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I’m not saying that if a Tottenham fan comes in and shoots you in the face, you deserve it.

But you made fun of Ossie Ardiles whilst wearing an Arsenal shirt, so you deserve it. And if you look at the ROOT CAUSE of it, you’ll see that, prior to Wenger and his lust for oil, Arsenal and Tottenham fans lived peacefully together.

Freedom of speech

You’ll find, in the next few days, many people will line up to provide “context”. They’ll speak of “root causes” and ask you to look at underlying history. They’ll ask you to look back at actions and behaviour of governments, of alleged exploitation of mineral resources past, of dodgy dossiers, they’ll hark back to the colonial era, or the birth of Israel, or some such. They’ll point out the – undeniably – provocative nature of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. That these writers set out to offend. That this was their stated purpose. To be prickers of pomposity.

Normally, I’d rage at the apologists for this. Just as I would rage at their cousins under the skin who want to use this as an excuse to descend into kulturkampf against the brown-skinned. (Not least because, in essence, both viewpoints have a healthy dose of racism to them – brown people have no agency to sin; brown people are demons with no hope of salvation. It’s the same shit seen from different ends of the telescope).

But you know what?

Nah. Tonight, you say what you want. Fuck it. All of you. Say everything and anything you damn well fucking please. Say the most stupid and irrational shit that comes to mind. Make jokes. Mock. Fly fucking kites. Build castles in the sodding air.

You can do that. Here. Now. You can talk utter crap about this subject. You can do that. You have the entire internet to run riot in, to spout your meaningless verbiage, your high-falutin’ academese and your down’n’dirty racism, your excuse making and your blanket fucking blaming. Go wild.

Because that’s the point. I’d be offended if you didn’t.

The Other 9/11

When that bunch of cheery medievalists flew their captives into the Twin Towers 13 years ago today, I think they probably weren’t expecting to have some of the impact they actually did.

We all know why they did it – to provoke the US into coming after them, in the hope that the ensuing showdown would force muslims worldwide to rally behind their banner. The results of that we could describe as, well, distinctly mixed.

However, the repercussions of that day have given birth to some weird and wonderful consequences – the continuing media career of Yvonne Ridley, or ongoing national political career of George Galloway, for instance. Or a number of Hollywood movies which destroy entire city blocks in an act of catharsis (but this time, the heroes arrive to save the day, go Tony Stark!). Help for Heroes. Etc Etc.

One of the most transparent recent manifestations, however, has been “The Other 9/11” meme.

I was raised in a left wing household. An exceedingly left wing household. And I am, as regular readers of this blog will no doubt notice, somewhat of a history nerd. Suffice to say, I was aware of Pinochet, Allende, Chile and all issues concerning 20 years prior to the more recent 9/11.

Here’s my memory of how we commemorated 11 September, 1973, on the liberal left, for the years 1974-2000:


No. Wait. There must have been some commemoration, right? On the liberal left? There must have been? I mean, I’m sure there was. The odd concert here. Maybe the odd candlelit vigil there. But I don’t remember the anniversary being, well, noted. Not really.

You know, I don’t want you to get the wrong message about what I’m saying here – in those years, we on the left were more than aware what had happened on that day. We were more than aware of the repercussions of it. And we were aware that many amongst our political elite – step forward Mrs Thatcher, step forward Mr Reagan – were happily making kissy-kissy with Pinochet (We could have a big debate here about how “complicit” the US were in the coup if we wanted, but to be honest, I’m unsure whether it’s worth the effort – the fact that this “complicity” is heavily disputed and disputable in the realms of historical fact appears to have passed much of popular culture by, and it’s taken as a given the US were behind the coup when the truth is much more complex and nuanced, even if you do accept US involvement*). But I don’t recall any call to commemorate the anniversary of that bloody and horrific act of right wing savagery prior to…well, around about 2005. Definitely after the 30th anniversary and before the 40th anniversary, the calls came to “not forget the other 9/11” quite regularly.

Why did it emerge then, do you think?

A charitable reading of the situation would be that the generation who had been radicalised by the Chilean coup had reached the age where they had an impact in media and they could then tell us about it.

Only, that’s a bit of a lie, isn’t it? The people who had been radicalised by it were in media all along. What had happened in Chile was in media all along. We all knew about it. There was no need to commemorate because we had not forgotten about it. It was a cause celebre on the left when I was 10. It remained a cause celebre on the left when I was 30.

So, you know why the “remember the other 9/11” thing came about, don’t you? Come on, liberal lefty, admit it. Be big enough to own this. It came about because you thought the US was getting too much sympathy for 3000 people dying in a terrorist attack. It came about because you didn’t like how the US responded to that. It came about because you thought the US was – essentially – a force for evil in the world. And you wanted to remind the world of the evil it had done. The evil like “the other 9/11”. It came about because you wanted to minimise the more recent one. It came about because you wanted a passive-aggressive version of ‘Death to America’.

Not pretty, when you look at it square in the face, is it?

*The reason I would have the argument, by the way, is not to defend the CIA or the USA, but because it stops us analysing properly why precisely Allende’s regime was so vulnerable to a coup. It stops us analysing where the first democratically elected Marxist government in South America failed, in favour of the Deus Ex Machina of the CIA man. Fine, if you want your world Manichean, with black hats and white hats, and noble Allende done down by the evil US (and, it goes without saying that the coup was not something I support, supported, minimised or excuse in the slightest), but not very helpful if you want to learn the actual lessons of what actually happened.

Tungsten Carbide Drills? Tungsten Carbide Drills?

Where do I start with the stories?

It could be with Little Annie, I guess. Her husband used to hit her from pillar to post. In ’84 she joined the Miner’s Wives Support Group. In ’85 she got a divorce.

There was Tom. Tom hadn’t seen his dad for the best part of a decade – a combination of night shifts and “well, I gotta go out with the lads on the weekend. Friday Night. Saturday Night. Pub, isn’t it?”. Over a year’s enforced lay-off, dad and Tom started going fishing together. Up the lake, in the park. Just for something to do, to be honest. To get out of the house, the TV drove Tom’s dad mad. When the year was over, those weekends out drinking were truncated a bit. Dad would spend Saturday with Tom fishing. Just a minor adjustment. A small victory.

Maybe Johnny. Johnny’s mother was a school-teacher. She chucked him out when he was 17, after he came out to her. Steve and Cheryl from down the street took him in. They’d met a couple of gay activists on the marches. They’d never really thought about it before, not really. Maybe make the odd off colour joke, thought how glad they were that their kids weren’t that way, but never thought about what it all meant. They did now.

