I was in the audience for the BBC TV programme The Big Questions (produced by the private company Mentorn Scotland), that has debates from a moral/religious viewpoint, often but not always on political issues, last Sunday in Salford for a pre-recorded special on the subject of “Is war ever just?”
It will be shown tomorrow (Sunday 26 January at 10am) – probably on BBC1 (possibly switched to BBC2). Nicky Campbell didn’t select me from the audience to make a point (or ask a question to the panel on the front row who dominated the show) but I’m writing this blog post to make some points I could have raised (and I will tweet links to this blog entry when the programme is aired).
My newly founded party, Left Unity (which I admitted to being a member of when asked by a woman who rang me before inviting me onto the show, perhaps influencing me not being picked to speak), has a position of opposition to glorification of war (throughout 2014 which is the 100th anniversary, i.e. centenary, of the start of what was then called “The Great War” and “The war to end all wars”, and is now known as “The First World War” or “World War I”).
The extremely annoying and incompetent Tory toff and ConDem Education Secretary Michael Gove has argued against teachers in school showing “Oh! What a Lovely War”, “The Monocled Mutineer” and “Blackadder Goes Forth” because they put across left-wing viewpoints, in an article in the Daily Mail. That “newspaper” (very right-wing rag) incidentally supported the fascist Blackshirts in Britain and the Nazis in Germany before the World War II – see my blog post Ed & Ralph Miliband v Daily Mail (who said “Hurrah for Blackshirts”) – David Cameron’s father Ian was a tax dodger!
Another Mail article entitled History dons back Gove over ban on Blackadder: Great War comedy is not a documentary for schools, they argue does at least provide some balance, including the following: Professor Richard Evans “said the Education Secretary was right to criticise shows like Blackadder – although they differed sharply on his broader point that the conflict had been a ‘just war’.” and also having the following paragraphs:
But the academic, speaking on Radio Four’s World at One yesterday, attacked Mr Gove’s interpretation of the war, saying he was ‘peddling his own political myths’.
Professor Evans said: ‘He wants to argue Britain was fighting for democracy but he has obviously forgotten that Britain’s main ally was Tsarist Russia – a despotism far greater than anything in the Kaiser’s Germany.
‘You also have to remember that only 40 per cent of adult men had the vote in Britain. [He could have added that no women had the vote at that time – SW.]
‘The war was a very complex set of circumstances and it is wrong of Mr Gove to reduce it to patriotic tub-thumping that we should support the soldiers.
‘Of course no one wants to belittle their heroism and self-sacrifice, but we have to look at the war in the round and the long term.’
So what is Gove complaining about? Here are some quotes from Blackadder Goes Forth (on Wikiquote):
Melchett: Field Marshal Haig has formulated a brilliant new tactical plan to ensure final victory in the field.
Blackadder: Ah. Would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and walking very slowly towards the enemy?
Captain Darling: How could you possibly know that, Blackadder? It’s classified information!
Blackadder: It’s the same plan that we used last time and the seventeen times before that.
Melchett: Exactly! And that is what is so brilliant about it! It will catch the watchful Hun totally off guard! Doing precisely what we’ve done eighteen times before is exactly the last thing they’ll expect us to do this time! There is, however, one small problem.
Blackadder: That everyone always gets slaughtered in the first ten seconds.
Melchett: That’s right. And Field Marshal Haig is worried this may be depressing the men a tad. So he’s looking for a way to cheer them up.
Blackadder: Well, his resignation and suicide seems the obvious choice.
Melchett: Hmm, interesting thought. Make a note of it, Darling.
Apart from the quote “walking very slowly towards the enemy” rather than charging, and perhaps having already tried it precisely 18 times, it is basically accurate.
Of course there are many other sources for information about World War I, and I would argue that they can be used as well for balance (letting school students make up their own minds rather than being spoon-fed Tory propaganda according to the national curriculum), but the attempt to create a patriotic/nationalist mood in the UK from this centenary must be resisted. Also, allowing students/pupils to enjoy lessons by showing programmes with humour is a good thing, since many find lessons boring!
Gove perhaps hopes that mass jingoism like at the time of the Falklands/Malvinas War will sweep a greatly unpopular Tory government, this time with LibDem support, back into power – like with Thatcher defeating Michael Foot (who previously had a big lead in the opinion polls) in the 1983 general election and the subsequent (false) claim that Labour under Foot was too left-wing and “unelectable”.
The result was not just many more years of the Tories but Labour’s big lurch to the right, particularly under Tony Blair (BLIAR), and the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under Blair with no “exit strategy” causing the huge mess both countries are in today.
