A Lifetime of War

Finnish diplomat and Nobel laureate Martti Ahtisaari suggested that there was a moment early on during Syria’s hideous war when a political solution could have been thrashed out. Ahtisaari claims that in February 2012, when the conflict had claimed under 10,000 lives, Russia’s envoy to the United Nations outlined a peace plan that could have led to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s exit from power.

Ahtisaari detailed the discussions in an interview with the Guardian newspaper: Vitaly Churkin, the Russian envoy, “said three things,” according to Ahtisaari. “One — we should not give arms to the opposition. Two — we should get a dialogue going between the opposition and Assad straight away. Three — we should find an elegant way for Assad to step aside…”

“… According to the Guardian, Ahtisaari had been sent in February 2012 to speak with the ambassadors of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council at the behest of the Elders, a group of senior statesmen and former world leaders focused on peace and the defense of human rights. The envoys from the United States, France and Britain apparently “ignored” Churkin’s proposal.

Nothing happened because I think [the Western diplomats], and many others, were convinced that Assad would be thrown out of office in a few weeks so there was no need to do anything,” Ahtisaari told the Guardian…”

“…What is clear is that greater diplomatic efforts then could have saved countless lives and the tragic unraveling of an entire nation. An estimated 300,000 Syrians have died in the conflict since 2011, while about 11 million Syrians — half of the country’s population — have been forced from their homes.

We should have prevented this from happening because this is a self-made disaster, this flow of refugees to our countries in Europe,” Ahtisaari told the Guardian. “I don’t see any other option but to take good care of these poor people.… We are paying the bills we have caused ourselves.”

Washington Post

Clarence Batchelor_1936There is exactly one reason I would possibly consider respecting for voting No, and that’s the magical federation possibility. If there was any remote possibility of real change in England to ensure the Westminster way of “democracy” was swept away, the House of Lords dismantled, First Past the Post replaced, and the damage done to the economy, welfare, NHS and education, then I might concede that to be a positive case for the union. That one thing, the idea that there could be nothing less than a full-scale revolution in England, is the only thing keeping me from losing all respect for the very idea of a No campaign.

Yet look where we are now. The Tories are continuing the dismantling of the NHS, are making strides in their pro-fossil anti-green agenda, and set their sights on worker’s rights. After the unsuccessful Syria strikes vote, where even their coalition partners could not bring themselves to vote for another military action, they are looking to make up for that failure. Even if Jeremy Corbyn wins spectacularly in 2020, that’s still over four years away. Four years is plenty of time to wreak havoc upon a country. Just look at Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Libya.

I know that it might well be the breaking point for me, in that if people still support the union when we invade yet another country.

Jeremy Corbyn has a mountain to climb. I’m willing to be very patient with him as he appoints a Lord in the cabinet, and has a Blairite as a deputy. I will acknowledge he needs time to beat the stupid out of his party. But he needs all the help he can get in opposing the most destructive government the UK’s had in decades – perhaps since the establishment of parliament itself as we know it. And the people of the UK are just letting them.

The government is destroying the NHS: no revolution. The government is threatening to destroy the very landscape and environment with fracking: no revolution. Immigrants and refugees are being bundled away in vans and actively targeted by the authorities: no revolution. People are being murdered in terrorist attacks as retaliation for wars the civilians of Britain had nothing to do with: no revolution. Austerity threatens to devastate anyone that isn’t a millionaire: no revolution. I’m not even talking about violence: where is our People Power, our Sametová Revoluce, our Friedliche Revolution?* What’s it going to take? Any more of this and it’ll be too little, too late.

If the UK goes to war against Syria, then it’s crunch time: if there aren’t even the seeds of revolution after this country engages in the third major invasion of a country thousands of miles away when they didn’t have sufficient resources to handle one, where hundreds of British troops are dying and thousands – hundreds of thousands – of human lives are lost… Then the revolution simply isn’t coming, is it? 444 in Afghanistan wasn’t enough. 179 in Iraq wasn’t enough.  Goodness knows the tens of thousands of human beings killed by British soldiers wasn’t enough. What’s it going to take for the people of the UK to finally get it?

Revolutions

I’m fast approaching the point where not only can I not agree, I would have difficulty even respecting the opinion of anyone who would still vote No, after everything that’s happened.  That’s a frightening thought to me: I had always hoped to be someone who might not agree, but could at least respect someone’s opinion. But what else could you possibly say when someone, with a straight face, says it’s better to be part of a nation which will sink billions of pounds and hundreds of lives into a war which will cause chaos and tragedy to hundreds of thousands, than to have no part of it?

My auld faither told me the revolutions of the world come when there’s nothing left to lose: before then, if you’re comfortable, or have anything you don’t want to lose, then you’re less likely to stick your neck out. I can tell you that between DWP and austerity, I’m living in constant fear that many people who I hold dear will have everything taken away from them. More and more people are experiencing this, especially in Scotland. I truly hope, independence or not, there’s a revolution in England sooner rather than later.

I’ve been reading Roald Dahl’s Over To You, a collection of stories inspired by his time in the air force during World War 2. One of his stories, “Someone Like You,” is about two pilots reminiscing about their bombing runs. It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read, an incredible insight into how the madness and horror of war can be brought home. Everyone should read it. An excerpt:

“You know,” he said, “you know I keep thinking during a raid, when we are running over the target, just as we are going to release our bombs, I keep thinking to myself, shall I just jink a little; shall I swerve a fraction to one side, then my bombs will fall on someone else. I keep thinking, whom shall I make them fall on; whom shall I kill tonight. Which ten, twenty or a hundred people shall I kill tonight. It is all up to me. And now I think about this every time I go out.”

