait, Kosovo, Serbia

show trial by television: Galloway was set up by BBC to be accused

A few hours ago I watched BBC1’s Question Time programme. I imagined it might be one of the more interesting outings of what has increasingly become a lame excuse for a serious political debate.

In general, the QT panel is composed of three mainstream politicians, each determined to spin their views as tightly as they can around the gurgling corporate sluice that is nowadays mistaken as political middle ground. Their prefabricated offerings are then juxtaposed against on the one hand, a boring but self-righteous and loud-mouthed journalist/business leader/blogger, and other the other an insane academic (generally an historian) who is no less loud-mouthed or self-righteous, and only less boring by virtue of being so completely potty.

In fact Question Time has long since become just another of the many hours of predicable political dross I occasionally skim through on the iplayer. But then sometimes, when the moon is blue and there are a pair of R’s in the month, there will appear one guest on the panel who not only speaks their mind, but actually has a mind worth speaking.

Just such an occasional panellist is George Galloway. For love or despise ‘Gorgeous George’, Question Time with Galloway is just about worth tuning in for. So tonight’s show (and I choose the word “show” very, very carefully) certainly did not disappoint in this regard. With Galloway posted on the panel, QT was once again livened up immeasurably.

Indeed, tonight’s show actually left me shaking… though not with excitement (as such) or anger, but literally with fear. In fact, by the end of the final half hour, I was trembling and thoroughly exhausted by the spectacle. I could barely even make a cup of tea to calm down afterwards. I also needed to write this post without delay and before I could possibly sleep. Writing in such haste has meant, of course, that I needed to get by with rather minimal research – hence the many references to wikipedia. But in searching wikipedia there was already enough evidence to validate my suspicions without any real need for digging deeper (although I do try to dig deeper as I go along).

It really didn’t take me very long to gather more than sufficient evidence to show how the programme had been deliberately framed with Galloway set up precisely as he had appeared to be: centre stage in a show trial.

The greatest proof of this comes in considering the backgrounds of the assembled hit squad – supposedly a neutral panel – whom I am about to name and shame more or less as they appeared in turn. There was also the audience… but I’ll come back to that later. Let’s begin with the man who led on the prosecution. Here is a little of what the wikipedia entry has on Jonathan Freedland (with original footnotes maintained):

Jonathan Saul Freedland (born 25 February 1967)[1] is a British journalist, who writes a weekly column for The Guardian and a monthly piece for The Jewish Chronicle.

A leading liberal Zionist in the UK,[9] he wrote in 2012 that he only uses the word Zionism infrequently. He explained:

“That is because the word has become so misunderstood, so freighted with excess baggage, that it has become all but impossible to deploy it without extensive explanation and qualification. Most of the time, it is best avoided. Part of the trouble is that a single variant – right-wing Zionism – has come to stand for the whole.”[10]

And this is Freedland speaking at — um — what’s the name of the place…? (also from wikipedia):

Next up on this supposedly balanced panel was someone called Cristina Odone:

Cristina Patricia Odone (born 11 November 1960)[1] is a journalist, editor, and writer. She has written for several newspapers, and was formerly the editor of The Catholic Herald, and deputy editor of the New Statesman.[2]

Odone’s father was a World Bank official, which led to the family regularly moving.

Odone is married to Edward Lucas,[2] a writer for The Economist magazine.[22]

Odone is also from the Legatum Institute think tank. What’s that you may ask? Well, here’s wikipedia again:

Legatum is a private investment firm headquartered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Legatum invests proprietary capital in commercial investments.

So how is Legatum Institute think tank connected to the Legatum private investment firm? Well, read on…

The Legatum Institute is an independent policy, advisory and advocacy organisation within the Legatum group of companies based in London, United Kingdom.[1] The Institute researches and promotes the principles that drive the creation of global prosperity and the expansion of human liberty.

Hmmm, sound lovely, don’t they…? well, if you want more information it helps to go to their own website:

Sian Hansen is the Executive Director.

