Wednesday, January 18, 2012
All war has desecration
It is hypocritical to punish US soldiers filmed urinating on dead Taliban fighters
THE video that emerged in recent days appearing to show four US marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters has outraged many people in America. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta have condemned the act, the military has promised an inquiry, and some experts are even suggesting the act could qualify as a war crime.
Mainly, however, people seem simply to not understand it. Why would America's warriors - for that matter, why would anyone - urinate on a dead body?
I spent a year, off and on, with a platoon of US soldiers in the Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan. There was a lot of fighting, a lot of casualties and an enormous amount of stress on the men I was with. I never saw anyone do anything like this, but then again, I never saw any dead Taliban fighters; the enemy always recovered their casualties before we could get there.
Nevertheless, the things the soldiers shouted during combat were very revealing of the state of mind that war produces. (For the record, I'm sure the Taliban was screaming pretty much the same things about us.) At one point a Taliban fighter had his leg shot off during a firefight and was crawling around on the hillside, dying, and the men I was with cheered at the sight. That cheer deflated me. I liked these guys tremendously, but that celebration was just so ugly. I didn't want them to be like that.
Later, I asked one of them about it, and he explained that they had been happy because they were that much closer to all going home alive. They weren't cheering the enemy's death; they were cheering their own lives. That particular fighter would never again be able to kill an American soldier.
In a statement issued last Thursday, General James Amos, the marine corps commandant, said that "the behaviour depicted in the video is wholly inconsistent with the high standards of conduct and warrior ethos that we have demonstrated throughout our history."
Yet, I can't imagine that there was a time in human history when enemy dead were not desecrated. Achilles dragged Hector around the walls of Troy from the back of a chariot because he was so enraged by Hector's killing of his best friend.
Three milenniums later, Somali fighters dragged a US soldier through the streets of Mogadishu after shooting down a Black Hawk helicopter and killing 17 other Americans. During the frontier wars in the US, white Americans routinely scalped Indian fighters, and vice versa, well into the 1870s.
The US military should be held to a higher standard, certainly, but it is important to understand the context of the behaviour in the video. Clearly, the impulse to desecrate the enemy comes from a very dark and primal place in the human psyche. Once in a while, those impulses are going to break through.
There is another context for that behaviour, though - a more contemporary one. As a society, we may be disgusted by seeing US marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters, but we remain oddly unfazed by the fact that, presumably, those same marines just put .30 calibre rounds through the fighters' chests. American troops are not blind to this irony. They are very clear about the fact that society trains them to kill, orders them to kill and then baulks at anything that suggests they have dehumanised the enemy they have killed.
But, of course, they have dehumanised the enemy - otherwise they would have to face the enormous guilt and anguish of killing other human beings. Rather than demonstrating a callous disregard for the enemy, this awful incident might reveal something else: a desperate attempt by confused young men to convince themselves that they haven't just committed their first murder, that they have simply shot some coyotes in the bush.
It doesn't work, of course, but it gets them through the moment; it gets them through the rest of the patrol.
There is a final context for this act in which we are all responsible, all guilty. A 19-year-old marine has a very hard time reconciling the fact that it's OK to waterboard a live Taliban fighter but not OK to urinate on a dead one.
When the war on terror started, the marines in that video were probably nine or 10 years old. As children they heard adults - and political leaders - talk about their enemies in the most inhuman terms. The internet and the media are filled with self-important men and women referring to enemies as animals that deserve little legal or moral consideration. We have sent enemy fighters to countries such as Syria and Libya to be tortured by the very regimes that we have condemned for engaging in war crimes and torture. They have been tortured into confessing their crimes and then locked up indefinitely without trial because their confessions, achieved through torture, will not stand up in court.
For the past 10 years, American children have absorbed these moral contradictions, and now they are fighting US wars. The video doesn't surprise me, but it makes me incredibly sad; not just for them, but also for us. We will prosecute these men for desecrating the dead while maintaining that it is OK to torture the living.
I hope someone else knows how to explain that to our soldiers, because I don't have the faintest idea.
Amid the talk of Scottish independence, it’s now time to answer the English Question
The reawakening of national identity south of the border will have major consequences
During a relatively brief radio interview at the weekend, Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP deputy leader, used the phrase “the people of Scotland” at least a dozen times. You don’t have to listen for long to a US politician, from the president downwards, before you hear the words “the American people” uttered. Yet can you imagine a mainstream political discussion here in which the “people of England” are routinely invoked?
