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On doing all evil deeds

This is a reply to Chris Williams' recent note on my piece on the UN
Compensation Commission. Chris says:

"I want to take issue with Peter's aside about 'we'. For two
reasons. The first is that although the UK is some kind of democracy (we
could go into the many ways whereby many decisions are not taken
democratically), this doesn't stop often large minorities within from having
their wishes and efforts over-ridden.
I have no intention of identifing with these people who control the UK, even
though they're doing it with my taxes.

The second is more factual. The SNP and the Lib Dems have both declared
their opposition to the current sanctions policy. The Greens are against it
too. I'm not sure about Plaid Cymru, but I imagine they are also.  I'm not
sure about the SSP (should be), but I'd be shocked if they weren't.

So of the parties with quasi-national representation, only Labour and the
Conservatives are in favour. I'm not sure if the UKIP has policy on it.
Together, this adds up to 'a substantial section of political life',
contrary to Peter's assertion."

and this is my reply:


Chris Williams takes issue with my statement that we are all (even CASI list
members) collectively responsible for the sins of the societies in which we
live. I would like to explain a little more clearly what I mean and why I
think its important. In doing this I know that I risk leading us all off on
another wild goose chase. Sorry, Ali.

First, though it may not seem necessary for the CASI list, let us remember
what we are talking about. We are talking about a government policy which
has resulted in some million or so people dying, slowly and horribly, who
would not have died otherwise. We are talking about a policy of devastating
a country's industrial infrastructure and then depriving it of the materials
that are necessary to rebuild. Of continual, relentless, often inconceivably
petty-minded acts of humiliation. And all this has been going on for ten
years on top of an 8 year war (the Iran-Iraq war) which I described in a
previous piece as more terrible for the populations concerned than the
Second World War was for us (the British. The war in eastern Europe - as it
was experienced by Serbs, for example - was something else).

And the governments that are chiefly responsible for this  the USA and the
UK governments, but all European governments without exception are
responsible, together with the near totality of their national media 
present themselves to the world as examples of moral rectitude with a right
to pass judgment on other peoples quite independently of the existing
structure of international law (the International Court of the Hague, not
the War crimes Tribunal which has been established to replace it in the
public imagination by a body dependent on the US) and even the UN Security
Council, even though it was almost  but not quite 100%  under US control.
As for the UN General Assembly, who is there among us who remembers that
such a body exists?

In the face of such evil, the belated and half hearted resolutions of some
minor parties in Britain, who will not make a major issue of it, do not
amount to very much. They are certainly less worthy of our respect than the
longstanding and very courageous activities of the Labour minority  George
Galloway, Tam Dalyell and friends  in parliament.

But so much for the convictions most of us share and which fill us all with
righteous anger, a pleasing sensation that enables us to feel we
are not responsible: THEY are the guilty ones.

Straightaway, this poses a problem for campaigning, and Colin Rowat has, I
think, on occasion, tried to draw attention to it. We, many of us, believe
our government is guilty of a sin comparable to the sins of the Nazis. I use
the word 'sin' rather than 'crime' because a crime is an offence against a
man-made law and since we, as one of the permanent members of the UN
Security Council, control the law it is not possible for us to commit a
crime; just as, once the Nazis got control of the German legal system, it
was not possible for them to commit a crime in Germany.

Perhaps if we make this comparison we may conclude that what the Nazis did
(at least after 1942) was worse but, nonetheless, it is a comparison that
suggests itself. But how can we expect Mr Blair, or Mr Cook or Mr Hain ever
to think such a thing? They have collectively assumed the responsibility not
just for what happened under their own stewardship but also for everything
that happened in this domain under the previous administration; and, through
their steadfast, uncritical alliance with the US government, they have in
addition assumed moral responsibility for all the horrors which that
government has performed throughout the world, horrors that are being
chronicled with patience, skill and even, improbable as it may seem, calm by
the great Noam Chomsky.

Mr Blair is, very publicly, a Christian and has been known to read the Bible
publicly in Church. If he were to accept our view of these matters (the view
that most of the active contributors to the list, myself included, seem to
share) he could only resign his office, enter a monastery and devote the
rest of his life to prayer and penitence.

Oh, that we should live in a society where such a thing would be possible,
but I think it is unlikely.

