February 14, 2009

Who Are the War Criminals?

[Update at the end.]

I've answered that question with regard to two notable personages. Precious few people care what I think, so I will call in reinforcements. Apply the following observations as you deem appropriate and just; you might also consider how these thoughts connect to the issues I'm discussing in the Tribalism series.
In his own country (Mussolini) was the antidote to a deadly poison. For the rest of Europe he has been a tonic which has done to all incalculable good. I can claim with sincere satisfaction to have been the first man in a position of public influence to put Mussolini's splendid achievement in its right light. ... He is the greatest figure of our age. -- Lord Rothermere, 1928
If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism... (Italy) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism. -- Winston Churchill, 1927

When one thinks of the lies and betrayals of those years, the cynical abandonment of one ally after another, the imbecile optimism of the Tory press, the flat refusal to believe that the dictators meant war, even when they shouted it from the house-tops, the inability of the moneyed class to see anything wrong whatever in concentration camps, ghettos, massacres and undeclared wars, one is driven to feel that moral decadence played its part as well as mere stupidity. By 1937 or thereabouts it was not possible to be in doubt about the nature of the Fascist régimes. But the lords of property had decided that Fascism was on their side and they were willing to swallow the most stinking evils so long as their property remained secure. In their clumsy way they were playing the game of Machiavelli, of ‘political realism’, of ‘ anything is right which advances the cause of the Party’ — the Party in this case, of course, being the Conservative Party.

All this ‘Cassius’ brings out, but he does shirk its corollary. Throughout his book it is implied that only Tories are immoral. ‘Yet there is still another England,’ he says. ‘This other England detested Fascism from the day of its birth... this was the England of the Left, the England of Labour.’ True, but only part of the truth. The actual behaviour of the Left has been more honourable than its theories. It has fought against Fascism, but its representative thinkers have entered just as deeply as their opponents into the evil world of ‘realism’ and power politics.

‘Realism’ (it used to be called dishonesty) is part of the general political atmosphere of our time. It is a sign of the weakness of ‘Cassius's position that one could compile a quite similar book entitled The Trial of Winston Churchill, or The Trial of Chiang Kai-shek, or even The Trial of Ramsay MacDonald. In each case you would find the leaders of the Left contradicting themselves almost as grossly as the Tory leader quoted by ‘Cassius’. For the Left has also been willing to shut its eyes to a great deal and to accept some very doubtful allies. We laugh now to hear the Tories abusing Mussolini when they were flattering him five years ago, but who would have foretold in 1927 that the Left would one day take Chiang Kai-shek to its bosom? Who would have foretold just after the General Strike that ten years later Winston Churchill would be the darling of the Daily Worker? In the years 1935-9, when almost any ally against Fascism seemed acceptable, left-wingers found themselves praising Mustapha Kemal and then developing tenderness for Carol of Rumania.

Although it was in every way more pardonable, the attitude of the Left towards the Russian régime has been distinctly similar to the attitude of the Tories towards Fascism. There has been the same tendency to excuse almost anything ‘because they're on our side’. It is all very well to talk about Lady Chamberlain photographed shaking hands with Mussolini; the photograph of Stalin shaking hands with Ribbentrop is much more recent. On the whole, the intellectuals of the Left defended the Russo-German Pact. It was ‘realistic’, like Chamberlain's appeasement policy, and with similar consequences. If there is a way out of the moral pigsty we are living in, the first step towards it is probably to grasp that ‘realism’ does not pay, and that to sell out your friends and sit rubbing your hands while they are destroyed is not the last word in political wisdom.

This fact is demonstrable in any city between Cardiff and Stalingrad, but not many people can see it. Meanwhile it is a pamphleteer's duty to attack the Right, but not to flatter the Left. It is partly because the Left have been too easily satisfied with themselves that they are where they are now. -- George Orwell, "Who Are the War Criminals?," 1943
You will find much more about the deeply disgusting Winston Churchill here and, in still further detail, here. It is only with great difficulty that you will find another famous figure who is so universally revered, when knowledge of the operative and relevant facts reveals him to be a thoroughly revolting human being.

Among the detestable achievements of the just begun Obama administration, none is more detestable than its already incessant, lie-infested fear- and panic-mongering about the alleged threat represented by Iran. I will have more on this subject soon. I remind you that I have been saying for a very long time that the great danger of an unprovoked, monstrously criminal attack on Iran by the United States would not pass away with a change of administrations; see here and here, and follow the numerous links.