While others proudly assert their nationhood, Englishness is the identity that hardly dares to speak its name. As Richard Wyn Jones, professor of politics at Cardiff University and author of a report on Englishness to be published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), said yesterday: “The British political class is very uncomfortable in dealing with England as England.”
However, this reticence is no longer sustainable in view of the debate about Scottish independence and the prospect of a break-up of the United Kingdom. As a couple of polls have shown recently, resentment is growing rapidly in England over what is perceived to be the special treatment of Scotland. In particular, the so‑called West Lothian Question has started to make itself felt, with more than 50 per cent of English voters of the view that Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote in the Commons on laws that affect only England.
This week, the Government is due to announce the membership of a constitutional commission to see how this anomaly can be addressed. In some ways, it feels a bit like a sideshow to the main event, the debate over the future of the Union. But since this process will either fracture the UK or, more likely, see Scotland remain within the structure but with enhanced powers, it cannot be ducked any longer.
It was in 1977, during the devolution debates in the Commons, that Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP for West Lothian, asked: “For how long will English constituencies and English honourable members tolerate honourable members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on British politics, while they have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?” Enoch Powell, in the same debate, gave Mr Dalyell’s puzzle the status it now enjoys: “We have finally grasped what the Honourable Member for West Lothian is getting at,” he said. “Let us call it the West Lothian Question.”
To call something a “question” conjured up those great issues that once preoccupied parliamentarians, like Schleswig-Holstein or, more pertinently, the Irish Question. But this was never really the West Lothian Question – it is the English Question. How does England fit into the post-devolutionary settlement? This has been ignored, largely because the English have not indulged in an all‑consuming narrative about national identity as the Scots have done. Symbolism is important. Next week, for instance, the rituals of Burns Night will keep the nationalist flames alight. But where is the English equivalent, a Shakespeare feast of Lancashire hotpot or shepherd’s pie, followed by readings from the works of the Bard and accompanied by pints of bitter and glasses of mead? On March 1, St David’s Day, the Welsh will happily sport a daffodil, but if an Englishman turned up at work on April 23 wearing a red rose in his lapel it would be assumed he was on his way to a wedding, not celebrating his national day.
The English, by dint of their nation’s long history and its disproportionate size within the Union, have never felt it necessary to expend much, or any, political energy on matters of identity. Yet this has meant that many of its people have become estranged from the history, literature and symbols that are quintessentially English, as opposed to British. A poll in this newspaper several years ago found that a quarter did not know the date of St George’s Day, even when it was included in a list of options.
Moreover, while the Scots and the Welsh have never had any compunction about parading their nationalities while abroad, a significant proportion of people from England tended to describe themselves as British. But this is changing (and I write this as an Ulsterman brought up in England for whom the only available national identity is British).
More than 10 years after devolution, the IPPR report detects a fundamental shift in English attitudes and a politicisation of English identity that spreads far beyond fringe nationalist groups. How will this manifest itself in our institutions? Even if Scotland does not split away, pressure for an English parliament within a loose federation of four constituent states will become harder to resist. At the very least, a new system of debating English-only laws will have to be introduced, something that has so far been resisted for fear of stoking up anti-Union feeling in Scotland. That genie is now out of the bottle. The other option, that of regional devolution – a sort of balkanisation of England – was tried by Labour and shot down in the North-East referendum.
The irony is that devolution was supposed to halt the march to separatism. When he was prime minister, Gordon Brown sought to promote Britishness as a concept, in the expectation that it would bring the peoples of the United Kingdom together. Instead, there has been a resurgence of national identities. A new English iconography is developing, with the cross of St George – which became associated with the working-class populism of the far Right – much more in evidence. The heightened debate about Scotland’s future means that the time is coming for the people of England to have a say in their future as a nation. As Chesterton said, they have not spoken yet.
British bureaucrats' lavish spending reined in under the Tories
Civil servants have started to dine out at McDonald's and Burger King after a spending purge at a department run by Eric Pickles
Mr Pickles looks like he knows a thing or two about pickles
Officials at the Communities and Local Government department are using their Government credit cards to pay for meals at fast food restaurants rather than four star establishments, new spending figures show.
In 2010/11, officials spent £17.95 at McDonald’s, £23.60 at Nando’s and £11.48 at Burger King on their Government Procurement Cards. None of the restaurants appeared in GPC bills in any of the previous four years, according to a Parliamentary Answer.
Overall, spending on the cards by CLG officials fell from £515,000 in 2007/8 and £535,500 in 2008/9 to £210,000 in 2010/11.
