West World and the Original Robots of R.U.R.

October 23, 2016

A few weeks ago H.B.O. launched the latest SF blockbuster show, West World. It’s a TV series based on the 1970s film of the same name, written by Michael Crichton. Like Crichton’s Jurassic Park nearly twenty years or so later, West World is about a fantasy amusement, presided over by a sinister inventor played by Anthony Hopkins, the man who scared audiences witless as the cannibalistic murderer Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs and its sequel, Hannibal. While Jurassic Park was about scientific attempts to recreate the dinosaurs for popular amusement, in West World the amusement park was a resort which attempted to recreate past eras for fun. This included the Middle Ages, and a section devoted to the old West. Like Jurassic Park, things go disastrously wrong. A computer malfunction makes the robots break the inbuilt restrictions on their behaviour, so that they gain autonomy and independence. In the medieval part of the resort, a man, who is used to getting his way with the female androids has his advances rebuffed with the curt answer, ‘Methinks Sir forgets himself’. But the real action of the story is the attempts by the movie’s hero over in the West World part of the resort to overcome the black-garbed, robot gunfighter, played by Yul Brynner. Like Schwarzenegger in the Terminator films, the gunslinger is an implacable, unstoppable killing machine, and the hero has to destroy it before it kills him, just like it gunned down his friend.

The TV series has adapted and altered the story. The gunman is now human, rather than robotic, and the focus seems to have shifted more to the robots than the humans. They are the victims of the humans enjoying the resort, who come to act out terrible fantasies of rape and killing that they would never dare consider doing in the real world to other human beings. The robot hosts they use – and abuse – are repaired and have their memories wiped ready for the next set of visitors to do the same, all over again. But attempts to give the machines consciousness have had an effect. The machines are beginning to remember. The press releases to the series state that its premise is not about machines developing consciousness and intelligence, but what they will make of us when they do.

The artificial humans in West World are less robots in the sense of mechanical people, than artificial humans. The titles show artificial tendons and muscles being placed on synthetic skeletons by robotic arms in a more developed version of 3D printing.

This conception of artificial humans shows the influence of Blade Runner. Based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the film changed Dick’s androids to ‘replicants’, artificial men and women created through sophisticated genetic engineering for use as slave soldiers and sex workers. Produced by the Tyrell Corporation under the slogan ‘More Human Than Human’, these genetic constructs have a desire for freedom and longevity. In order to stop them overthrowing humanity, they only have a lifespan of six years or so. They are also becoming increasingly sophisticated psychologically and emotionally. In the book and film, they can only be distinguished from natural people through the Voight-Comp Test. This is a complex psychological test in which the subjects have to answer a series of questions. Part of this is to measure their capacity for empathy. Replicants generally are unable to sympathise or understand others’ suffering. The test asks those undergoing its questions to imagine their in a desert. They see a tortoise lying on its back, dying in the hot sun. The animal is clearly in pain and dying, but they don’t help it. Why not? At the end of the movie, Deckard, the film’s hero, a Blade Runner – the special policemen charged with catching and ‘retiring’ replicants that have made it down to Earth, is in serious danger. In his battle with Roy Batty, the replicants’ leader and now their only survivor after he has tracked them all down, Deckard has failed to make a jump across two of the buried skyscrapers underneath the sprawling future LA. He is hanging from a girder, about to fall to his death. Until Batty, before his own programmed obsolescence kills him, pulls him to safety. Batty has developed genuine sympathy for another stricken creature. He has triumphantly passed the Voight-Comp test, and shown more humanity than the humans who made him and who enslave his kind.

It’s a very old theme, which goes all the way back to one of the very first Science Fiction plays, if not the very first SF play, to deal with a robot revolt, R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots. Written by the Czech playwright Karel Capek, this was the play that introduced the word ‘robot’ into the English language. The word comes from the Czech for ‘serf’ or ‘slave’. It’s set in a company producing these artificial people, which are used for everything from factory workers to domestic servants. They have also been stripped of complex emotional responses to make them suitable servants. But as with the synthetic hosts of West World, this is breaking down. Instead of simply performing their tasks, the robots are increasingly stopping and refusing to work. They simply stand there, grinding their teeth. Eventually their growing dissatisfaction turns from simple recalcitrance to outright revolt. The machines rebel, exterminating humanity and leaving the company’s accountant, Alquist, as the only survivor.

Like Blade Runner’s replicants and the synthetic hosts of West World, Capek’s robots were not machine so much as creatures produced through a kind of artificial biology. In the first act, the company’s general manager, Domain, explains the origins of the robots in the biological researches of the biologist, Rossum, to Helena Glory, the daughter of an Oxbridge prof.

‘It was in the year 1922’, informs Domain, ‘that old Rossum the great physiologist, who was then quite a young scientist, betook himself to this distant island for the purpose of studying the ocean fauna, full stop. On this occasion he attempted by chemical synthesis to imitate the living matter known as protoplasm, until he suddenly discovered a substance which behaved exactly like living matter, although its chemical composition was different; that was in the year 1932, exactly four hundred years after the discovery of America, whew!’ (The Brothers Capek, R.U.R. and The Insect Play(Oxford: OUP 1961) p. 5). Later Domain tells Helena a little about the industrial processes in which the robots are manufactured:

Domain: … Midday. The Robots don’t know when to stop work. In two hours I’ll show you the kneading-trough.

Helena: What kneading-trough?

Domain. [Dryly] The pestles and mortar as it were for beating up the paste. In each one we mix the ingredients for a thousand Robots at one operation. Then there are the vats for the preparation of liver, brains, and so on. They you’ll see the bone factory. After that I’ll show you the spinning-mill.

Helena: What spinning-mill?

Domain: For weaving nerves and veins. Miles and miles of digestive tubes pass through it at a stretch. Then there’s the fitting shed, where all the parts are put together, like motor-cars. Next comes the drying-kiln and the warehouse in which the new products work. (p. 15).

Like Blade Runner, the robots of R.U.R. end by becoming human emotionally. Just as the replicants in Blade Runner have a severely limited lifetime, so Capek’s Robots, as beings created purely for work, are sterile. After their victory, they approach Alquist requesting that more of them be created as their numbers of falling. Despite their entreaties, Alquist can’t. He is not a scientist, and the last of the company’s management destroyed the manuscript describing how they were made before they themselves were killed. Radius, the leader of the robots, requests Alquist to find out by dissecting living robots. When Primus, one of the male robots, and Helena, a female robot, each defend the other, refusing to let Alquist take them for experimentation, the old accountant realises that the mystery of their reproduction has been solved. The play ends with him reciting the text of Genesis describing God’s creation of Man. The last lines are him reciting the Nunc Dimissit : ‘Now, Lord, lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy will, for mine eye have seen Thy salvation.’

This last marks the major difference between R.U.R. and modern treatments of the rise of robots and their possible replacement of humanity: R.U.R. is explicitly Christian in its underlying tone. It’s stated very clearly that Rossum was a militant atheist, who wanted to play God in order to show that God is unnecessary for the emergence of life. The ending, however, is ambiguous. Rossum was an anti-theist, but his artificial creations, which are based on a chemistry not found in nature, clearly work, and in turn become genuine, self-perpetuating, authentic men and women with intelligence, emotions and morality.