Sammy was 13. When he was walking through London on a rally he got talking to a couple of blokes selling a newspaper. His mother whispered to come away from them. They were terrorists. They weren’t terrorists. They were from Kirkuk, and they talked to him like a little adult, something which appealed to his 13 year old sense of self. They explained to him about the resettlement and the crackdown from the government, how it had pushed them further and further away until they had fled the country they were born in. Kurds, these boys. Hard left, like a lot of the Kurds. Decent lads. Later Sammy joined the army and was in the Gulf. He didn’t like what happened there much, and he realised he wasn’t really cut out for that kind of thing, but he also remembered those two, they stayed with him, so he never really joined in the barrack room banter about the brown skinned.

Julie was in her 30s. Mother of 2. Husband down the pit. Come ’84, she met the love of her life – another woman, a lecturer in sociology from the local Uni. They’ve lived together for the past 30 years. Her ex-husband – still friends with them both – stood in place of her dead father and gave her away, when her and her partner got married.

Names have been changed above, but things like this happened in that year. All across the coalfields, all across the country, in my experience and that of millions of others, these things happened.

On Thursday, Brendan O’Neill in the Telegraph played a variant on his old, poisonous theme. A new film – Pride – about the relationship between the striking miners and the gay community in London was all about prettifying up the struggle and seeing it all through metrosexual, liberal eyes. He had a bit of a problem with his thesis, which he kinda glossed over, which is the story the film is based on is true. It happened. Yeah, of course, it’s been turned into a broad comedy cum heartwarming feel-good movie, and no doubt it drips of cinematic cliche about gayness and the struggle, but the essentials of the film happened. And not just that.

Not just that. Because the hidden, underlying truth that O’Neill completely ignored in his vile little tirade against the poisonous gays “patronising” the mining communities is that year changed those communities in many ways. The experiences and the solidarity, the relationships formed with different people all over the country opened them up. Gender roles changed. Views on the world changed. No doubt, after it, the communities still contained small c conservative views, and they hardly turned into Islington overnight, but just as after a war, the end of the strike left the social norms in those communities altered. And while part of me often has a nostalgic yearning for the way things were before, and still a bitter regret over the result, I wouldn’t for the life of me lose that experience I and my generation had – that growth. That feeling of all around me, people were learning, of bonds of solidarity growing while at the same time that chains of conformity were shed.

O’Neill – still, one assumes – claims to be a Marxist. And in his occasional diatribes (which, uniquely for a Marxist, appear to pander to red meat, right wing, homophobic and racist Telegraph readers, who work themselves up into a righteous Santorum-like froth below the line of his columns. This – I would guess – tells you a lot more about O’Neill’s Marxism, than it does about Marxism) about the metropolitan liberal elite, and their “obsession” with gay politics and rights, he makes a big show of standing up for the working class – abandoned by the left who spend their time pursuing some vague agenda of wafty homosexual rights, the poor working man sits seething in his provincial hell. All he wants is to be treated with the same respect the gays are. But this won’t happen. Not until the latte liberals realise the error of their ways.

But Brendan isn’t really sticking up for the working class. Else, for instance, he might have noticed that the working class contains just as many LBGT people as any other class. He might have noticed how – due in no great part to the ideas of those very metropolitan liberals with their fancy ideas that he hates – in the past 30 years, life has got a deal more bearable for those LBGT members of the working class. He could have picked up that – instead of being preserved in aspic, their social attitudes unchanged from the late 70s – the attitude of the working class on issues is pretty much, well, in line with the metropolitan liberals that he hates. Because we, you know, we have LGBT kids, LGBT friends, some of our class even, you know, are LGBT. Shocking, I know.

While there’s a germ of a point in the idea that the left has abandoned economics for identity politics (I’ve often wondered who thinks we can’t address both things – equality for groups who have had to struggle and economic improvement for those shat on by the system aren’t exactly, well…they aren’t hugely different things, are they?), and I, nervously casting an eye at my overdraft, would certainly like to see a deal more emphasis on the economic, Brendan – you’ll note – never actually makes much of an argument in favour of any left wing economics. You never really hear of him making a case for a policy that helps us, economically. Almost as though his concern for the working class is – at best – merely a stick to beat his enemies with. Almost as though he wants to use our alleged bigotries and betrayal to justify his rather curious attitudes to sexuality. Almost as though his “Marxism” is merely a disdain for liberalism, an excuse to pickle his prejudices. I’d just prefer it, next time, if he didn’t choose to use my history as a vehicle for it.

Making shit up

In my early days on social media, way back at the fag-end of the last decade, a couple of friends and I came up with an idea. We’d spent our time in the trenches, arguing with racist boneheads of various stripes (whose fixation, then as now, woz the Muzzies) and we’d become wearily and warily amused by their inability to discern fantasy from fact.

So there we were, blackly cynical and somewhat despairing, when one of us – I’d claim it as me, but I can’t be 100% – came up with the idea “let’s make up something to get them angry”. We decided to invent a ludicrous story – “COUNCILS BAN CHEWING GUM BECAUSE IT OFFENDS MUSLIMS”, mock up a few tabloid headlines in photoshop (“Wriggle Off! Hands off our gum say patriots!”), fill in a backstory using some concocted Hadith that x got from y that got from x that saw the Prophet exclaim ‘the idolator chews the cud like the calf’, set up a Facebook group advertising this outrage, sit back and wait. When it hit critical mass, and thousands of knuckle-draggers had joined to vent their rage at the demonic, chewing-gum-banning ‘other’, we’d change the name of the group to “I’m a gullible racist idiot”, and reveal loudly in every post that we made this shit up. Haha! Fooled you, RACISTS!

At some point in our brainstorming, one of us – not me, oh, not me, I was drunk on the heady grape of fabulising – gently pointed out that no matter how often we told these people that their treasured “fact” was made up, they never actually accepted it, so why would this instance be any different? We could, in essence, be creating a monster, in fact, they’d probably incorporate it into their victimology – the lefties are trying to hide the truth about the muslim plot against chewing gum!

That sobered us up quite quickly, and in the spirit of social responsibility, we dropped the idea – a little regretfully on my part, me always having had a slight wish to troll the world.

I guess, in that brief moment, I felt a little what it must be like to be Abosamir Albaidani.

You probably don’t know who he is. There’s no reason for you to. But if you’ve been surfing social media of any sort for the past 4 to 6 weeks, you’ve encountered what appears to be his work*

Buzz Buzz

Yeah, you’ve probably seen it. “Hornet’s Nest” ring any bells? It’s been bouncing back and forth between social media and Middle Eastern news agencies, conspiracist sites and social media, in an ever growing feedback loop since around the beginning of July. Here’s a summary, from the marvellously un-woo Global Research (imagine my voice dripping with sarcasm as I say that last sentence):-

The former employee at US National Security Agency (NSA), Edward Snowden, has revealed that the British and American intelligence and the Mossad worked together to create the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Snowden said intelligence services of three countries created a terrorist organisation that is able to attract all extremists of the world to one place, using a strategy called “the hornet’s nest”.

