Posts Tagged ‘Museums’

Cenk Uygur Demolishes Confederate Mythology around General Lee

November 5, 2017

Cenk Uygur is the main man of the American left-wing internet news show, The Young Turks. He’s said in the past that when he was at College he used to be a Republican, until he woke up to how harmful and vicious their policies were. He has also said that he was unaware just how brutal and horrific segregation and White supremacy in the South was until he visited a museum of Black history in the South, and found out from there just how absolutely horrific and barbaric the abuse and lynching of Black Americans actually was. He is passionately and very loudly anti-racist, and in this clip from his news show, he very loudly and angrily demolishes not just the myths surrounding the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, but also the racist mentality amongst the Republicans that still claims that Lee should be respected and promotes a whole series of myths about the South and how they were the real victims of what they term the War of Northern Aggression.

The occasion for his tirade was the appearance on Fox News of Trump’s chief of staff and foreign policy expert, John Kelly. Fox is outraged at the taking down of statues to Confederate generals and politicians up and down the country. After asking Kelly questions about contemporary issues and Trump’s policies towards them, they then asked for his views about General Lee, whose statue and commemorative plaque in Washington were also coming down.

Kelly replied that Lee was a decent and honourable man. He defended his state because at the time, the states were considered more important than the Union. One’s first loyalty was to their state, then to the US as a whole. And the Civil War was provoked by the North’s refusal to compromise.

Uygur points out that all of this is a lie. States weren’t more important than the Union, as that was the whole point of the Civil War. He also shows a whole series of tweets from the Black activist, Ta-Nehisi Coates correcting some of the deliberate falsehoods Fox and Kelly spouted.

Firstly, in stark contrast to Kelly’s comments, the North repeatedly tried to reach a compromise with the South. For example, they compromised with the South over the three-fifths rule, in which enslaved Blacks in the South were considered three-fifths of a human being. This was to allow the South to retain its power to elect presidents based on the size of their populations, while at the same time denying them the right to vote. Lincoln himself wasn’t an abolitionist. He just wanted to limit slavery, not abolish it. But that wasn’t good enough for the South. And there wasn’t just one compromise, but a series of compromises, such as the Missouri Compromise and so on. Finally, in order to hold the Union together, Lincoln offered a compromise in which only ten per cent of the population of the South had to swear allegiance to the Union. This was rejected as well.

And then there were the reparations payments Lincoln offered to the slave-owners to compensate them the loss of their property. Uygur states very definitely that he’s glad this was rejected and the country went to war, as this meant that the slaves were freed and the slaveowners got nothing.

He also takes the opportunity to demolish the myth going round the South that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. It was about ‘states rights’. States’ rights to what? Slavery. The leaders of the Confederacy made no secret that they were going to war to defend slavery. He quotes one Southern politician as stating that he wanted to invade Central America, in order to extend the blessings of slavery there, and also export it to the North despite their aggression.

He then goes on to tackle the argument that the people back then didn’t realise how evil slavery was. Quoting Ta-Nehisis Coates, he argues that the majority of people in South knew all too well how evil slavery was. This was the enslaved Black population. But no-one asked them, as they didn’t count.

As for Lee himself, the myth is that he personally didn’t believe in slavery, but was forced to defend it through his loyalty to his home state. This is rubbish. Lee believed very much in slavery, as Uygur goes on to show. Not only did Lee own slaves himself, but he also inherited them. However, it was a condition of the will that those slaves should be freed. Lee actually went to court and contested the terms of the will, so that he could keep them in slavery. When his army invaded Pennsylvania, Lee enslaved a number of free Blacks, and brought them back with him as booty to the Confederacy.

And he was personally brutal to his own slaves. When two of his slaves were recaptured after escaping, Lee either personally beat them himself, or ordered his overseer to ‘lay it on well’. Not content with the suffering inflicted by the whipping, according to one of the recaptured slaves, he ordered that their backs should be washed in brine.

Uygur makes the point that, rather than being men of honour and integrity, the Confederate leaders were traitors to America, and it’s very, very good indeed that they lost a war, which ended slavery without giving the slave-owners any compensation for their losses. He fully supports the taking down of the Confederate statuary, and states that if Fox doesn’t like living in modern America, they should leave. But in stark opposition to what supporters of the Confederacy say in the South, it is not northerners, who don’t understand their history, it’s those in the South, who believe in and propagate these myths.

Advertisements

Ian Blackmore: Universal Credit Is Fast Becoming Theresa May’s Poll Tax

November 2, 2017

This is another short video from RT covering Prime Minister’s Questions the other day. Labour’s Ian Blackmore stated that research has shown that families on Universal Credit will lose £1350 of benefits. This will make them worse off. Universal Credit is fast becoming May’s Poll Tax. This is a reference to Margaret Thatcher, whose administration fell in 1989 due to the protests against her attempts to replace the rates with a universal poll tax. And, he asks rhetorically, isn’t it about time she stopped talking about its implementation and did something to fix it.

May responds by talking a lot of nonsense and lies about how Universal Credit isn’t just about Universal Credit, but about supporting people into work, giving them the skills they need to work, and then, once they are in work, allowing them to keep more of the money they earn.

Bilge. All of it. The government doesn’t support people into work. It just hits them with sanctions, which they claim are to provide them with the motivation to find work, but which are simply a rationale for throwing claimants off benefits on the most flimsy of pretexts. Or phoning them up to harangue them for being on the dole, which they then claim is also motivating them. This is another lie. It’s just abuse and harassment. As providing people with skills to get into work, this presumably means the workfare, in which people are expected to work for supermarkets and other big corporations simply for the benefit money, rather than be paid a proper wage and the corporations actually having to employee real workers and pay them proper salaries. It does not provide people with the skills they need. In fact, it actively prevents them from acquiring them, as has happened with the graduates, who had voluntary work lined up in museums, but were told that this was not part of the scheme and they had to fill shelves for Tesco instead. As for allowing people to retain more of their earnings, that’s another whopper. The tax breaks implemented by the Tories are designed to benefit the rich 25 per cent, and the tax burden has been shifted lower down the scale to the poor, who are now subsidizing them. Which is just how the Tories think it all should be, as they still have the feudal attitude that the poor should be bound to supporting their rich masters for as little as possible.