Some critics have said that R.U.R. really isn’t SF so much as a technological parable about the threat of Communism. It was written in 1920, a few years after the Russian Revolution and similar outbreaks of working class militancy across Europe, including Germany, Austria and Hungary. But other works, that are undoubtedly considered Science Fiction, are also veiled comments on events and issues of the time. Much of the SF of the former Soviet Union, like that of the Strugatsky brothers, who wrote the classic Stalker, was written in the ‘Aesopian Mode’. They were intended as parables to say in veiled form truths and comments that could not be overtly made under Soviet censorship.

And the conception of robots as a form of genuine artificial life does seem to be based on some of the scientific speculation of the time. Russian scientists, such as Oparin, were acutely interested in the emergence of life on the prehistoric Earth, and devised several experiments to suggest how the chemicals necessary for life may have been formed. And the Communists, as militant atheists, were keen supporters of Darwinian evolution, though I think they viewed it as proceeding through a form of dialectal materialism, and so bearing that theory out, rather than some of the more sophisticated, non-Marxist conceptions that have occurred later. Russian Cosmists, like the Transhumanists today, wished to develop scientific methods of resurrecting the dead and then colonising space as a suitable habitat for the new, perfected humanity.

Furthermore, some experiments and speculation in robotics has moved away from simple, mechanical processes. Human muscles operate biochemically. Messages from nerves changes the shape of the molecules composing muscles, which in turn makes those same muscles contract or expand, moving the organism’s limbs. Some scientists have therefore worked on trying to mimic this process of movement using artificial substances, rather than existing electrical or petrol-driven motors. This brings the construction of robots very close the type of 3D printing shown in West World’s titles.

My own feeling is that it will be a very long time, if ever, before humanity produces anything like the sentient robots of SF. As I mentioned in my previous article, one of the scientists interviewed by the science magazine, Frontiers, in 1998 stated that he didn’t think we’d see genuinely conscious, intelligent robots in his lifetime. Anthony Hopkins in an interview in this week’s Radio Times makes the same point, stating that we haven’t created anything as simply as a single cell. This does not mean that humanity won’t, or detract from stories about robots as entertainment, or as the means by which philosophical issues about creation, the nature of life and humanity, consciousness and intelligence, can be explored. West World in this sense is part of a trend in recent screen SF attempting to explore these issues intelligently, such as Automata and The Machine. These new treatments are far more secular, but as philosophical treatments of the underlying issues, rather than simple stories about warfare between humanity and its creations, like the Terminator, they also follow in a long line that goes all the way back to Capek.

Frontiers Magazine on Robot Weapons

October 23, 2016

The popular science magazine, Frontiers, way back in October 1998 ran an article on robots. This included two pages on the ‘Soldiers of Tomorrow’, military robots then under development. This included drones. These are now extremely well-known, if not notorious, for the threat they pose to privacy and freedom. The article notes that they were developed from the unmanned planes used for target practice. They were first used in the 1960s to fly reconnaissance missions in Vietnam after the US air force suffered several losses from surface to air missiles. Drones were also used during the Cold War to spy on the Soviet Union, though instead of beaming the pictures back to their operators, they had to eject them physically. They were further developed by the Israelis, who used them to spy on their Arab neighbours during their many wars. Their next development was during the Gulf War, when they broadcast back to their operators real-time images of the battlefields they were surveying.

Apart from drones, the article also covered a number of other war machines under development. This included remotely operated ground vehicles like SARGE, and the Mobility Module and remotely controlled buggy shown below.


SARGE was a scout vehicle adapted from a Yamaha four-wheel drive all-terrain jeep. Like the drones, it was remotely controlled by a human operator. The top photo of the two above showed the Mobility Module mounted aboard another army vehicle, which contained a number of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition sensors. Below it is a missile launcher fixed to another remote-control buggy. The article also carried a photo of a Rockwell Hellfire missile being launched from another of this type of adapted vehicle.


Next to this was a photo of the operator in his equipment, who controlled the Tele-Operated Vehicle, or TOV, as the developers were calling such machines.


Another of the machines described in the article was the Telepresent Rapid Aiming System, a robot gun designed by Graham Hawkes and Precision Remotes of California as a sentry robot. As the article itself notes, it’s similar to the tunnel machine guns used by the Space Marines in the film Aliens. It could either be operated by remote control, or made fully automatic and configured to shoot live ammunition. At the time the article was written it had already been tested by a number of different law enforcement agencies.

The only vaguely humanoid robot was the Robart III, shown below.


This machine was able to track a target automatically using its video vision, and possessed laser guidance to allow it to be operated remotely. In demonstrations it carried a pneumatic dart gun, capable of firing tranquillizer darts at intruders. In combat situations this would be replaced with a machine gun. It was designed to be used as a mechanical security guard.

The article also stated that miniature crawling robots were also under development. These would be used to creep up on enemy positions, sending back to their operators video images of their progress. If such machines were mass-produced, their price could fall to about £10. This would mean that it would be easily affordable to saturate an area with them. (pp. 56-7).

The article describes the state of development of these machines as it was nearly 20 years ago. Drones are now so widespread, that they’ve become a nuisance. I’ve seen them in sale in some of the shops in Cheltenham for anything from £36 to near enough £400. Apart from the military, they’re being used by building surveyors and archaeologists.

And while robots like the above might excite enthusiasts for military hardware, there are very serious issues with them. The Young Turks, Secular Talk and Jimmy Dore have pointed out on their shows that Bush and Obama have violated the American constitution by using drones to assassinate terrorists, even when they are resident in friendly or at least non-hostile countries. Despite all the talk by the American army about ‘surgical strikes’, these weapons in fact are anything but precise instruments that can kill terrorists while sparing civilians. The three programmes cited, along with no doubt many other shows and critics, have stated that most of the victims of drone attacks are civilians and the families of terrorists. The drones may be used to home in on mobile signals, so that the person killed has been someone using their phone, rather than the terrorists themselves. Others have been worried about the way the operation of these weapons through remote control have distanced their human operators, and by extension the wider public, from the bloody reality of warfare.

Way back in the first Gulf War, one of the French radical philosophers in his book, The Gulf War Never Happened, argued that the extensive use of remotely controlled missiles during the war, and the images from them that were used in news coverage at the time, meant that for many people the Gulf War was less than real. It occurred in Virtual Reality, like a simulation in cyberspace. Recent criticism of the military use of drones as killing machines by whistleblowers have borne out these fears. One, who was also an instructor on the drone programme, described the casual indifference to killing, including killing children, of the drone pilots. They referred to their actions as ‘mowing the lawn’, and their child victims as ‘fun-sized terrorists’, justifying their deaths by arguing that as the children of terrorists, they would have grown up to be terrorists themselves. Thus they claimed to have prevented further acts of terrorism through their murder. And they did seem to regard the operation of the drones almost as a video game. The instructor describes how he threw one trainee off the controls after he indulged in more, unnecessary bloodshed, telling him, ‘This is not a computer game!’

