Posts Tagged ‘World War I’

Real Steampunk Inventions from the Pages of ‘The Engineer’

May 29, 2017

I’ve posted up several pieces this weekend about some of the real inventions of the Victorians, and how they have inspired and resemble the science and machines of steampunk Science Fiction. This is a branch of SF, which imagines what would have happened had the Victorians invented space travel, computers, time machines and were able to journey to parallel worlds. One of the founding works of the genre was William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which was set in an alternative Victorian Britain, which had entered a steam-driven computer age after building Charles Babbage’s pioneering mechanical computer, the Difference Engine of the title.

Some of the most amazing examples of Victorian and Edwardian engineering and technology can be found in the pages of The Engineer. This was the industry’s trade magazine, founded in 1856 by Charles Healey. In 1976 the magazine issued a glossy book celebrating the history of the magazine and the legacy of its founder. The book said of him

Healey has been described as a man of great strength of mind and character who always had ‘a smile, a question, and a penetrating look’. He had financial interests in railways in the Bourdon gauge, and among his many friends were leading men in railway engineering including Robert Stephenson, Isambard Brunel, and Sir William Fairbairn. But there is no evidence Healey used his editorial pages to promote his financial interests.

The magazine’s purpose, as it confessed in January 1916

was to spread the gospel of engineering. ‘Whilst engineering knowledge was the possession of but few men great progress was impossible, and it is the object of the paper to expand and distribute technical and scientific information. In so doing so it may fairly claim to have been a factor of no little importance in the great developments that have taken place during the late 60 years.’

And the magazine celebrated the practical work and achievements of engineers over the more abstract theorising of scientists. The book states

The Engineer pointed out that men of abstract science had done something, ‘but not much for us’. While applied science ‘has done for the physical world everything which science so far provide capable of accomplishing at all – railroads, manufactories, mines, the electric telegraph, chemical factories. And by who is it applied? Why the civil engineer, the mechanical engineer, the mining engineer and the shipbuilder who himself represents an important branch of engineering.

‘The wide earth over, we find the engineer working on principles, dealing with physical truths, using the investigations of those who have preceded him as stepping stones to knowledge, and leaving behind him through each generation mementoes of his labours. Mementoes, the result of a perfect acquaintance with such physical truths as men of the most exalted intellects have discovered-mementoes which will endure when the existence of the “leading journal” has become a matter of history’.

The ’70s were a period of economic depression, and part of the purpose behind the centennial volume was to counteract the mood of the times and inspire a new, fresh generation. The magazine declared

Today, when the economy is depressed, is an opportune moment to produce a book which will remind industry of its glorious past and act as a spur to project it into the future. It will also remind engineers and manufacturers of the power, grace and majesty of engineering.

Very much the same could be said today. Later this week, one of the topical issues programmes on Radio 4 will be discussing Britain’s critical lack of engineers, and asking how more young people can be persuaded to enter the profession. I’ve said in my previous blog posts that one way could be to link it to the interest people have in restoring and repairing motor vehicles, and the cyberpunk milieu of Science Fiction enthusiasts, who design fashions and exotic machines for this Victorian technological age that never was.

Much of the material in the book is about industrial machines and processes, which to most lay people, myself included, probably isn’t that interesting. Such as various types of manufacturing machines, industrial smelters, metal and chemical refining processes, pumping engines and so on. There’s also a chapter on railway engines, which is clearly of interest to steam enthusiasts and the people, who played with Hornby Railway sets when they were children.

But the machines and buildings I find the most interesting, are where the Victorians’ ideas prefigure those of modern technology, both real and in the imagined worlds of SF.

In architecture, the magazines shows two designs for a colossal tower for London, that was intended to rival the Eiffel tower in Paris. One of these shows very clearly the influence of the French structure.

Another was more straightforwardly British in design. Except for its size. It was going to be 1,240 feet.

We’re almost looking here at the soaring tower blocks of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, or indeed, Judge Dredd’s Megacity 1.

Instead of a channel tunnel, a massive bridge was proposed to span La Manche, and link Britain to France.

And to warn ships of dangerous rocks and water, they also designed a floating lighthouse.

As well as normal railways, they also designed an overhead railway and rainwater collector.

The book also showed contemporary illustrations for the steam carriages and buses that were being developed in this period as the first precursors to modern vehicles driven by the internal combustion engine.

This included the Randolph Steam Coach of 1872.

Other vehicles included Goodman’s velocipede of 1868, which could reach the amazing speed of 12 mph, and the Liquid Fuel Company’s steam van of 1985, which was entered in a competition the magazine ran for road carriages.

There was also an illustration of a one horse power road steamer, which could carry two people.

It also included the schematics for another vehicle, the Serpollet Steam Phaeton of 1891.

From this, it looks like a budding car enthusiast could possibly build one of these machines, in the same way people also build their own custom cars, and cyberpunk inspired machines like the one I posted up yesterday.

A Mr Nairn, an engineer from Leith in Scotland, also published his design in 1870 for a three-wheeled steam omnibus.

There was also this illustration of an early motorcycle, Duncan and Superbie’s bike of 1894.

and an early car, Panhard and Lavassor’s two-seater from 1894.

And to show that waiting at traffic lights were also a blight that afflicted the Victorians, there’s an illustration of the traffic signals at Bridge Street in Westminster in 1868.

The Victorians and Edwardians were also experimenting with new ways to move vehicles across ground, such as caterpillar tracks. These included traction engines, such as Ingleton’s Automatic track of 1868. This was engineered to allow the tracks to be raised when the engine reached the end of the field, and needed to make a tight turn.

Even after petrol began to supersede steam in the early 20th century, some firms were still experimenting with caterpillar tracks on the new petrol-driven tractors. The photo below shows the caterpillar tractor and train produced by the Holt Manufacturing Company of Peoria in America.

In some cases, the search for alternative means of locomotion went so far as reinventing the wheel. In 1909 Diplock patented a design for putting ‘walking feet’ on a wheel.