Rather than making people richer, Universal Credit, and the rest of the Tories’ welfare policies, are designed to make ordinary people poorer for the benefit of the rich. And May has told so many half-truths and lies in her reply to Blackmore that I’m amazed she could keep a straight face.

Richard Coughlan Debunks Holocaust Denial

September 21, 2017

More on the Nazis, I’m afraid, and one of their favourite tactics: trying to get everyone to believe that the Holocaust was faked and didn’t occur.

Richard ‘the Dick’ Coughlin is a professional stand-up comedian, who regularly posts on YouTube attacking the weird and twisted denizens of the far right and men’s rights activists. In this video he takes on the necessary task of refuting Holocaust denial, and does a very good job of it. The video begins with a warning that it contains material some people may find disturbing. These are black and white footage from the concentration and death camps themselves, showing the emaciated inmates, and the heaps of bodies thrown into mass graves. These are shown with appropriate Jewish music and hymns commemorating and lamenting those murdered by the Nazis.

Coughlan explains that modern anti-Semites and Nazis have moved on from denying the Holocaust outright, as there is simply too much proof that it did occur, although there are a few that will still try to do this. Instead, they try to minimize the numbers of people murdered. Instead of millions, they will claim that it was only a few tens of thousands. In some cases, they will try to claim that only 10,000 were murdered, rather than the real figure of 5,700,000+, which is rounded up to six million.

Nazis will then claim that there was no programme to exterminate the Jews, that they were not gassed with Zyklon B in death camps such as Auschwitz, and that the large halls in which the victims were butchered were instead morgues, or chambers where the bodies were deloused before burial. Coughlan cites the textual evidence from the Nazis themselves that the areas claimed to be morgues were where they poor souls were forced to strip before they were gassed, and the contradictions in the neo-Nazis’ attempts to explain away the other chambers. For example, the story that the gas chambers were only used for delousing the bodies is clearly contradicted by the fact that the bodies of the dead were burned. Why would you bother killing parasites on a body that was going to be burned anyway? Surely you’d just burn the body, lice and all.

He also points out that the Nazis deny that the Jews were deliberately exterminated, but merely died from overwork and malnutrition. This is completely false. He makes the point that Holocaust deniers are trying to stop people believing in the Holocaust, not by refuting it completely, but by placing tiny seeds of doubt in people’s minds, which they hope they can develop and encourage further. He also analyses the psychology behind the tactic of minimizing the scale of the Holocaust, comparing it to a naughty child, who has stolen from his parents, who then tries to excuse himself and cast the blame elsewhere by admitting that he stole a lesser amount of money some time ago, but has not stolen the full amount, thus casting doubt on his sibling’s protestations of innocence.

Coughlan also debunks the claim made by Holocaust deniers like David Irving that there is no textual evidence linking Hitler to the Holocaust. There is. There are reports from the Nazi einsatzgruppen tasked with carrying out the murder of the Jews stating that they have informed Hitler of their progress, along with other documents from the Nazi leadership. These can be read in a book of collected reports and documents from these death squads, which Coughlan shows to the camera.

As for the arguments that the infrastructure for the gas chambers don’t exist, Coughlan says that this is based largely on the example of Auschwitz. But Auschwitz is only one of the immense number of these murder factories. He emphasizes their colossal number by stating that most people would probably think there were only about seven or so death camps. Not so. There were 43,000.

He could have added here that the chimneys and other structures used for delivering and venting the Zyklon B at Auschwitz don’t exist, because they were demolished shortly after the war by the Polish government. The bricks were used to build the houses on a nearby estate. Channel 4 made this point a few years ago in a documentary in which they followed an engineer, who designed gas chambers to Auschwitz to examine the remaining structures at the invitation of the American/Canadian Nazi, Ernst Zundel. Unfortunately, he was taken in by the Nazis’ lies and the apparent lack of evidence. The programme also featured a Jewish expert on the Holocaust, who provided the proper evidence that showed where the engineer was severely mistaken in his conclusions. He cited not only the history of the site itself, but also Nazi documents and the deliberately evasive language they used to hide what they were doing. They almost never talked openly about the murder of the Jews. Instead, their mass atrocity was referred to as ‘deportations’ or ‘special operations in the east’.

The video also includes clips from the film dramatization of the court case between Deborah Lipstadt and David Irving. Lipstadt is an American academic who called Irving what he was – a Holocaust denier. Irving sued for libel and lost. There’s also a clip of the real David Irving speaking, stating that he doesn’t believe in the scale of the Holocaust as normally claimed.

As Coughlan is a stand-up comedian, he occasionally uses humour to make his points. He begins the video by joking that it is financed by ‘Jew gold’. This is a dig at the claim by Nazis that anyone arguing against them must be in the pay of the international Jewish conspiracy. The number that then follows is Coughlan’s patreon account, showing that he most certainly isn’t. At one point in the video, he also tries to get his viewers to understand what the Nazis are doing when they minimize the Holocaust by asking them to imagine for a moment that they in the Nazis place. What would they do?

This is clearly a rhetorical technique, and if you watch the video, obviously so. I am mentioning it here because of the danger that someone may try to twist this into an entirely spurious proof that this is article is promoting Holocaust denial. Mike over at Vox Political is a firm anti-racist and certainly not an anti-Semite. Yet because he defended those in the Labour party that were smeared as anti-Semites simply because they criticized the equation between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, or even Israel itself for its occupation of Palestinian territory and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab population, he was accused by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism as an anti-Semite. I am afraid that the loathsome people, who smeared him, may also try to smear me by taking some of the ironic rhetoric in this strongly and most definitely anti-Nazi video out of context in order to smear me.

Lastly, Coughlan is an atheist and was a part of the atheist movement on the Net. Hence his anti-theist farewell against God at the end. I don’t share or approve of his atheism. However, his videos against the assorted Fascists and maniacs on the far right are well informed, and do a very necessary job of debunking them and sending them up. He’s done an excellent job. He states at the end of the video just how many books he’s read about the Holocaust, including one 4,000 pages long, and encourages others to do the same.

This is a great video, and it’s of an appropriate length – 25 or so minutes. That’s long enough to cover the main points without becoming too drawn out. However, it does mean that it obviously can’t cover everything that the Nazis and Holocaust deniers try to do. But it’s an excellent start, entertainingly done.