And behind this is the threat that such machines will gain their independence to wipe out or enslave humanity. This is the real scenario behind Dr Kevin Warwick’s book, March of the Machines, which predicts that by mid-century robots will have killed the majority of humanity and enslaved the rest. A number of leading scientists have called for a halt on the development of robot soldiers. About 15 or twenty years ago there was a mass outcry from scientists and political activists after one government announced it was going to develop fully autonomous robot soldiers.

I’m a fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, which is about a group of robot soldiers, who now fight to ‘increase the peace’, using their lethal skills to rid the galaxy of criminals and tyrants and protect the innocent. The robots depicted in the strip are fully conscious, intelligent machines, with individual personalities and their own moral codes. The Frontiers article notes elsewhere that we’re a long way from developing such sophisticated AI, stating that he did not believe he would see it in his lifetime. On the other hand, Pat Mills, the strips’ writer and creator, says in the introduction to one of the collected volumes of the strips on the ‘Volgan War’, that there is a Russian robot, ‘Johnny 5’, that looks very much like Mechquake, the stupid, psychopathic robot bulldozer that appeared in the strip and its predecessor, ‘Robusters’. None of the machines under development therefore have the humanity and moral engagement of Hammerstein, Ro-Jaws, Mongrol, Steelhorn, Happy Shrapnel/ Tubalcain, Deadlok or even Joe Pineapples. The real robotic killing machines now being developed and used by the military represent a real threat to political liberty, the dehumanisation of warfare, and the continuing safety of the human race.

‘In the Shadow of Mary Seacole’: Review

October 20, 2016

Tuesday evening, at 10.40 ITV broadcast a documentary, ‘In the Shadow of Mary Seacole’, in which the actor David Harewood went on a journey from Britain to Jamaica and the Crimea tracing the life of Mary Seacole. Seacole was one of the Victorian heroines that have been forgotten with the march of time. In her forties, she went to Crimea to open a hotel to serve the troops, as well as going on to the battlefield to try to heal them with traditional Jamaican herbal remedies. She was at one time as popular as Florence Nightingale, and her memory has been preserved by Black historians and activists. Amongst those Harewood spoke to about her, were a group of mainly Black, but with one or two White ladies, who had formed a society to commemorate her. These ladies had succeeded in their campaign for a monument to be erected to her. As Harewood traced Seacole’s physical journey around the globe, so he also followed the story of the her statue from the initial design as a maquette, or scale model, to the completion of the final, 3 metre tall statue and its installation outside one of London’s hospitals.

Apart from Harewood himself and the ladies of his commemoration society, the other speakers in the programme included Diane Abbott, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, the comedian Jo Brand, a Black actress, a White woman, who had written a biography of Seacole, and a biographer of Florence Nightingale. The latter was very critical of Mary Seacole. He felt that, in contrast to Nightingale, Seacole’s achievements in nursing had been blown out of proportion. He declared that there was no evidence she had saved thousands of lives. He felt she was only being commemorated due to ‘political correctness’ – the need to find a Black counterpart to Nightingale. He stated he had no objection to a statue being put up to her, but did object to where it was to be sited: outside the very hospital associated with Nightingale. Harewood correctly commented that she continued to divide opinions today.

He began the programme at the side of the lakes in Birmingham, where he and his brother used to play as children. He said that at the time he was growing up in the 70s, there were no major figures of his skin colour, and no women. Mary Seacole had been a particular heroine of his. Seacole had been born in Jamaica in 1805, the illegitimate daughter of a free Black woman and a Scots soldier. Her mother ran a boarding house, and it was from her mother that she also learnt her knowledge of Jamaican herbal medicine. She later on married a White Englishman, Horatio Hamilton, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of Horatio Nelson and Lady Hamilton. The marriage unfortunately only lasted nine years. Hamilton was sickly, and Seacole nursed him through his final years before his death. With the outbreak of the Crimean War, Seacole used her own money to journey to Crimea to construct a hotel. There she was known for serving good food, as well as dispensing ‘liquors’ to the troops. Her hotel was particularly patronised by the officer class.

Harewood explained that the purpose of the War had been to quell fears that the Russians were going to expand southward. The Crimea, then as now, was home to the Russian fleet. And so the British invaded and besieged the town of Sebastopol. After several years of fighting, the British managed to break the Russians, who retreated, sinking their own ships as they did so. The sequences showing the Crimean War were illustrated by clips from a Russian movie made in 1912.

Mary’s fortunes were not so successful, however. She came back to Britain in debt. A banquet was held in her honour, in order to raise money for her, supported by several of the soldiers. Although the banquet was a success, it did not raise any money for her, and she died penniless, eventually to be all but forgotten. She had, however, left an autobiography, a modern edition of which Harewood was shown reading.

The sculptor showed Harewood the model he had made. This would show Seacole as the strong, purposeful woman she was, striding forward with her clothes swirling around her. Behind would be a metal disc, which would bear the imprint of the ground from Crimea. It was designed to be lit up from below at night. To illustrate this, the sculptor showed Harewood the intended effect using the light from his mobile phone. His intention was not only to show Seacole herself, but that the shadows of the people admiring the statue would also be cast onto the disc behind her, so that for a brief moment they too would share her space.

The sculptor stated that there were a lot of photographs showing Seacole’s face from the front, but he wanted to know what she looked like from all sides. Thus he asked Harewood to go to the archives in Jamaica to see what material they had on her. The British archivist there produced a bust of the heroine, in reddish-brown clay, that was made by one of the army surgeons. It was, he said, one of the rarest of its type in the archives and easily the most valuable. Harewood duly photographed the bust from all angles.

Also in Jamaica, Harewood spoke to a former pharmacist, a doctor, who had given up her career in orthodox medicine for one in complementary healing. She explained that Seacole didn’t have any formal medical training, but would have been a ‘doctress’. This meant that she had a knowledge of herbal lore, which she used to treat and heal. It was this knowledge that she used to treat the wounded squaddies on the frozen battlefields of the Crimea.

This led to Harewood and the sculptor, back home in England, discussing Seacole’s features. There’s a debate and a little controversy over how ‘Black’ Seacole was. She was clearly a woman of African heritage, but the sculptor also felt that there would have been some elements in her appearance from her White heritage. Her features, he believed, would have been a little narrower from other Black Jamaicans as a result. He then sent Harewood on to the next stage of his journey of discovery, to the Crimea to find suitable ground from which to take the impressions for the statue’s metal disc.

At the Crimea, he met a local historian, a mature lady, who guided him to some of the battle sites. He looked over the ‘Valley of Death’ through which the Light Brigade charged to spike the Russian guns, celebrated in Tennyson’s poem, and illustrated in a painting from the period. Poring over maps, he traced the site of Seacole’s hotel, and was delighted to discover that there were still relics of her stay littering the ground. These included some of the wine and alcohol bottles she had stocked. Looking at the shards of glass, Harewood and the historian discussed how the British used to shoot the tops off the bottles. Harewood was accompanied on his journey by the technician, who was going to take the impression of the ground. While Harewood and the historian discussed Seacole’s hotel and its remains, he went off to find a suitable rock formation. This was scanned using a laser, which the technician held up to shoot its rays at the rock face, slowly building up a three dimensional computer model of its surface.