Previously Sian spent seven years as the Managing Director of the UK think tank Policy Exchange; an educational charity promoting research and discourse on public policy. Sian is a Non-Executive Director of the JP Morgan Income and Capital Trust plc. and is a Non Executive Director on the Advisory Board for Cerno Capital PLC.

And then there is Director of the Transitions Forum Anne Applebaum who “leads the Legatum Institute’s Transitions Forum, a series of projects which examine the challenges and opportunities of radical political and economic change”:

She is a former member of the Washington Post editorial board, a former deputy editor of the Spectator magazine, a former political editor of the Evening Standard and a former Warsaw correspondent of the Economist. Her work also appears regularly in the New York Review of BooksForeign Policy, the New Republic, the Daily Telegraph and many other UK and US publications. She is married to Radek Sikorski, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland.

Connected – you might say.

So yes, in short, Cristina Odone is an establishment insider who happens to be married to another establishment insider and neo-liberal enthusiast, Edward Lucas:

Lucas works for The Economist, the London-based global newsweekly. He was the Moscow bureau chief from 1998 to 2002, and thereafter the central and east European correspondent.[1] He has also been a correspondent for The Independent and the BBC. Lucas also writes occasionally for The Daily Mail.

Lucas is Senior Fellow and Contributing Editor at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington D.C.[2]

I come back later to the CEPA too.

It turns out that Edward Lucas has locked horns with Galloway on an earlier occasion:

Whilst on December 22nd, he had tweeted the following: “interesting but incomplete infographic of Putinistas in Europe. Why no Die Linke, Commies, George Galloway?”

So not exactly a friend, we might say…!

Then, of the remaining two panellists, there was also Tristram Hunt:

Tristram Julian William Hunt, FRHistS (born 31 May 1974) a British Labour Party politician, historian and broadcast journalist, who currently serves as Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central in Staffordshire.

He is a regular writer for The Guardian and The Observer.[2]

The Guardian being the paper that Jonathan Freedland is (as noted above) the executive editor. And here is an excerpt from a recent article which offers a flavour of Hunt’s personal position when it comes to Middle Eastern politics and Israel:

Splits within the Labour party over the Palestinian question were laid bare last night as one of Ed Miliband’s most senior frontbenchers invoked Winston Churchill in a passionate tribute to Israel.

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, praised the former prime minister’s 1921 declaration that he had “full sympathy for Zionism”. 1

Taken from a Times article published only a month ago under the headline “Hunt risks party split with loving ode to Israel”.

But then the muck gets thicker, as we come to an article published by The Independent on Tuesday, just two days prior to the broadcast of tonight’s Question Time broadcast. It reads:

George Galloway, leader of the Respect Party, has caused a stir in a constituency that has one of the largest populations of Jewish people in the UK after it was announced that he would appear in the area on Question Time this week.

The broadcaster’s inclusion of the MP, who is a vocal opponent of Israel, was criticised as being “deliberately provocative” by Mike Freer, the MP for Finchley and Golders Green in north London. […]

The MP for Bradford West is to sit on the panel alongside Tory education secretary Nicky Morgan, Labour shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, deputy chairman of Ukip Suzanne Evans and The Guardian executive editor and columnist Jonathan Freedland.

This was later changed, of course. After UKIP’s Suzanne Evans went absent without leave, into her seat was plonked Cristina Odone instead: that representative of the UAE’s Legatum Institute; daughter of that World Bank official; as well as wife of Edward Lucas from the globalist think tank CEPA, which gets glowing praise from not only Zbigniew Brzezinski, but also Radosław Sikorski, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland. You remember Radek, he is husband of Legatum Institute’s Director of the Transitions Forum, Anne Applebaum (see above). But back to The Independent article:

A BBC spokesperson said: “Question Time invites panellists who reflect a significant range of opinions on a number of different topics. Whilst Mr Galloway’s views are entirely his own, as an MP he has a right to appear on the programme and has done so previously.

“A significant range of opinions” Really…? So do they not have access to wikipedia at the BBC?

