anti-war

Danny Schechter RIP

Journalist and activist Danny Schechter passed away on Thursday.

I met him in Edinburgh around the time of the G8 in Gleneagles and he was an extremely nice man and we bounced a few emails back and forth after that.

So, in honour of him, here is his documentary Weapons of Mass Deception, about the media coverage surrounding the Iraq war…

ANNIVERSARY OF AN ATROCITY

(This is a repost from a couple of years ago but I think it is worth a look if you didn’t read it then.)

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Something nice for Valentine’s day I think…

It is so often said that war is natural part of human behaviour that many people just accept it. Conflict or disagreement certainly might be, but full-on war is a different matter.

Most people know about the 1914 Christmas Truce in WW1 when the British and German soldiers played football and exchanged gifts (note for some American readers – WW1 started in 1914, not 1917 and WW2 started in 1939, not 1941).

This is usually presented as a one-off – a freak occurrence, but that simply isn’t true. It also happened in 1915 with the Germans and the French and in 1916 there was a truce on the Eastern front.

When I was at school and computers were in their 64k stage we were given a programme to play around with in one history lesson. Extremely basic though it was, the idea was that you were the British General deciding what tactics you could use to defeat the Germans in World War 1 given the tactics and equipment of the time.

The trick was that although it was possible to win the game, it wasn’t possible to do it without a bloodbath on both sides. I think it in its own way, it was meant to be a little anti-war statement.

However, the game didn’t give you the option of simply not attacking and not attacking was the way that many people survived in World War One.

In the earlier stages of the war informal truces sprung up all over the place. Both sides would aim artillery far and wide, this was understood as an offering of peace and reciprocated. In many places it then became a kind of game. Snipers would aim to miss but in a showing-off ‘look what I can hit’ way. This was partly to pass the time and partly to warn that if the truce was broken then there was a capability of reprisal. Contrary to popular belief the conflict was very low-intensity in many places at different times. There are many eyewitness accounts of the soldiers apologising to each other for firing too near.

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This changed of course when the officers – the ones far removed from the front line that is – heard about it. They were appalled by this sort of behaviour and devised new tactics like surprise raids and so on which destroyed the fragile trust that opposing soldiers had built up.

After the war of course it was the generals that had insisted on the continuation of mass random slaughter that were awarded medals and had statues of each other erected. Of the officers in the field who insisted on pressing on, well, many of them were shot in the back by their own side as they advanced toward the opposing army.

In many societies around the world in pre-industrial times the object of war was not the genocide of the opposing group but rather the humiliation. From some of the Native Americans to societies in Africa, actual fatalities were very unusual. Some sources even describe what is essentially a high-intensity game of tag (involving a smack with a stick). In other places a tit-for-tat, one of yours for one of ours kind of conflict often persisted over a long time but without an eruption into absolute warfare.

It may be that there is a part of our genetics that leads us toward conflict but it is certainly not the cause of the mass slaughters that have happened through history. Rome wanted to conquer, other groups wanted to live and let live. Genghis Khan would wipe out thousands, other groups at the time didn’t.

It is demonstrably untrue that the Romans and other groups throughout history that have and are conducting mass slaughter and conquest on the genocidal scale are genetically diverse enough from those living next to them to have a different set of genetic imperatives, so it must be societal conditions that lead to this kind of behaviour. And as we all know, societal conditions can change.

Why mention all this today?

Today is an anniversary. Not valentines day, but the anniversary of an atrocity carried out by British and American forces in World War 2 – the bombing of Dresden which occurred on the night of the 13th/14th February 1945 when the war was nearing its end. Dresden was not regarded as a strategically important city, which is why it hadn’t been bombed up until then. Russian troops were also closing in on the city.

The BBC, in their ‘On This Day‘ section are showing the report from 1945 and there is a little section which says..

The Dresden raid caused a public outcry. Even Winston Churchill, who had urged Bomber Command to attack east German cities, tried to dissociate himself from it.