This is interesting, as H.G. Wells’ The Land Ironclads was about warfare conducted using machines some have seen as predicting the tank. The land ironclads of the title, however, are much more like contemporary naval vessels. They are long, contain rows of snipers along their sides. And unlike tanks, they walk across the ground on mechanical legs like vast, mechanical millipedes, somewhat like the Walkers in Star Wars, but with more legs.

The Victorians were also keen to solve the problems of ships navigating shallow waters. Bourne’s Steam Train, proposed in 1858, attempted to solve this problem through using the paddle wheels as terrestrial wheels, allowing the vessel to climb over sandbanks, and the engine could be geared down to provide more power.

It struck me looking at this that if it had been developed further, you’d have had amphibious landing craft like the DUK of World War II.

This was also the age in which people were making their first attempts at flight. One of the bizarre vehicles featured in the book was Carlingford’s aerial chariot of 1854. This was launched from a pole ranging from 6 to 9 feet in height, carried forward by a falling weight. This was like the Wright Brother’s early planes. Unlike the Wrights’, the aerial chariot didn’t have an engine and the pilot tried to crank the propeller by hand.

The magazine also published illustrations of the British military’s experiments with balloons in 1874.

As well as wings, engineers were considering more exotic methods of flight. In 1916 there were a series of designs for planes held aloft by spinning discs. Looking at them, it is hard not to see them as the first predecessors of the helicopter.

As for balloons, this led to the development of dirigibles like the Zeppelin, a 1923 design for which was also published in the magazine’s pages.

Petrol driven cars and motorbikes are now ubiquitous, though there is still great affection and interest in vintage, veteran and historic road vehicles. One businessman in Leckhampton, one of the suburbs of Cheltenham, proudly displayed his early motorcycle from about the time of the First World War in his shop window.

The steam vehicles weren’t as efficient as modern petrol and diesel vehicles. They also faced stiff political opposition from traditional, horse drawn vehicles. Nevertheless, you do wonder what Britain would have been like if these machines had caught on to the point where they were the preferred method of transport, rather than horse-drawn carriages.

And these carriages, and the other machines and designs shown above, still have the potential to fire the imaginations of fans of historic technology, steam enthusiasts, and Cyberpunks. And perhaps, if more people saw some of these machines and their designs, some of them might try to make some of them. This would not only bring them to life, but also possibly inspire more people to take an interest in engineering and the great heritage of invention.

Wartime Conference on Science, Philosophy, Religion and Democracy

March 12, 2017

I found a copy of the 1942 book, Science, Philosophy and Religion: Second Symposium, over a decade ago now in a secondhand bookshop in Totnes in Devon. As the above title page states, this comes from a conference on science, philosophy and religion and their relation to the democratic way of life, held in New York in 1942. The conference was held at Columbia University and was the successor to the first symposium, held a year earlier. The book was a collection of papers by leading members of the above disciplines, edited by Lyman Bryson and Louis Finkelstein. These were intended to show how these areas of research and experience supported democracy against the advance of the totalitarian regimes in Europe.

The volume has the following contents

I Democracy’s Challenge to the Scientist, by Caryl P. Haskins;
II Democracy and the Natural Science, Karl F. Herzfeld;
III Some Comments on Science and Faith, Hudson Hoagland;
IV The Comparative Study of Culture of the Purposive Cultivation of Democratic Values, by Margaret Mead;
V The Basis for Faith in Democracy, Max Schoen.
VI Pragmatism, Religion and Education, John L. Childs;
VII Liberal Education and Democracy;
VIII A Philosophy of Democratic Defense, Charles Hartshorne;
IX The Role of Law in a Democracy, Frank E. Horack, Jr.
X Pluralism and Intellectual Democracy;
XI, Empiricism, Religion and Democracy, Charles W. Morris;
XII Philosophical Implications of the Prevalent Conception of Democracy;
XIII The Spiritual Basis of Democracy, by the Princeton Group;
XIV Thomism and Democracy, by Yves R. Simon.
XV Democracy and the Rights of Man, Paul Weiss.
XVI The Stake of Art in the Present Crisis, George Boas.
XVIII An Approach to the Study of History, William G. Constable;
XIX Literature and the Present Crisis, Joseph Wood Krutch.
XX How Long is the Emergency, Mark Van Doren.
XXI Democratic Culture in the Light of Modern Poetry.
XXII Democratic Aspirations in Talmudic Judaism, Ben Zion Bokser.
XXIII Democracy in the Hebrew-Christian Tradition; Old and New Testaments, Millar Burrows;
XXIV Christianity and Democracy from the Point of View of Systematic Christian Theology, Nels F.S. Ferre;
XXV Philosophical Foundations of Religion and Democracy, Willliam O’Meara;
XXVI The Patristic Christian Ethos and Democracy, Albert C. Outler.

There is also a section of addresses. These are

I The Faith and Philosophy of Democratic Government, A.A. Berle, Jr.
II The Function of Law in a Democratic Society, Charles E. Clark.
III The Artist and the Democratic Way of Life, Walter Pach.
IV Democracy in Our Times, M.L. Wilson.
V The Religious Background of Democratic Ideas, Simon Greenberg, Clarence Mannion, Luther A. Weigle.

I’ve dug it out again as I believe very strongly that this symposium and its wisdom is needed again with the current stagnation of democracy and the rise of Trump in America, UKIP in Britain and the parties of the extreme right in Europe. The basis of democracy in the West has been gradually undermined over the last 30-odd years, ever since the election of Thatcher and Reagan. Successive governments in Britain and America have been determined to work for the benefit of rich, corporate paymasters against the poor and middle class. There has been a massive redistribution of wealth upwards, as welfare services have been slashed and outsourced, industries privatised and closed down, and public utilities sold off. As wages have stagnated, the corporate elite have seen their pay grossly inflated. Their taxes have been cut, while those for the poor have actually been increased.

As a result of this concentration on the demands of corporate political donors, recent studies by Harvard University and the Economist have concluded that America is no longer a full democracy. It is a ‘flawed democracy’, or even oligarchy.