NSA documents refer to recent implementation of the hornet’s nest to protect the Zionist entity by creating religious and Islamic slogans.

According to documents released by Snowden, “The only solution for the protection of the Jewish state “is to create an enemy near its borders”.

Leaks revealed that ISIS leader and cleric Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi took intensive military training for a whole year in the hands of Mossad, besides courses in theology and the art of speech.

It’s easy to make fun of conspiracy theories. I’ve done it a lot in my time, and I guess I will again, but to make fun of them is perhaps to gloss over the fact that we are all susceptible to a little bit of conspiracist thinking. One of the most rational men I have ever encountered, for instance, is a climate change skeptic, and I admit I find it baffling how he can on the one hand demolish woo-thinking and on the other hand subscribe to a belief system which has all the classic architecture of a conspiracy theory**.

And this one has it all, for everyone. You can be stupid, or you can be clever. You can be a cynic who mistrusts your governments intentions; a “Realist” who thinks “this is the way of the world”; Someone who feels superior at their incompetence; you can be a muslim who wants to wash away the shame of your religion being associated with such nutjobs, a leftist or a liberal who wants to lay all the blame of the world at the feet of the west; a howling mad anti-semitic right-winger; this conspiracy theory has it all. Boxes ticked left, right and centre.

The only problem is, I’ve never yet encountered a conspiracy theory so successful that renders itself implausible so damn quickly.

Let’s start at the top – Edward Snowden has revealed.

The only problem we have with this is, well…

Back when the Snowden story first broke I started following it. It was quite interesting, after the revelations, being told by someone “the conspiracy theorists had it right”, because, well, it wasn’t that shocking. His revelations were a mix of the “well, we’ve already been told that in some shape or other, but I’m slightly alarmed by the scope of it”, the “well, it isn’t as though I expected any different” and the “d’uh? What the hell do you think spies do?”. The former were mainly to do with domestic surveillance, and while elements of it had been explained in various news stories over the past decade, the context of the War on Terror and the Patriot Act and all our extraordinary measures over this side of the pond meant that there had never really been a proper societal debate around how much surveillance we think is acceptable, and where the parameters lie. The latter stuff? Shock horror, spies spy on other governments. We were meant to be surprised by this?

Anyway, as I said, the former stuff needed airing, and discussing. I did tend to notice then, though, that Snowden, and especially his minder Glenn Greenwald, rather over-egged the pudding on a number of occasions – for example, there was one story about how the NSA allowed agents to act without a warrant, which was shocking, until you read the document Glenn was extrapolating from, which said something along the lines of “in the case of a life or death, absolute emergency situation, you can act without a warrant, but you better be ready to justify it to a disciplinary committee afterwards” (I paraphrase). Glenn, of course, read that “the NSA will always act without a warrant”.

The above point made, it remains a mystery to me why Glenn never trumpeted, shouted from the rooftops, even mildly declaimed, at any point, an interview where he revealed that ED HAD EVIDENCE THAT THE CIA AND MOSSAD WERE BEHIND ISIS!!! No. He hasn’t. In fact, if you head over to Twitter, where Glenn does most of his public pronouncing, when asked on the subject, Glenn has said the exact opposite – that no such interview ever happened, and that Snowden never told him any such thing.

Hmmmmmm. Curious.

Even more puzzling is part II of my query. Why precisely Ed Snowden is revealing this to us? You see, the thing is, Ed worked for the NSA. The NSA, well, they bug. They listen in. They intercept. They monitor. They don’t at any point recruit Iraqis to become deep-cover insurgents pretending to be jihadists but in actualite acting on behalf of their zionist paymasters. That’s more CIA territory, I would guess. So, unless Ed was listening in on the CIA or Mossad (again, a subject for Glenn to trumpet from the rooftops. He hasn’t, by the way, just to fill you in), then how precisely would a guy whose job it is to monitor email know about this fiendish plot?

Hmmmmmm. Curiouser.

And then comes the kicker. You see, back when I was telling the story about our imaginary Muslim OUTRAGE, you will notice we built into it some little details. These curlicues on the tale would be what made the hoax plausible – a mocked up tabloid headline, a Hadith or Koranic verse, maybe a quote from a fictitious PC councillor. They didn’t have to be water-tight, but they did have to be, well, believable.

I’ll hold my hand up here and say I’m not a great expert on the inner workings of the intelligence world – I’ve read the official history of MI5, as well as a book on the CIA (“Legacy of Ashes” by Tim Weiner, highly recommended) and the odd spy novel – but the one thing I do know is that when intelligence agencies plan an operation, they give it a codename (as with the military) that doesn’t really mean anything, or relate to the action in hand. Think D-Day and Overlord? Or, indeed, think of the overthrow of the Mossadegh in Iran (Operation Ajax in the US, Operation Boot in the UK). And so forth. What they don’t tend to do – in my, admittedly, limited understanding – is codename a mission so it sounds exactly like the thing they are planning to do. HEY WE WANT TO STIR UP A HORNET’S NEST? LET’S CALL IT “OPERATION HORNET’S NEST”! That’ll be covert!

I don’t want to be particularly pious about this – I get that we all have that urge to mistrust our governments and leaders. I do it regularly myself. But when something medieval, straight out of the dark ages, combines with the nihilistic urges of the Khmer Rouge, adds the media savvy of people raised in Internet 2.0 era and goes ravaging around the Middle East, beheading and raping, murdering and defiling, perhaps now isn’t the best time to be indulging in the fantasies you picked up watching the Bourne movies, or heading off to websites that suspiciously never link to any of the evidence they claim to have. Perhaps, maybe, a bit of attention on the real matter in hand may be an idea?

*I say appears, we can’t definitively say he was Hoaxer Zero, as the sterling detective behind this blog points out, but we can at least say he’s the first one we can track down:-

**Said gentleman is of the right, who, back in the day, were the repository of conspiracism, as pointed out in the magnificent essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”. Such halcyon days are gone now, though, and you are as likely to find wibble on the left as the right. I’ve gnawed over why the left currently seem so likely to fall for such nonsense, this is my tribe after all, and the answer I can come up with is something to do with the whole stuff about the grand movements of societies and class is all well and good, but people simplify it in their mind. It’s all well and good Marx thundering on about “class struggle”, in a sense he’s talking in the abstract – the struggle is there but it isn’t conscious – classes pursue their interests because, well, classes pursue their interests. Grand, but the human mind needs to simplify. It has to become a “they”. And they have to be working consciously.