He had taken a small nut and was splitting it into pieces with his thumb-nail as he spoke, looking down at what he was doing because he was embarrassed by his own talk.

He was speaking very slowly. “It would just be a gentle pressure with the ball of my foot upon the rudder-bar; a pressure so slight that I would hardly know that I was doing it, and it would throw the bombs on to a different house and on to other people. It is all up to me, the whole thing is up to me, and each time that I go out I have to decide which ones shall be killed. I can do it with the gentle pressure of the ball of my foot upon the rudder-bar. I can do it so that I don’t even notice that it is being done. I just lean a little to one side because I am shifting my sitting position. That is all I am doing, and then I kill a different lot of people.”

Now there was no dew left upon the face of the glass, but he was still running the fingers of his right hand up and down the smooth surface.

“Yes,” he said, “it is a complicated thought. It is very far-reaching; and when I am bombing I cannot get it out of my mind. You see it is such a gentle pressure with the ball of the foot; just a touch on the rudder-bar and the bomb-aimer wouldn’t even notice. Each time I go out, I say to myself, shall it be these or shall it be those? Which ones are the worst? Perhaps if I make a little skid to the left I will get a houseful of lousy women-shooting German soldiers, or perhaps if I make that little skid I will miss getting the soldiers and get an old man in a shelter. How can I know? How can anyone know these things?”

I was born in 1984. The United Kingdom has been at war in one way or another for almost my entire life. I saw Desert Storm when I was 6, and its sequel Desert Fox at 14. I saw Bosnia being torn apart between my 8th and 11th birthdays, Kosovo between my 14th and 15th, Sierra Leone 16th and 18th. Then my adolescence and early adulthood was marked by invasions: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, And through my early years, the Cold War and the Troubles were the background noise of my childhood from birth until my teens. Is the rampant jingoism of the British Armed Forces any wonder when you consider we’ve had a century of unbroken warfare?

And I wondered why I never felt relieved. “At least you’re not actually in a warzone, like the little boys and girls in Sarajevo or Pristina or Fallujak.” Such sentiments are used to shut down dissent and shame people for daring to think things could be better. Even if we never saw the battle come to our shores, even if we survived where children my age did not, the threat of IRA attack or nuclear annihilation was so potent that it felt we were lucky. Every day. Just as our supposed masters planned. Perhaps that’s why there’s been no revolution – we’re simply glad we’re not Bosnians or Kosovans or Iraqis, even as we just let our government do this to them. “It could always be worse.” We’ve spent so long relieved that we haven’t fallen into civil war or anarchy that we’re willing to put up with conditions any other country would deem worthy of uprising. That’s what happens when you live a lifetime of war.

(You can hear the Swedish counterpart here – in my opinion, it’s even better.)

*You could argue the Scottish independence movement is our revolution – but for now, it only extends to Scotland. England has a long way to go yet.

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2 thoughts on “A Lifetime of War

  1. Oneironaut says:

    “…And the people of the UK are just letting them.

    The government is destroying the NHS: no revolution. The government is threatening to destroy the very landscape and environment with fracking: no revolution. Immigrants and refugees are being bundled away in vans and actively targeted by the authorities: no revolution. People are being murdered in terrorist attacks as retaliation for wars the civilians of Britain had nothing to do with: no revolution. Austerity threatens to devastate anyone that isn’t a millionaire: no revolution. I’m not even talking about violence: where is our People Power, our Sametová Revoluce, our Friedliche Revolution?* What’s it going to take? Any more of this and it’ll be too little, too late.”

    What’s it going to take?

    I’ve been asking this for almost all my life.
    Still don’t have the answer…

  2. Marconatrix says:

    Part of the problem is sheer disbelief, at least among the older generation(s). If you grew up during the ‘Post War Consensus’ you’re used to UK politics swinging to the left and then to the right and back again, but within unspoken but very very British limits. Like a football match where the play goes from one end of the pitch to the other but never actually leaves the field.

    Now all that changed with Thatcher, which ought to have provoked a hard-left reaction to restore the balance, but somehow we got Blair instead and UK politics have been out of control ever since.

    If you don’t have any personal experience of benefit sanctions, yourself or your friends/family, don’t actually see food banks or beggars in the street, and in many parts of the UK you won’t, then it’s actually very hard to really believe, with your ‘heart’, that these things are actually happening. And even less so for atrocities carried out ‘in our name’ abroad.

    It is remarkably hard to credit that any UK government would engineer matters so that increasing numbers of citizens … oops subjects … are left without any means of feeding and otherwise supporting themselves. It’s “Just Not British!” You might read about it in the papers, but there’s always suffering and disaster in the news, that’s mostly what ‘news’ amounts to, always has been. Unless or until these things are literally ‘in yer face’ most people will filter them out. It’s not entirely intentional, it works at an unconscious level. You may know these things are happening, but somehow you still can’t quite believe it. It’s all too much like the last dystopian movie/TV series you watched (and why are there so many of those?)

    That’s why there’s no revolution, because “it couldn’t happen here”, none of these things can really be happening, because this is Britain, ‘Mother of the Free’, ha-bloody-ha!
    “An Englishman’s free to do as he likes, just so long as he does as he’s told”.

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