Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

A Fisherman’s Reflections on a beautiful but troubled world
Chapter 21 - War, Peace and Truth

                                        Where do wars and fights come from among you?
                                        Do they not come from your desires that war in your members?
                                              You lust for things that you do not have.
                                              You murder and covet for what you cannot obtain.

                                          Epistle of James, adapted from the New King James Version

                         The military-industrial complex is the skeleton of war.
                         Weapons and arms are its muscles, and money is its blood.
                         As Chekhov suggested, accumulated arsenals of rifles, tanks, missiles, and nuclear
                         warheads, growing armies, the whole military organization of society and of the
                         military-industrial complex, - are by themselves self-fulfilling causes of war.
                        The “us and them” mentality, intolerance towards other nations, religions or systems
                         of belief, are artificially inflated and skillfully employed by all political leaders
                         going to war.  ...  Through mass media, television and multi-billion propaganda
                         empires, the ideological pressure on a population can be overwhelming. 

                                                 Alexander Nikiti          Political and Economic Causes of War

You can’t pick and choose from God’s law. ... The same God who said
“Do not commit adultery”, also said, “Do not murder”.  ...
Remember, you will be judged.                                                      
There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others, ….
Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth isn’t wisdom – it is
criminal cunning, devilish conniving. ... You end up with everyone at each other’s throats.
Real wisdom is peace-loving, - characterised by getting along with others. 
It is gentle and reasonable, and willing to yield. ... Those who are peaceful will
plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.

                                                from the Epistle of James     New Living and The Message translations

The first casualty when war comes, is truth.

Senator Hiram Johnson   1917

When war is declared, propaganda campaigns intensify as a way of controlling public opinion and perceptions.  At its most crude, propaganda depends on lies and misinformation.  But it is also about omission, selection and interpretation of the ‘facts’.  A former Pentagon staff member said of the Administration’s case for war : It was not intelligence, - it was propaganda.  They would cherry-pick from little bits of intelligence, - make them sound more exciting, take things out of context, and by juxtaposition, put things together that didn’t belong to each other. The process began as early as one day after President Bush took the oath of office. 

                                                            Robert Dreyfus and Jason Vest,   The Lie Factory

The past 20th Century has seen the most horrific wars and the largest loss of life from conflicts and their repercussions, than probably at any time in past history.  For those who believe that mankind is becoming progressively more civilized and more humane, this must give much cause for thought.  However much we may romanticize or glorify war, or hide behind the bravery of the soldiers of all nationalities who are maimed and killed as they carry out the orders of our political masters and the military chiefs, - we should never forget that war is murder and destruction on a massive scale.  It is murder and destruction with all of the effort that our national resources and advanced technology can generate.  The victims are mostly the ordinary, innocent, vulnerable citizens of the states in conflict.  It has always seemed strange to me that decent, law-abiding, normally compassionate persons, can give full support to their governments when war is declared, regardless of the justification.  It is as if the bloodshed and suffering to be unleashed is acceptable as long as it happens far away, and they are not called upon to participate in the mayhem, or to see its effect first-hand. 

German troops in action, WWI

Trench warfare, WWI

Gas victims at the front, WWI

British soldiers at El Alamein

The London blitz, 1940

        Dunkirk evacuation, 1940, when I was born              German soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge

The First World War is believed to have resulted in 35 million deaths, 9 million of those were soldiers and 26 million were civilians. [Another 30 million are believed to have died from the Spanish flu that followed the war.] The Second World War caused nearly twice as many deaths, - some 62 - 68 million.  18 million were military personnel, and over 50 million were civilians.  Two thirds of the casualties were from three countries, - China, The USSR, and Poland.  If we add Germany, then three-quarters of the war deaths were from 4 countries. The mayhem continued in other conflicts.  The Korean War saw 2.5 – 3.5 million deaths, and the Vietnam War, over 4.0 million.  The Biafran / Nigerian war is believed to have resulted in from 2.0 to 3.0 million deaths. The recent wars in the Congo caused over 3.0 million deaths. Between 2.5 and 3.5 m civilians were killed in Afghanistan during the Russian and American invasions, but who knows how many died in Russia’s war in Chechnya ? Today, the latest estimate of deaths in Iraq since the American-British invasion, amounts to over 700,000 and the total rises by the day.  The number killed in 20th century wars is equal to twice the whole population of Britain.