Youth and Young Manhood

I am in the schoolyard. It’s the late 70s, I am 7 or 8. For a few months or so, I have been bullied. This is a perennial issue that will rear its head over the next 6 or 7 years, not least because I am an underdeveloped scrawny boy with an overdeveloped ability to say inappropriate things to overdeveloped boys. I will search for various solutions – I will try to make friends with the bullies, I will fight back, I will retreat into myself, I will not engage. The final solution works. Here, I am a few weeks into my first solution. I am class clown. I do impressions. My Ian Paisley (which mainly consists of me shouting “no, no, no” in a high-pitched attempt at a Northern Irish accent) has gone down wonders.

Today, I unveil my new impression. Waggling an imaginary cigar, I leer at the crowd. “Now then, Now then, Boys and Girls, who wants to sit on Uncle Jimmy’s lap?”

The crowd goes wild. The simple things.

Recently, when the “Children’s Entertainer” Rolf Harris was convicted for various offences, social media and the occasional columnist erupted in an indulging of narcissism to the utmost degree. Just like Saville before, they proclaimed, the lurid string of accusations and revealed inner life of such a deeply beloved figure had “robbed us of our childhood innocence”. There was a pause, when I read this, and then, I admit, I came right back at people. To see other’s abuse through the lens of your tv childhood wasn’t just wrong, it was sickeningly wrong, solipsism on a grand scale. It isn’t about your childhood. It is about the childhood of the victims.

But then, I got to thinking some more, and two thought patterns emerged in me. The first was how we were, in essence, lying to ourselves. I checked with my friends of the same age. Pretty much unanimously, they agreed. Neither Rolf nor Jimmy were beloved. They weren’t saying so to retrospectively cleanse themselves of association with tarnished figures, but their reaction was pretty similar to mine. These were gatekeepers, the people we watched on TV while waiting for the interesting stuff to come on, the wish being made true, the Fred Quimby cartoon. They were the type of adults that adults think children like, and that kids learn to put up with.

Following on from that was the realisation, actually, that these people had a point. Their vision of their childhood innocence was being exploded, in front of their eyes. But it was a false vision, constructed from nostalgia TV and wallowing in the past. At some point, around the mid 90s, the combination of a generation that wanted – more than any before – to cling on to its childhood with a wealth of tv channels looking for filler had resulted in them coming back and marketing your youth to you. A saccharine version. All was spacehoppers and Raleigh choppers. Even the supposedly gritty stuff, the Life on Mars, the Ashes to Ashes, was riven to the very core with nostalgic yearning, for a world lost.

Lost, somewhere deep in this fug of slushy roseate nostalgia, the true history of that period, the late 70s, the early 80s, had been buried, defanged, the sharp edges shaved off. And now, this stuff had come back to haunt the generation that couldn’t grow up, the men-boys who clung to Star Wars toys in their 40s, the girls who still squealed at Grease (and as that in itself was a stroll down nostalgia lane, the ironies abound).

I am 12, and in Comprehensive School. I am standing, with a couple of my friends, at the edge of the playing fields, desperately trying to avoid any physical exercise. A dozen or so yards away, the netball team is playing. They are all 12, 13, the school is split on two sites, and we move to the second school at age 14.

The PE teacher approaches us. He is also the headmaster. In his late 40s. Wild, slightly crazed hair. He stands by us for a while then he nods at the girls playing netball.

“See their captain, boys?” he says, grinning “I call her Bob”

He puts his hands to his chest and makes the universal oafish gesture for breasts, describing an arc with his hands out from his chest in an exaggerated manner.

“Because when she plays, she bobs”

He winks.

The point nobody ever seems to recognise, when they wallow in talk of childhood innocence, is that kids, on a certain level, always knew that there were dark things out there in the world, that there were bad adults who would hurt them. It wasn’t just about parental warnings, or “Stranger Danger” adverts on the tv. There were adults you had a feeling about and avoided, there were teachers who would say odd things, or ones that would pander to the girls and take pleasure in always always being surrounded by a bevy of them. There was your own incipient sexuality, and the schoolyard interpretation of what that meant.

And then there was just the general societal air. I had – despite the occasional flurries of bullying – a pretty idyllic childhood. Nobody died, summers lasted a long time, I discovered literature, I went on adventures in the countryside around my home, I had a gang of fellow urchins who I indulged in petty crime with, all the markers of a pretty Tom-Sawyer-esque childhood, really.

And yet, if you ask me my overwhelming impressions of that time, two words would come to the fore. The first would be “concrete”. Everywhere seemed concrete at the time. Faded, crumbling concrete. And the second would be “grubby”.

I’m about 13/14 and I have got hold of a pornographic magazine. They were everywhere at the time. Every newsagent you walked into. WH Smiths. Everyone’s elder brother had a stash. And you would find them randomly. In playgrounds. In hedgerows. In the park. Just scattered. I have no idea where this one came from, but I’m looking at it, half amazed and half aghast.

As I leaf through, I have a confused sense of arousal and fear at the sight of all these adult bodies. All that hair. Big 80s hair, by this point. Then I come across a spread of a girl, late teens, in pigtails and school uniform. This feels comforting, this feels safe. This is what I am surrounded by, every day.

Its only in my early 20s, when my proto-feminist revulsion has combined with aesthetic distaste at the glassy eyes and the limbs splayed in uncomfortable positions, that I stop and think “hang on, what was a schoolgirl doing in a magazine for adult men?”

I read young feminists today, and one of the things they talk about is a ‘rape culture’. There has been a mountain of stuff around that term in the past few years, not least due to certain events in the States, awful shit that you can’t even begin to comprehend. And reading them, I don’t want to downplay what they are saying at all. I don’t, and won’t, belittle their perceptions of abuse and societal misogyny with sneers and jeers. The reports I have read are too widespread for me to think otherwise, too consistent with stuff I see and read, exchanges I view online and off, to ignore with a blase shrug.

The above said, the culture of when I passed through puberty was a rape culture. Far more than today.

My list of snapshots, of memories, from an untroubled childhood, could be longer, much longer. They could take in the schoolyard jokes about abuse and rape; the stand-up comics who bawled misogyny from the stage; the time I visited London at 15 and, walking back through Soho, I passed a doorway and a man in his 50s beckoned me in, obvious then as now as to his intent; the people you heard of with family members who did dodgy things; the teachers you heard of who did something wrong; the whispers behind hands and the guffaws behind beer glasses; It was there, it was all there, and it was hiding, like Saville, in plain sight.