At the same time governments in Britain and America have also supported the massive expansion of the surveillance state under the pretext of countering terrorism. At the same time, the rights of workers to strike, and ordinary people to protest, have been curtailed. David Cameron’s Tory administration tried to introduce a series of reforms to block street demonstrations and protests under the guise of preventing residents for suffering the nuisance caused by them.

We also have Tory and Republican administrations that insist that only their view of history should be taught in schools. Michael Gove a few years ago made a ridiculous speech complaining about the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War taught in schools, while the educational authorities in Arizona withdrew studies of slavery and the civil rights movement from the school syllabus. Instead, pupils in that state were to be taught the speeches of Ronald Reagan.

Donald Trump’s administration is overtly anti-immigration, particularly of Latinos and Muslims. It includes members of the Alt Right, like Steve Bannon and Curtis Ellis, who hold bitterly racist views. Many of Trump’s supporters are White supremacists and Nazis. UKIP and Brexit in Britain have also led to an increase in racism and racist violence against ethnic minorities. At the same time, these movements have also promoted hatred towards gays and the transgendered. And similar movements are attempting to take power or increase their gains across Europe, from Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, the Alternative Fuer Deutschland in Germany, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, Jobbik in Hungary, and other extreme right-wing parties in Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavia.

Democracy, tolerance, pluralism and the rights of the poor are under threat. The threat in America and western Europe isn’t as overt and violent as it was when the Fascists seized power from the 1920s onwards. But it is there, and desperately needs to be resisted.

Counterpunch on Theresa May’s Plans to Celebrate the Balfour Declaration

March 7, 2017

Yesterday Counterpunch published a powerful piece by Robert Fisk, ‘Who Could Ever Feel Pride in the Balfour Declaration?’ attacking Theresa May’s plans to celebrate the centenary of the British Prime Minister’s declaration during the First World War to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Fisk is a journalist with the Independent, where the piece was originally published, and a veteran critic of Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the country’s indigenous, Arab population. He begins the article

Theresa May told us that Britain will celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration this summer with “pride”. This was predictable. A British prime minister who would fawn to the head-chopping Arab autocrats of the Gulf in the hope of selling them more missiles – and then hold the hand of the insane new anti-Muslim president of the United States – was bound, I suppose, to feel “pride” in the most mendacious, deceitful and hypocritical document in modern British history.

As a woman who has set her heart against immigrants, it was also inevitable that May would display her most venal characteristics to foreigners – to wealthy Arab potentates, and to an American president whose momentary love of Britain might produce a life-saving post-Brexit trade agreement. It was to an audience of British lobbyists for Israel a couple of months ago that she expressed her “pride” in a century-old declaration which created millions of refugees. But to burnish the 1917 document which promised Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine but which would ultimately create that very refugee population – refugees being the target of her own anti-immigration policies – is little short of iniquitous.

The Balfour Declaration’s intrinsic lie – that while Britain supported a Jewish homeland, nothing would be done “which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” – is matched today by the equally dishonest response of Balfour’s lamentable successor at the Foreign Office. Boris Johnson wrote quite accurately two years ago that the Balfour Declaration was “bizarre”, a “tragicomically incoherent” document, “an exquisite piece of Foreign Office fudgerama”. But in a subsequent visit to Israel, the profit-hunting Mayor of London suddenly discovered that the Balfour Declaration was “a great thing” that “reflected a great tide of history”. No doubt we shall hear more of this same nonsense from Boris Johnson later this year.

He states that Balfour issued the Declaration in order to convince American and Russian Jews to continue to press for continuing the war against Germany, after Russia was forced to sue for peace the same year in 1917. He points out that Britain should, by rights, apologise to the millions of Arab refugees created by the Declaration, as Britain has done for the Slave Trade and the Irish Potato Famine. But he predicts that Britain won’t, because Theresa May needs Israel far more than she needs the support of the Arabs. Much of the article is really a discussion of David Cronin’s book Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel. Cronin’s an Irish journalist living Brussels, who very definitely despises anti-Semitism and Holocaust-deniers, and who faces up to the issue of the support of Mufti of Jerusalem for the Nazis and the Holocaust. The book details the British use of violence and repression against the Arabs, including the use of ‘extra-judicial execution’. Fisk also shows in his article how British prime ministers since Balfour, of both the Left and Right, have supported Israel at the expense of its Arab population. PMs who have supported Israel and its ethnic cleansing include Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and, of course, Tony Blair. Fisk also details British complicity in supplying arms to the Israelis and that they gave no protection to Arab civilians when they were being massacred, such as at Haifa. Fisk states

Cronin’s investigation of Colonial Office files show that the British military lied about the “cleansing” of Haifa, offering no protection to the Arabs, a policy largely followed across Palestine save for the courage of Major Derek Cooper and his soldiers, whose defence of Arab civilians in Jaffa won him the Military Cross (although David Cronin does not mention this). Cooper, whom I got to know when he was caring for wounded Palestinians in Beirut in 1982, never forgave his own government for its dishonesty at the end of the Palestine Mandate.

But Britain’s support for Israel hasn’t always been reciprocated. When the PLO opposed the Falkland’s War, they were told very clearly by the British ambassador that it was no concern of theirs. At the same time the Israelis were selling Skyhawk jets to the Argentinians to shoot down our flyboys.

Fisk concludes the article

From the day that Herbert Samuel, deputy leader of the Liberal Party and former (Jewish) High Commissioner for Palestine, said in the House of Commons in 1930 that Arabs “do migrate easily”, it seems that Britain has faithfully followed Balfour’s policies. More than 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted in their catastrophe, Cronin writes. Generations of dispossessed would grow up in the camps. Today, there are around five million registered Palestinian refugees. Britain was the midwife of that expulsion.