I argued at the time of the war on Iraq that it was for oil – partly correct and a better position than simply arguing a pacifist line like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) did with “Stop this bloody war” placards, or simply arguing that there were no weapons of mass destruction or that there was no mandate from the United Nations. The SWP controlled the Stop the War Coalition (but a split-off organisation called Counterfire now does) and their placards “Not in our name” were not designed to win anybody over to opposing the war who hadn’t already decided to.
However, I now argue that the main motivation was divide-and-rule (in this case between people of different religions), the main strategy of the ruling class (big business and their allies in governments, loosely the 1%) that they have deployed time and time again in history (including the partition of Ireland into the Republic and six of the nine counties of Ulster to guarantee, at least for a long time, a Protestant majority in the North).
The Project for a New American Century which included key Republicans including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, in a leaked document argued for “a new Pearl Harbor” (referring to its bombing by Japanese warplanes, which had allegedly been spotted and they could have been intercepted, causing the USA to enter World War II). I wrote a blog entry entitled 9/11 was (in part) the “inside job” to end all inside jobs (literally), providing very strong evidence from a BBC Conspiracy Files TV programme about The Third Tower (WTC7), which wasn’t even hit by a plane and collapsed in a matter of seconds about 8 hours after the first two supposedly due to fire (there is a link to the programme in full on YouTube) saying the following among other concluding remarks:
So what do I think now? Well, I got a tingle through my body yesterday which I tend to get when I’ve come to an important conclusion, in talking about 9/11 being an inside job (in part since I think some Muslims were involved, manipulated by the US state) to make Islam the new “bogeyman” to replace the USSR, and also noting that no further inside jobs by the West have been necessary (indeed, they could be counterproductive in raising suspicions).
I was in the Militant Tendency (and Militant Labour and the Socialist Party as it was later called) from 1990-98. Our position was that of Leon Trotsky, in regarding both the First and Second World Wars as between rival imperialisms trying to increase the size of their empires. While I agree with that in relation to World War I, it was completely wrong for World War II which could have led to world fascism, perhaps lasting forever with no hope of democracy (never mind socialism) in the future!
Militant defined fascism as a mass movement of the middle class and “lumpenproletariat” (which we loosely regarded as unemployed, low waged and non-unionised workers) – part of the working class (proletariat) unlike the modern term “underclass”, which suggests some such people are not workers at all. If such a mass movement, with spies everywhere, had been adopted internationally following on from a Nazi victory, it would have been disastrous. Some say that code-breakers (of the Nazis’ Enigma machine) at Bletchley Park, particularly Alan Turing (persecuted by the British state after the war for his homosexuality despite this achievement which finally led him to commit suicide), could have shortened the length of the war by two years. Wrong, it could have been decisive in who won!
My general position in support of the Allies in World War II is not to overlook what would now be regarded as war crimes – in particular, targeting civilian populations, with conventional weapons (in Dresden for example) or with nuclear bombs (in Hiroshima and Nagasaki). I also do not imply support for Winston Churchill generally, in his motives in opposing the Nazis or for his other political acts (such as sending in troops against striking miners provoking the Tonypandy Riots).
The landslide victory of Clement Atlee’s Labour over Churchill’s Tories at the 1945 general election following the war was supposed to be a shock, but soldiers were promised “a land fit for heroes” and the Tories didn’t offer it in their manifesto. Labour called for (and subsequently implemented) a massive expansion of the welfare state – which is being eroded by the ConDem government now. That is the point of Ken Loach’s film The Spirit of ’45 (with him calling for a new party of the left, in part to defend that welfare state, Left Unity which I am a member of).
The issue of world fascism today is posed more by the encroachment of the surveillance state, with spying by computers largely replacing spying by people. Edward Snowden’s revelations of huge databases containing information about virtually everyone on the planet (who uses internet services based in the USA at least but phone call data is collected too) stored and analysed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) in the PRISM project. Similarly, GCHQ collects data in the UK via Tempora. Different capitalist governments sometimes collaborate in such spying, but the revelation that phones of world leaders who are supposed to be allies (allegedly including German Chancellor Angela Merkel by the NSA) caused a furore. Although such surveillance currently requires many human beings, to supplement artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, the biggest threat of all is computers running the world, virtually on their own, preventing well-intentioned people within security services from sabotage and also leaving no scope for whistleblowers. As the main designer and sole implementer of the AI/simulation language SDML, which could be used for similar AI algorithms on a much smaller scale, I know it is possible.
I have written two blog entries on these ideas of world fascism via programmes like PRISM and Tempora – The purpose of PRISM – stopping worldwide socialist revolution forever with Orwellian 1984-style society and (later) #copsoffcampus demos against police clampdown on student protests – infiltration, PRISM & possible UK police state.