In connection with the Obama administration's despicable propaganda on Iran (and in connection with any other country it decides to put in its crosshairs), you would do well to reflect on the following. Keep in mind my words in "Even Churchill Wasn't Churchill":
The endless, interminable comparisons of the world situation today to the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s are noxious and almost entirely wrong. ... And the perpetual mythologizing of Churchill -- joined in by conservatives and liberals alike, with almost everyone else thrown in -- is tiresome in the extreme. Even a cursory examination of the actual historical record reveals most of it to be untrue. But people absolutely refuse to give up their myths.

Fine. Let's set all the facts and the real history aside. Let's embrace the myth completely.

None of us wants to be Chamberlain. We all want to be Churchill. Cool.

And now for some additional background:
[T]here is a vision of the Second World War that plays a major role in legitimizing war. The general idea is that the West, by cowardice or indifference, waited too long to launch a preventive war against Hitler that would have saved the Jews. ...

New wars are repeatedly justified by analogy with that situation: we must save the Albano-Kosovars, the Kurds (in Iraq, but not in Turkey), Afghan women, etc. During the Kosovo war, I constantly ran up against that argument -- but shouldn't we have declared war on Hitler in 1936? -- even from political militants whose supposedly "Marxist" background should have led to more lucidity. The Kosovo example is an illustration of how the use of analogy often enables people to dispense with informing themselves seriously about the realities of a given situation.

We may observe in passing that in the view of classic political liberalism, war strengthens the powers of the state and should be avoided except in cases of extreme necessity. Trade negotiations and cultural exchanges are far preferable to war or to embargoes. The whole ideology of the "new Hitlers" goes against these liberal ideas, and thus is more often adopted by ex-revolutionaries who have renounced their past, retaining only a certain anti-liberal sympathy for violent change. This ideology gives intellectuals a role to play, mobilizing public opinion "before it's too late."

There are two answers to this argument, one conceptual, the other historic. The conceptual aspect, that is, the defense of international law in the face of legitimization of preventive war, which constitutes the principal aspect of the response, has already been mentioned. The historic aspect has to do with what really happened before and during the Second World War. It deserves to be recalled, inasmuch as the reference to those events to justify military intervention is symptomatic of a widespread ignorance, or a radical revision, of history. Here we shall be brief, since a treatise on history is beyond the scope of this book.

"Better Hitler than the Popular Front" was a slogan that expressed the attitude not only of the defeatist segment of the French bourgeoisie, frightened by the success of the left in the mid-1930s, but also, each in its own way, of a good part of the British aristocracy, of the American capitalist class and of the dominant social classes throughout Europe. If there was no war against Hitler, it was, among other things, because the "social achievements" of fascism -- eliminating left-wing parties and disciplining the workers thanks to corporatism and nationalism -- won the admiration of the dominant social classes everywhere, the very counterparts of those who today call for preventive wars against new Hitlers. This being the case, a defensive alliance against Hitler -- such as the one that fought in 1914-18, but with the Soviet Union replacing tsarist Russia -- capable of preventing World War II altogether by dissuading aggression, was out of the question precisely because of the anticommunism of the ruling circles in the West. Moreover, avoiding war is what would have made it possible to save most of the Jews, since it was only after the war was well under way that they were massively killed. Western government aid to the Spanish Republic, whose victory, had it taken place, might well have seved to dampen the ambitions of fascism, was impossible for the same reasons. It should be emphasized that neither a defensive alliance nor aid to a legal government violates international law, in contrast to a preventive attack. Moreover, the Munich Agreement that allowed Hitler to seize the Sudetenland was not merely a matter of cowardice, but was also due to hostility toward Czechoslovakia, the European country most favorable to an alliance with the Soviet Union.

The discourse on the "new Hitlers" is inevitably accompanied by the more or less explicit identification of today's pacifists with Daladier and Chamberlain. But apart from misrepresentation of the motivations of the "appeasers," the logical lesson from Munich is not that we should plunge madly into war on all sides to defend minorities, which was precisely what Hitler claimed he was doing. Hitler legitimized his wars as the necessary way to protect minorities, first the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia and then the Germans in Danzig. Note also that at the end of the Second World War, the United Nations was set up precisely to ban "preventive war," a notion that Eisenhower, for example, viewed as essentially Nazi.

The logical lesson of Munich is that the great power gambit of using the discontents of minorities to destabilize weaker countries is extremely dangerous, at least for world peace, even when the minorities in question welcome such great power intervention, as the Sudeten Germans welcomed Nazi Germany in 1938 and the Kosovo Albanians welcomed NATO in 1999. The fact is that "liberating" the Sudeten Germans encouraged Hitler just as "saving" Kosovo gave American imperialism a huge bonus in legitimacy.

