Freedom of Speech? My Arse!


I know this blog is meant to be a place to throw some dirt around, but perhaps this is too much information: one of the books that is by the crapper in our house is a collection of Alistair Cooke’s Letters from America. Pithy, perfectly lengthed pieces on everything important from 1945 to 2004. And the memories of that relaxed, mid-Atlantic drawl is so relaxing it…. I’ll stop there and get to the point, which is a head of steam that has been building since I sat this morning and happened upon his broadcast for 24th March 1968.

Discussing the US administration’s justification for continuing operations in Vietnam – where the US now had over half a million troops – he discusses how some had made analogies to the war in Korea. This he rejects: “there was clear aggression, so defined by all the sitting members of the United Nations Security Council”, and continues:

I myself keep thinking of Napoleon’s disastrous adventure in Haiti. The ideology and the excuse for this overseas expedition were quite different from ours. On the contrary, Napoleon moved to denounce and destroy the extension of self-government to the natives. But strategically, the adventure so far from home has a lesson for us. To put down the native peoples he dispatched an expedition of seven warships and forty-five thousand of his crack soldiers. But there was a native general, Christophe, who revived […] the practice of guerrilla warfare. Not all the armament and skill of the most modern army in Europe could suppress those roving guerrillas who never stood and made a front, who pounded prepared positions and dissolved into the earth. A ragged native population whipped the best of France.”

Expensive wars creep up on people. With no definable act of aggression to start them, and fought in a far off place against an invisible enemy, popular support in the theatre of operations is going to be hard to come by, and accusations of imperialism are going to get made.

What are we fighting for now? “Freedom of speech”, a Labour hack said this morning, after I’d read these words. Not the weapons of mass destruction that can’t be found. Not against a tyrannical maniac able to blow up Cyprus in 45 minutes. The war of words now states that we are fighting for the right for people to express themselves freely.

So yes, I find it outrageous, yes I find my blood boiling, yes I want to spit expletives and post excrement to Number 10 when I see an 82 year old man, a faithful party member, being yanked, tugged, pulled, pushed, grabbed, threatened, man-handled out of a Labour party conference speech. For what? For shouting ‘nonsense’ when Jack Straw spouted his guff, broke wind up his vocal cords, and flabbed his usual bollocks about why people are continuing to die. This freedom of speech doesn’t even extend to the ranks of his own party. The man was thrown out, his security pass invalidated, and then held under the prevention of terrorism act when he tried to re-gain entry.

Should we withdraw immediately from Iraq? Probably not. Was Saddam a great guy? Clearly not. But should we have got into this mess? No. Are we safer as a result? No. Should we stand for all these lies and deceits and erosions of a free society? No. Will we ever look back at Napoleon exasperated in Haiti, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon run ragged in Vietnam, Bush and Blair embattled in Iraq and learn not to do it the same way again? I doubt it. Rant over? Yes.

Respect Walter Wolfgang.


8 responses to “Freedom of Speech? My Arse!”

  1. Put like that it’s hard to aver, but there is something, isn’t there, in the notion that the war has *become* about freedom of speech because the longer we fight it the more we discover that it’s what our enemy — and it’s our enemy whether we like it or not — hates. So, for example, we’re on the side of the people who queued to vote in Afghanistan, the girls who are now allowed to be educated, the music-lovers who are finally allowed to dance. WMDs, oil, a foothold in the Middle East…these were always pretexts. Those of us who saw the war in terms of the fight against international fascism have seen some dreams eroded, sure, not least because of the moral chernobyl that was Abu Ghraib, but is it a war we can afford to lose?

  2. “The war has ‘become’ about freedom of speech because the longer we fight it the more we discover that it’s what our enemy — and it’s our enemy whether we like it or not — hates”
    This may be true – and of course I wouldn’t want to go back on the good things that have happened. But at what price? What worries me is that a war is being fought in order to bring freedom of speech… but in order to gain it, freedom of speech is being curtailed.
    The ends and means don’t match up, so the whole lacks integrity. It’s rather like communist uprising idea that ‘a little bloodshed on the way to the glorious revolution will be required, in order that there will be no more bloodshed.’ And of course, what we got was a hell of a lot more bloodshed under Stalin etc.
    It just seems that the goal-posts have been constantly moved in some very deliberate and slipperly ‘politicking’. As I said, we’re in it now, so need to sort it out. But this shouldn’t mean we don’t regret getting into it in this way, and seeking solutions that have integrity to get out. This sort of politics really annoys me. The argument that goes “Well would you prefer it if Saddam was still in power?” is disempowering and very dangerous. It ignores any responsibility for how we got into the situation, and places the questioner – a large section of the electorate in this case – in a position where they appear to be in favour of the aggressor. A neat trick, but one that will sour politics for a very long time.

  3. Working backwards, from Iraq back to Afghanistan back to Bosnia…at which point should we have stopped? Or was involvement in all those equally wrong?
    Sorry — having fun here arguing. Hope you don’t mind.