And this summer, we shall again be exhorted by Theresa May to remember the Balfour Declaration with “pride”.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/06/who-could-ever-feel-pride-in-the-balfour-declaration/

Sebastian Gorka – Another Fascist in Trump’s Cabinet

March 1, 2017

Trump’s cabinet is notorious for the number of anti-Semites, Fascists and Nazis in it, like Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart, and Richard Spencer, the founder of the Alt Right. And now here’s another one, Sebastian Gorka. Gorka’s Trump’s Deputy Assistant. In this video from the David Pakman show, Pakman and his producer, Louis, talk about the links between Gorka and the Hungarian ant-Semitic extreme right, and how he worn in public the medallions and decorations of Hungary’s anti-Semitic dictators and extreme nationalist parties. He has, for example, worn a pin associated with Admiral Horthy’s regime. Horthy was the dictator of Hungary from 1922 onwards, who was officially listed as a collaborator with the Nazis by the US government. He also defended the use of the Arpad Flag, the emblem of the Arrow Cross Party, the anti-Semitic extreme nationalist party that governed Hungary during the period of the Third Reich. From 2002 to 2007 Gorka was active in Hungarian extreme rightwing politics. He appeared and collaborated with anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, and was part of the movement to organise another extreme Right-wing party, which has the goal of putting Christianity back into Hungary’s constitution. He also wrote for an extreme rightwing newspaper, Magyar Demokrita, which the US government has officially listed as anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying. He also worked for the Hungarian National Committee, whose 2004 yearbook contained the following call to purge Hungary of its Jews:

We need to get the Jews out. In fact, we need to take back our country from them. We need to take back our stolen fortunes. After all, these upstarts are sucking on our blood and are getting rich off our blood. This is vile, obscene stuff, which could easily have come from Goebbels himself or Julius Streicher’s Der Sturmer. Gorka has also said that it’s right that foreign leaders should be afraid of Trump.

Pakman and Louis remark on how it is strange that Trump denies being an anti-Semite, has a Jewish son-in-law and a daughter who converted to Judaism to marry her husband, but nevertheless surrounds himself with these Fascists. Pakman states that it’s probably because Trump holds many anti-Semitic images and stereotypes about Jews, but doesn’t think that he actually hates them. These beliefs still enable him to stand next to one on a political platform. Pakman and Louis also consider that Trump’s slogan, ‘American first’, also may play a part in making him comfortable with the presence and cooperation of anti-Semites and Nazis. The slogan ‘America first’ comes from the country’s isolationist stance between the First and Second World Wars, when the country did not want to enter the war against Fascism in Europe or allow in European refugees.

Pakman finally concludes this piece by observing that, despite announcing that he is a ‘proud American’, Gorka’s another one of the pesky immigrants to the US. He was born in London of Hungarian parentage. But as he’s White, Trump’s administration likes him.

In actual fact, there’s been a section of the Republican party that has included racists and outright Nazis for a very long time. They’ve been around ever since the US – and Britain – recruited former Nazis, included members of the SS and Gestapo – to use against the spread of Communism during the Cold War. ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone has a couple of chapters on this in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, which should show very strongly that the old newt fancier is no kind of anti-Semite. America has supported a long, bloody list of Fascist dictators abroad since the Second World War, such as General Pinochet in Chile, and the various Fascist regimes and death squads in Guatemala, Panama and Nicaragua. The World Anti-Communist League includes American ultra-Conservatives as well as Fascists and Nazis from across the world. And in the 1980s Reagan also supported Ukrainian nationalists and Nazi collaborators in his campaign against the USSR.

Links between the Republican party and international Fascism are therefore nothing new. What is new here is that they’re now obvious and blatant, whereas before they were all hidden from the voting public to a greater or lesser extent. It was monstrous that these thugs and torturers should ever have been a part of American politics or supported by US foreign policy. But their appearance as a formal part of Trump’s cabinet is deeply ominous, as it shows the normalisation of such Fascism as part of American politics. If this continues, and openly Fascist politicians and aides are given posts and public offices, you have to wonder how long it will be before American democracy itself is undermined and replaced by a racist, right-wing dictatorship.

Trump and the Republicans’ Attack on Transgender Rights

February 25, 2017

On Thursday Mike also posted a short piece about another minority that is now under by Donald Trump – transgender people. After trying to ban people from seven majority Muslim countries, Trump has decided to revoke Barack Obama’s legislation about the use of toilets by transgender students. Obama ruled that students should be allowed to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, rather than biological sex. This has been too much for Trump and the Republicans. In his article commenting on Trump’s repeal of the ruling, he makes the point that transgender people don’t pose any threat to the people of the US, as far as he could see. But Trump’s discrimination against them does make him a threat to the transgender community.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/02/23/transgender-students-are-targeted-for-hate-by-trump/

Milo Yiannopolis, one of the Alt-Right Breitbart squadristi, turned up on the Bill Maher Show on American TV. Yiannopolis is a strange, contradictory figure – a half-Jewish, self-hating gay with a Black boyfriend, who is bitterly anti-feminist and also very racist. Yiannopolis tried to claim that the ruling was quite correct, because there was a dangerous of transvestites entering female toilets to abuse women and girls. He claimed that there was a far greater rate of sex offences amongst transgendered people than amongst ordinary, straight individuals.

Where did he get this statistics? Where do you think! He made it up. And while Maher apparently did little but fawn over Yiannopolis, according to some viewers, one of the guests, Larry Wilmore, solidly refuted Yinnopolis comments again and again. See this video below.

For some reason, the Republicans have had a bee in their collective bonnets about transgender people for some time now. In fairness, not all of this concern is fear-mongering based on prejudice. Right-wing critics of the current medical attitudes towards those, who have problems with their gender identity, have pointed to a paper by a doctor, which has questioned whether many of those undergoing gender realignment surgery really want to be women. According to the paper, those undergoing the transition have a higher rate of suicide than those who remain in their biological gender. Now, there have been instances where people, who have made the transition, have regretted it and taken their own lives. There was a case in the British papers a few years ago about a transwoman, who drowned herself in a river. She left a note stating that she now wished she could return to being a man.

Such cases are tragic, and should be a cause of legitimate concern. But I don’t think this is really what’s driving the issue.

This is really all about cultural decline and the politics of masculinity. The Right has a very traditional attitude towards gender roles. I’ve blogged before about the various right-wing politicians in America, like the highly obnoxious Anne Coulter, who don’t even believe women should vote. The idea that gender roles, and gender identity itself, can be fluid and subject to change is bitterly rejected. Hence this attack on the toilet rights of transgender students.