However, they miss an important part out. They say that explosives and ‘incendiary bombs’ were dropped, which is true. What they don’t say is phosphorus was dropped – a chemical weapon. Eyewitnesses reported that the temperature was so hot in some places that in the wreckage of homes were found puddles of metal that had once been pots and pans.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote brilliantly about this in his book Slaughterhouse 5. He was a prisoner of war in Germany at the time.

Oh, and the BBC neglected to mention for a long time that white phosphorus was used recently in Fallujah. This was despite the fact many people were giving them evidence and urging them to. Even when they did mention it it was very brief and swiftly consigned to the memory hole.

BBC SHOWS OVERWHELMING SYMPATHY

So imagine, a bomb has gone off in a UK army base. 18 people were killed. The Ministry of Defence says that it was an accidental explosion in a munitions store. Would the BBC produce the following report…?

LATEST: Eighteen members of the UK’s elite forces die in an ‘accidental’ blast at an army base

An explosion at a base belonging to elite UK forces has killed 18 people and injured 14.

Reports are emerging of the blast at an ammunitions store on Tuesday at the —————– base.

The injured were taken to ——————–, 300 miles (500 km) southwest of of the base.

An elite military force, the XXXXX XXXXXX legion was set up in the 18th century and has since been used to defend and enforce the UK’s military empire and capitalist system.

It has also since become a major military, political and economic force in the UK.

Call me an old skeptic but I think in tone and content if this happened in the UK the story would be very different, even though it happened not long ago and the details were sketchy. The above would be considered heartless and extremely controversial.

Instead, we would hear about the tragedy, about the families being contacted, about the brave soldiers and so on. This would be interspersed with coverage about the things that servicemen do daily to protect our freedoms etc.

So why did I write the above alternative report then?

Well, the truth is that I didn’t write it. I just changed a few words from a story on the BBC about something that happened in Iran yesterday. I am only illustrating the difference in coverage from state heroes to state enemies. The same tragedy would be represented as a tragedy in one case with a full 21 gun salute and on the other side it is a straight bit of reportage with anything that would make the dead seem human not included.

The original BBC report is below. The first headline with the inverted commas comes from the little LATEST line that goes across the top of the page…

LATEST:Eighteen members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard die in an ‘accidental’ blast at an army base

Blast at Iran Revolutionary Guards base kills 18

An explosion at a base belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has killed 18 people and injured 14.

Reports are emerging of the blast at an ammunitions store on Tuesday in north-western Lorestan province.

The injured were taken to Khoramabad, 300 miles (500 km) southwest of Tehran.

An elite military force, the Revolutionary Guard was set up shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution to defend the country’s Islamic system.

It has since become a major military, political and economic force in Iran.

THE MILITARY AND THE MONETARY

This piece from Gil Scott-Heron is well worth the listen, particularly today when there will be so much other political theatre with the Milliband thing. This type of theatre is often designed to obfuscate what is really going and has been going on for centuries.

Lyrics are below if you need them.

Back when Eisenhower was the President,

Golf courses was where most of his time was spent.

So I never really listened to what the President said,

Because in general I believed that the General was politically dead.

But he always seemed to know when the muscles were about to be flexed,

Because I remember him saying something,

mumbling something about a Military Industrial Complex.

Americans no longer fight to keep their shores safe,

Just to keep the jobs going in the arms making workplace.

Then they pretend to be gripped by some sort of political reflex,

But all they’re doing is

paying dues to the Military Industrial Complex.

The Military and the Monetary,

The Military and the Monetary,

The Military and the Monetary.

The Military and the Monetary,

get together whenever they think its necessary,

They turn our brothers and sisters into mercenaries,

they are turning the planet into a cemetery.

The Military and the Monetary, use the media as intermediaries,

they are determined to keep the citizens secondary,

they make so many decisions that are arbitrary.

We’re marching behind a commander in chief,

who is standing under a spotlight shaking like a leaf.

but the ship of state had landed on an economic reef,

so we knew he was going to bring us messages of grief.

The Military and the Monetary,

were shielded by January and went storming into February,

Brought us pot bellied generals as luminaries,

two weeks ago I hadn’t heard of the son of a bitch,

now all of a sudden he’s legendary.