Of course this video shouldn’t be necessary. In the 1980s an American judge ruled against one of the Californian Nazi magazines that the evidence supporting the Holocaust was so plentiful that it couldn’t be denied. But that hasn’t stopped them trying. The Alt Right is on the rise, and the Holocaust deniers will try to criticize any attempts to present the facts or commemorate this horrific mass murder. The M Shed in Bristol, one of the city’s museums, put on a display about the Holocaust a few years ago. They then had two Holocaust deniers turn up, who tried to argue with the museum staff.

In many European countries Holocaust denial is a crime. There are problems with such legislation, as many people fear it’s an infringement of the right to free speech, however odious that speech is in the case of the Nazis. They also criticize such tactics has being too heavy-handed, and allowing the Nazis to position themselves as the oppressed party suffering official state persecution. They argue instead that a better tactic is to be informed, and refute their specious arguments using confirmed facts and evidence. This video helps to do this job.

End Workfare Now! Part 1

June 20, 2017

This is the text of another pamphlet I wrote a year or so ago against the highly exploitative workfare industry. As the pamphlet explains, workfare, or ‘welfare to work’, is the system that provides industry with cheap, unemployed temporary labour under the guise of getting the jobless back into work by giving them work experience. If the unemployed person refuses, he or she is thrown off benefit.

These temporary jobs go nowhere, and it’s been proven that the unemployed are actually far better off looking for jobs on their own than using workfare. And it’s very similar to other systems of supposed voluntary work and forced labour, such as the labour colonies set up in Britain in 1905, the Reichsarbeitsdienst in Nazi Germany, and the use of forced labour against the ‘arbeitscheu’ – the ‘workshy’, as well as the compulsory manual labour required of all citizens in Mao’s china during the Cultural Revolution, and the Gulags in Stalin’s Russia.

Mike over at Vox Political has blogged against it, so has Johnny Void and the Angry Yorkshireman of Another Angry Voice, and many other left-wing bloggers. It’s another squalid policy which New Labour and the Tories took over from Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to get rid of the work capability tests. I hope also that under him, the Labour party will also get rid of this vile policy, so that big corporations like Poundland and supermarkets like Tesco’s will have to take on workers and pay them a decent wage, rather than exploiting desperate and jobless workers supplied by the Thatcherite corporate state.

End Workfare Now!

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. In 1979 the Tory party ranted about the need to ‘restore the will to work’. Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that ‘The Government and the vast majority of the British people want hard work and initiative to be properly rewarded and are vexed by disincentives to work’. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Vox Political, Johnny Void, Another Angry Voice, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

Those forced into workfare are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections.’ Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed. In June that year David Cameron also declared that there was a need to end ‘the nonsense of paying people more to stay at home than to get a job – and finally making sure that work really pays. Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Forced Labour for the Unemployed in History

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state
support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Weimar Germany in the 1920s and ’30s also developed a system of voluntary work to deal with the problems of mass unemployment. This was taken over by the Nazis and became compulsory for all Germans from 19-25 as the Reicharbeitsdienst, or Imperial Labour Service It was mainly used to supply labour for German agriculature. Because of its universal nature, the Reicharbeitsdienst had no stigma attached to it, and indeed was seen as part of the new, classless Germany that was being created by Hitler. In a speech to the Service’s workers, Hitler declared that there would be no leader, who had not worked his way up through their ranks. Much harsher was the Nazi’s treatment of the serially unemployed. They were declared arbeitscheu – the German word, which forms the basis of the English ‘workshy’. These individuals were sent to the concentration camps, where they were identified with a special badge on their pyjamas, just like those marking out Jews, gay men, Socialists and trade unionists, and so on.

Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The Workfare Scheme

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick. Mental health professionals – psychiatrists and psychologists, have also released reports attacking the detrimental effect the stress of these tests are having on the mentally ill. So far they have estimated that upwards of a quarter of a million people with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety have had their condition made worse – sometimes very much worse – through the stress of taking these tests.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

The Ancient Near East’s Influence on Roman and Ancient Greek Law

June 3, 2017

I’ve written several pieces about the possible origins of western democracy, not in ancient Greece and Rome, but in the ancient Near East. Early civilisations like Sumeria and Mari had popular assemblies and councils of elders, which voted on issues, while the karem, or chamber of commerce, also influenced royal decisions. Apart from being of interest in itself, the existence of these institutions in the political systems of the ancient Middle East, is something of a challenge to people like Boris Johnson. Johnson’s a public schoolboy, and so is steeped in the Classics. As shown in his TV series a few years ago about the splendour of the Roman Empire, he seems to believe that everything great and noble in the world came about through ancient Rome and its predecessor, Greece.

Looking through the Oxbow Book Catalogue for Autumn 2015, I found this entry for Raymond Westbrook’s Ex Oriente Lex: Near Eastern Influences on Ancient Greek and Roman Law (Johns Hopkins University Press, HB £38.50). This says

Throughout the twelve essays that appear in Ex Oriente Lex, Raymond Westbrook convincingly argues that the influence of Mesopotamian legal traditions and thought did not stop at the shores of the Mediterranean, but rather had a profound impact and the early laws and legal developments of Greece and Rome as well. A preface by editors Deborah Lyons and Kurt Raaflaub details the importance of Westbrook’s work for the field of classics, while Sophie Demare-Lafont’s incisive introduction places Westbrook’s ideas within the wider context of ancient law.

As I said before, perhaps if there was great appreciation of the achievements of the ancient Near Eastern world, and the debt that the modern West owes to its civilisations, there would be greater reluctance amongst the political and military class to invading and destroying these countries.

The Iraq invasion created the chaos that spawned ISIS, which, along with al-Qaeda and the other Islamist groups in the Middle East and Africa, have destroyed millennia of culture and history, as well as butchering those regions’ people.

But the Americans and British have also done their share of cultural vandalism. Nicholas Wood and Annabelle Pellens in their book The Case Against Blair, describe how the Americans levelled the ancient city of Babylon in order to use it as military base.

Now imagine the sheer outrage from Classicists like BoJo if the same thing was done to the ruins of Athens. Not that Greece isn’t seeing it’s ancient heritage destroyed by Neoliberalism, as museums are closed, archaeological sites looted and antiquities sold off due to the EU’s austerity programme. And for all his avowed enthusiasm for the Classical world, I haven’t heard BoJo speak out against that, either.

It’s long past time that a halt was called to imperialism, neoliberalism, and the destruction of the world’s cultures, and the massacre and exploitation of its peoples.