The Black actress commented on what a strong, modern woman Seacole would have been. She had travelled on her own across the world without a husband, something which was extremely rare at the time, and which few women did today.

Back in England, Harewood returned to see the immense metal armature the sculptor had constructed, which would serve as the three-dimensional framework for the clay from which the statue would be made. The sculptor trowelled a few pieces of clay into place before inviting Harewood to join in. Harewood did so, but not unsurprisingly found stirring and getting the great gobs of clay from the bucket onto his trowel, and then on to the frame hard work. It struck me that this part of the statue’s construction was not so much like the image of sculpture everyone has, with delicate fingers moulding pliant clay, so much as like a navvy laying down mortar on a brick wall.

Harewood then said that there were a few more things that needed to be done to the statue, with footage of it being covered with various other substances, one of which looked like rubber, before it was due to be taken to be cast into bronze. The programme showed the statue being driven to the foundry on the back of an open truck, securely fastened with tarpaulin and ropes. Once there, the programme showed the molten bronze being poured from a crucible into the mould formed from the clay statue. This was the moment of truth, and the sculptor described it as a form of alchemy.

The statue was being cast in pieces, and the sculptor took Harewood to see some of the pieces that had already been cast, which included her head. At this stage of the process, the bronze was a bright, coppery colour. The pieces would be assembled and welded together. The welding marks would then be removed, before the statue was finally put in place. There was a little footage of this being done. When completed, the statue was a much darker colour.

The programme showed the ceremony for the statue’s installation. Amongst those speaking were Diane Abbott, and the sculptor himself. He said in his speech that there were plenty of statues of White men, mostly monarchs and generals, but only 15 per cent of the statues in Britain were of women, and very few Black people. It had therefore been his privilege to try to redress this. Back in the studio, Jo Brand paid tribute to Seacole, saying that she was a woman of immense compassion. Her biographer answered the criticisms of Nightingale’s biographer by saying that the comments about her going to run a hotel there were meant to disparage her accomplishment by pointing out that there was also a commercial motive. But this did not detract from her achievements. She also answered the criticism that Seacole didn’t have formal medical training by pointing out that nursing as a distinct, respected profession didn’t exist at the time, and was only created by Nightingale after the War. Harewood himself also commented, stating that there were few, if any, statues of people of his colour. But it was important to have them, to show that people of colour had been a part of this country’s history for a very long time.

It was an interesting glimpse into the life of a determined woman, who was rightly celebrated in her day. I don’t think you could quite make her Nightingale’s equal – Nightingale herself was an expert mathematician, who added much to statistics, and whose achievements included the invention of the pie chart. And Nightingale is the genius behind the creation of modern nursing. Nevertheless, she played her bit providing comfort to the wounded in during the horrors of the Crimean War. Brand at one point said she must have been an immense comfort to some poor, teenage soldier dying far away from his mother. And the troops also doubtless appreciated the alcohol she brought on to the battlefield. So, while may be not as great a figure as Nightingale, she certainly deserved her statue.

One other thing also struck me about Seacole and her unofficial status as ‘doctress’. While this may strike people today, used to modern, professional scientific medicine, as something close to magic, it would have been immediately familiar to the ordinary troopers from working class or rural poor backgrounds. Before it was applied to African spiritual healers and practitioners, the term ‘witchdoctor’ originally meant the white witches and wizards of rural Britain, to whom the poor turned to heal their illnesses. Professional doctors before the establishment of the NHS and the welfare state were rare in rural areas, and expensive. Unofficial healers with a knowledge of herbalism were therefore the only people available to the poor, whether they were White British or Black Jamaicans. Professional doctors also had a reputation as rapacious quacks, whose treatments were more likely to kill you as cure you. The rank and file squaddies in the British army were thus probably more prepared to trust her as the type of healer they had grown up with at home, than the properly trained medical men. And clearly, the army surgeon, who had sculpted the bust respected her courage and professionalism, otherwise he would not have tried to preserve her image in clay.

And Harewood is right: Black people have been in Britain since the Romans. It is thus only right that Seacole should have a statue in her honour.

Radio 2 Programme with Trevor McDonald on the British West Indies Regiment

October 18, 2016

Another programme on Black history is also on the radio tonight. This is Huge and Mighty Men of Valour, in which the ITV newsreader and the 21st century’s answer to Alan Whicker, Trevor McDonald, talks about the history of the British West Indies Regiment. the blurb for this in the Radio Times runs

Trevor McDonald presents the untold story of the West Indies role in the British Empire’s war effort. Until 1915 the War Office was reluctant to recruit West Indian troops but heavy losses changed their perspective and thousands of young men willingly signed up for the newly formed British West Indies Regiment. Such was their physical fitness and readiness to work that they were dubbed “huge and mighty men of valour” . But racism and poor conditions at the end of the War resulted in a mutiny and the radicalisation of many troops who, upon their return home, helped sow the seeds of self-determination, which rattled the colonial powers.

This is on tonight, Tuesday 18th October 2016, at 10.00 pm on Radio 2. If you miss it, I should think it’ll be available on BBC iplayer.

ITV Programme on Black Victorian Heroine Mary Seacole

October 18, 2016


ITV tonight are broadcasting a documentary about Mary Seacole, one of the Victorian heroines you don’t hear about. The blurb in the Radio Times for the documentary runs

In the Shadow of Mary Seacole

The contribution of Mary Seacole, a Jamaican nurse of Scottish and African descent, to caring for wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War has been increasingly acknowledged over recent years. Actor David Harewood embarks on a highly personal journey of discovery as he follows the creation of a statue of the woman who has always been a heroine to him.

The programme’s on at 10.40 today, 18th October 2016.

Seacole was as big a heroine in her time as the nurse everyone’s heard of, Florence Nightingale. There were mass petitions and crowds gathered to see her honoured, and it’s a very sore point with many Black activists that she has been so comprehensively forgotten. They see it as being due to racism, while I think that part of it may also be due to Nightingale having been the better self-publicist.

Regardless of this issue, she is one of Black Britain’s greatest heroines, and indeed one of this country’s greatest irrespective of colour, and it’s only right that her story should also be brought back to public memory and respect.

The American Court Ruling against Holocaust Denial

October 17, 2016

In my article on Saturday reviewing the book Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review, edited by Israel W. Charny (London: Mansell Publishing 1991) I mentioned that amongst its contents, the chapter on Holocaust Denial has a passage describing how a Neo-Nazi rag in America was successfully sued over the issue of the existence of the Holocaust. The rag stated it never happened, and challenged people to prove that it had. One man did, and when the magazine refused to pay out the sum it had promised to pay, took them to court. The judge ruled in his favour, and stated that it was more than adequately demonstrated that the Shoah was historical fact. Here’s the passage:

Verdict of an American Judge on the Offer to pay $50,000 for Proof that the Nazis Gassed Jews

In the United States, the Institute for Historical Review offered to pay fifty thousand dollars to anyone who would be able to “prove” that the Nazis gassed Jews. IHR advertised this challenge in Los Angeles at their September 2, 1979 International Revisionist Conference. Such proof was provided by Mr. Mel Mermelstein, who now lives in Huntington Beach, California, and whose family died in the Birkenau gas chambers, but the institute refused to accept the proof or pay Mermelstein the money. Mermelstein sued them, and the result was an official statement by Judge Thomas Johnson, on October 9, 1981 in Lost Angeles Superior Court, that that “This court does take judicial notice of the fact that Jews were gassed to death at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland” and that the Holocaust is not reasonably subject to dispute. “It is capable of immediate and accurate determination by resort to sources of reasonable indisputable accuracy. It is simply a fact.”