A large proportion of the savings were in hotels, bars and restaurants. In 2007/8 and 2008/9 CLG officials spent around £120,000 a year on their cards in hotels. In the first year of the Coalition – 2010/11 – they spent just £18,000.
Similarly spending in restaurants and bars by CLG officials on their cards fell from £54,000 in 2007/8 to just £5,425 in 2010/11. In the first six months 2011/12 the figure was just £180.
Many of the restaurants which featured regularly in the GPC statements under Labour – such as the Cinnamon Club in Westminster – no longer appear in the GPC statements under the Coalition.
Thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money was also spent at a host of upmarket hotels such as the Hyatt in Philadelphia, the Grand Hotel Karel V in the Netherlands, the Grand Hyatt in Dubai and the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh before the last election.
Local Government Minister Grant Shapps said: “We are cracking down on the abuse of Government Procurement Cards, which saw Labour spend people’s hard-earned cash on lavish restaurants, hotels and even pampering at a spa.
“At DCLG we are embracing total transparency, putting as much data as possible into the hands of the people. Transparency saves taxpayers money and we urge local authority users of the cards to take similar steps to end this abuse.”
Some examples of profligate spending did get through however. Stays at Avon Gorge Hotel in Bristol and the Hyatt Regency in Birmingham were charged to the taxpayer on GPC cards under the Coalition.
Officials also spent £217.23 at MC Chauffeurs, a executive chauffeur driven car hire firm in Leeds, despite a ban by Prime Minister David Cameron on using official cars, in July 2010.
The department also organised an away day for “senior management” at the Boy Brigade in September 2010, costing £223.
British Liberal leader hits out at Israel
Israel doing 'immense damage' to peace process Nick Clegg says
Nick Clegg tilted Britain’s Middle East policy sharply towards the Palestinians on Monday with an attack on Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank.
The Deputy Prime Minister drew a hostile reaction from Israel by saying the government’s continued construction on internationally recognised Palestinian land was “an act of deliberate vandalism” that undermined the basis of the Middle East peace process.
In some of the most critical language ever used by a senior European politician in government, Mr Clegg accused Israel of making the likelihood of a negotiated settlement to the conflict impossible to deliver. “It is an act of deliberate vandalism to the basic premise on which negotiations have taken place for years and years and years,” Mr Clegg said.
He said there was “no stronger supporter of Israel than myself as a beacon of democracy in the region”, but added: “The continued existence of illegal settlements risks making facts on the ground such that a two-state solution becomes unviable.
“That, in turn, will do nothing to safeguard the security of Israel itself or of Israeli citizens. That is why I condemn the continued illegal settlement activity in the strongest possible terms.”
He was speaking alongside Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who is on a visit to London.
Mr Clegg’s comments reflect growing European impatience with the government Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish Israeli prime minister, who is seen by many Western officials as an obstacle to peace because of his refusal to freeze settlement building.
But while European and even American government officials regularly criticise Israel’s settlement policies, few have done so quite as bluntly, a fact that will strain the Government’s increasingly tense relations with Mr Netanyahu.
Israel reacted with predictable hostility, with a foreign ministry spokesman accusing Mr Clegg of “gratuitous bashing”. “It would be much better to contribute to peace by encouraging the fragile revival of Israeli-Palestinian talks,” the spokesman said.
Mr Abbas was delighted by so strong an endorsement of the Palestinian position. “That is exactly what we wanted to hear officially from the government of the United Kingdom,” he said.
Officials in Jerusalem say they now view Britain as one of the most hostile states to Israel in Europe, although the Government bowed to Israeli pressure by agreeing to abstain if a vote on Palestinian statehood was held in the UN Security Council.
The Palestinian Authority has refused to join peace talks with Israel unless Mr Netanyahu agrees to halt all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, seen by the Palestinians as the capital of their future state.
With more than 600,000 settlers living on land occupied by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967, any further expansion of Jewish construction would make a Palestinian state unviable, Mr Abbas says.
Palestinians also claim that previous peace talks have led to an escalation of settlement construction as a result of Israeli leaders having to pacify the powerful Right-wing in the Jewish state.
David Cameron, who also met Mr Abbas in Downing Street yesterday, signalled his support for his deputy. “We think that time, in some ways, is running out for the two-state solution unless we can push forward now, because otherwise the facts on the ground will make it more and more difficult, which is why the settlement issue remains so important,” the Prime Minister said.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.