Israeli Headmaster Objects to Use of Holocaust to Spread Fear and Xenophobia in the Young

May 17, 2017

Yesterday Counterpunch published a piece by Jonathan Cook attacking the Israeli government’s exploitation of the Holocaust and promotional days for the police and army to spread extreme nationalism and hatred of other, gentile nations, amongst its schoolchildren.

Cook describes how a video appeared last week, showing Israeli policemen acting out the killing of a ‘terrorist’ to a group of 10 year old schoolchildren. Meanwhile, on the country’s Independence Day last month, the army was also on parade, letting children play with guns, tanks and grenades. In one West Bank settlement, the children were painted with fake blood and equipped with fake amputated limbs as part of the fun.

Cook points out that the killing of the ‘terrorist’ in the police video, as he lay wounded on the floor, mirrored the real life murder of a wounded terrorist by an Israeli soldier. He also describes the killing of another ‘terrorist’, that has been denounced by the human rights group, B’Tselem. This was a 16 year old Palestinian schoolgirl, Fatima Hjejji, who had frozen after pulling out a knife a little distance away from an Israeli checkpoint. The soldiers then gunned her down. B’Tselem concluded that the girl was no threat, and did not deserve to die.

Cook states that the goal of the public relations exercises is to create a generation of traumatised children, intensely fearful of non-Jews. And the Holocaust is a part of this process indoctrination. He writes that a visit to Auschwitz is now a rite of passage for many Israeli schoolchildren. As for Holocaust Memorial Day, he writes

Holocaust Memorial Day, marked in Israeli schools last month, largely avoids universal messages, such as that we must recognise the humanity of others and stand up for the oppressed. Instead, pupils as young as three are told the Holocaust serves as a warning to be eternally vigilant – that Israel and its strong army are the only things preventing another genocide by non-Jews.

The result of this is that Israeli young people are now more extremely nationalist and ethnically and politically intolerant than their elders.

Four-fifths of Israeli schoolchildren do not believe there is any hope of peace with the Palestinians. Half of Jewish Israeli schoolchildren believe that Palestinians should not be allowed to vote. These attitudes are shared by the Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Liberman, who called Palestinian members of the Knesset, or those representing the Palestinians, ‘Nazis’ and said they should be treated as such.

And Israel’s declaration that it is the homeland of Jews all over the world turns the Palestinians into resident aliens in their own country.

Cook also describes the actions of some Israeli educators to criticise and act against all this. Zeev Degani, the headmaster of one of the country’s most prestigious schools, managed to cause outrage last year when he stopped the children at his school from going on the annual trip to Auschwitz. He stated that it was ‘pathological’ and intended to generate fear and hatred in order to inculcate extreme nationalism.

Degani and a few principals with similar liberal views have also invited the group, Breaking the Silence, into their schools. This is a group of former soldiers, who describe their participation in war crimes by the country’s military.

This naturally sent Naftali Bennett, a member of the Settler’s Party and the current education minister, into a fearful bate. Bennett then barred Breaking the Silence and other dissident groups, as well as books and theatre groups that threaten stability and order by encouraging Israeli schoolchildren to see the Palestinians as people worthy of compassion and sympathy.

Cook concludes

Degani and others are losing the battle to educate for peace and reconciliation. If a society’s future lies with its children, the outlook for Israelis and Palestinians is bleak indeed.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/05/16/israel-tutors-children-in-fear-and-loathing/

It’s a troubling, disturbing article, as clearly the goal of the Likudniks and their allies is to spread fear and distrust of foreign countries and non-Jews. Principal Degani and Breaking the Silence are to be applauded for standing up to the government’s demands to indoctrinate schoolchildren. As for Breaking the Silence, by recounting their part in atrocities committed by the military in order to spread a greater awareness of them, they are also doing what many servicemen in other countries have done. For example, when I was doing voluntary work some years ago in a private museum in Bristol, one of the books the museum received was a memoir by a former British soldier in Palestine of a war crime in which he had participated against the indigenous Arabs as a British squaddie. This man, like many others, who have been in similar situations, felt compelled to write his account in order to correct history and shine a light on the officers, who were really responsible for these atrocities.

I mention this as some of the attempts to defend Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians seem to suggest that Israel is unfairly being held to a different standard than other nations, or victimised because it is the Jewish state. This is not so. It is being criticised because it acts like other, non-Jewish, colonialist and Fascist settler states. And those former servicemen and women, who courageously speak out against the war crimes in which they have been involved, are doing exactly the same as other service personnel in other nations around the world, whose consciences similarly demand the public recognition of the injustices to which they, and their countries, are complicit.

As for the abuse of Holocaust Memorial Day to spread both fear of gentiles and the exclusion of any universal message against the persecution of other peoples and ethnic groups, this is one of the reasons why Jackie Walker, a Jewish woman of colour and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, was libelled as an anti-Semite in a workshop on how the day should be commemorated last year. Walker, the daughter of a Black American mother and Russian Jewish father, who met during Civil Rights demonstrations in America, had objected to the exclusive concentration on Jewish genocide, and the way other groups were being ignored. Like the 12 million or so Africans, who were ripped from their homes in Africa during the centuries of the slave trade. The slavers killed the same number of people or more that they enslaved during their raids. Anti-Slavery campaigners in the 19th century claimed that whole regions of Africa had been left ravaged and depopulated through such attacks in search of men and women to sell overseas. And Black civil rights campaigners, such as W.E.B. DuBois in the last century have described this as a ‘Holocaust’.

But asking for such other Holocausts be commemorated on Holocaust Memorial Day, at least if it is run by the group behind the event Walker attended, will get you libelled as an anti-Semite. Even if, like her, you’re Jewish, have a Jewish partner, and your child goes to a Jewish school.

I’ve also seen the scribbling on the net of right-wing Canadian groups connected to the Tory and Republican parties, who want to spread the same attitude over there. One such website, run by Kathy Shaidle, called ‘Five Feet of Fury’, regularly used to attack the ‘official Jews’ – the website’s term – of Canada’s main Jewish organisation, and its liberal leader, Bernie Farber. Farber and his fellows annoyed the rightists because they saw the Jewish Holocaust in universal terms, as one of the various genocides that have been perpetrated against different peoples, groups and ethnicities down the centuries. Thus, when the Janjaweed militias were enslaving and massacring the people of Darfur at the beginning of this century, Farber organised a ‘Shabbat for Darfur’. It was to be a solemn Jewish fast, to mark the solidarity of a people, who had suffered genocide, with the victims of another. And it sent Shaidle into further rage.

