allan cameron on ukraine
On Sunday the 6th of this month, I listened to the start of Will Self’s “essay” on Radio 4 – a short ten-minute lecture – and he started off in his reliably amusing and incisive manner. It was of course about Ukraine and very soon I thought that he was going to do a Christopher Hitchens or a Nick Cohen (once thinkers you had to listen to) which meant leaping over the railing that keeps us in our place, and joining the openly imperial NATO cheerleaders. Perhaps he did, but I did something I am a little ashamed of: I switched the radio off. I imagined a Will Self who in six months talks of “mature democracies” and the civilising role of the West, and looked further ahead at him getting a CBE or even a knighthood. I didn’t want to listen to someone I respect being lifted on the wave of excitement and hysteria all wars seem to generate especially in the era of social media – from little wars like the Falklands to wars that could end in the nuclear destruction of our planet. I don’t know where he went as he developed his argument so I cannot write about him, but what little I listened to demonstrated the bizarre efficacy of our propaganda, and only strengthened my dismay at the amnesia and racism that has typified our discourse since the invasion. That was when I decided that to remain silent on this issue is tantamount to culpability.
I have argued about this on social media and have been called a Putin-apologist and a “tankie” (which generally means someone who supported the invasion of Czechoslovakia, while in reality my adolescent self decided never to become a member of a Moscow-led Communist Party and thought that Brezhnev had turned down the best opportunity to explore the possibilities of a humane and liberal socialism). I understand that such insults are used to avoid debate rather than to engage in it and therefore should not be taken personally. All wars are obscenities. That much is clear, and as with all wars we should wish for an immediate cessation and not become armchair generals delighting in casualties on one side and outdoing everyone else in weeping for casualties on the other, following that tradition of seeing all conflicts as Manichaean struggles between good and evil.
For a long time it has been fashionable to compare all wars with the Second World War because that one had a clear and genuine moral dimension (although not so much between good and evil as between a greater evil, which was Nazi Germany, and a lesser evil, which included Stalin’s criminal regime and the allies who seemed more interested in recruiting war criminals than punishing them – and worse). The invasion of Ukraine has no parallels with that war but it does have some with First World War: there is little moral distinction between the two sides. The trigger, which may have been Zelensky’s bizarre threat that Ukraine would develop its own nuclear weapons, is irrelevant. At least one of the sides was seeking war and a trigger was always going to be found.
Russian soldiers are dying, Ukrainian soldiers are dying and Ukrainian civilians are dying irrespective of whether they support Ukraine or Russia. The rest of us – civilians, military men and commentators (including me – in my very small way) are living our lives very much as we always have. This too was true of the First World War, although we should be having the added fear of nuclear destruction and yet I don’t see much sign of it. People are probably more concerned about the price of petrol. As in the First World War – and less tragically during covid – some of the few are going to increase their riches and many are going to get even poorer.
Image by IADE-Michoko, www.pixabay.com
This preamble cannot exclude some mention of how propagandistic the Western media is and in particular the Anglo-Saxon ones. It has always existed in war, and the War of Jenkin’s Ear is a well-known example, but its practitioners in the twentieth believe that they have turned it into a science, and it is undeniable that they have achieved some stunning results, but all of them extremely damaging mainly to Third-World countries. I quote from Edward Bernays’s Propaganda, published in the US in 1928:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
He possibly overstates his case or boast, but in the 1950s he was responsible for the successful overturning of the Guatemalan democratically elected government which probably brought little benefit to the US in the long term and did bring thirty-five years of misery to the country itself. The question of Ukraine has to be approached with a great deal of scepticism towards both sides. When Putin calls the West, the Empire of Lies, however, he is not far from the truth.
It also has to be said that aggression is not only invading countries; it is also bringing superior forces to the borders of a country. This is what happened to that honourable institution, the Commonwealth of the Kingdom of Poland and the Duchy of Lithuania in the late eighteenth century. Another "civilised” alliance – this time of the Hapsburgs, Prussia and Russia which we could call the CETO or Central European Treaty Organisation – took their huge armies to the borders of Poland and demanded the cession of vast territories to each of these major powers. Poland had no choice but to cede, and it was reduced to a much weaker state. About fifteen years later the same armies returned to its borders and demanded its complete capitulation. Poland disappeared from the political map without a shot being fired but its language and culture survived, though perhaps not in the wonderfully tolerant and “multicultural” form it originally had, if it is acceptable to apply that very modern concept to the eighteenth century.