One of those, who has weighed into this debate is the anti-feminist philosopher, Camille Paglia. Paglia had been a feminist, I gather, before she did a complete reversal some time in the 1990s, and decided that feminism was damaging men and having a generally destructive effect on society as a whole. I think she still considers herself some kind of feminist, but, as Mel Smith’s blokeish character on his and Griff Rhys Jones’ spoof of the BBC talk show, After Dark, she seems to be ‘the kind of feminist, who is not a feminist at all’.

There’s a video on YouTube of her arguing in an interview that transgenderism is responsible for the fall of all civilisations, from ancient Rome to the European empires of the 19th century. This can be seen in the way Greek art moved from depicting muscular hunks to a more androgynous style of masculine figure.

I don’t know enough of Greek art to refute this, but I know enough history to say that it’s twaddle. Despite the comments by Roman moralists, like Tacitus, about the decadence of late Roman society, what actually brought the Empire down were a mixture of severe economic, political and military problems that have precious little to do with gender identity. If at all. The late Roman empire was beset by galloping inflation, massively disproportionate taxation falling on the poor as the senatorial elite sought to evade the tax burden, depopulation caused by plague as well as economic decline, and, of course, the barbarian invasions.

In the east, the late Roman and Persian Empires were overrun by the Muslim Arabs basically because they had fought each other to exhaustion, and simply no longer possessed the military power to fight off the invading Arabs. In the case of Egypt and some of the other eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs offered religious tolerance to Christian denominations persecuted by the official Greek church. The politics of gender identity simply weren’t involved.

As for the European empires, these fell, retreated or transformed themselves due to the rise of nationalist movements in their colonies and the decline of the metropolitan centres. Much of this was hastened by the Second World War. Britain and France emerged exhausted from the conflict, and global power passed to America and the Soviet Union. Again, gender politics weren’t involved.

Paglia, however, draws on the literature of late Victorian writers, including the French Decadents, for her views. These did see the decline of gender identity and roles as a sign of cultural and racial decline. The French Decadents, who saw madness and genius as inextricably linked, celebrated androgyny, while at the same time holding very strong misogynist views. They felt that, like ancient Rome, the fall of the new French empire was also inevitable, and were going to enjoy being Decadent as much as possible during it.

Paglia’s fears about the social damage created by the decline in traditional notions of gender and sexuality are also really a symptom of more general fears of American social and imperial decline. Martin Pugh in his book on the rise of British Fascism between the First and Second World Wars, comments on the role played in its rise by the moral panic created by Pemberton Billing about homosexuality. Billing was a right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the British war effort during World War I was being undermined by gays working for the Germans. He claimed to have a black book with the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’. He was sued for libel by at least one of the people he smeared, but the trail collapsed when he accused the judge of being gay.

Pugh also points out that this period also saw the rise in fears about lesbianism for the first time. He states very clearly that the reason why the British government had not legislated against female homosexuality in the 19th century was because they simply didn’t see it as a threat. It was not because that they, or Queen Victoria, depending on the version of the myth you’ve heard, didn’t think it exist, or because Victoria herself didn’t think it was physically possible for two women to have sex. She and they knew it happened, but weren’t bothered about it. It wasn’t considered to be a threat to society like male homosexuality.

This all changed after the First World War. Pugh makes the point that it was widely believed that the War had killed the flower of British manhood – all the really intelligent, brave and capable men. The guys, who were left, were the second raters. As a result, British society was in crisis, a crisis which only aggressively masculine parties like the NSDAP in Germany and the Fascists in Italy could hope to correct.

And something similar has also occurred in America. It’s been argued that the rapid expansion of Communism after the War was a profound shock to America, not just to the self-confidence of capitalism, but also to notions of American masculinity. This can be seen in depictions of Jesus. For a period after WW2 the traditional depictions of Christ with rather soft features disappeared in favour of more ruggedly masculine representations of the Saviour.

America is a very masculine society, and the link between capitalism and masculinity is very strong in the parties and ideologies of the Right, the Republicans and Libertarians. The Left, and its egalitarianism, is seen as anti-masculine and unpatriotic. It is not accident that Richard Spencer in one of his wretched speeches tried to appeal to American women by saying that his movement offered them ‘pregnancy and strong government’. With the involvement of the gun lobby, we are very much back in the realm of Mussolini’s Fascist slogan ‘Fighting is to man what motherhood is to woman.’ The American Right also strongly opposes women entering the workplace, feeling that they should stay at home instead to raise children to counteract White demographic decline.

This is the real ideological background to Trump and the Republicans’ attack on transgender people. The actual number of transgender people, as a percentage of the population, is probably very small. They’re not really a threat to anyone. Instead, this all about the politics of gender as part of the wider issue of racial decay and American imperial decline.

The Young Turks on American Conservatives Setting Up Black List of Liberal Professors

December 6, 2016

Another attack on freedom of thought and speech in America, the Land of the Free. Yesterday I put up a piece about two articles from Counterpunch, discussing Obama’s failure to repeal the gross infringements of the US Constitution he inherited from his Republican predecessors, his plans to set up some kind of official body to tell Americans what sources they should believe on the internet, and an outrageous article in the Washington Post smearing dissenting journalists as treacherous purveyors of Moscow propaganda. The latter article appears to have come from the corporatist wing of the Democrat party trying to find scapegoats for Hillary Clinton’s failure to win against Trump, and the establishment media to clamp down on its liberal, new media rivals.

Now it seems the Republicans are also trying to get in on the act. This time it they’re coming for university and college professors. In this snippet from The Young Turks, the hosts John Iadarola and Ana Kasparian discuss a Conservative student organisation that has set up a website, Professor Watch List, which aims to expose 200 or so university lecturers, who deliberately target and victimise Conservative students. They claim that they are only publishing the identities of professors, who have already been in the news. However, analysis of their sources shows that these are fake news sites. They pretend to be by students, but in fact are by ‘very old Republican guys’. Iadarola and Kasparian state that they would have no problem with the website, if it honestly did what it claimed to do – protect students, who are being targeted for their political beliefs by their lecturers. But it’s not. It’s a partisan attempt to prevent lecturers presenting facts and arguments that Conservatives find uncomfortable, and which could lead to the lecturers themselves being disciplined or even fired.