And in our quest to remember the happy things of our youth, we’ve forgotten how truly awful much of media was, then. We’ve forgotten how despicable mainstream attitudes were. We’ve forgotten all the jailbait jokes, and the off-colour “men’s comics” who would tell rape jokes and market it as “Blue” material. Adult material. As though this was somehow part of a rite of passage, as though this was somehow normal. The period 74 to 83 was a grubby leer of a decade, and no amount of scrubbing it clean with memories of Spacedust and Battle of the Planets will get us away from that fact.

Orr Mining

I don’t generally get involved in atheism wars. My entire take on it is, essentially, “wasted energy”.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ll argue for secularism vigorously. I’ll point out the bad practices of religion. But that whole “god exists”/”no he doesn’t” thing is essentially a losing fight before you start.

Takes a lot to make me rise to the bait. Deborah Orr, in her spectacularly vapid column for the Guardian on Saturday managed it.

Leaving aside that it was a meditation on a series of remarks that – she freely admits – didn’t actually say what everyone thought they said (and, indeed, even the misrepresented remarks have an element about them which we *could* debate? What happened to deconstructing story, again? What precisely is wrong with that?), one is struck by the weakness of her arguments. Which are basically:

Richard Dawkins is not winning any converts by being atheist. He shouldn’t be so atheist. He’s a fundamentalist and

He should feel sorry for the poor people who need god.

To address them, in order…

Yes, he’s an atheist. It’s a pretty binary condition, you know. One believes, or one doesn’t. Hence, one can’t be a “fundamentalist” atheist. One is an atheist, or one isn’t an atheist. Simple.

The fundamentalist tag is infantile, and is thrown around by people who won’t actually engage with his arguments. Instead, they engage with a churlish caricature, an unpleasant, browbeating man who spends his time bullying the poor defenceless believers.

Professor Dawkins is a man in his 70s. I’m sure he has some of the attitudes a successful, somewhat privileged, white man in his 70s has. I’m pretty sure he’s occasionally, well, a tad impolite in framing his arguments.

The religious, on the other hand, have burned. Maimed. Tortured. Killed. Stoned. Boiled. Kidnapped. Raped. Enslaved. They have oppressed people based around sexuality, creed and colour. They have justified all manner of evil and nonsense with their words. Professor Dawkins, on the other hand, has occasionally been a bit impolite in formal debate.

Hmmmmmm. Ok. So, I’m meant to feel sympathy for the religious here? Come again?

What really grinds my gears about the whole thing though is this paragraph:-

“It’s a luxury to have a fine mind that is highly educated. I’m certainly not saying that Dawkins has not earned his privilege – he has. But he is privileged nonetheless. His soul is not tortured. His mind is free. The human condition does not overwhelm him. But his lack of sympathy for those who cling to psychological certainties he does not approve of has no kindness in it, no compassion. It’s a shame.”

Its the wink and the nod in it, that gets me. Its the “Well, you and I both know those silly ignorant people are clinging to it, so let them be”. Happiness in ignorance. Leave the poor uneducated fools in darkness. Atheism is for the privileged, the educated, the lucky. We who can see beyond such silly psychological props. Leave the common herd believe what they want.

One of my favourite moments in “Q”, by Luther Blissett, is the testimony of the Italian peasant, who attests that the whole idea of God and the Madonna is a nonsense, that it means nothing to him, that it is a trick to distract him from what is happening here on earth. In Orr’s reading, this (based on fact) example of working class rationalism, this underdog realising of mental chains? This doesn’t happen. All that exists is the elite, with their rationality, and the unprivileged, being bullied by the evil Prof.

Now, tell me again, who has a more sympathetic view, the man who wants to set us free from those mind-forg’d manacles, or the woman who shushes him and says “leave them be?”

UKIP and the Small c

There’s a chunk in everyone’s – what, soul? mind? brain? personality? – that is conservative.

Wait, wait, bear with me. I can feel any liberal or left wing readers already eyeing the exits. Don’t. Sit down and listen. You can argue with me when I’ve finished.

I don’t mean economically, and I don’t mean socially. I don’t mean culturally. I mean, what, emotionally perhaps?

Think for a second. You are a regular at a local pub. You go in one day after a few weeks away to find the owners have refurbished. They’ve taken out the pool table and put in a family dining area. The jukebox – that jukebox that you listened to 70s classic rock or rare soul classics or the like on – that’s been replaced by a sound-system operated by the guy behind the bar. He likes his coffee-table trip-hop. That slightly bland and inoffensive stuff that followed in the wake of Massive Attack and Portishead in the late 90s. All day, while you are having your pint, you are sitting there and he’s listening to Morcheeba or Zero 7 down low, in that ‘just intrusive enough to be be irritating, just quiet enough that you can’t complain’ way that they all seem to have mastered now, serving the happy family in the corner with beer battered cod and chunky chips with mayo, and thinking “but I wanted to put ‘More than a feeling’ on and strut around the pool table knocking the balls in. I had my game face on”.

A part of your soul revolts against it. Natural. Sorry. Why must things change? I liked them just as they were.

Anyone who has ever worked can confirm this. The management brings in new working practices. They may not even be (although a little part of me is inherently sceptical of management, always) a bad thing. Doesn’t matter. In the car home, your workmate grumbles to you. The old methods were working just fine. Why do we have to do it this way now? Bloody managers.

A major retailer – a Woolworths – closes down. And we all indulge in an emotional spasm. What will the High Street be without it? You don’t really – generally – think of the staff. You just think of the presence. What will the High Street be without it? Well, you were all getting along buying things quite well without it, otherwise it wouldn’t have shut down in the first place, the bloody place would still be in profit. But it doesn’t matter. That part of you, that small c part, that emotional part. It rebels, it revolts.

Tomorrow morning we go to the polls. Oh, it isn’t an election that means as much as the general election, but it is still important on many levels. And many people – many not bigoted people – will go out and vote for a party that is drenched in bigotry. How did we get there?

The conversation that I want to have here is with the not-bigoted people.

You can’t reach the racist. He or she is more prevalent than liberal fantasy likes to believe, but he or she doesn’t make up the numbers here. But you can reach the small c people, who make up the majority of support for this party.

They may be more small c conservative, about different subjects, than lovely socially liberal me, and lovely socially liberal you, with our mildly fascistic disbelief that anyone can feel anything but the way we feel, but we have the same small c gene somewhere in us. Else Last of The Summer Wine wouldn’t have lasted seemingly longer than the 100 Years War.

Here’s a way of suggesting how:

Immigration (lets be honest here? You are a socially and culturally liberal eurosceptic and you are voting for UKIP tomorrow? Take a look at yourself. Go sit in the corner. You are knowingly voting for a party that panders to this. You don’t believe the red-meat stuff but you are doing it anyway because you feel leaving Europe is worth a shitstorm of xenophobia, hatred and mistrust arriving? Shame on you. Seriously. Shame. On. You). This is what the discussion is about. Change.