She and Ezra Levant, another right-wing journalist and broadcaster, also wanted there to be less concentration on White nationalists and Fascists, and more on Muslims. They argued that most non-Muslim Canadians were thoroughly decent people – which I’ve no doubt whatsoever is true – and that the Nazis in Canada had always been a tiny handful. The real threat, they said, came from militant Islam.

It’s very similar to the attitude taken by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. Unlike Shaidle and her fellows, this outfit differs in that it massively plays up and exaggerates the amount of anti-Semitism in Britain, in order to scare Jews into emigrating to Israel. But it similarly has little or nothing to say about fighting the genuine Nazi fringe, and prefers to concentrate on painting Muslims in Britain as particularly anti-Semitic.

And you can see the same attitude in the American Zionist organisations. Jacques Torczyner, the head of the American chapter of the World Zionist Organisation, said that Jews should ally with the reactionaries, as this would result in greater numbers moving to Israel. You can also see it in Netanyahu’s own response to Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s another quasi-Fascist, who’s appointed Richard Spencer, an anti-Semite and White supremacist, to his cabinet. Last night, The Young Turks reported that Trump had also ordered the anti-terrorism department of the American security services not to investigate White nationalist and supremacist organisations. Instead, they were to concentrate on Islamic terrorism, despite the fact that White Fascists commit the greatest number of terrorist offences in America.

But Netanyahu isn’t worried, because Trump also supports Israel, and has sent a particularly hardline Zionist to Jerusalem as America’s new representative.

Right across the world, in Britain, Canada and America, Zionist organisations like the scandalously misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism are ignoring real Fascists and White supremacists, and promoting Islamophobia and a conscious retreat from a wider awareness of the persistence of genocide across societies and nations, in order foster an aggressive nationalism and exclusive sense of victimhood in Israelis and Jewish young people in order to encourage further emigration and solidarity with Israel.

And when they object, decent, anti-racist people, gentiles and Jews, who may themselves have suffered abuse and victimisation because of their ethnicity or friendship and solidarity with Jews, are smeared as anti-Semites.

The Ancient Near East as the Birthplace of Democracy

May 15, 2017

This is a bit of a rejoinder to Boris ‘Mugwump’ Johnson. Johnson, as a public schoolboy steeped in the Classics, believes that everything great and good began with ancient Greece and Rome. But a few years ago I put up a blog post about a book, The Origins of the Democracy in the Ancient Near East, which argued that the roots of democracy went further back, and further east, than ancient Greece. It began instead in the popular assemblies, which governed ancient mesopotamian civilisations such as the city state of Mari.

I found this passage about the democratic nature of ancient near eastern civilisation in the entry ‘Law (Mesopotamian)’ in Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Biblical World: A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (London: Pickering and Inglis Ltd 1966), 356-359. This states

The pattern of society in early Mesopotamia has been described as “primitive democracy”. There was an assembly (Sumerian ukkin, Akkadian puhrum) of the elders and young men with whom they chieftain or leader (antecedant of the later king) must consult. All major decisions were put to a vote. In addition, the cheiftain was obliged to give to his tutelary deity an annual account of his conduct of authority during the previous year. No doubt here also, as in the case of Egypt, there was drastic modification in practice especially in later years when, for example, such strong men as Sargon of Akkad, Hammurabi of Babylon or Sennacherib of Assyria ruled. But the principle remained in daily life as a unique characteristic of Mesopotamian civilization and spread into Syria and Anatolia as well. 356.

I don’t doubt that in the half century since the book was published, this view of ancient near eastern society as democratic has been revised. I think the book that came out about it a few years ago said that these states weren’t democratic. However, popular assemblies did exist.

Mesopotamia was the old name for the area that is now Iraq, and I wonder how much of its ancient history and precious archaeology has survived the western invasion by Bush and Blair, sectarian conflict and the destructive fury of ISIS. Nicholas Wood in his book, The Case Against Blair, describes how the Americans trashed Babylon when they chose to make it into one of the bases. And the barbarians of ISIS released a vide of them levelling Nineveh and destroying priceless antiquities in one of Iraq’s museums.

And their fury against anything they judge to be un-Islamic isn’t confined to the ancient past. They’ve also desecrated and destroyed Christian churches and the country’s Muslim shrines and mosques. And this is besides the horrific carnage and destruction which the war and its aftermatch have unleashed on the region and its people.

Iraq was one of the major centres of world civilisation, and the destruction of its ancient monuments and artefacts is a massive loss. And all because Bush, Blair and the Saudis wanted to steal the country’s oil and other state-owned industries for American big business.

Guy Debord’s Cat: Edwina Curry Claims to be Another Poor Pensioner

May 2, 2017

Another Tory, who lies about food banks also surfaced two months. Edwina Curry responded to comment by Buddy Hell of Guy Debord’s Cat on Twitter with the statement that she was a 70 year old pensioner, who occasionally works for the BBC and is on low pay and benefits.

The Cat had remarked that it was all right for her to sneer, as she didn’t have to rely on benefits to top up poor wages from work. And that was her response.

The Cat comments further on her reply that

She’s on low pay and she receives benefits? I doubt that. As the poster below remarks, she receives a generous final salary pension to which all former MPs are entitled. Although she may not be, in her words “filthy rich”, she has the kind of income that many pensioners can only dream of. Her appearance on I’m A Celebrity netted her a cool £100,000. As for her appearances on the BBC, let’s put it this way: she won’t be earning peanuts. Currie and her second husband also own two (possibly more) properties.

He also speculates that perhaps she thought he’d forgotten her comments about salmonella in eggs and her four year affair with John Major.

he concludes

If Currie thinks her pension isn’t enough for her to live on, maybe she could get a job at her local supermarket? Just a thought.

See https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2017/03/15/edwina-currie-just-another-poor-pensioner/

No, Edwina Currie is very definitely not a poor pensioner. In fact, from what I’ve seen of her performances on television, she has absolute contempt for them, just like she and her party has for anyone else who’s poor. About a decade ago she turned up on the Clive Anderson show. Anderson asked her about the furore she caused when she was in Major’s government. The government had decided to cut pensioners’ winter fuel allowance. This understandably upset very many people. Curry’s response was to tell them to ‘wrap up warmly’. She repeated her comments, and added a snide remark about how it would ‘teach them’.