Despite this unequivocal statement of the Superior Court, the IHR still did not pay Mermelstein, but Mermelstein sought further relief in the Courts. Judge Robert Wenke in Los Angeles Superior Court approved the settlement that called for the IHR to pay the Auschwitz survivor. As reported in the New York Times, “The institute, which says the Holocaust never happened, must also pay Mr. Mermelstein $100,000 for the pain and suffering caused by the reward offer.”

Mr. Mermelstein’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, stated:

Mr. Mermelstein’s victory in this case will now send a clear message to all those throught the world who attempt to destroy history and inflict misery and suffering on Jews, that the survivors of the Holocaust will fight back through the legal system to protect themselves and vindicate the truth about their lives. (p. 55).

This hasn’t stopped Nazis repeating their despicable claim that it never occurred, or that it somehow was much smaller than the 6 million or so Jews killed in the death camps. But it does mean that, at least under American law, and certainly under German and Austrian legislation, they are peddling a lie. The IHR were fortunate. As Americans, they only had to pay out $50,000, plus no doubt costs and damages for their refusal to do so. In Germany and Austria, and a number of other European countries, Holocaust Denial is a crime, for which you can be imprisoned. Considering the disgusting nature of their claim, the IHR got off very lightly.

Israel W. Charny on Genocide Victims’ and Israelis’ Toleration of Atrocities against Others

October 17, 2016

In his chapter ‘The Denial of Known Genocides’ in the book Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review vol. 2 (London: Mansell 1991), Israel W. Charny, the book’s editor, discusses instances where the survivors of genocides are perfectly prepared to tolerate and approve of massacres and atrocities against others, despite having been the victims of such crimes themselves. Charny discusses the findings of research done in Israel, including with Holocaust survivors and medical students, as well as the general public. This found that a disturbingly high number of Israelis, and especially those, who had survived the horrors of the Nazi camps and student medical professionals, were more than willing to tolerate and even approve the mass murder of other human beings.

Charny writes:

Another sense in which victims can be said to be engaging in denial is that, despite their profound awareness of the extent of man’s inhumanity to man, many survivors themselves have not learned to make a commitment to protecting the lives of all other human beings. Charny and his associates have conducted a series of studies of the readiness of Holocaust survivors to approve or recommend or themselves be prepared to do evil to others. In the one study referred to early (Charny and Fromer, submitted for publication), where Jewish/Israelis who were going to see Lanzmann’s film Shoah were interviewed, the subjects were asked their opinions about a soldier who had been convicted for massacre of innocent Arabs who said years later that he would do it again – that he was only following orders, and would serve his country’s needs the same way under similar circumstances. Overall 38% of the subjects approved of the soldier’s position; among Holocaust survivors, children of survivors and an extended group of the subjects who had expressed themselves as strongly involved with the Holocaust, the approval rate was 46% as compared to 26% among non-survivors (a difference that was statistically significant).

In another experiment, Charny and Fromer (in press) and Fromer and Charny (submitted for publication) studied Jewish/Israeli students in medicine, psychology and social work as to their readiness to harm and even kill patients. The subjects were presented with a situation in which they were to imagine themselves in the future working in a developing country in Africa. As condition in the country worsen seriously and resources dwindle, the health authorities undertake to eliminate treatment and maintenance for the most severe cases, and to undertake involuntary mass euthanasia; 34% of the subjects agreed to the former step, and 17% to the latter. When the subjects were then told that the Ministry of Health determined that the involuntary euthanasia would be executed more humanely if done by professionals, and the subjects were asked who of themselves would be prepared to kill the patients, 11% agreed. In a continuation of the same experiment (Charny and Fromer – in press, and Fromer and Charny, submitted for publication), the subjects were also asked to think of themselves as having been called up to national service by an extreme right-wing Israeli government and they are ordered to classify all Arab citizens of Israel in connection with the government’s program for a forced migration of the Arabs from Israel. The rates of compliance varied between 21% and 34% (or one out of five to one out of three). The seriousness of the behaviours in all of the above cases was underscored by an addition survey the authors made of 30 supervisors-trainers in medicine, psychology and social work, 60% of whom, and in some cases many more, indicated they would expel any student from their clinical training programme who would agree to participate in such activities.

Charny and Sarid (in process) have studied the opinions of Israelis of the desirability of the Israeli government maintaining political, economic and security-interest relationships with each of three governments who were described as persecuting a minority people in their land. Although the situations described were presented as fictional, each actually was patterned after a specific real scenario – (a) South Africa; (b) Nazi Germany preceding the Holocaust or Turkish-Armenian relationships leading up to the Armenian genocide; and (c) the Holocaust. These responses were also analyzed for differences between Holocaust survivors and others. 78% of the survivors opposed the Israeli government maintaining relationships with the government that was described as persecuting its targeted minority in a way that was similar to what happened in the Holocaust, while 64.5% of non-survivors took this position. However, with respect to the two other persecutory governments who were oppressing their minorities differently, 56% of survivors and 39 to 52% (in different situations) of non-survivors took this position. The implication of these findings is that both Holocaust survivors specifically as well as other Israelis tend to have “learned” much more how to oppose evils which resemble the ones they endured against other peoples, but continue to deny or not react as strongly to the dangers of other “faces of evil” to which they do not generalize a full measure of moral outrage.

Altogether, these studies record a disappointing degree of callousness and obtuseness to genocidal massacre and threat of massacre towards peoples by substantial numbers of actual Holocaust survivors as well as, overall, on the part of the people of the survivors of the Holocaust, namely Jewish/Israelis. It should rightly be noted that research date from other peoples often show even higher rates of identification with and justification of genocidal massacres (e.g. Kelman and Hamilton, 1989; see also the extensive discussions of these issues in Charny and Fromer in press – a and b, and submitted for publication); but from an ideal ethical point of view, one would wish that all survivors of the Holocaust, and all Jewish/Israelis, would manifest an unerring sensitivity to the plights of all other peoples. (Pp. 7-8, my emphasis).

These figures are disturbing and disappointing because of the expectation many people have that the Jews, as a people, who have suffered horrendous persecution during much of their history, and particularly Holocaust survivors, who have been through what can only be described as a living hell – should be uniquely placed to have a greater hostility to the perpetration of such crimes.

Please Note: I am not suggesting for a single moment that Jews or Israelis are any more intolerant or ready to commit genocide and massacre than any other people. Indeed, Charny’s article passage reproduced here makes it clear that other nations may be even more disposed to do so. I think it’s highly likely that if a comparable test of British people were performed, the same numbers would also show themselves willing to tolerate or commit genocidal acts.