Every single one of these numbers represents the violent killing of a human being, the vast majority of them innocent civilians, - women, children, old people, whose only crime was to be in the conflict arena or in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We are shocked, and our media makes much of, any single brutal murder in our own land.  Yet our political leaders blithely lead us into war, knowing they are asking our soldiers, sailors and airmen to pour death and destruction on other populations.  They seem to take pride in urging us to war.  Behind their triumphalist grins, do they ever consider for a moment what suffering and sorrow they have unleashed on the world?  Do they ever in their most sober times of reflection, consider that they will one day answer to the Judge of all the earth?

                         Troops in action, Korean War                         U.S. artillery, Korean War

                  Nigerian soldiers in the Biafran war                              Victims of the Biafran War

           Devastation wrought in the Chechyan war                   Russian soldiers in Chechnya

Chechen rebels

The Hiroshima atom bomb.  Each missile and bomb of the nuclear arsenal of the USA now dwarfs the power of that early weapon.

Throughout history, peacemakers and pacifists have had to endure a bad press.  Most governments do not like them, and many administrations treat them like lunatics, traitors or criminals.  We revere them only long after they are dead, while we vilify their modern counterparts.  Personally I have come to admire persons like David Henry Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Ramsay MacDonald, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, George MacLeod, Alastair McIntosh, and the hundreds of ordinary women and men who protest against war quietly in all weathers, or take a stand outside the bases where our nuclear weapons of mass destruction are stored in readiness for use.  These simple protestors are regularly miscalled by our politicians, and lampooned in our press, but I for one, would far rather, at the end of my life, be guilty of demonstrating with them, than be complicit by my silence, in the obscene spending on weapons or in warmongering and bloodshed.

Mahatma Gandhi, renowned pacifist

The whole issue of civilised, ‘Christian’ countries, taking up arms to exterminate or conquer others, was eloquently challenged 5 centuries ago by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam :       ”I often wonder what drives men (I will not say ‘Christians’), to exterminate one another like madmen at the price of such effort, such expense, such risks.  Consider how many crimes are committed under the pretext of war, when weapons speak and laws are silent.  How many thefts, how many sacrilegious acts, how many rapes, how many abuses one is ashamed to name.  What is it that is won, that can compensate for the life and blood of thousands of people ?  And it is those who have nothing to do with the fighting who are most bitterly afflicted by the evils of war.  The advantages of peace benefit everyone, but war makes even the victor weep.  It is accompanied by such a host of calamities that it verifies the poet’s line that ‘War comes from Hell and is sent by the Furies’.

Some say the rights of Sovereigns should be upheld, so I will not speak carelessly of the actions of Princes.  I only know that excessive right is excessive injustice.  There are princes who decide first what they want and then seek pretexts to cloak the real motives of their warlike actions.  There are wise men of integrity who can regulate disputes before they cause full blown war.   What, some will say, can we do if the other side refuses to come to or accept arbitration ?   Then I would say, - if you are a real Christian – bear and forbear, submerge your rights, whatever they may be.  And if you are a wise man, I would urge you to calculate the cost of defending your rights.  If the price is excessive, do not insist on your rights (which may be unfounded).  Think of the cost of so many miseries inflicted upon humanity, so many dead, so many orphans, so many tears, ...” [Erasmus and the Struggle for Peace, Jose Chapiro, Boston Beacon Press, 1950]

If a voice from the Middle Ages appears to be out of touch with modern times and with the complex sets of issues that face the major powers today, then perhaps we might listen to one who was before a General, a supreme military commander, and a President of the USA.  Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, spoke of the twin spectres of fear and force in terms which might well be applied to the U.S. and British governments 50 years later.  The massive increase in armaments and sophisticated weaponry, and the urge to put troops into action (often orchestrated by the lords of military industries and senior officials who themselves had no front line experience of war), brings countries to the brink of hostilities.  Coupled to that is the fear which governments stir up in the general population, to get them to support, tacitly or actively, a declaration of war or a decision to invade another country.  He asked the question, “What is the worst to be feared and the best to be expected if we continue down the road of fear and force”.  His answer was :  The worst is atomic war.  The best is a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and labour of the people; a wasting of strength that leaves governments unable to provide abundance and happiness for the people. 