This offhand sneer at poor senior citizens went down as well as you would expect: the audience started booing.

This provoked an amazed response from Curry – she started peering around with the kind of fixed smile people put on when they know something’s not quite right, but don’t understand what. She really, really couldn’t understand how anyone could find her comment offensive.

She’s another one who’d fail the Turing test. In fact, there are probably ZX81s still out there, with 1 byte of memory, that stand a better chance of passing for human.

She also comes across as incredibly thick. She’s an Oxford graduate, and presumably had a very expensive education, but you do wonder how she got in. Way back in the 1990s, when Have I Got News For You was still more than halfway funny, she tried locking horns with Ian Hislop. Answering a question about some legal tussle she’d been involved in, she looked across to the editor of Private Eye and remarked ‘Aren’t you glad I didn’t sue you?’

To which Hislop frostily replied ‘Aren’t you glad, my dear!’

I think she’s now an MP for Derby. She turned up a few years ago on a documentary about starvation in Britain and the rising use of food banks. She was interviewed to give the Tory line. So standing in the middle of a bank’s stores, she repeated the lie that people weren’t using them because they were starving, but because it was cheap food.

Wrong. You can only use a food bank if you’ve got a chit referring you from the Jobcentre.

This was pointed out to her by the presenter. But, like a good little follower of Goebbels on the art of political lying, she repeated the lie.

She also made another appearance on a chat show a few years ago, in which she made much of her Liverpool roots. She put up on the accent, and tried to pass herself off as a real ‘Dicky Sam’.

Liverpool’s a great city. It has given the world the Beatles, Hornby Railways and Meccano. It has a brilliant museum and art gallery, and was one of the first museums in Britain to open a display on its role in the slave trade. In the 19th century, it’s literary and philosophical society was a major centre of scientific research in England. It has also produced the great writer and playwright, Alan Bleasdale. Unfortunately, Edwina Curry has also appeared to lower the tone.

She’s another Tory liar with a contempt for the poor, who tries to hide it behind further lies.

The Case for Prosecuting Blair as War Criminal for Iraq Invasion

April 8, 2017

War Crime or Just War? The Iraq War 2003-2005: The Case against Blair, by Nicholas Wood, edited by Anabella Pellens (London: South Hill Press 2005).

This is another book I’ve picked up in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. It’s an angry and impassioned book, whose author is deeply outraged by Blair’s unprovoked and illegal invasion, the consequent carnage and looting and the massive human rights abuses committed by us and the Americans. William Blum in one of his books states that following the Iraq War there was an attempt by Greek, British and Canadian human rights lawyers to have Bush, Blair and other senior politicians and official brought to the international war crimes court in the Hague for prosecution for their crimes against humanity. This books presents a convincing case for such a prosecution, citing the relevant human rights and war crimes legislation, and presenting a history of Iraq and its despoliation by us, the British, from Henry Layard seizing the archaeological remains at Nineveh in 1845 to the Iraq War and the brutalisation of its citizens.

The blurb on the back cover reads:

After conversations with Rob Murthwaite, human rights law lecturer, the author presents a claim for investigation by The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Maanweg 174, 2516 AB The Hague, The Netherlands, that there have been breaches of the ICC Statute by members of the UK Government and Military in the run up to and conduct of the war with Iraq. That there is also prima facie evidence that the Hague and Geneva conventions, the Nuremberg and the United Nations Charters have been breached, and that this evidence may allow members of the UK and US Governments, without state immunity or statute of limitations, to be extradited to account for themselves. The use of hoods, cable ties, torture, mercenaries, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, aggressive patrols and dogs, is examined. Questions are raised over the religious nature of the war, the seizure of the oil fields, Britain’s continuous use of the RAF to bomb Iraq in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1990s archaeologists acting as spies, the destruction of Fallujah, the burning and looting of libraries, museums and historic monuments; and the contempt shown towards Iraqis living, dead and injured.

In his preface Wood states that the conversation he had with Rob Murthwaite out of which the book grew, was when they were composing a letter for the Stop the War Coalition, which they were going to send to the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Wood himself is an archaeologist, and states that he is particularly shocked at the imposition of American culture in Saudi Arabia. The book’s editor, Anabella Pellens, is Argentinian and so ‘knows what imprisonment and disappearance mean’.

In his introduction Wood argues that there were four reasons for the invasion of Iraq. The first was to introduce democracy to the country. Here he points out that to Americans, democracy also means free markets and privatisation for American commercial interests. The second was to seized its oil supplies and break OPEC’s power. The third was Israel. The United States and Israel for several years before the War had been considering various projects for a water pipeline from the Euphrates to Israel. The Israelis also favoured setting up a Kurdish state, which would be friendly to them. They were also concerned about Hussein supplying money to the Palestinians and the Scuds launched against Israel during the 1992 Gulf War. And then there are the plans of the extreme Zionists, which I’ve blogged about elsewhere, to expand Israel eastwards into Iraq itself. The fourth motive is the establishment of American military power. Here Wood argues that in the aftermath of 9/11 it was not enough simply to invade Afghanistan: another country had to be invaded and destroyed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the American military machine.

Chapter 1 is a brief history of Iraq and its oil, with a commentary on the tragedy of the country, discussing the Gulf War and the Iraq invasion in the context of British imperialism, with another section on British imperialism and Kuwait.

Chapter 2 is a summary of the laws and customs of war, which also includes the relevant clauses from the regulations it cites. This includes

Habeas Corpus in the Magna Carta of 1215

The establishment of the Geneva Convention and the Red Cross

The Hague Convention of 1907: Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land
This includes a summary of the main clauses, and states the contents of the regulations.

The United Nations Charter of 1945

The Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 1945
This sections shows how the judgements are relevant to the British invasion and occupation of Iraq. It also gives a summary of the judgments passed at the Nuremberg trials, beginning with the indictment, and the individual verdicts against Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Frick, Streicher, Rosenberg, Frank, Funk, Schacht, Doenitz, Raeder, Von Schirack, Sauckel, Jodl, Von Papen, Seyss-Inquart, Speer, Von Neurath, Fritzsche, and Borman.