I am also very much aware of the number of courageous Jews, Israelis and people of Jewish heritage, who are very much opposed to their society’s ethnic cleansing and oppression of the Palestinians. Indeed, the above passage also makes it very clear that there are very many Israelis, who are profoundly opposed to the murder of Palestinian and Arab innocents, and the forced expulsions of the Palestinians from their native land. Israelis and Jews from America, Britain and across the world have protested against the massacres, the house demolitions and the creation of an apartheid state in Israel, including rabbis. They are extremely courageous individuals, as just as gentiles are accused of being anti-Semitic if they dare oppose or criticise Israel, so they run risk of being denounced as ‘self-hating’ and ‘un-Jewish’. Many of those, who have been libelled as anti-Semites and suspended from the Labour party, are Jews or people of Jewish heritage, who have a distinguished personal history of combatting and confronting racism and anti-Semitism. Like Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of Momentum, amongst too many others.

Reading this, I got the impression that Binyamin Netanyahu and his fellow nationalist extremists in the Likud party and the other members of the governing right-wing coalition had also read this research, and drawn the wrong conclusions. While Charny and his academic colleagues were dismayed by these results, Netanyahu and his stormtroopers were delighted, and drew the wrong conclusions. Charny and the other authors collected in the above book were concerned to place the Holocaust in its context as one genocide amongst so many others, and wish to make people aware of genocide and concerned to oppose and prevent it, no matter wherever and against whomever it may occur. Netanyahu and his colleagues have found that, despite the experience of the Holocaust, a sizable proportion of the Israeli population were prepared to tolerate the massacre and ethnic cleansing of the country’s indigenous Arabs.

It also shows why the Neocons and Likudniks are so keen to insist that the Holocaust is a unique event, and should not be coupled with concern for other victims of genocides, as has been done by most mainstream Jewish organisations. And why, despite its claim to include other victims of genocide, in fact the focus in Holocaust Memorial Day is very much on the Jewish experience to the exclusion of other groups.

Jackie Walker was quite right to question that exclusive focus. If we allow it to go ahead, and do not rightly commemorate the victims of other crimes against humanity, then we do run the risk, as she stated very clearly in her explanation of the previous set of remarks that led to her libelling as an anti-Semite, of creating a hierarchy of suffering which ignores the pain of other races and groups. And which could perilously lead to complacency about such other crimes, particularly those against the Palestinians, which the Israel lobby are very keen to deny, or rebut through accusing their critics of being anti-Semitic.

We very much need not just to commemorate the victims of the Shoah, but all the victims of genocide. And perhaps it’s time to ask another awkward, embarrassing question: the Palestinians have been the victims of ethnic cleansing for decades. Isn’t it about time their suffering was officially memorialised in Holocaust Memorial Day?

Vox Political and Jonathan Rosenhead on the Politicised Nature of the Anti-Semitism Smears

October 17, 2016

Today the Home Affairs Select Committee has endorsed the anti-Semitism smears, repeating the accusation, based on a very selective reading of the evidence, that anti-Semitism is rife in the Labour party has been for years. This accusation has been refuted time and again, but the establishment is determined to repeat due to their fears of Jeremy Corbyn and a properly socialist Labour party getting into power and actually doing something for the working class and reversing the wholesale looting of this country by the elite under Thatcherite neoliberal economics. Mike’s already put up an article this morning attacking the Committee and refuting their allegations.

But before this latest repetition of these baseless accusations, Mike had already put up an excellent piece on Saturday, commenting on and reblogging an extract of a piece on the Open Democracy site by Jonathan Rosenhead demolishing the anti-Semitism allegations and pointing the finger at exactly who is really responsible for them, and why. As has been pointed out countless times before, this is the Israel lobby, comprising Jeremy Newmark, now the chief prosecutor in this inquisition, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, and Ella Rose, who gave up her job as the Israeli embassy’s public affairs officer to become the Director of the JLM. Mr Rosenhead notes that organisation the JLM is at least in an informal partnership with the Labour Friends of Israel and the Blairites in a coalition to remove Tony Blair.

Mr Rosenhead is a member of a group, Free Speech on Israel, which coalesced out of a gathering of Jewish Labour party supporters. At their inaugural meeting, the group found that, although they had over 1000 years of experience as Labour members, they could not think of a single instance where they had experienced anti-Semitism within the Labour party, and only a handful of times they had experienced it in their lives.

He also attacks the whole notion that there has been a spike in anti-Semitism in Britain. He notes that while the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain increased by 15% in the first months of this year over those in 2015, they are still below the number recorded in 2014 during the Gaza Crisis. So, he concludes, no upsurge.

He also observes that the explanations for this non-existent massive culture of anti-Semitism in the Labour party is either explained by it being endemic on the Left, or that it is somehow due to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, are mutually contradictory. He states that in a previous discussion of this topic in another Open Democracy article, it had been shown that the comments and tweets that were treated as anti-Semitic and the basis for suspension were not about Jews, but about Israel and Zionism. He makes it clear that this is an invented crisis, and is about criminalising innocent behaviour. This is deliberately redefining criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, in order to justify the territorial expansion of Israel and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians on one side and to leave the party securely in the hands of the Blairites on the other.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/10/15/how-allegations-of-left-anti-semitism-have-been-weaponised-against-jeremy-corbyn/

Jonathan Rosenhead himself is Emeritus Professor of Operational Research at the LSE, and Chair of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine. As with Tony Greenstein and the signatories of the letter to the Guardian protesting against Jackie Walker’s suspension, Prof Rosenhead is clearly extremely well-informed about these issues, and his original article contains much more highly relevant information.

He notes that while Holocaust Memorial Day is supposed to mark all the genocides that have occurred from the Shoah onwards, in practice it concentrates very much on the Jewish experience. It does not commemorate the 500,000 Roma (Gypsies) and the 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, who were also murdered by the Nazis. And in his words, it only pays lip-service to the genocide in Rwanda.
He also notes how convenient the cut-off date for the commemoration of genocides is for Britain and America. The Americans might be sensitive about their role in the slave trade and the ethnic cleansing of the Amerindians in the 18th and 19th centuries, just as Britain was also responsible for its role in the slave trade and the genocide of Aboriginal Australians. He states:

The absence from Holocaust Memorial Day of the millions of slaves who died on the Atlantic crossing and then through the brutal conditions of slave labour is no accident, no act of God. And it is no sacrilege for Jackie Walker to point up this glaring omission.

He also points out that Jackie Walker was, contra the impression you’re given by the mainstream media, quite correct in questioning the definition of anti-Semitism used by Mike Katz and the JLM, who were organising the training day at which Mrs Walker made the comments that have been used to suspend her as vice-chair of Momentum. Katz declared that the definition used was that of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, which had been taken over by the European Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, which were both Zionist organisations. The main author of the EUMC definition was Kenneth Stern, an attorney, who was the American Jewish Committee’s expert on anti-Semitism and extremism. And his definition of anti-Semitism included anti-Zionism, because of Israel’s nature as a Jewish state. The result was a lengthy document of 500 words intended to criminalise criticism of Israel, produced not by the EU, but by an American Zionist organisation. Brian Klug, an Oxford academic specialising in the study of anti-Semitism, just sums it up in 21. This simply defines it as a hatred of Jews as Jews, in which they are seen as something they are not.