Conservative students are also demonstrating against ‘safe spaces’ on campus. This includes setting up fake ‘safe space’ events, such as bake sales, and then waiting to see who turns up. They then lay out juice boxes, crayons and other children’s items to make the point that the people, who support ‘safe spaces’ are childish, in their opinion. The two presenters make the point that they are doing so by acting as children themselves. Ana Kasparian is particularly annoyed about this. She states she does not like safe spaces, as she only really learned things at college when her beliefs were being challenged. This is part of the experience of higher education. Having your beliefs challenged forces you to present evidence to defend them, or having to admit that you’re wrong if you can’t. She states clearly that what she believes is a bigger threat to academia isn’t some Conservative students feeling uncomfortable because of what is being taught by a Chicano studies professor, but the Koch brothers funding scientific laboratories in American universities so that they’ll push out spurious ‘research’ denying climate change. The Koch brother are multibillionaire oil magnates, and they have been responsible for getting meteorologists sacks, who have spoken out about climate change. Due to their influence independent climate science laboratories have been closed down, and replaced with institutions, funded by the Kochs, which have given them the propaganda about the non-existence of climate change they want.

John Iadarola also makes the point that the definition of ‘safe space’ is so wide, that it’s practically meaningless. It can mean something like a Black union, which doesn’t want White Supremacists coming in and distributing Nazi literature. Or it could mean a classroom, where the discussion of a particularly controversial topic is not permitted. They also make the point that refusing to allow a particular individual to speak on campus, because they’ve charged too high a fee, is not censorship. It’s a perfectly reasonable attitude. It only becomes censorship if the speaker is turned down, despite requesting a reasonable fee.

The two also make the point that no political ideology should have the monopoly on education. Academic freedom is too important for this. What is needed is more dialogue, as so far the differences in political opinion have become extremely polarised and people are no longer speaking to each other. There needs to be more dialogue, and integration.

This is an immensely important issue, as academic freedom is one of the cornerstones of democracy, as is preserving students’ own freedom of thought by protecting them against indoctrination. The Blair government passed legislation intended to prevent it in schools. Part of this stipulates that if a teacher is asked a question about a particular controversial issue in religion or politics, they may give an answer provided that they make it clear that it is just their personal belief. Obviously matters become far more complicated at the level of tertiary education as the discussion of the topics being taught is much deeper, and the conclusions drawn from the facts may be more subjective. But it also demands that students also act as adults, and are able to accept and deal with material that contradicts their own person viewpoints. Kasparian has said in a previous broadcast that she came from a very Conservative background, and only became a liberal when she was exposed to left-wing views and opinions at College. She’s also a college professor herself, and so this issue directly affects her.

Many people, who’ve been through college or uni, have had lecturers with very distinct academic views, both of the left and right. That should not prevent them from holding their jobs, provided they don’t penalise students simply for holding different opinions. This Professor Watch List isn’t about protecting students from indoctrination, however. It really does appear to be an attempt by Conservatives to use claims of indoctrination to close down contrary viewpoints. They aren’t really against indoctrination. They’re just outraged that students aren’t being indoctrinated with Conservatism.

I haven’t heard of any similar movement to this having appeared in Britain. Yet. But as the Tories have launched attacks on the way history is taught, as Conservative MPs like Michael Gove decided that the teaching of the First World War in schools wasn’t sufficiently patriotic. In fact, he went on a rant comparing it to Blackadder. I think the Union of Conservative Students has been closed down and merged with the Young Conservatives to form Conservative Future. But compiling a list of left-wing university tutors certainly seems like one of the stunts they would have done. And the National Front or BNP in the 1980s did encourage school pupils to send them the names of teachers, who were supposedly indoctrinating children with Communism, so they could beat them up. It also reminds very much of the way real totalitarian regimes, from Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and Nazi Germany, have encouraged children to betray their parents and other adults, including teachers.

Freedom of thought is under attack from the corporatist Democrats and the Nationalist Republicans. This is a very dangerous time, and these trends need to be defeated and reversed, if our societies are to remain genuinely free.

Tariq Nasheed Corrects Alt-Right Fascist Lies about Black Civilisations

November 24, 2016

Yesterday I posted several pieces about Richard Spencer’s Nazi speech at the weekend, in which he celebrated Whites as a race of ‘strivers, explorers and conquerors’ whose civilisation and achievements keep improving. Spencer’s one of the founders and leaders of the Fascist Alt-Right, the Nazi nature of which was made chillingly explicit with the cries of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race! Hail victory!’ with which he opened his vile little rant.

Spencer and his Nazi storm troopers, including another racist polemicist, Jared Tailor, claim that Blacks are inferior. Tariq Nasheed is a black blogger, who is clearly active attacking racism and pernicious claims against people of colour. In this video, he refutes Jared Taylor’s claims that Black people have invented nothing, and have a lower IQ than Whites. Taylor makes the claim that Blacks didn’t invent the wheel, and didn’t invent agriculture or domesticate animals. He also claims that Africans didn’t even have a calendar. This means that they are less intelligent than Whites. The White supremacists of the Alt-Right also maintain that Whites do not exploit Blacks and other ethnic minorities, and that they have benefited from contact with superior White civilisation.

Nasheed comprehensively trashes Taylor’s and his fellow Nazis’ claims that Blacks had no proper civilisation or achievements. He refuses to talk about the ancient Egyptian civilisation, which he feels strongly was Black, as this would be too easy. Instead, he talks about the lesser-known civilisations of West Africa. He mentions the work of Clyde Winters in documenting indigenous writing systems in the peoples of that part of Africa. Black people also very definitely had the wheel. Nasheed points to the rock pictures in the Sahara desert, which show Blacks driving chariots. The Black cultures in Africa also had agriculture and domesticated animals. They kept oxen, and their kings even had pet lions. As for buildings, they had houses and other structures that were two to three storeys tall. The Songhay empire had castles, and he rightly mentions, and ridicules, how the great fortress of Zimbabwe was so impressive, that its colonial discoverers tried to explain it as the work of space aliens. He also talks about the great university at Timbuktu, which was a centre of learning before Europe had universities. As for Black Africans lacking a calendar, he talks about how there is one monumental such device in Namibia.