So the sort of arguments which are likely to succeed, to change the
government's policy, are not the outbursts of rage that are so appropriate
to the horror of the situation, but a weasel argument which goes something
like this: 'Sanctions aren't working ... People suffering not Saddam ...
Palaces ... Whiskey and cigarettes ... Only way to get the inspectors back
etc etc'  the sort of line that is currently being pursued in the
editorials of the Chicago Tribune (which adds that, should Saddam continue
to misbehave even after sanctions are lifted, the country should be nuked 
Chicago Tribune editorial, August 24, 2000 in the News Supplement,

But why go so far afield as the Chicago Tribune when we have an example
closer to hand in the Lib Dems' Robert Menzies Campbell, quoted by Chris
Williams as an example of virtue in British politics:

"The ordinary people of Iraq are the oppressed not the oppressors.
Their suffering is not caused by sanctions- it is caused by the evil
exploitation of sanctions by Saddam Hussein
But, remove the sanctions and you remove the opportunity for that
Remove the sanctions which are used by the regime in Iraq to justify the
systematic degradation of the Iraqi people by its own government and you
take that weapon away from Saddam Hussein."

And in case anyone might have missed the point:

"Non-military sanctions do not hurt Saddam Hussein and the elite who
surround him. But they are  used by him to hurt his own people.  After ten
years it is time [indeed!  PB] to deny that opportunity."

No monasteries for Mr Menzies Campbell!

But this argument may not be very convincing, since, as I keep on trying to
say, 'lifting sanctions' means restoring control over their economy to the
government and (though probably to a much lesser extent) people of Iraq; it
means kissing goodbye to compensation money, at least on the scale with
which it has been lashed out up until now; and it means a real possibility
that Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, will come back as a major player on the
world stage, with a great deal of prestige for having faced down the
mightiest power the world has ever known.

So there are actually 'good' reasons for keeping sanctions, or at least Oil
for Food, in place. And behind it all there is of course the very 'good'
political reason that we wish to secure control over the world's oil supply.
Why? Because we  you and I  like to think that, when we press a switch,
the light will come on; and that when we press an accelerator, the car will
start. And we don't like to think that a bunch of excitable Arabs could do
to us what we have just done to the Serbs  withhold heating oil in Winter
from the people we don't like and supply it to the people we do.

We are part of a system made up of parts that are wholly interdependent. It
is called ' the economy' and it is a system that goes beyond individual
responsibility. John Smith, as a Marxist, is probably the contributor to
this list best equipped to explain this. And yet, and yet ... The
particular variety of Marxism John Smith espouses has never been reduced to
practice for any length of time. The variety of Marxism that was reduced to
practice (and which, indeed, caught the imagination and engaged the hopes of
half the world's population) is now generally discredited. The mass murder
of around a million Iraqis and the 'bombies' that are still killing hundreds
of people each year in the Plain of the Jars in Laos, are part of the logic
of our system; the Gulag was part of the logic of their system.

As individuals without responsibility we can imagine ourselves to be outside
the systems. But we are fooling ourselves. And the day we win, the day we
actually take power, is the day we become aware of the fact. The point is
well illustrated throughout political history. Wrongs are righted and
replaced by a multitude of new wrongs. Slavery in the United States gives
way to the sharecropper system; and the pattern is repeated on a world
scale, as the end of the colonial system gives way to control through debt,
through the IMF. The countries of the world have a brief illusion of
independence (which they often use to settle scores among themselves) and
then a new yoke descends.

And what do we do about it? The Israeli/Palestinian conflict has imposed
itself recently on our limited attention span. Most contributors to this
list sympathise with the Palestinians (no-one has yet ventured a timid
pro-Israeli sentiment). The existence of Israel  its very existence, not
just the politics of its government  is a wrong done to the Palestinians.
So how can the wrong be righted? By the destruction of the state of Israel?
If the Arab world was not divided, largely by the US policy we all abhor;
and if Israel was not supported by huge financial subventions from the US,
that would be a feasible project. It would be highly satisfying, would it
not? A highly satisfying bloodbath.

No matter where we turn, who we support, what we do, our hands, OUR hands,
are drenched in blood, and if it is not real blood, that is largely a matter
of circumstances. The circumstances under which we live here in the UK are
very protected. They are protected by the USS Cole, among many other things,
not to mention the bending of the economy of the entire world to serve our
needs and our whims, to provide us with our Nike trainers, and our coffee in
the morning.

At the time that the Gulf War broke out, I was a Baha'i. I left the Baha'is
because I could find nothing in the Baha'i scriptures that corresponded to
the enormity of the situation (I simplify things a little). The only thing I
could find that suited was the Book of Isaiah. Christianity, insofar as it
deserves to be taken seriously, is based on what used to be called
'consciousness of sin'. The consciousness that sin is the normal condition
of our life, and that we all share in it, seems to me to be the only
possible rational standpoint from which the operations of the world can be

Peter Brooke

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