Equally, the eastward march of NATO and its nuclear weapons is an act of aggression. The inclusion of Belarus and Ukraine in NATO would bring missiles very close to Moscow, and the Federation could be militarily defeated at great cost in Russian lives without the absolute certainty of similar destruction being wrought on the US. A suitably risk-taking administration in North America could be tempted and let’s face it, that’s not an impossibility. More importantly the Russians have been frightened by these developments – very probably including most of those who demonstrate against the war (if I were a Russian I would be both concerned about NATO and also demonstrating against the war, because I am a pacifist).
What is clear is that the Biden and previous administrations had been warned that hostility to Ukrainian membership of NATO was to be found throughout Russian society and all of the political spectrum. The president recently appointed the leading US expert on Russia, William Burns, as head of the CIA (an appointment which in itself suggests that Russian business was coming down the line). At the moment Burns argues that the US is too far in to pull out, but his original advice was very different and it is worth quoting directly from Peter Beinart’s article, which is my source:
The Biden narrative … [is] that were Putin not in power, Russia’s government would have no problem with Ukraine joining NATO. And it implies that the US bears no responsibility for the current standoff. According to Bill Burns, Biden’s own CIA Director, neither of those claims are true. Two years ago, Burns wrote a memoir entitled, The Back Channel. It directly contradicts the argument being proffered by the administration he now serves. In his book, Burns says over and over that Russians of all ideological stripes—not just Putin—loathed and feared NATO expansion. He quotes a memo he wrote while serving as counsellor for political affairs at the US embassy in Moscow in 1995. ‘Hostility to early NATO expansion,’ it declares, ‘is almost universally felt across the domestic political spectrum here.’ On the question of extending NATO membership to Ukraine, Burns’ warnings about the breadth of Russian opposition are even more emphatic. ‘Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin),’ he wrote in a 2008 memo to then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. ‘In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests’.
I may well be wrong, but my hunch is that Biden ignored this advice not because he thought that it was wrong, but because he didn’t care and because he felt powerful enough not to.
Those who demonise Russia mostly know very little about its history in the twentieth century. They may well know that twenty-seven million Russians died in the Second World War, but they have never computed that into what it might mean for each Russian individual. In last July’s newsletter I mentioned Sven Lindqvist’s startling statistics (the death of 3.3 million Russian soldiers in German POW camps, 57% of the total POWs compared with a death rate of 3% for British POWs, and the plan to reduce the Russian and Polish population to 100 million to be used as slave labour for “Aryan” colonists).
Since then I’ve read Svetlana Alexeivich’s The Last Witnesses, a collection of personal accounts of people who had been children during the Second World War. This corroborates Lindqvist, because in some towns and villages the incoming Nazi army annihilated the entire population and in others they “only” killed communist party members, Jews, Gypsies and those other groups they wished to sweep away. The people of the “lucky” towns were presumably allocated to be the future slaves, and in fact many were sent westwards as slave labour at the time and their chances of returning were not good. Children were also sent westwards to small camps where they were used for building up stocks of blood for transfusion in military hospitals. Many children died because so much blood was extracted from them. Reading this book was as traumatic as Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man … and I advise reading it in two sessions with other books between them because it is so overwhelming. Read it and understand what this did to the Russian psyche. It puts this invasion in its historical context, and allows us to come to the main argument of this newsletter: the amnesia and the racism. Russians are accused of hankering after empire (an accusation currently better directed at the English or those who put the current government in power), but really Russians are concerned about the repetition of terrible events.
The image of Condoleezza Rice’s straight face while stating in an American interview that the invasion of any independent country is a despicable act and can never be excused is only one of many. However, that is a good place to start because the main reason for going into the second Gulf War was that Saddam Hussein presented a threat to the West with his weapons of mass destruction, which he could deliver in less than an hour. The invasion was not endorsed by the UN, and the UN weapons inspector Hans Blix asked for another month or two to conclude his investigations and the Western alliance refused to give it. Why is it acceptable for the West to invade over a non-existent threat, while it is not for Russia when the threat is in the light of day and it has been trying to draw attention to it for years?
