Yesterday, the Prime Minister re-announced that his Government had targeted British citizens with missiles fired from RAF drones. Two men are dead. The Sun and others have cheered the news. Others have expressed grave concern. Continue reading “Why we shouldn't execute Islamic State militants with air-strikes”
They are working class, inarticulate and insecure boys with no prospects other than the army. And when these men speak, they swear. It is integral to their vernacular. To sanitize their words would be to silence them.
Unfortunately the constraints of the page forbade me from elaborating on this point…. but luckily, I have a blog.
The swearing of the enlisted men is also important because of the contrast it presents with the officer class, and the politicians who have sent Scottish soldiers into harm’s way for centuries. The show has a marvellous musical number where Lord Elgin, in full highland dress and regalia, prances around the stage, beckoning the young men to sign-up: “hurrah, hurrah!” He speaks the Queen’s English, and he is as mendacious as they come (“did I mention it would be all over by Christmas” he says as he sends the soldiers off to Flanders in 1914). In this context, the Fifer accents of the soldiers are a necessity. Homogenising the language would be an act of class warfare.
To my mind, the final genius of Black Watch lies in the juxtaposition between the coarse language and the stunning physical theatre. One reason why Steven Hoggett’s choreography is so powerful is because the precise and often tender movements emerge from characters who have been f-ing and c-ing just moments before. The combination jars the audience and is compelling, and it is the rude words that tee-up this possibility.
The Great War began 100 years ago, but it still feels like part of our world. First, because the outcome of that war shaped the rest of the twentieth century, and framed many of our current obsessions. But also because most of us are only once-removed from the action. I was born relatively late in the twentieth century, yet I met and was photographed with a great-grandfather who fought on the Western Front. Many of us will have spoken to relatives who remember the conflict (even if they were not combatants).
The centenary of the war is a landmark moment that prompts me to ponder how history is like a concertina. Sometimes, events feel very close; at other times, they are incredibly far away. We often get a shock when we realise that an event we think of as quite recent is actually ‘history’ (today, for example, Twitter is in shock that ‘Everybody Want To Rule The World’ by Tears For Fears is thirty years old). Continue reading “Waterloo and the First World War – Timeline Twins”
The news is hideous. 298 people died when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over Ukraine, apparently by pro-Russian separatists. Meanwhile, almost as many people have been killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes, in response to Hamas firing rockets into Israel.
In both cases, the news reports emphasise the number of children killed. It’s a common journalistic practice that we take for granted, which is actually quite curious.
What is being communicated? Is it that a child’s death is somehow more tragic, because they have not had a chance to properly experience life? If so, what about all the dead adults who have still not achieved their potential?
Continue reading “On the killing of children”
I have yet to post anything on Syria, and what the international response should be to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. This omission is mainly because I was away when the House of Commons voted on whether to join in with any military action, and I missed all the debates over the morality of intervention. By the time I began consuming media again after my time in a communications blind spot, the conversation had become about whether David Cameron and Ed Miliband’s political fortunes had been helped or hindered by the parliamentary vote. I was coming to the issue with fresh eyes and ears, and such parochial analysis felt incredibly crass and wholly beside the point.
For the past ten days, there has been much discussion about how our collective democratic experience of the Iraq war in 2003 has affected our political judgements a decade later. Clearly the sense of betrayal that many of us felt back then still remains. The brutal aftermath in Iraq, and our lengthy, corrosive presence in Afghanistan has made everyone wary of more military action in the Middle East. Continue reading “Thoughts on Syria”
A few years agao, I blogged about the campaign to save the Iraqi translators who had worked for British troops in the country. Appallingly, the British Government refused to give them asylum, even though it was their work helping (perhaps, even keeping alive) British soldiers that had got them into trouble in the first place.
Via Aavaz, I learn that the British Government may now repeat this shameful episode in relation to translators working with British forces in Afghanistan. They want to give compensation, in lieu of asylum.
This really is not good enough. We have a duty to protect these people. Failure to do so would not only be a moral outrage – it would damage the reputation of British forces abroad and make it much harder to recruit local translators for future military operations.
Aavaz have a petition, which I have signed. Please do the same.
Why does the British Government drag its heels on these ethical no-brainers? I worry that it is down to the confused debate about immigration in this country. Asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants and illegal immigrants are all very different types of migrant, but they are all spoken of as similarly illegitimate and unwelcome. We cannot allow an immature debate at home to hobble our soliders working abroad.
Ugh. I just unwhittingly clicked on a YouTube video showing the immediate aftermath of the assasination of Ahmed Al-Jabari in Gaza. A passer-by drags out dead body from the car… and half of it is missing. It is sickening and certainly Not Safe For Work or children. I wonder how long it will remain live on YouTube before the company removes it for being too graphic.
The video is a huge contrast to the clinical black and white footage distributed by the Israeli Defence Force. Ever since Operation Desert Storm there has been discussion of the way in which TV pictures frame our view of war, sanitising the horror. In recent years there has also been much analysis of the ‘gamification’ of war, as soldiers brough-up on video games join the army and begin shooting real people. The two contrasting images of the same incident speak to that dehumanising tendency.
The gruesome, visceral aftermath also provides some understanding of the hatred towards Israel that steams out of Palestine. In the background of the video you can see children observing the scene. I am glad that I never saw such sights in my childhood. Is it any surprise that those who experience such visual traumas grow up to hate those responsible? Time and again, I find my thoughts returning to this 2005 essay by Laurie King on the symbolism of the body in war, occupation and resistance:
These violations [at Sabra and Shatila] of individual bodies were not haphazard or random acts carried out in the heat of murderous rage, but rather, part of a grammar of political exclusivity, a systemic and coherent — though certainly deranged — message that an entire group could be violated, perhaps even eradicated, with impunity. The message of that massacre endures and echoes a quarter of a century later. Its scars are social, physical, and symbolic, and are felt far beyond the scene of the crime.
So what we have here are different methods of dehumanisation. The fact that these people we fight against are our fellow humans is forgotten in the melee and the maelstrom. Some comments psoted below the video of the half-body:
Lol, not much of him left, and nice slug trail to boot (link)
I wish wars still involved swordmanship and valor but now we got this lame no effort shit. Oh well. (link)
Where’s the rest of him? Ah well…One less scum bag polluting the world (link)
These are not the comments of those who see the other side as human.
See also: Twitter and the anti-Playstation effect on war coverage.
I’ve been silent on the Gaza issue. Not because I haven’t been following developments, but because I do not have anything new or interesting to say. I’ve just re-read my take on the 2006 Israel-Lebanon crisis, and my view on the current catastrophe is very similar – the military response lacks imagination. If you’re faced with a situation where bombing civilians seems to be the only course of action left open to you, then you’ve already been outmanoeuvered, you have already lost, and the only thing you are playing for is your own soul, your own humanity. Those who persecute these strikes simply lack an understanding of the mess they’re in. Either that, or they are waging war for cynical, electoral reasons.
Watching the UN impotently go through their motions, its clear that the tired, tried and tested route through these kinds of crises are futile. Anything from ‘outside the box’ would be welcome at this juncture. It is the unexpected gestures that regain the initiative, and provide a solution, a new momentum.
This suggestion from Jeffrey Goldberg caught my eye:
Why not erect a massive tent hospital in Sderot, staff it with Israeli army doctors, and treat the Palestinian wounded there?
A PR stunt, to be sure, but at least its humane.