The problem we have had in this country is our main parties fluctuate between making an incredibly weak argument for the change that immigration brings, and pandering to opposition to it. This is the context in which UKIP is currently striding around, leading the polls, like a giant purple Godzilla, ready to wreak havoc on 30 years of liberal orthodoxy. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

What the major parties always needed to do, and pretty much signally failed to do, is make the case in emotional terms.

To take the small c conservative people aside and say “look, I get you, I feel your pain*, I understand that the society you live in has changed and this scares you. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s going to continue to change. Economics changes society. Demographics changes society. Technology changes society. Ideas change society. Immigration changes society. That is, unfortunately, the nature of the beast. But I’m going to help you here. We are going to help ameliorate what you feel are the negative impacts of this change. We are going to emphasise to you the positive impacts of change. That family moving in next door, the Romanians, the Bulgarians, whatever, you don’t really hate them, do you? Oh, come on, they may irritate you sometimes – I’ve never lived next door to someone who hasn’t irritated me sometimes – but give them a chance. Invite them around. Talk to them as you get in your car in the morning. You know what? It turns out the husband is a Man United fan like you, and he’s never been further north than Watford, either”.

A conversation is needed that melds the best part of the idea of multi-culturalism – the idea that vibrant communities can bring in new ideas, that culture melds and is syncretic, that we respect what is imported (and this isn’t the same as the blissfully ignorant liberal fantasia that no element of any imported culture can ever be challenged) – with the best part of integration too – proper integration, not just shuffling poor folk off to ghettos. A conversation that acknowledges that a host society has to integrate as well as others integrating into it, that culture moves, never stays stop still, and that we can mourn the passing of the old neighbourhood without hating the people who have redeveloped it, revitalised it, changed it.

And that conversation doesn’t need to be hippy-dippy and love-in. It doesn’t have to hide from the fact that a bunch of people from different backgrounds living together is always going to cause friction at some level. It does. Guess what?

So does a bunch of people from the same background. There’s a unifying theme there. And that theme isn’t immigration.

That theme is people.

We need to move beyond the part where the liberals call everyone scared of change bigots, and those scared of change retreat into atavism, and our politicians, recognising that there are more atavists than there are liberals, spend their time pandering to the latter. We need to learn to show empathy for the alienated incomer and the alienated local.

(This, by the way, works on many levels, about many things people are small c about. Hey, you, not really church-goer, but still, think of yourself as broadly Christian and you are, what? 35? 40? And you are worried about gay marriage?

Imagine what it feels like to be a gay man in his 60s. You’ve gone, in your lifetime, from having your sexuality illegal, to it being immoral, to it being mocked, to it being…what? Legal? You can get married now? Whoop and everything, but imagine how bewildering it is for them, too? Look. You’ve both got something in common, now)

And until the major parties start learning to do both, to ease the passage in, and smooth the ruffled feathers already there? To both sing the praises of and remove any friction from?

Then the small c conservatives will always be prey for the bigots. Because those fucks are always there. And always will be. And are more prevalent than we’d love to believe.

And I don’t know about you, but I think there’s enough of them bastards as it is, so I don’t fancy adding any more than necessary to the crowd of white hooded wankers, do you?

*I should really put a trigger warning in when knowingly using Bill Clinton quotes.


The War Only John Sees

It must be hard, personally and professionally, to be John Pilger.

I mean, let us look at personally first. A while back, I described one of his Guardian pieces as “deranged”. A friend picked me up on it, and pointed out that we shouldn’t use such provocative language about someone who was a war reporter, as highly probably, he’s seen things neither you nor I would ever wish to see (as well as it being a slightly cruel description of anyone with mental health issues).

Fair dos, I thought, especially when said friend went on to admit that the piece in question didn’t precisely give a glowing advert for Mr Pilger’s mental state. I’ve been the subject of the odd violent interaction in my time, pure fisticuffs, and they left me somewhat shaken, so I can only imagine what horror Pilger has seen. It’d be imprinted on my eyelids while I tried to sleep, no doubt.

That point taken (which also, I would argue, applies to Robert Fisk, and separates them somewhat from the Lindsey Germans of the world, who pontificate from plush surroundings), and also, an unbearable sadness admitted that someone who has done such good work in his youth is churning out such material (and he may always have given me the slight air of a pompous blowhard, a humourless Assange style figure, but one can’t deny that his work on Vietnam and Cambodia and East Timor in the day was both vital and important), the point about it being difficult professionally hoves into view.

You see, when John used to jet from conflict to conflict back in the day, he was the heroic bringer of news to us. It must have felt a vital and important job, something to be justly proud and righteous about.

The problem is, however, that today, we don’t need John in the same way, and we can see when John is being – how to put this delicately? – a teensy bit partial.

Witness his latest piece in the Guardian. John begins with the usual litany of crimes that the US is responsible for – the coups and invasions of the Cold War. What’s rather telling about this is, well, when ever John writes a piece even vaguely connected to the US, he begins with, well, the usual litany of crimes that the US is responsible for, the coups and invasions of the Cold War. If it isn’t Vietnam, it’s Mossadeq (I mean, John, who are you left trying to tell about Mossadeq? Is there anyone with any knowledge of international relations – ie/ anyone who would read a John Pilger article- who DOESN’T know about the overthrow of Mossadeq? I’ve known about it for 30 bloody years, man). Or Allende. Or Lumumba. Et al.

The fact that the US has a lot of blood in its side of the Cold War ledger is indisputable. Often, and I will say this, often that blood was…well…not even spuriously justifiable. I’m with John on that. The overthrow of Allende, to take the last example, was brutal, criminal and underhand and I wouldn’t excuse it in the slightest.

What is interesting, however, is that John never really addresses the blood on the other side of the ledger. Not once. There’s nary a peep regarding Hungary or the crushing of the Prague Spring. We never get to hear about the slave state that North Korea became. Nothing about the brutal Marxist Leninist regimes in Africa, such as Mengitsu in Ethiopia. The brutal repression of Eastern Europe gets glossed over, the Cultural Revolution in China ignored. We don’t get the Eastern Bloc supplying the Baathist regime in Iraq with weaponry. Nope. We don’t get that at all.


Oh John *used* to mention – say – the Czech Spring quite regularly, back in those Charter 77 style days. He won’t talk about them now though, for the simple reason it takes the narrative of “evil USA rapaciously destabilising everything around the world” and adds a level of nuance, of balance. A real idealist should be able to stand up and say “both sides in a war did grubby and vicious things, I condemn them utterly”. But that’s what not what we get.

What we get is the bad of the West.