In fact, the EUMC definition of anti-Semitism has never been officially endorsed by the EU. The EU itself closed the EUMC down in 2007 and transferred its power to the Fundamental Rights Agency, which refused to endorse the definition and took it off its website.

The definition was taken up in 2006 by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism under its chair, Denis MacShane. But nine years later in 2015, the Group brought out another report under its new chair, John Mann, which did not use the definition. It commission another, sub-report, from Prof David Feldman, which used that of Brian Klug. Prof. Rosenhead also states that his own union, the UCU, resolved not to use the EUMC definition in 2011, and that in 2013 the BBC Trust declared that the EUMC definition had no standing.

Prof Rosenhead then goes on to discuss the history of the Jewish Labour Movement. This was formerly Poale Zion, which originated in the early 20th century amongst Jewish/Zionist and Marxist workers, and has been affiliated to the Labour party since 1920. After the colonisation of Israel, it suffered a series of splits and mergers in that country to produce two of that nation’s main parties, MAPAI and MAPAM. In the 1930s and 1940s Poale Zion in the UK had members and supporters such as Harold Laski, Ian Mikardo and Sidney Silverman. In 1946 it had 2000 members. However, over the last 50 years the organisation has shrunk immensely as Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians alienated many on the Left and, indeed, the Centre of British politics. In 2004 the organisation rebranded itself as the Jewish Labour Movement, and is also affiliated to the Israeli Labour party and the World Zionist Organisation. Its website remained inactive up to 2015, though it may have had an active email list. That year its chair, Louise Ellman, stepped down, as was replaced by Jeremy Newmark, who began a new, more aggressive phase of the organisation. There is no evidence from whence the JLM gets its funding, which is obviously very generous. As well as a member of his local Labour party, Newmark is executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, and has been Communications Director for the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs.

Prof Rosenhead also describes how Newmark presented evidence against the University and College Union before an Employment Tribunal in 2013, in which he accused it of anti-Semitic behaviour. The Tribunal utterly dismissed the claim, declaring

“We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.”

The panel also described one of his claims as ‘preposterous’ and found that one of his other statements, that ‘the union was no longer a fit arena for free speech’ was one “which we found not only extraordinarily arrogant but also disturbing.”

Prof. Rosenhead final section, Making Unbelieve, concludes

The whole operation has been breath-takingly successful for the last 8 months. And it is not over. JLM, for example, is pressing for a change in the Labour Party’s constitution that would make it (even) easier to exclude people on suspicion of harbouring antisemitic tendencies. It has influence at the highest levels in the Labour Party. The very training session run by JLM that led to Jackie Walker’s second suspension was set up by the Labour Party bureaucracy in direct contradiction of the Chakrabarti inquiry. Their report recommended against such targeted training, and in favour of broader anti-racist education. But, hey, who’s counting? Not the Labour Party apparatus.

Free Speech on Israel aims to expose this soufflé of a Ponzi scheme. It rests on the shifting sands of unreliable evidence, and on assertions that contradict our (Jewish and non-Jewish) everyday experience. Not least, the claims about a Jewish community united in its alignment behind Israel is yet more make believe. The best survey evidence we have is that 31% of UK Jews describe themselves as ‘No, not Zionist’; and many of the remainder are deeply concerned over Israel’s policies.

We should suspend our belief.

This not just confirms and shows in greater detail the highly political nature of the allegations, but also the extremely tenuous existence of one of the organisation behind them. The Jewish Labour Movement was virtually moribund until it was taken over by Newmark. Like the Blairite group, ‘Labour Future’, it is well-funded, but the origins of its money is shrouded in mystery. It also appears to have very few members. It’s clearly an example of a numerically insignificant organisation trying to throw its weight around as if it were a mass-movement with undisputed authority, rather than the opposite.

This follows the pattern that Prof Finkelstein and others in the anti-Zionist movement in the US have observed about the Zionist movement in their country: that support for Israel amongst American Jews is waning. As the years pass, Israel may soon become completely irrelevant to young American Jews’ construction of their identities. Prof Rosenhead in this article points out that 31% of Jewish Brits say that they’re not Zionists, and many others are ambivalent or opposed to aspects of the regime and its policy towards the Palestinians. The British press, by contrast, has maintained that 75 per cent of British Jews state that Israel is ‘very important’ to their sense of identity. That was the claim repeated in the I, but as this paper is consistently anti-Corbyn, I take its claim here with more than a pinch of salt.

The Blairites and the Israel Lobby are both in a severe crisis, and are trying to hang on to power through the libelling of decent people, like Jackie Walker, who make perfectly reasonable comments. It is people like Newmark, who are trying to stifle democratic debate. We should not let them. The smearing should stop immediately. Those who have been vilified should be directly reinstated, including Jackie Walker as Momentum’s Vice-Chair.

And where it can be shown that those making the accusations have libelled their victims, they should be prosecuted and forced to pay for their malicious crimes.

The Majority Report on Welsh Tory’s Confusion of Brexit and Breakfast

October 16, 2016

It seems that now the American left, or at least parts of it, are finding the Tories something of a joke when they start spouting about Brexit. In this clip, Sam Seder, the host of the left-wing The Majority Report news show and his crew have a wry chuckle over a verbal slip by a Welsh Conservative speaking at a Tory conference in Birmingham. The speaker is trying to tell everyone that they’re going to make Brexit a success. But he gets a bit confused and says ‘Breakfast’ instead before correcting himself. Here’s the clip:

The image that comes up representing the clip shows the grim reality of Brexit for most Brits, however. As you can see, it shows a ‘Brexit Breakfast’, consisting of tap water and a piece of stale bread, all for the low price of £10. Despite the optimistic view of some other parts of the American left, like Counterpunch, this is probably going to be the real result of the UK for most lower-income Brits: poverty, higher prices and poorer quality food.

But it’s what elements of the Tory party want, all so they can kick out a few foreigners, and get rid of nasty, restrictive EU human rights legislation. You know, all those pesky laws, which were drafted with help from British lawyers after the Second World War, which are there to guarantee you a free trial, stop the government automatically spying on everyone, and protect workers rights, so they can have things like a paid holiday, maternity leave, sick pay, and can’t be arbitrarily sacked on a whim.

This is what the Tories really object to in the EU, not the loss of British sovereignty, which they’re quite prepared to sign away to multinationals and the Americans as part of the TTP and other free trade deals.

Counterpart on American Foreign Policy and Regime Change in Syria

October 15, 2016

With the Conservatives and their pet media now howling for further military action against Assad in Syria in this country, and the American government gearing up for the same, Counterpunch has published an article by Gary Leupp. Entitled, ‘An Urgently Necessary Briefing on Syria’, it discusses the country’s history in the 20th century, and the very numerous attempts by the US to undermine or overthrow its government.

Its first paragraph gives a brief description of Syria’s size and population, states that it is not a threat to the US, and has cordial relations with very many other nations. It states that at various periods it was rule by the Persians, Arabs, and Ottoman Turks, before being ruled by the French from the First to the Second World. The current ruling Ba’ath party was founded in 1947.