The piece goes on:

“Subjects for discussion are chosen by our audience ahead of each show and this edition of Question Time will be no different.” 2

Does that include the question asked by audience member Gabriel Rosen: “Why is anti-Semitism rising in the UK and does a certain member of the panel bear some responsibility?” This was the extremely pointed question that actually kicked off the main event of the evening – the last half an hour of the show. An outcome that was hardly surprising given the insinuation of a direct link between “a certain member of the panel” and the rise in anti-Semitism in Britain. In effect, what Galloway is being asked can be reduced to: “are you ashamed of yourself for provoking anti-Semitism in this country?” It’s a “have you stopped beating your wife?” kind of a question.

Part of Galloway’s answer to this more or less unanswerable accusation – an accusation from which he was in any case given inadequate opportunity to defend himself – is embedded below. All of the answers he gave during this inquistion by television were notable for their restraint:

Galloway is a politician and so it is entirely proper that his opinions and actions are closely scrutinised. As I say, you are absolutely at liberty to detest Galloway, but the issue here is what on earth had led the BBC to consider it justifiable for him (or anyone else for that matter) to publicly tried in such a fashion?

This was, in my view, an unedifying spectacle, and one that presents us with a terrifying indication of how narrowly restricted real freedom of speech is becoming. These are scary times, and it was not without reason that as I finished watching earlier, I felt shaken.

We know perfectly well where true racism always leads, and so it is our duty to ask with unflinching honesty, who is really inciting racial division and stirring up hatred? In last night’s so-called discussion, I say it certainly wasn’t Galloway. I go further, and say that for all of his faults, Galloway cannot be justly accused of racism. He is not a bigot. And shame on the BBC for ever orchestrating such a disgusting piece of inflammatory propaganda.

To judge for yourself (if you didn’t watch earlier) then click here to see the whole show on BBC iplayer. [And now I must sleep]

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Update:

George Galloway has since published his own highly critical response to the QT show of February 5th. He writes:

Mr Dimbleby [presenter and mediator] told me immediately after the show that the final question posed by the audience was not in fact the question which had been tabled and selected. The last part of the question which sought to put me on show trial, make the final part of the show about me, had merely been added after the fact by the questioner. This has subsequently been admitted by the questioner in the Jewish Chronicle.

But there there [sic] was no point in telling me this in private with an apologetic air (he did not actually apologise, I gave him more credit than he deserved in my initial comments after the show) when millions of people oblivious to the trickery were about to watch the results on the show.

Mr Dimbleby had a couple of options when this ruse occurred:

He could have shot the question again, the show is not live, there is time for editing (although the only person who was edited was me with a chunk of my answer on Bradford schools mysteriously excised).
He could have made it clear on the recording, immediately, that the question had been changed, with obviously potentially defamatory consequences.

He did neither and with predictable results.

He also points an accusing finger toward both Cristina Odone and Tristram Hunt, whilst singling out Jonathan Freedland as “Hypocrite in Chief”:

A special place in the hall of shame must go to the Guardian’s executive editor Jonathan Freedland selected for the role of chief prosecutor in the show trial. The Guardian, a faux liberal newspaper which last summer accepted (that which even Rupert Murdoch had declined) a paid full page advertisement from an Israeli organisation while the blood was still running in the streets of Gaza seeking to justify the slaughter and slander the Palestinians, thousands of whom had by then been slain.

There is intense competition for the title of Hypocrite in Chief at The Guardian but Freedland in my view shades it.

Once the doctored question had been posed, he lit the touch paper before smugly stepping well back. He made a series of distorted allegations against me knowing that if I got into rebutting them there would have been no time for the bigger picture. Like a latter day McCarthy he patted a portfolio which he claimed contained the basis for his allegations. Who produced this dodgy dossier must be open to question.

Click here to read Galloway’s full reply.

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1 From an article entitled “Hunt risks party split with loving ode to Israel” written by Laura Pitel, published in The Times on January 7, 2015. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article4315908.ece

2 From an article entitled “Jewish groups protest against George Galloway appearance in Finchley for BBC’s Question Time” written by Lamiat Sabin, published by The Independent on February 3, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/jewish-groups-protest-against-george-galloway-appearance-in-finchley-for-bbcs-question-time-10021775.html

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