The catastrophe of Hitler's victory over France in 1940 finally led part of Europe's leading circles to fall back on an alliance with the Soviet Union, though too late to avoid the war, too late to avoid the suffering it inflicted on the victims of aggression, and too late to avoid paying the political price that inevitably resulted from the victory over fascism that was primarily due to the Red Army and the sacrifices of the Soviet people. The visionaries who attack "pacifists" by harping on the 1930s would do well to study those years a bit more thoroughly.

Defenders of humanitarian war in Iraq stress the inconsistency of those who oppose such a war in Iraq when they agreed to it in Yugoslovia. They are obviously right on this point, and therefore one of the main reasons to oppose the 1999 war was precisely that, by agreeing to it, we were de facto legitimizing an indefinite number of other wars. The endless war in which we are involved today is in part the consequence of the euphoria brought about by the easy victory over Yugoslovia in 1999.

Finally, if playing the little game that consists in saying, once it is known how history turned out, "Ah, if only at such and such a time one had done this or that" (for instance, launch a war against Hitler in 1936), one might as well ask whether it wouldn't have been a good idea to avoid the First World War. In those days, there was neither Hitler, nor Stalin, nor Milosevic, nor Saddam Hussein. The world was dominated, as it still is today, by governments that are imperialist in their foreign policy but relatively liberal in domestic policy. Nevertheless, this liberalism in no way prevented an accumulation of weaponry on all sides, secret treaties, colonial wars. A spark in Sarajevo and Europe was plunged into a war that dragged the world after it, and whose unexpected results included the emergence of both Bolshevism and fascism. Those who ceaselessly decry the "tragedies of the twentieth century" would do well to reflect on their origins and on the similarity between the interventionist policies and the search for hegemony that they advocate today and the policies that led to the catastrophe of the summer of 1914.

It can be suggested that if World War I is largely forgotten, this is not only because it took place further back in time than World War II. ... The fundamental reason is no doubt that the First World War was the epitome of a totally absurd war. There was no valid reason to wage it in the first place, and the "victory" only gave birth to new problems. ... In contrast, thanks to Hitler's unilateral aggression, the Second World War remains the most justifiable of all wars, at least for the countries he attacked. As a result, constant reference to the Second World War is used to strengthen the case for war, whereas lucid reflection on the First World War would rather be an incitement to pacifism. This partly explains the difference between the way the two are treated. -- Jean Bricmont, Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War, pp. 108-112
These are among the reasons for my locating many of the sources of the nightmare that still threatens to engulf us today in the First World War -- and why I used World War I as an unusually significant example of "The Folly of Intervention" (written over three years ago). I therefore repeat the essence of the pattern I identified, the pattern that still holds destruction over our heads:
Intervention always leads to more intervention: the first intervention leads to unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as the justification for still further intervention. That intervention in turn leads to still more unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as yet another justification for still further intervention. The process can go on indefinitely, and the ultimate consequences are always disastrous in the extreme.
And if you are thinking that this pattern holds true in domestic as well as in foreign affairs, you are entirely correct, as events continue to prove and as many of my essays discuss.

UPDATE: I will have much more on these issues when I get further into my Tribalism series. For the moment, I will note that this first comment is a vicious goddamned lie or, more accurately, it is a series of vicious goddamned lies. Very sadly to me, it is also utterly typical of a certain kind of reaction to my writing. To begin to understand why this kind of comment is so grossly wrong and unjust, you can start by reading the first three installments of the Tribalism series. As I say, I will soon have a lot more to say on this general subject. I also note that to begin by saying that my writing is "great" only makes the lies that much more vicious, and that much more unjust.

... and to add a critical point: I am one of a very few writers who has, in fact, proposed a detailed series of practical steps to deal with one of the greatest dangers that still faces us, and which is referenced above: an attack by the U.S. on Iran. See "Building an Effective Resistance," and see this follow-up essay as well. Not one -- not one -- liberal or progressive writer or blogger with a readership larger than my very small one managed to get up off his or her fat ass to urge people to follow even one of the steps I discussed, or to offer his own series of steps (which I repeatedly encouraged readers to think about). And if they couldn't be bothered when The Great Evil known as Bush was president, do you think for even a second they will do a damned thing when a Democrat is in the White House, and when Democrats control Congress? If you do think so, I'd offer to sell you a bridge together with some extraordinarily valuable land I have. I say I would offer to sell them, but all the liberal and progressive writers and bloggers have already bought them. Now that is depressing. It is also contemptibly unforgivable.