Anyone with any sense of history would accept that during the Cold War period – and indeed after – the US and its allies have often acted quite repugnantly. The fact that they saw themselves in a life or death struggle against an oppressive ideology shouldn’t – in the slightest – excuse the crimes, mistakes, cynicism, realpolitik and repression that the West aided and abetted and practiced at times. We know that, John.

How about today?

Ah, you see, today, the West – the US in particular – is gearing us up for a World War with Russia, John says.

Yeah, who knew, eh? The urgent scrabbling around for some sort of stability and compromise over Ukraine is, in fact, a deadly Western plan to provoke the innocent Russian nation.

John alleges that the EuroMaidan uprising was a “coup”, “masterminded” by the USA.

He’s obviously got a different definition of “coup”, here. A looser one, maybe. To most outside observers who don’t watch Russia Today religiously, it looked very much like a spontaneous national protest movement which, after bloody clashes, came to an agreement with the corrupt President of the country.

When said President scuttled overnight with dozens of trucks full of embezzled booty from his palatial mansion, he was impeached. A new government was chosen by a majority of the already elected Parliament. They put an interim government in place and called elections for May.

Never mind that, John calls them a “junta”. A pretty impressive word that, “junta”, to be honest. It smacks of generals in gold braid sitting around a table ensuring elections are never called for.

Maybe 30 years ago, you could have told us these things unchallenged. Maybe someone – one or two experts on the region – would have popped up to disagree, but unless they had a platform, a newspaper column in the Guardian, say, nobody could have really questioned your interpretation.

The thing is, John, now we can see the news. Not only can we see our news, but we can see Ukrainian news and Polish news, Russian news and Latvian news. We can see what happens and when. This is the information age. The world ain’t like that, anymore, John. We can see.

But of course, it gets better. The US masterminded the “coup”, to “encircle” Russia and to “seize” its “legitimate”, vital, warm water port in Crimea.

Only thing is, those of us who don’t have memories like goldfish can remember specific assurances being made to the Russians regarding the port.

We remember there being a lease that doesn’t run out for decades.

We recall that no threats were made towards the port in the slightest.

We also recall how Putin’s “defending themselves” involved invading the Crimea, and – at gun point – a minority of its Parliament voting for a referendum nobody hitherto had wanted, in the middle of the night, oh, and while we are at it? Electing as head of the provincial government someone who had hitherto received less than 5% of the vote. Lo and behold, the electorate voted 97% in favour of Crimea being swallowed by Russia (Russian Government figures), or, if you believe what the Russian Government accidentally put on its website and then hastily hid, 50% of 30-60% of the electorate voted in favour.

While under occupation.

With all Ukrainian news channels turned off.

And menacing noises being made towards the minority groups.

Hmmmm. Junta. That’s a fine word, isn’t it? You think the Crimean “leaders” may have been a little bit, well, Junta-ish? Junty?

Having failed in this nefarious plan to take over Crimea, John now detects that the entire of Ukraine has become, basically, a satrapy for the CIA. Sitting in Kiev, the CIA director, no doubt cackling and stroking a white cat, is terrorising the poor Russian speakers of Eastern Ukraine.

John touches on Odessa, and the – no arguments – horrible and violent clashes that led to a trade union building burning down with over 40 people inside. His version of events has the CIA inspired Neo-Nazi hordes stopping a doctor who come to rescue people and threatening him as a jew (how they knew he was Jewish, isn’t revealed).

Only problem with this narrative is, it was shared on Facebook by a gentleman claiming to be a doctor in Odessa. When the Odessa directory was searched? No such doctor existed. And, lo, his picture seemed to be that of a Russian dentist from thousands of miles away. When this information came to light, the Facebook page of said “doctor” disappeared. Never mind. 8000 shares later, and the story is still circulating, and John has gobbled it up as truth, and that’s all that matters.

It goes on and on, wearingly so, and throughout the piece, Putin is shown as a noble defender of his country, standing up to the evil US and their cackling Neo-Nazi henchmen. Putin keeps on offering “diplomatic solutions” (whilst his proxies on the ground run rampage, holding “referendums” that seem as believable as, well, John’s article) which the evil US dismiss out of hand.

Because the US wants war. And, yet again, to round off, he pulls out his Daniel Ellsburg quote (this seems to come out as often as Eisenhower’s – mistaken – warnings about the Military-Industrial complex), about a silent coup taking place in Washington and militarists running the show. And they are planning WAR, damn you, WORLD WAR.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, Barack Obama flails around, somehow trying to work out what the hell is going on, whilst Putin takes Eastern Ukraine salami slice by salami slice.

And we can see it, John. I’m afraid your partial reporting won’t work anymore.

Old Bill’s lungs

He bubbled when he breathed. That’s my abiding memory.

I never knew my grandfather on my father’s side, he died when my father was very young (although twice, in childhood, old men stopped me in the street and said “you are Griff’s boy, aren’t you?” and we had to explain that no, I wasn’t Griff’s boy, I was his grandson, so I obviously had some of his stamp about me. A decent man, well-liked and taken early, by all accounts), but in terms of character, my mother’s side more than made up for it. There was her father’s family, an array of chancers, gamblers and rogues, like her grandfather, the premiere Bookies runner of the valleys, whose funeral was swamped by wreaths from his connections in that still illegal trade, or her Uncle Benny, a shining genius of a man who combined being the most flamboyantly homosexual man in the rough, tough mining area with a career in the diplomatic service and fluency in several languages, including Cantonese, no small feat for a working class boy born between the wars.

Her mother’s side were more respectable. A bit more staid. More, well, lets be honest about this, in the environment which they came from?

More chapel.

What David Cameron or Ed Miliband would call “hard-working families” today. Diligent. Strivers. Religious but not full of religiousity. Her grandmother, Polly Smith, blind from an early age, had moved down with her family from Bedford by horse and cart as a child. The horse died in Stow-on-The-Wold, the family walked the rest of the way.

Poll married two men, both of them veterans of the Great War, and its the second, Bill Smith, who I remember. And he bubbled, as he breathed.

That’s something, in my daytime dealing with the elderly, that I’ve kind of noticed slowly phasing out over the past decade or so. Part of it, no doubt, is due to the death of the mining industry. That coal came with a price, and the price was often measured in blood-flecked sputum. But also, another part, came from the other side. The Great War side. Both of Poll’s husbands had been gassed in the trenches, and decades later – this would be the mid 70s – their lungs had still not recovered entirely. I wonder how many of my generation have similar memories, of elderly relatives who would bubble and whistle, struggle for breath, in everyday conversation.

I run with the hawk and the hounds, often, in the subject of international intervention. Having rejected a good while back a large chunk of the dogma attached to oppositionalism, I take each call for it from the same perspective. I look at the region, the area, the nation. I try to read up about the politics and culture. I try to avoid easy stances. I research and ask people I know who have knowledge of the area – whether from experience, blood ties or from academic sources – what they feel about the current situation.