Stoltenberg argues that NATO is a defensive organisation, when clearly that is not what it has been in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Why is NATO expanding, if it is defensive, and why is it moving nuclear weapons closer to Russia? It seems that the answer is that wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, South Asia, Africa or Latin America are acceptable but not in Europe or North America. In fact, it is suggested that the invasion of Ukraine is wrong because it is “in Europe” or “in a civilised country”. I don’t think that anyone has gone so far as to say “because Ukrainians are white”. But that is what is being suggested or at least that is how it is seen in the Third World, as a Sri-Lankan journalist makes clear:
It was inevitable that when brown-skinned Afghan refugees fleeing war were turned away from European borders over the past few years, the callous actions of these governments would come back to haunt them. A whopping one million people have fled Ukraine from Russia’s violent invasion in the span of only a week. They are being welcomed – as refugees should be – into neighbouring nations, inviting accusations of racist double standards. Poland offers the most egregious example of national racism. Its government, whose nation borders Ukraine, has warmly welcomed traumatized Ukrainians, just months after turning away Afghans. If these optics weren’t bad enough, Polish nationalists have sought out people of colour who are among the refugees fleeing Ukraine and violently attacked them. According to the Guardian, ‘three Indians were beaten up by a group of five men, leaving one of them hospitalized.’ African nationals studying in Ukraine joined the exodus after Russia’s invasion, and have been stopped at the Polish border. Poland might as well erect a giant sign on its border declaring, ‘whites only’”. [Sonali Kolhatkar, “Why don’t we treat all Refugees as though they were Ukrainian?” Sri Lanka Guardian, Saturday 5th March 2022]
The different treatment of Ukraine does not stop there. When the West invaded Iraq for the second time in just over ten years, journalists were “embedded” in the allied armies. No one spoke to the civilians who were dying in large numbers; no one counted their dead (a specific decision of the US Army). We do know that they used the shock and awe military technique which involves bombarding a country for some time before moving in, and in particular depriving the country of water and electricity.
Image, Pexels, www.pixabay.com
Today I heard complaints on the radio about this being done in Mariupol, and while I understand that this a terrible situation for a civilian population to find itself in, I can’t help thinking back to hotter and drier Iraq and thinking what that must have been like when the allies did this on the first day. Did anyone care? The BBC reported this but not as crime against humanity, but merely a necessary military procedure. Viewers saw the flashing lights, like a fireworks display, but not the civilian dead and the disruption to Iraqi lives. The alliance was so enamoured of this technique that it named the whole operation after it. This is not what Putin is doing in Ukraine – at least for the moment – but he was capable of this kind of military action, as the Second Chechen War demonstrated, and clearly Chechens were not Europeans because no one in the West worried about it and Putin was invited to visit the President and the Queen at the time, which must mean the Anglo-American seal of approval.
The day after Self’s radio essay, I flew to Rome and as departure was very early, the airport newsagent was closed, so I picked up free copies of the Times and the Metro instead. Both were to prove interesting. The Metro had the following headline: When men perceive themselves as gods, they become beasts and below there was a picture of Putin, just in case you hadn’t guessed who they were talking about. There is a degree of truth in this, of course, but instead of personalising it, I would suggest that we have to examine how our democracies and our leaders work.
The Times takes us back to Iraq in a small article in the middle pages: Tony Blair has decided that now is the time to make a statement in which he admits that he may have made a mistake when he invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of us will remember that Blair initially overlapped with the end of the Clinton era, and during that period he was very happy to parrot that existing line on sanctions so delicately put by Madeleine Albright: Half a million children are a price worth paying to keep Saddam Hussein in his place – a price which appears to have been paid by the children of Iraq and not by Albright or the United States.
The presidency changed and Blair changed his opinion too, so it was not “his decision” as the article suggests, but it was certainly one he supported and has to take responsibility for. In the article Blair is quoted as saying, People often say over Iraq and Afghanistan that I took the wrong decision but you’ve got to do what you think is right.
I have studied Blair’s oratory in order to find the right voice for a character in my last novel, and I can tell you that those words, “People often say that …”, are used over and over again (they also appear in my novel), and they signal that there’s a rebuttal coming but the rebuttal is usually as meaningless as this little rhetorical flourish. Whether you are right or wrong is another matter, he continues. In those really big decisions you don’t know what all the different component elements are, and you’ve got to follow, in the end, your own instincts.
Image, Wikilimages, www.pixabay.com
Putin is not the kind of politician I particularly admire: a keen supporter of neo-liberal economics and all that means in terms of job insecurity, polarisation between rich and poor, and the abandonment of the countryside. However he is not a tsar or a Stalin, as our media keep drumming into our heads in defiance of the facts. He is an elected leader with a system which is just as democratic as most of the Western governments (admittedly a fairly low bar). He is not a war criminal, or if he is, he’d better get in line behind the Bushes, Blair, Sarkozy, Cameron, Obama, Trump and Biden who all believe that international law does not apply to Western countries, and sadly for the moment this is the case.