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Protocols, containing extracts from
Convention 1 – For the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in the Armed Forces in the Field; Convention III – Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War; IV – Relative to the Protection of Civilian persons in Times of War.

There are also extracts from

The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, 1954;

Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 1977.

Protocols to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious Or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, Geneva 1980.

The 1997 Ottawa Convention and the treaty banning mines.

A summary of the rules of engagement for the 1991 Gulf War, which was issued as a pocket card to be carried by US soldiers.

The 1993 Hague Convention.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 2002.

The International Criminal Court Act of 2001 and the incorporation of the Rome Statute into British law. This gives both the aims of the act and a summary of the act itself.

Lastly there are a few paragraphs on the Pinochet case of 1998, and extradition as a method of bringing justice.

Chapter 3 is on allies in war as partners in war crimes committed.

Chapter 4 is on the deception and conspiracy by Bush and Blair, which resulted in their invasion. This begins by discussing the American plans in the 1970s for an invasion of the Middle East to seize their oil supplies during the oil crisis provoked by the Six Day War. In this chapter Wood reproduces some of the relevant correspondence cited in the debates in this period, including a letter by Clare short.

Chapter 5 describes how Clare Short’s own experience of the Prime Minister’s recklessness, where it was shown he hadn’t a clue what to do once the country was conquered, led her to resign from the cabinet. Wood states very clearly in his title to this chapter how it violates one of the fundamental lessons of the great Prussian militarist, Clausewitz, that you must always know what to do with a conquered nation or territory.

Chapter 6: A Ruthless Government describes the vicious persecution of the government’s critics and their removal from office. Among Blair’s victims were the weapons scientist Dr David Kelly, who killed himself after questioning by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and MOD and an intense attempt by Blair and his cabinet to discredit him; the Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, Gavin Davies, the Beeb’s chairman, and the reporter, Andrew Gilligan. Others target for attack and vilification included Katherine Gun, a translator at GCHQ, the head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff, Dr Brian Jones, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a Deputy Legal Advisor to Foreign Office, George Galloway, Paul Bigley, the brother of the kidnap victim Ken Bigley, and Clare Short. Bigley’s apartment in Belgium was ransacked by MI6 and the RFBI and his computer removed because he blamed Blair for his brother’s kidnap and beheading by an Iraqi military faction. There is a subsection in this chapter on the case of Craig Murray. Murray is the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who got the boot because he told the government that the president was an evil dictator, who had boiled someone alive. This was most definitely not something Blair wanted to hear.

Chapter 7 is a series of cases studies. Each case has its own section, which includes the relevant Human Rights and war crimes legislation.

7A is on the breakdown of the country’s civil administration and political persecution. The two are linked, as Blair and Bush had all members of the Baath party dismissed from their posts. However, membership of the party was a requirement for employment in public posts across a wide range of fields. Wood points out that you could not even be a junior university lecturer without being a member of the party. As a result, the country was immediately plunged into chaos as the people who ran it were removed from their positions without anyone to take over. In this chapter Wood also discusses the unemployment caused by the war, and the disastrous effect the invasion had on the position of women.

7B is on the destruction of services infrastructure.

7C is on damage to hospitals and attacks on medical facilities.

7D is on the destruction and looting of museums, libraries and archaeological sites. Remember the outrage when ISIS levelled Nineveh and destroyed priceless antiquities in Mosul? The US and Britain are hardly innocent of similar crimes against this most ancient of nation’s heritage. The Americans caused considerable damage to Babylon when they decided to make it their base. This included breaking up the city’s very bricks, stamped with the names of ancient kings, for use as sand for their barricades around it. Remind me who the barbarians are again, please?

7E – Seizing the Assets is on the American and British corporate looting of the country through the privatisation and seizure of state-owned industries, particularly oil. This is very much in contravention of international law.

7F – Stealing their plants. This was covered in Private Eye at the time, though I’m not sure if it was mentioned anywhere else. Iraq has some of the oldest varieties of food crops in the world, among other biological treasures. These are varieties of plants that haven’t change since humans first settled down to farm 7-8 thousand years ago. Monsanto and the other GM firms desperately wanted to get their mitts on them. So they patented them, thus making the traditional crops Iraqi farmers had grown since time immemorial theirs, for which the farmers had to pay.

7G describes how the Christian religious element in the war gave it the nature of a Crusade, and religious persecution. The aggressive patrols and tactics used to humiliate and break suspects involve the violation of their religious beliefs. For example, dogs are unclean animals to Muslims, and would never be allowed inside a house. So dogs are used to inspect suspect’s houses, even the bedrooms, by the aggressive patrols. Muslims have their religious items confiscated, in contravention of their rules of war. One man was also forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, which is was against his religion as a Muslim. The message by some of the army ministers and preachers that Islam is an evil religion means that Iraqis, as Muslims, are demonised and that instead of being viewed as people to be liberated they are cast as enemies.

There are several sections on the restraint of suspects. These include the use of cable ties, hoods, which have resulted in the death of at least two people, setting dogs on people, standing for hours and other tortures, which includes a list of the types of torture permitted by Donald Rumsfeld, aggressive patrolling, killing and wounding treacherously – which means, amongst other things, pretending to surrender and then shooting the victims after they have let their guard down, marking the bodies of victims in order to humiliate them, the deliberate targeting of the house owned by the Hamoodi family of Chemical Ali, the mass shooting from aircraft of a wedding party in the Iraqi desert by the Americans, but supported by the British; another incident in which people gathered in a street in Haifa around a burning US vehicle were shot and massacred; cluster bombs, including evidence that these were used at Hilla; the use of depleted uranium. Thanks to the use of this material to increase the penetrating power of shells, the incidence of leukaemia and other cancers and birth defects has rocketed in parts of Iraq. Children have been born without heads or limbs. One doctor has said that women are afraid to get pregnant because of the widespread incidence of such deformities; the use of mercenaries. Private military contractors have been used extensively by the occupying armies. Counterpunch has attacked their use along with other magazines, like Private Eye, because of their lawlessness. As they’re not actually part of the army, their casualties also don’t feature among the figures for allied casualties, thus making it seem that there are fewer of them than there actually is. They also have the advantage in that such mercenaries are not covered by the Geneva and other conventions. Revenge killings by British forces in the attacks on Fallujah. 7W discusses the way the Blair regime refused to provide figures for the real number of people killed by the war, and criticised the respected British medical journal, the Lancet, when it said it could have been as many as 100,000.