He states that he’s offered to debate Taylor many times, but has never received an answer. His worry, however, is that now the Nazi Alt-Right have Donald Trump’s ear, Taylor, or an ignorant bigot like him, will get in charge of the educational system, and try to stop Black people learning about the achievements of their people in Africa.

Nasheed is also very much aware that many Whites also despise the Alt Right Fascists. He’s seen a group of White guys beat one of ’em up, and gives a shout out to Whites combating the Alt-Right.

I don’t condone unprovoked violence against the Nazis. They should have the same right not to be attacked as anybody else. But I’m well aware that they themselves are extremely violent, and have beaten and murdered people. I’m very aware that some people may have had to defend themselves, just as I’m also aware that their grotesque, vile opinions and racial insults may provoke others into violence against them, especially Blacks, Jews and others, who have been on the receiving end of their race hate and physical assault.

Nasheed is absolutely right about what he says, though I have some qualifications and additions to make. Black people certainly had the wheel. The rock paintings he mentioned are, I think, at Tassili N’Ajjer in the Sahara. They were painted when that part of the desert was green, many thousands of years ago. They show Whites from North Africa and Blacks from the south crossing and crisscrossing the desert, including people driving chariots. That said, convention historians believe that the wheel was probably invented somewhere in central Asia. So, not invented by Blacks, but arguably not invented by Whites either, or at least, not by Europeans. And yes, many Black nations and cultures certainly possessed agriculture, though again, the conventional explanation is that it spread to sub-Saharan Africa from ancient Egypt. As for the ancient Egyptians being a Black civilisation, they portrayed themselves as being lighter skinned than the peoples to their south, such as the Nubians, who are portrayed in ancient Egyptian papyri as being definitely Black. However, they were darker than their Greek and Roman conquerors. A few years ago New Scientist carried an article, which suggested that the seeds of ancient Egyptian civilisation was in a Black people from the south, whose religion centred around the worship of the cow. This was the ancestral version of Hathor, the Egyptian cow-goddess. These Black race migrated north, to what is now Egypt, as the Saharan desert dried out at the end of the last Ice Age, where they encountered and intermarried with White peoples.

The Songhay and Malinka peoples, who founded the great Muslim empire of Mali, were rich and powerful, and the university of Timbuktu was one of the major centres of Islamic learning and civilisation in West Africa. There have been documentaries exploring the priceless intellectual heritage preserved in the books from its library. Unfortunately, this has been threatened by Islamism. You may recall that a few years ago, Islamist barbarians allied to Daesh tried to set the university on fire in order to destroy its vast repository of the area’s indigenous Muslim culture. The Songhay did indeed have castles. They also had cavalry troops, who have been described in European textbooks as ‘knights of the Sahara’. And yes, in this part of Africa there are multi-storey buildings and extensive palaces. These are of mud brick, but then, so were ziggurats of ancient Babylon. The great Swahili civilisation of East Africa, however, built cities made from coral, which were coated with a lime wash made from burning the same substance. Their cities are as impressive and as richly carved as any others in Islam. The great fortress of Zimbabwe, which is also in east Africa, is also spectacular. It seemed such a contrast to the architecture of the indigenous peoples, who now live in wooden huts, that the Europeans who discovered it tried to explain it as the work of the Chinese, Arabs, or indeed, anyone other than indigenous Africans, including space aliens. In actual fact, its method of construction is very much the same type of building techniques as the mud huts of the local peoples. It seems it was built by the Razwe people, but then during some disruption in the 19th century, it was abandoned.

As for his statement that Black Africans didn’t have the calendar, he is most definitely, monumentally wrong. They definitely had the calendar, and from a very early period. There’s a piece of notched bone, found in a cave in South Africa by archaeologists, which appears to have been a counting device of some kind. The bone dates from 70,000 years ago, and it has been suggested that it may have been a portable calendar. This is about 40,000 years before modern men, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, moved out of Africa to colonise Europe. If it is true that this is a calendar, then clearly Taylor in this regard couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

Regarding Nasheed’s fears of the intellectual damage Alt-Right Fascism could do to the American educational system, I think Taylor and his squadristi will have severe problems if they true to impose a White supremacist curriculum at the universities. I think the liberal traditions of many American universities are simply too strong. No reputable historian, anthropologist or archaeologist specialising in researching African culture and heritage is going to stand for the denigration of African civilisation or the attack on their academic disciplines. I also anticipate considerable resistance from Black Studies professors and their students. And this is quite apart from professors, intellectuals and students, who wish to defend American academia as seats of genuine learning and liberal culture.

However, I recognise that there is a real danger that the Nazis will try to undermine this aspect of the American education system, either by depriving it of funding, or demanding that other courses be introduced to ‘balance’ it.

In my opinion, the real danger is much lower down the educational system, at school level. A little while ago one of the left-wing news shows I watch on YouTube reported that the state educational authority in Arizona decided that the existing school curriculum and its textbooks were too left-wing. I think they objected to them, because they didn’t just present American civilisation as absolutely wonderful, with no defects or shameful episodes. It taught students about slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, institutional racism and civil rights, as well as the other, better aspects of American history. So the right-wingers in power got rid of it.

What did they insist school students learn instead of the complexities, shame and achievements of American history? Ronald Reagan’s speeches.

I kid you not. Ronald Reagan’s speeches. Which weren’t even written by him. I think this should count as a crime against education. Mind you, I think the Tories over here would like to inflict something equally stupid and sinister on our youngsters. Remember when Michael Gove was ranting about children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the Great War in history? He and his fellow Tories would like to do the same, presenting a sanitised version of British history consonant with turning our children into earnest Thatcherites. In fact, I’m surprised they aren’t demanding that school pupils aren’t learning her speeches, like the poor souls in Arizona’s classrooms.