This makes him remarkably similar to so many of our leaders, but the difference is that he has large quantities of oil and gas and the West would like access to it at a lower price – or even better to have Siberia hived off with its large territory and small population (perhaps under the tutelage of that fascist and racist Navalny) in which the whole hydrocarbon industry would be run by American corporations. Far from being an expansionist, Putin is determined to keep his fragile federation together, which explains the Second Chechen War and perhaps the assassination of Politkovskaya.
Politics is definitely a dirty business, but the West is the dirtiest and ironically the most morally superior, and it furiously pursues a winner-takes-all foreign policy. The dangers of that policy emerge now that the US shamelessly goes to Venezuela to see if they can allow production to restart when US sanctions were the reason that it stopped, and the Saudi Arabians have said that they won’t increase the flow of oil until the US gives them greater assistance in crushing Yemen. Here you have duplicity and double standard laid bare: is America willing to exacerbate a long and cruel war in the Middle East in order to bring a short war in Ukraine to an end? Children are already dying in Yemen, so surely the answer is not further military and economic warfare but urgent negotiations so that no more Yemeni children have to die and no Ukrainian children die of starvation in the future. But that will not happen, the West will collectively do all it can to prolong the war in the hope that Russia gets bogged down. Ukraine is of no importance to the West, other than as a pawn in a struggle to go beyond its border to make changes that strengthen their geopolitical interests, including de facto control over the border between Siberia and China.
Image, 1866946, www.pixabay.com
Consider the following article written in 2007:
One small town in the region, Kostinovo, has found its way into the papers because it now has just one inhabitant, Mrs Antonina Makarova, aged 78. Her nearest neighbour, Maria Belkova, lives in the next town, which has a population of two people (St. Petersburg Times, 16/10/06). Since 1989, the number of inhabitants in the region has decreased by about 250,000 and deaths exceed births by two to one. Kostinovo is one of the 1,400 towns in the Tver region that have been officially declared ‘depopulated’ (nezhiloe). Russia is one of the few countries in the world where life expectancy is declining and young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-eight have the highest mortality rate in Europe. In the eighties, citizens of the USSR had the same life expectancy as citizens of the USA. Today, the average Russian male lives to an age of fifty-nine, sixteen years less than his American counterpart. About ten million Russians are sterile as a result of bad health or abortions that went wrong. [Federico Varese, The Russian Conundrum]
I only came across this situation when I did this translation. This was stunning news but it had never been mentioned in our media at the time of Yeltsin, as all I remember of that period is Yeltsin’s bombing of his own parliament and a Guardian article which predicted a break-up of the Russian Federation and an independent Siberia in six months. Varese’s information encouraged me to educate myself on Russia’s history and economy not only in the dramatic nineties, but also in the Soviet period which like every other country changed from one decade to another. I did read one very instructive book on the Yeltsin years from an unusual source, an American doctor highly motivated by Liberation Theology who only worked in disaster areas, mostly Haiti and post-Soviet Russia. He charted the downward trajectory of the Russian health system in which staff often paid for the drugs the government failed to buy, and gradually this dissolving institution led to the return of tuberculosis and drug-resistant strains (particularly in prisons). He argued that the US would have done well to subsidise the Russian health system because an outbreak of drugs-resistant TB in New York cost a fortune to suppress (drugs-resistant TB strains could be suppressed at least at that time by extremely expensive and complex cocktails of antibiotics).
Varese, who detests Putin as much as most Westerners do, also provided me with statistics which show how the object of his dislike turned the ship of state around with obvious benefits for Russian citizens:
A reader of The Economist or The Financial Times [in 2007] would have good reason to be surprised and not a little sceptical about such news. How could the situation be so dismal? Over the last seven years, the Russian economy has grown by more than 6% per annum, inflation does not exceed 10% and the Rouble appreciated by 10% in 2005 and by 8% in the first nine months of 2006. The financial system is considered stable and reliable: western fund managers and various holders of reserve capital, including many central banks, have recently decided to hold roubles and to invest massively in Russia. The Stabilisation Fund, which was set up by the government in 2004 to manage the proceeds from the sale of raw materials has been growing at a vertiginous rate and currently holds 77 billion dollars.