In the conclusion Wood discusses the occupation of Iraq and the political motivations for it and its connection to other historical abuses by the British and Americans, such as the genocide of the Indians in North America. He describes the horrific experiences of some Iraqi civilians, including a little girl, who saw her sisters and thirteen year old brother killed by British soldiers. He states that he hopes the book will stimulate debate, and provides a scenario in which Blair goes to Jordan on holiday, only to be arrested and extradited to be tried as a war criminal for a prosecution brought by the farmers of Hilla province. The book has a stop press, listing further developments up to 2005, and a timeline of the war from 2003-5.

The book appears to me, admittedly a layman, to build a very strong case for the prosecution of Tony Blair for his part in the invasion of Iraq. Wood shows that the war and the policies adopted by the occupying powers were illegal and unjust, and documents the horrific brutality and atrocities committed by British and US troops.

Unfortunately, as Bloom has discussed on his website and in his books, Bush, Blair and the other monsters were not prosecuted, as there was political pressure put on the ICC prosecutor and chief justice. Nevertheless, the breaches of international law were so clear, that in 2004 Donald Rumsfeld was forced to cancel a proposed holiday in Germany. German law provided that he could indeed be arrested for his part in these war crimes, and extradited to face trial. To which I can only salute the new Germany and its people for their commitment to democracy and peace!

While there’s little chance that Blair will face judgement for his crimes, the book is still useful, along with other books on the Iraq invasion like Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse, and the works of William Bloom, in showing why this mass murderer should not be given any support whatsoever, and his attempt to return to politics, supposedly to lead a revival of the political centre ground, is grotesque and disgusting.

The book notes that millions of ordinary Brits opposed the war and marched against it. Between 100 and 150 MPs also voted against it. One of those who didn’t, was Iain Duncan Smith, who shouted ‘Saddam must go!’ Somehow, given Smith’s subsequent term in the DWP overseeing the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of benefit claims after their benefits were stopped, this didn’t surprise. He is clearly a militarist, despite his own manifest unfitness for any form of leadership, military or civil.

Archaeology Confronts Neoliberalism

March 5, 2017

I got the latest catalogue of books on archaeology and history from Oxbow Books, an Oxford based bookseller and publisher, which specialises in them, a few days ago. Among the books listed was one critical of neoliberalism, and which explored the possibilities of challenging it from within the profession. The book’s entitled Archaeology and Neoliberalism. It’s edited by Pablo Aparicio Resco, and will be published by JAS Arquelogia. The blurb for it in the catalogue states

The effects of neoliberalism as ideology can be seen in every corner of the planet, worsening inequalities and empowering markets over people. How is this affecting archaeology? Can archaeology transcend it? This volume delves into the context of archaeological practice within the neoliberal world and the opportunities and challenges of activism from the profession.

This isn’t an issue I really know anything about. However, I’m not surprised that many archaeologists are concerned about the damage neoliberalism is doing to archaeology. 15 years ago, when I was doing my Masters at UWE, one of the essay questions set was ‘Why do some Historians see heritage as a dirty word?’ Part of the answer to that question was that some historians strongly criticised the heritage industry for its commodification of the past into something to be bought, sold and consumed. They placed the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of Maggie Thatcher and her Tory government. Rather than being an object of value or investigation for its own sake, Thatcherite free market ideology saw it very much in terms of its monetary value. They contrasted this with the old Conservative ethos, which saw culture as something that was above its simple cash value.

Social critics were also concerned about the way Thatcherism was destroying Britain’s real industries, and replacing them with theme parks, in which they were recreated, in a sanitised version that was calculated not to present too many difficult questions and represented the Tory view of history. One example of this was a theme park representing a mining village. It was on the site of a real mining village, whose mine had been closed down. However, other pieces of mining equipment and related buildings and structures, which were never in that particularly village, were put there from other mining towns and villages elsewhere. It thus showed what an imaginary mining village was like, rather than the real mining community that had actually existed. It was also a dead heritage attraction, a museum, instead of a living community based around a still thriving industry.

There were also concerns about the way heritage was being repackaged to present a right-wing, nationalistic view of history. For example, the Colonial Williamsburg museum in America was originally set up to present a view of America as a land of technological progress, as the simple tools and implements used by the early pioneers had been succeeded by ever more elaborate and efficient machines. They also pointed to the way extreme right-wing pressure groups and organisations, like the Heritage Foundation, had also been strongly involved in shaping the official, Reaganite version of American ‘heritage’. And similar movements had occurred elsewhere in the world, including France, Spain and the Caribbean. In Spain the concern to preserve and celebrate the country’s many different autonomous regions, from Catalonia, the Basque country, Castille, Aragon and Granada, meant that the view of the country’s history taught in schools differed greatly according to where you were.

Archaeology’s a different subject than history, and it’s methodology and philosophy is slightly different. History is based on written texts, while archaeology is based on material remains, although it also uses written evidence to some extent. History tends to be about individuals, while archaeology is more about societies. Nevertheless, as they are both about the investigation of the human past, they also overlap in many areas and I would imagine that some of the above issues are still highly relevant in the archaeological context.

There’s also an additional problem in that over the past few decades, the Thatcherite decision to make universities more business orientated has resulted in the formation of several different private archaeological companies, which all compete against each other. I’ve heard from older archaeologists that as a result, the archaeological work being done today is less thorough and of poorer quality than when digs were conducted by local authorities.

I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure that the editor and contributors to this book are right about neoliberalism damaging archaeology and the necessity of archaeologists campaigning against it and its effects on their subject. By its very nature, the past needs to be investigated on its own terms, and there can be multiple viewpoints all legitimately drawn from the same piece of evidence. And especially in the case of historical archaeology, which in the American context means the investigation of the impact of European colonisation from the 15th century onwards, there are strongly emotive and controversial issues of invasion, capitalism, imperialism, the enslavement of Black Africans and the genocide of the indigenous peoples. For historians and archaeologists of slavery, for example, there’s a strong debate about the role this played in the formation of European capitalism and the industrial revolution. Such issues cannot and should not be censored or ignored in order to produce a nice, conservative interpretation of the past that won’t offend the Conservative or Republican parties and their paymasters in multinational industry, or challenge their cosy conception that the free market is always right, even when it falsifies the misery and injustice of the past and creates real poverty today.