The Alt-Right are a threat to Blacks and other people of colour, and a threat to genuine history and learning. They shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near power, or the young minds they want to poison and keep in ignorance.

Reichwing Watch: Tom Hartmann Quotes Vice-President Wallace on Fascism in America

November 18, 2016

On Wednesday I put up a documentary by Reichwing Watch, which carefully showed the corporatist powers behind the rise of modern Libertarianism, and how it represents the interests of big business instead of ordinary people despite its claims to the contrary. The documentary quoted Henry Wallace, F.D.R.’s vice-president in 1944, who wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times about the threat of Fascism in America, and how this would arise through the same powerful corporate interests, who would claim to be super-patriots, but would attempt to use their political and economic power to enslave ordinary Americans.

In this clip from Thom Hartmann’s internet show, Hartmann also discusses how Fascism is based on the power of big corporations, and further quotes Wallace’s New York Times article. Hartmann begins by defining Fascism as the merger of corporate and government interests, with a bit of nationalism and racism to keep the masses distracted by hating a terrible ‘other’. He notes that Mussolini dissolved the Italian parliament in favour of a chamber of Fasci and corporations, and that Giovanni Gentile, the Italian philosopher, stated that Fascism should more properly be described as corporatism.

He then goes to quote Henry Wallace’s article in the New York Times. Wallace wrote

Fascism is a worldwide disease. Its greatest threat to the US will come after the War in the US itself. Another Fascist danger is represented by those, who paying lip service to national service and the common welfare, in their insatiable greet for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws which protect the public from monopolistic extortion.

Hartmann goes on to explain that Wallace nevertheless believed that the American system was strong enough to avoid Fascism. At that time, it was rare for a C.E.O. to enter politics, and politicians knew that they had to represent ‘we, the people’. And so Wallace continues

Happily, it can be said that Fascism has not captured a place in mainstream America. It can be found in Wall Street, Main Street and Tobacco Road, and traces of it can be seen along the Potomac, but if we put our trust in the common sense of common men and with malice towards none and charity for all, and continue building political, economic and social democracy, we shall prevail.

American Fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the poisoners of public information and those who stand for the KKK-type of demagoguery.

Hartmann makes the point that this has happened today through the alliance of right-wing news channels, the corporatists, and the White House. Wallace goes on

They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty, they claim to support free enterprise, but the represent monopolies and vested interests. Their final objective, to which all their deceit is directed, it to capture political power so that using the power of the state and the market simultaneously they can keep the common man in eternal subjection.

The American Fascists are most easily recognised by their perversion of truth and Fact. Their propaganda cultivates every fissure in the common front, and they consistently criticise democracy.

Hartmann here discusses how this accurately describes the purveyors of hate in the corporatist media, like Fox News, and how they are composed of the Islamophobes, the anti-gay religious leaders, and the corporatists determined to put worker against worker, trade unionists against the non-unionised employees, men against women, in a strategy of divide and conquer. He goes on to say that we should all be concerned about the next few years, and states that it is the most high stakes struggle since the foundation of the Republic, though not the biggest – that was the Civil War. But, Harmann asks rhetorically, can anyone remember a time when Americans were so polarised? He concludes that the struggle against Fascism begins today – and you need to get involved. Movement politics are what is needed. It simply isn’t enough just to vote.

There are a couple of things wrong with Hartmann’s analysis of Fascism. The Fascist ‘corporations’ he mentions weren’t commercial companies, but industrial associations combining both the trade unions and the employers’ organisations. Furthermore, nationalism and racism was central to Fascism, not something merely added to their foul intellectual stew in order to keep the masses distracted. Hitler and his fellow mass murderers genuinely hated the Jews, and ant-Semitism and the doctrine of Aryan racial superiority was central to Nazi ideology from the very beginning. Similarly, Italian Fascism was originally a movement of ultra-patriots intensely dissatisfied with Italy’s failure to get what they believed was its rightful territorial gains after the First World War. Mussolini sincerely wanted the Italians to be a militaristic people and to create a new, Roman Empire.

But he’s write about the importance of corporate power. Both Mussolini and then Hitler got into power because they posed as the defenders of capitalism and business against the threat of organised labour, socialism, and the trade unions. Mussolini’s Fascist absorbed the Italian Nationalists, who were right-wing businessmen. Just as the Fascists attacked the trade unions in urban areas, in the countryside they represented the big landowners, and went around trying to smash the peasant organisations, cooperatives and collectives.

Wallace’s description of the threat of a home-grown Fascism in America really does describe the coalition of power that has brought Trump to the White House: the powerful, right-wing news organisations like Fox, Breitbart and scores of local and national talk radio stations. And Trump is a corporatist, representing elite big business. But this also applies to his predecessors, both Democrat and Republican, right back to Reagan. This includes the Clintons, both Bill and Hillary, and Barack Obama, as well as the Bush family.

And it also applies over here, to Maggie Thatcher, John Major, and then Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and New Labour, to David Cameron and now Theresa May. It was Maggie Thatcher, who began the process of permitting the concentration of the British media in a few, very limited hands, including that of Murdoch. And the Tories have always maintained that they are the party of business as a rhetorical defence, whenever the purging of corporate influence from parliament is mentioned. They argue that since Labour represents the trade unions, the Tories are right to represent business. They do not, by this admission, represent ‘hard-working people’, except in the sense that they are keen to stress how hard the millionaires they represent work. 78 per cent of MPs are millionaires, and the majority hold multiple directorships. And New Labour was, in Mandelson’s words, ‘intensely laid back about getting rich’, expanded Peter Lilley’s vile PFI initiative, and promoted business to parliament and parliamentary committees, initiatives and quangos.

Trump’s a Fascist, but the rot goes deep, all the way back to the foundations of the neoliberal world order in Reagan and Thatcher, who both supported real Fascists in the death squads of south American dictators like Samosa and Pinochet.

We need to fight back. And we need to do more than that – we need to purge parliament of the very corporate interests that have wormed their way into power, in order to make our countries true democracies again, and not merely elective oligarchies providing a veneer of popular approval for corrupt, corporate rule.

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.

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.