Image, Maria Domnina, www.pixabay.com
This explains why Putin is popular in Russia in spite of the fact that around 50% of the population would like communism back – or that was the figure a few years ago – and at the opposite end of the spectrum, hard-line nationalists and fascists bide their time. The reason is that he brought an end to the oligarchical reign of terror in the late nineties, not by destroying them but by introducing a measure of stability which was also in their interests. He had shown a cool head during an inter-oligarchical row and was chosen for this mediatory role and his attachment to Yeltsin’s free-market reforms (as well as his promise to exempt Yeltsin’s relations from corruption charges, which he kept). Only if we understand how bad things were then, will we understand why Putin continues to be re-elected. It appears to be more fear of the alternative and further disruption than enthusiasm for their leader, though there is some of that too.
This crisis has demonstrated that to varying degrees European countries are still satellite states of the US, but there are signs that they are also becoming increasing uncomfortable about their lack of autonomy. This may come to nothing, as has happened in the past, but there are other forces at work. There is the rise of China as a world power, the fragility of Western economies blinded by ideology and the worrying sign that American forecasters are saying that the sanctions against Russia will be slightly damaging to the US but devastating for Europe.
This ideological blindness is similar to that of the Soviet Brezhnev years, though circumstances are very different, as are the outcomes because as the USSR started to die, a veneer of affluence paradoxically started to appear. It died of intellectual atrophy rather than the pauperisation which affects us. This impending crisis only increases the desire to get control of new markets, but it may be the wrong time for the West to overplay its hand. It may have done exactly what the Russians and Chinese expected them to do, and they may come out of the economic war the worse off (some argue that Putin has done exactly what NATO wanted them to do and we are about to witness the destruction of Russia economically and the plundering of its remaining assets, and that is another possible outcome – only a fool would lay a bet at the moment).
Instead of prolonging the war by sending more arms to Ukraine, an attempt to secure peace and an equitable security agreement for everyone could be not only the moral option but also the most sensible one. And here I would like to quote from Yulia Yurchenko’s Ukraine and the Empire of Capital:
The combination of ill-prescribed market transition reforms, loaned funds management and misappropriation by kleptocratic ruling bloc have resulted in a toxic debt dependency that has become a tool for manipulation in the renewed geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the USA/EU. Debt geopolitics in the context of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA) negotiations have cost Ukraine its residual de facto sovereignty and at the same time continue to undermine possibilities for stabilisation of the geopolitical order.
Ukraine is stuck in a vice of authoritarian neoliberal kleptocracy with fascistisation tendencies. Further implementation of DCFTA means more austerity, more inequality, more privatisation, and a few support mechanisms for everyday social reproduction via access to health care, childcare, affordable utilities and food. The privatisation of land and re-privatisation of fracking fields also means an ecological catastrophe. The liberalisation on exports of timber to the EU already spells the destruction of Carpathian centuries-old forests for short-term economic gain.
Image, atanaspaskalev, www.pixabay.com
This is a book worth reading if we want to know more about Ukraine, and it is certainly not pro-Russian (quite reasonably for a Ukrainian, the author does not accept the return of Crimea to Russia in spite of the dubious legality of its removal from Russia and cession to Ukraine). The mix of academic jargon and slightly awkward syntax should not detract from a knowledgeable and genuinely sincere attempt to look at everything that is at play in Ukraine at the moment.
When I read those lines I was more struck by the second part, as I already understood that Ukraine has not attained the sovereignty it was looking for when it voted for independence. The wolves inside the country (ex-communist high-up apparatchiks) and outside (forces familiar with the workings of capitalist society, capable of taking advantage of a society that had no idea of what it was getting into, except for the propaganda it had been digesting for some time).
It is the talk of ecological catastrophe and the destruction of ancient forest which is the most important question today, and it is one that can only be resolved if the countries of the world work together and understand that less economic activity is needed rather than always more. Modern warfare is itself an ecological disaster, because of the more extreme materials used, such as agent-orange and depleted uranium which continue to kill children and are most definitely a war crime (not yet used in Ukraine, I hasten to add). All those tanks and vehicles must consume huge quantities of hydrocarbons, and the detritus of war cannot be inconsiderable. Perhaps the fall of the Soviet Union was an opportunity to build a better and more peaceful world, but instead the West used it as an opportunity to make more money and win more markets. This was achieved but at a high price, and now there is nowhere else to sacrifice and the Third World can see the West for what it is. It’s never too late, and we should be opening our arms to Ukrainian refugees, but also accepting those equally deserving from other wars and famines we have to some degree contributed to (or indeed haven’t contributed to, but I’m not sure that there are any). We should understand that we’ll never save the planet until we accept that all countries must share in the wealth this planet can create, and also that from the planet we will have to learn to take less.