Under the French and after independence, the Syrian authorities tolerated the Communist party. The Americans thought they were too soft. It is widely believed that the 1949 military coup in Syria was sponsored by the US to install an anti-Communist regime. The CIA openly acknowledges that it was responsible for two further abortive coup attempts in 1956 and 1957. After the latter was exposed, embarrassing the US, America responded by declaring Syria to be a Soviet client.

It notes that Syria and Egypt were briefly united in the same state, until this collapsed in 1961. The Ba’ath party seized power a couple of years later in Iraq and Syria. The Ba’ath party continued ruling Iraq until the western invasion in 2003.

Up to the 1967 war the US broadly favoured the Ba’athist as the middle ground between Islamism and Communism. The Ba’ath party stood for pan-Arab nationalism, economic nationalism and secularism. After the 1963 coup Saddam Hussein worked with the US to round up and execute Communists in Iraq.

After the 1967 war, America was strongly influenced by the Israel lobby to declare Syria an ‘Anti-Zionist’ and ‘Anti-Semitic’ state, because it provided political and other support to the Palestinians and Lebanese other one hand, and demanded the return of the Golan Heights, which had been seized by Israel. America declared Syria and Iraq to be ‘terror-sponsoring states’. From 1976 onwards the Syrians also interfered militarily in Lebanon.

This did not prevent the Americans also allying with Syria when they found it convenient, such as during Gulf War I in 1991, and then with the extraordinary renditions programme of suspected terrorists after 9/11.

It notes that in the 21st century, the American authorities have been divided between the Neocons, who wanted to overthrow the Syrian government in a strategy of regime change across the Middle East, and those who did not, fearing the consequences.

The Iraq invasion was part of a Neocon strategy which planned the overthrow of the governments of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Iran. George Dubya’s government included individuals, who parroted Israel’s accusation that the missing WMDs not found in Iraq were in Syria. They are also supported the Israeli bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor.

Although Bashar al-Assad was hailed as a reformer when he came to the Syrian presidency, and Shrillary was still calling him such in 2010, the plans to overthrow him were in place before 2011. After the Arab Spring and the regime’s attacks on demonstrators, Clinton and Obama demanded that Assad should step down. Shrillary was keen to start arming rebels. A group of 53 were so trained in Turkey, but gave themselves up or defected after they entered Syria. The backbone of the anti-Assad movement is forces descended from al-Qaeda, such as Daesh, which seized the area around Raqqa, and al-Nusra, which has connections to Pakistan, which holds Damascus and Aleppo. Al-Nusra is the core of the ‘Free Syrian Army’, and receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Obama was all set to invade Syria after a Sarin gas attack in a Damascus suburb was attributed to Assad. The Russians prevented this by claiming that it may have been the opposition instead, and manoeuvring to allow the Assad regime to surrender its chemical weapons to the UN.

The article points out that the rapid expansion of ISIS in Iraq is a severe PR disaster for the Americans, as it shows how the Iraq invasion overthrew a secular state and created the militant theocratic regime based on torture and other horrific human rights abuses. The US has been forced to bomb Daesh, but not al-Nusra, which it continues to support. At the same time, it claims that the real reason for the rise of ISIS is opposition to the Ba’ath regime.

The article makes clear that this claim is utterly nonsensical. The Ba’ath regime is authoritarian and Fascistic, but it was the Americans who created ISIS by arming the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, destroying Iraq and trying to overthrow Assad. Daesh was formed after the Americans threw its leader, al-Zarqawi, and his troops out of Afghanistan, alienated Iraq’s Sunnis and then weakened Syria.

The American government is also torn by indecision about what it can or should do about the situation, whether to overthrow Assad or destroy Daesh. Most of the American administration now favours overthrowing Assad.

In 2015 General Petraeus, then the director of the CIS, recommended using al-Nusra against ISIS in Syria. This means allying with al-Qaeda to destroy an even worse branch of that organisation, as a means of ultimately overthrowing Assad.

Russia began bombing ISIS a year after the Americans began their attacks. It was at the request of the regime, which is supported by the UN and a plethora of other nations. Under international law, the Russian action is legal while the Americans’ isn’t.

It also notes that the US press has ignored Russian successes in aiding the Syrians to recapture Palmyra from ISIS and destroying the terrorists’ illegal oil convoys. Instead it just follows the State Department’s line of attacking Russian support for the Syrian state against the rebels.

The Russian successes forced the Americans to ally briefly with them in operations against the various terrorist groups. A one week ceasefire was arranged to allow the US-backed rebels to separate themselves from the al-Nusra front, which would then be attacked. At the same time, peace talks were to begin in Geneva. The US-backed rebels refused to do so, and some turned on the US. The Americans then accidentally bombed a Syrian army base then fighting against Daesh. Syria then resumed attacks on east Aleppo, controlled by al-Nusra. The US then blamed the bombing of an aid convoy on Syria or Russia, although Counterpunch notes that the bombing is still unexplained. America has thus sabotaged the peace talks designed to end a conflict American foreign policy has massively exacerbated.

Hillary Clinton supports a no-fly zone, although she realises that this will mean the deployment of tens of thousands more troops and result in a war with Syria and Russia. Last June, 51 members of the State Department signed a memo of dissent demanding that the focus be switched from combating Daesh to overthrowing Assad. She also wants to appoint Michele Flournoy as her Secretary of Defence. Flournoy also supports no-fly zones and limited military action to overthrow Assad involving the deployment of US troops.

Leupp’s article concludes

Is it not obvious? Public opinion is being prepared for another regime-change war. The most high-stakes one to date, because this one could lead to World War III.

And it’s hardly even a topic of conversation in this rigged election, which seems designed to not only to inaugurate a war-monger, but to exploit crude Russophobia to the max in the process. The point is for Hillary not only to ascend to power—whatever that might require—but to prepare the people for more Afghanistans, Iraqs and Libyas in the process. The point is to lull the people into historical amnesia, blind them to Hillary’s record of Goldwater-type reckless militarism, exploit the Cold War mentality lingering among the most backward and ignorant, and insure that the electorate that, while generally deploring the result of the rigged election in November, will soon afterwards rally behind corrupt Hillary as soon as she seizes on some pretext for war.

Very, very dangerous.

Please read the whole article at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/14/an-urgently-necessary-briefing-on-syria/

The article notes how the US media automatically follows the government’s line on Syria, as does ours. And I think Leupp’s article is correct in its conclusion that the western public is being prepared for Hillary’s assumption to power as the latest American warmonger. As the article shows, the Americans have long wanted to overthrow the Ba’ath regime in Syria because it was too ‘soft’ on Communism, allied to Russia, and a threat to Israel.

I think there are other factors involved. I’ve no doubt that the Americans also want to seize its oil industries and reserves, as well as its state assets, which will also be sold to suitably grasping American and western countries, just as the Americans looted Iraq. And somewhere lurking behind this is the Saudis. My guess is that they want the Syrian regime overthrown because of its secularity, and tolerance of Christians, Shi’a and Alawis. The last two are bitterly hated as heretics by the Wahhabis, who would no doubt like to see the creation of a theocratic state similar to their own.

We are being brought to the very edge of a nuclear war to enable Hillary Clinton get into power, destroy another nation in the name of corporate profit, and support the emergence of yet another theocratic state under the influence of the Saudis.