  4. Oh I’d go much further… Probably back to the blatant human rights offences post walls of Jericho!
    I don’t think involvement has been wrong per se. But the nature of the involvement, by which I mean the attitude of leaders, the approaches taken to situations, has been wrong in many ways for a long time.
    It is clearly difficult to get exactly right, but when one is funding one group of radicals to displace another set you don’t like, then they turn their weapons on you, you have to admit your own stupidity. It is this general militarism, this underhand approach of slipping funds and missiles, that appears to be blowing up in our face.
    There needs to be an approach much more based around openness and discussion. And we need to start modelling this now.
    The dual problem with the current approach is, of course, that others use the same excuses – ‘we are fighting a war on terror’ – to justify their own awful practices.

  5. I got a solution to Iraq…
    You know how we all send troops there and they kill and get killed… well, why don’t we just get volunteers to live there… like assylum seekers, and do some house-swapping maybe. Then we can affect change from a local point of view, and our nation can benefit from Iraqis living with us!
    People will probably still get killed… but I wonder how this appraoch to warfare would reduce the casualities and unite people?
    (Obviously I vote Bush to be the first to move out there – but then I’m a pretentious arse-hole!)

  6. Simon Jones

    Understood, but — much as I find it worrying in other ways — I think you could argue that the neo-cons (at least those of the Wolfowiz type) have a much more genuinely held ideology than the Kissinger-style ‘interests’ foreign policy.
    PW seems genuinely to believe that people are happier (though he might not use that word) under liberal democracies and market economies. Hence he seems to argue for the creation of such in Iraq even when it’s way past there being any interests for the US. It’s complicated by the fact that Kissinger types (like Rumsfeld) are still around, and that different rules seem to apply in South America, but it’s hard not to agree that being willing to do something — even if that’s a move to a liberal capitalism you’re unconvinced by — is ‘better’ than being unwilling to do anything. Because, to me, the cases where we’ve done bugger all — Rwanda being the biggest example, but also Sudan and Zimbabwe, maybe — are a worse thing to have on your conscience.
    This is all before the argument that says civil war was inevitable in Iraq at some point anyway.

  7. I’m happy for PW to have a genuinely held ideology… But not happy for them to arrogantly impose it around the world. It may well not be in the US interest any more to have a stable Iraq (though this was part of the initial motivation – and the rest has been a process of trying to save face and clear up the mess) but it is unspeakably arrogant for it to intervene to impose an ideology if this is the case.
    I may think that my wife would suit a different hairstyle – though it makes no odds to me. And I might be right. But to force her to have the cut against her will is no honorable thing.
    Part of the problem is the always-on networked world we live in. The paper the other day invited us to imagine a country in which women had only just been allowed the vote and had few property rights, homosexuality was forbidden in law and the state religion, most people attended worship, but did so because of social pressures, women were required to cover up when in public and those over 30 were pressured to wear all black… Iraq? Afghanistan? No. The UK 100 years ago.
    The point? Was it right these things changed? Of course. But we were allowed to do so without the external pressures of a super-power forcing change on us through every portal and gun barrel. Yes, things need to change in the Arab world. But we are foolish to hurry these changes too quickly – if we do there will just be huge inertia and resistance, and things will get hot and broken. The best way to change things? Show just what a fantastic system we have: fair, just, inclusive, cultured, democratic, tolerant… Trouble is, with the horrors of Abu GHraib, heavy-handed conference officials, dodgy ‘intelligence’ and Guantanamo we are left looking foolish.
    “What do you think of Western Civilization Mr Gandhi?”
    “I think it would be a very good idea.”
    Precisely. Be the change you want to see. Don’t compromise on the means to reach the end. Unfortunately we have failed massively in this, and lost a hell of a lot of ground for it.

  8. Hi Kester and cyberfriends. I was at the greenbelt blogging seminar and am loving catching up on the site.
    At the risk of sounding too Orwellian we have to remember that WAR is PEACE and PEACE is WAR.
    This hit home to me most eloquently when hundreds of thousands of teachers, young people, farmers, OAPs, hippies, and the general public marched against the upcoming Iraq war 2.
    Tony Blair made what was effectively the most chilling statement I’ve heard for a long time.
    His message was, if you march for peace you’re actually encouraging war. If you believe in love you might as well be torturing Kurds yourself.
    He couched it in friendly matey language but it was a pretty harsh assessment. However well-meaning they were, marchers were wrong.
    If you stand up to Saddam, if you show him your military might and flex cruise missiles, jets and all the mighty arsenal of the 21st century against him, then we will have peace.
    Nixon followed this logic when his “secret bombings’ and mining of Hanoi harbour (I think) were the precursor to “peace with honour”.
    But of course reality intrudes. Shows of agression lead to violence.
    And now, to leave a country we invaded and brought unending carnage too, would be a bad thing.
    But, when you come back to it, Jesus says love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you. It’ll hurt and we haven’t all got the stomach for it, but at least you know where you are. No-one could argue with that.
    Elsewhere doublethink is alive and well in the Bush and Blair cabinet (and in the church too, but that’s another story)
    Thanks guys.