As I finalise this essay, two items of news demonstrate that the West is stoking the fires and this will only increase the human misery. Workers loading a “humanitarian” flight to Ukraine refused to do so because the goods turned out to be weapons and not humanitarian aid. The trade union, the USB, released a statement, We strongly denounce this outright falsification, which cynically uses ‘humanitarian’ aid as cover to fuel the war in Ukraine, and dockers in Livorno and fellow members of the USB similarly stated, We stand alongside the Ukrainian peoples, the Donbass and Russia and we do not want to be complicit in this conflict.
You may remember that one of the opening military encounters of the war was the Russian invasion of Snake Island off the coast from Odessa, and supposedly the Russians exterminated them with shellfire. Zelensky has declared them national heroes. The problem is that they’ve turned up in Crimea and the Ukrainian government has had to update its version of events which is that the small island was defended and some people were taken prisoner. Probably the Russian one is more likely: eighty-two Ukrainian servicemen were stationed on the island and all of them surrendered. No one was killed and no one was wounded. Militarily surrender is common practice, particularly when the sides are uneven. No one should feel that their own inevitable and pointless death is the only honourable outcome. I seem to remember from my childhood that the Japanese were criticised for doing precisely that.
Image, Kellepics, www.pixabay.com
I am reminded of a man who is too often forgotten in twentieth-century history. Those who fail in their endeavours are often ignored, but I think that this is wrong. We should ask ourselves why they failed, because you can fail responsibly, and you can succeed selfishly. Dubček faced another invasion, one from the Soviet Union, and he decided, rightly in my opinion, to appeal to his followers not to resist. This only brought the invaded and the invaders together. In the streets of Prague citizens were able to argue with the soldiers. They could tell them that it wasn’t as the Soviet propagandists had told them, and that was a message that returned with the soldiers to Russia where its seeds were sowed.
If you’re a pacifist, you reject war altogether, but you don’t have to be a pacifist to think that encouraging people to fight when the outcome is inevitable is an utterly immoral act. The fact is that there is a large Russophone community in Ukraine, and with every passing day this war will be driving Russia and Ukraine apart, but also further dividing a country which is already divided politically and “ethnically”.
The public message is for everyone to get around the table and negotiate, but it appears that the West is playing dangerous brinkmanship and supplying weapons that cannot change the outcome but only delay it, which will increase number of dead and wounded on all sides, the degree of destruction to housing and businesses and the impact on the Ukrainian economy and infrastructure. Of course, it could do something else: it could lead to a regional war with the use of battlefield nuclear weapons which could destroy most of Europe or it could in turn lead to a Third World War and the destruction of the planet. Then none of us will be sleeping comfortably in our beds. Truth may be the first casualty of war, but truth could also be the only premise for a just and lasting peace. Exactly what the truth is is not always easy to establish, but at the moment we’re going in the opposite direction. The Italian newspaper I read today wrote that the Top Brass in Italy have told the armed forces to prepare for combat. I hope that this is just sabre-rattling.
Allan Cameron, Pitigliano, March 2021
I wonder if this mixture of platitude and tautology would be acceptable in Western papers if it had been uttered by Putin. The Guardian, when I caught up with it, had the title The week where decades happened. If the first week of the invasion of Ukraine was a decade, then the invasion of Iraq must have been twenty or thirty millennia given that the reverberations are still coming through two decades later. And how long will it take to return Iraq to the state it was in under the cruel dictator Saddam Hussein, who was once “our son-of-a-bitch”, an expression they actually applied to Mobutu but the relationship was the same. Do not think that the West invaded because of Hussein’s human-rights record, as Western governments were unfazed by the Halabja Massacre. Their concern over that was to be retrospective, as was British concern over the Argentinian , as was British concern over the Argentinian generals’ Dirty War when the Falklands were invaded. For the West, crimes against humanity are either a business opportunity or a flexible propaganda one in particular circumstances and no more than that.
Allan Cameron is publisher at Vagabond Voices.
Founded in 2008 and based in Glasgow, Vagabond Voices is an independent publisher that is both Scottish and fervently European in its aims. Vagabond is committed to introducing new titles from Scottish authors and translating fiction from other languages.
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