They took the honour from the honourary,

they took the dignity from the dignitaries,

they took the secrets from the secretary,

but they left the bitch an obituary.

The Military and the Monetary,

from thousands of miles away in a Saudi Arabian sanctuary,

had us all scrambling for our dictionaries,

cause we couldn’t understand the fuckin vocabulary.

Yeah, there was some smart bombs,

but there was some dumb ones as well,

scared the hell out of CNN in that Baghdad hotel.

The Military and the Monetary,

they get together whenever they think its necessary,

War in the desert sometimes sure is scary,

but they beamed out the war to all their subsidiaries.

Tried to make So Damn Insane a worthy adversary,

keeping the citizens secondary,

scaring old folks into coronaries.

The Military and the Monetary,

from thousands of miles in a Saudi Arabian sanctuary,

kept us all wondering if all of this was really truely, necessary.

We’ve got to work for Peace,

Peace ain’t coming this way.

If we only work for Peace,

If everyone believed in Peace the way they say they do,

we’d have Peace.

The only thing wrong with Peace,

is that you can’t make no money from it.

The Military and the Monetary,

they get together whenever they think its necessary,

they’ve turned our brothers and sisters into mercenaries,

they are turning the planet, into a cemetery.

Got to work for Peace,

Peace ain’t coming this way.

We should not allow ourselves to be mislead,

by talk of entering a time of Peace,

Peace is not the absence of war,

it is the absence of the rules of war and

the threats of war and the preparation for war.

Peace is not the absence of war,

it is the time when we will all bring ourselves closer to each other,

closer to building a structure that is unique within ourselves

because we have finally come to Peace within ourselves.

The Military and the Monetary,

The Military and the Monetary,

The Military and the Monetary.

Get together whenever they think its necessary,

they’ve turned our brothers and sisters into mercenaries,

they are turning parts of the planet, into a cemetery.

The Military and the Monetary,

The Military and the Monetary,

We hounded the Ayatollah religiously,

Bombed Libya and killed Quadafi’s son hideously.

We turned our back on our allies the Panamanians,

and saw Ollie North selling guns to the Iranians.

Watched Gorbachev slaughtering Lithuanians,

We better warn the Amish,

they may bomb the Pennsylvanians.

The Military and the Monetary,

get together whenever they think its necessary,

they have turned our brothers and sisters into mercenaries,

they are turning the planet, into a cemetery.

I don’t want to sound like no late night commercial,

but its a matter of fact that there are

thousands of children all over the world

in Asia and Africa and in South America who need our help.

When they start talking about 55 cents a day and 70 cents a day,

I know a lot of folks feel as though that,

thats not really any kind of contribution to make,

but we had to give up a dollar

and a half just to get in the subway nowadays.

So this is a song about tommorrow

and about how tommorrow can be better. if we all,

“Each one reach one, Each one try to teach one”.

Nobody can do everything,

but everybody can do something,

everyone must play a part,

everyone got to go to work, Work for Peace.

Spirit Say Work, Work for Peace

If you believe the things you say, go to work.

If you believe in Peace, time to go to work.

Cant be wavin your head no more, go to work.

GUERNICA

Today is the anniversary of the Guernica bombings where German and Italian fascist forces killed hundreds of people in the Basque town in  the first large scale aerial bombing attack in history.

The story of this event is known to most people. What is less well-known is something that happened more recently.

The above picture is Picass0’s famous work depicting the scene. This work is reproduced in the United Nation’s building in New York and when Colin Powell made his bulls**t speech at the UN , which he later described as “not his finest moment” (oh well that’s fine then), the painting was covered so that it wasn’t in the background.

Diplomats later told journalists that the Bush administration had “leaned on” UN officials to cover it up.

SATURDAY MATINEE 5 – WHY WE FIGHT

This week we have Eugene Jarecki’s Why We Fight which, amongst other things, examines the lies that are used to manipulate the public into supporting wars…

SATURDAY MATINEE 3 – HOLLYWOOD AND THE PENTAGON

A shortish but good documentary about the history of Hollywood and the pentagon working together.

I also wrote a review of it which you can read here.