With the current crisis in Ukraine, for instance, I’ve been trying to read as widely as possible, from as many sources as possible. Citizen journalists and official lines. History (And, oh, it still offends me how few times Holodomor and purges and Soviet ethnic cleansing get referenced in any of this. Russian speaking majority in the east of the country? Well, crikey, where did all those Ukrainian speakers go? Can we, maybe, do a little connecting of the two here?).

Then I haver between positions, try and make an unbiased, informed choice of opinion. Often as not, it will be seen through the lens of living in the west, it’d be pretty impossible to escape certain cultural influences even for the most broadminded (good), the most culturally relativist (not so good at all) of us. (I’m not really an exemplar of anything for doing this, by the way. We’ve got the tools here, now, to do it far more than we ever did decades before. That we – on the whole – don’t is possibly laziness or possibly something slightly different – satiety? The easiness of junk information? Like 57 channels of shit on your tv and no Kenneth Clark documentary series in sight. Whatever the reason, I’m just saying, it isn’t a hard thing, now, to learn, and it isn’t a hard thing to learn free of the lens of ideology, however much ideology of the ideology I or you still share).

So yeah, I run with the hawk and hounds and manage, just, to keep friends on both sides of the divide simply because they recognise – I hope – that when I come to an opinion, I come to it from the perspective of an attempt at decency, an attempt to become informed and not to view people as pieces on some imaginary chess board. Empathy. That’s the key to it, even when you blunder in an opinion.

You may wonder how the two elements of this post meld together. Here’s how:

When I make a decision one way or t’other, when I fall to one side, I come up against arguments which oppose intervention in a foreign country – say, against Assad’s regime in Syria – they generally fall into 4 categories.

The first, a kind of self-loathing liberalism, holds that human rights are, y’know, a kind of fascism. How dare we come along and tell the indigenous people of the global south that they have a right to this, that or the other? This one, I tend to dismiss out of hand. Human rights are universal, or they are nothing. The UN has a fucking Human Rights arm, for christsake. The club whose only criteria for membership is “you have to control this country”. Enough with that. I dismiss that idea.

The second is a kind of lumpen-Marxism. It isn’t really Marxism, because Marx, even when wrong, was a far more elegant thinker than most Marxists are, or ever will be. There’s a fantastic quote, by the historian Norman Davies, who likens modern day Marxism as “having the same relation to Marx as the South Sea Cargo Cults do to the Anglican Mass”. The actual reality is, this isn’t Marxism, although most major Marxist organisations in the world would probably cleave to this particular brand of oppositionalism. With its talk of resource wars and its misunderstanding of imperialism – both economic and actual – it really deserves the more appropriate title “SmedleyButlerism”. War is a racket, ah huh? Who gets rich from it, eh? Bankers and arms dealers, innit? ALL ABOUT THE OIL, STUPID. The problem is, of course, that the world is a grubby place, and the world of war grubbier still, so there will always be things which feed this conspiracist viewpoint. Halliburton, I’m looking at you. But, despite the grubbiness of such deals, this doesn’t mean this worldview is right. It most patently, often, isn’t.

The third, one finds harder to deal with. It says “We will make things worse”. It is harder to deal with because, inevitably, in the short term, war does make things worse, armed intervention does make things worse. The question is, always, will it make things better, in the long run? How long will this take? Is that really our intention? One doesn’t have to be naive about our elected leaders to think that – most probably – it is their intention to make things better. Very few people get elected with the intention to make life hell for everyone else, no matter what party affiliation you loathe. Whether that will be the result of their actions, however, depends on your reading of the situation and – perhaps critically – their competence to deliver. It is a worrying thing to be trusting people who you wouldn’t trust to run a whelk stall in a domestic setting with the power of life and death over people far away. A natural caution there is most definitely advisable and not the same as objections one or two in the slightest. This is the killer, for me. This objection meant that I was – and remain – one of the last agnostics on Iraq. It means I don’t know what the hell was the solution in Syria three years ago and I sure as hell don’t know now the region has gone to hell and back. It means I was ambivalent about Libya, that I supported Mali and Kosovo and Sierra Leone, and gnashed my teeth at the inaction in the Former Republics of Yugoslavia pre-Kosovo.

And then there’s the fourth objection. The fourth objection is hardest to deal with, and it is where this post melds together. It was Otto Von Bismarck who most coherently summed it up, with his famed line: “The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier”. Of course, at its worse, this represents a kind of Little Englander chauvinism – your dead children are not worth the gold and possible blood we may expend to save them.

But then I remember Bill, and his wheeze, and his bubble, and I recognise there’s a healthy streak of cynicism that underlies the proletariat (the class I still unrepentedly self-identity with after decades of being told we don’t exist) – a cynicism that takes in Flanders Fields and Gallipoli, or the famed story of the soldiers listening to a Churchill speech in the field in 45 and jeering “the old bugger is pissed” before voting him out office (and the armed forces vote and the fact that they backed Labour in the same proportions as those at home is often brushed under the carpet in our narrative of that most just of wars), Goose Green and Catch 22, PTSD, soldiers returning home to the decaying working class communities they joined to escape from, and old Bill’s lungs. Its a cynicism that says all your moral adventures are paid for with our blood, with our limbs and with our lives.

And for all I rage often at the bien-pensant liberals and their moral relativism, and the craziness of the left abandoning internationalism for conspiracism, it remains the truth that any “anti-war” feeling in this country, as in all countries, is most definitely fed more by that cynicism than anything else. Sneer at its provincialism, its chauvinism, Little Englander mentality, its reactionary backwardness all you like. Call it racist to value the lives of a few thousand servicemen and women over hundreds of thousands of those of a different skin colour all you wish. There’s a large chunk of truth in all of that.

But then I remember Bill. And how he bubbled when he breathed. And that’s the argument that you can’t dismiss out of hand. The folk memory of these occurences is within us all, still. We gear up to the celebrations (Baffling. Do they want to recast it as World War II, Mk 1 or something?) of the centenary of the commencement of World War 1, and its shadow still falls, today, over us all. Its good that it does, in many ways, as it appears to have innoculated us, finally, against that jingoistic expansionist glory hunting element that was in the national character (it took Germany another 30 years and something far more disastrous to come to the same state of catharsis, and millions of people, Jew and Gentile, mainly from all points East, paid most of that price for them).

But any discussion of anti-war feeling that focuses on the moral cowardice of point 1, the malformed ideology of point 2, or the inherent conservatism of point 3, and ignores Bill’s lungs, is airless and weightless bloviating, a discussion that takes place amongst the elite, and for the elite.

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