Erasmus of Rotterdam, “war makes even the victor weep”

President Dwight D Eisenhour

On the colossal expenditures on arms and munitions, he said that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.  It represents the sweat of our labourers, the genius of our scientists, and the hopes of our children.  This is not a way of life at all.  Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. ... We seek peace founded upon trust and cooperative effort among nations.  This can be fortified, not by weapons of war, but by wheat and cotton, by milk and wool, by meat and timber and rice.  The monuments to this new kind of war would be roads and schools, hospitals and homes, food and health.  I know of no other course that could be called a highway of peace.  The hunger for peace is too great, the hour of history is too late, for any government to mock men’s hopes with words, promises or gestures”.

Erosion of Human Rights and Freedoms

The marriage of right wing political ideologies with global capitalism and its brazen grasp for control of natural resources like petroleum, in the USA and to a lesser extent in Britain, is showing some troubling signs of a resurrected fascism.  Both countries are now dismissing or treating lightly, the Geneva Convention, and the International Court of Justice, in their treatment of prisoners of war, refugees and asylum seekers. They are both using the supposed terrorist threat to justify their actions.  But as any student of recent history knows, practically every despotic government has used that ploy to increase its power and control.  We used to associate surveillance of ordinary citizens, arbitrary arrest, torture, and imprisonment without trial, with despots like Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse Tsung, Kim Il Sun, and Pol Pot.  Astonishingly, all of that is now practiced by the USA, with its allies like Britain conniving in or turning a blind eye to things like rendition flights.  President Bush in October 2006 signed a bill to legalise brutal interrogation, and trial by military courts.

Adolf Hitler

I have personally met and spoken with, individuals who were tortured by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, by the police in apartheid South African, by Pinochet’s forces in Chile, by Chinese authorities, by Japanese guards during WW2.  I have also read and studied first-hand accounts by victims in Russia, North Korea, Iraq, Vietnam, Nicaragua and El Salvador.  It all adds up to state-organised, mindless brutality, seemingly for its own sake, and as an expression of the power and the prejudices of the torturers.  There also appears to be an element of covering up for their own inadequacies and trying to silence what’s left of their own consciences.  It does create fear in the population, but only for as long as the regime lasts.

Human rights groups contend that confessions extracted by torture or severe physical and mental pressure, are generally worthless.  One can draw parallels with the whole insane practice of forcing false confessions, as carried out during the worst years of Stalinist Russia or Marxist China, or Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or in other countries sadly made subject to brutal totalitarian rule.  What was it all for ?  The inquisitors knew that the ‘confessions’ were forced, and almost entirely false.  Yet they proceeded to extract them and use them to justify their dogma and provide a pretext for executions.  It all sounds so bizarre, - yet so devilish. Sadly even today the USA with Guantanamo Bay, Abu Graib and similar secret prisons in foreign lands, follows a similar path.

The Patriot Act in the USA, and the plan to introduce identity cards in Britain, and deny normal justice to anyone accused of a terrorist-related activity (just accused, not found guilty), are indicative of a growing loss of hard-won freedoms.  Some US politicians and senior officials have even questioned the loyalty and patriotism of any who dare to protest at the loss of freedoms.  There are many examples of the bizarre lengths to which an administration will go to suppress protest and label dissenters as potential terrorists.  A 54 year old man, Brett Bursey, was arrested for holding a “No War for Oil” sign at a South Carolina airport where President Bush was to give a speech, in October 2004.  Secret Service officers testified at his trial that since Bursey’s sign was attached to a wooden stick, “it could be used as a weapon”.

            Above :Abu Ghraib prison where Iraqi                    Humiliation and fear in Abu Ghraib  
            suspects were shamefully tortured

George Soros [In The Bubble of American Supremacy, 2002], the financier and currency trader, who has spent much of his wealth establishing centres for democracy and open societies in former totalitarian regimes, has warned that without strong institutions to maintain a degree of transparency in government, and to insist that fundamental rights are not eroded, powerful modern administrations will act cunningly and ruthlessly to ensure that they are not made accountable, and that dissent is well muted.   The sophisticated control of the press, of broadcasting, and of public debate by modern governments in America and in Britain, bad as it is, would be much worse if we did not have strong independent organizations to tell the truth and call the authorities to account.  Amnesty International, church groups, civic organizations, and small independent newspapers are among the voices of protest.  They may irritate at times, but their role is vital for a free society.  A really good service is provided by the global internet where practically anyone can post a view or provide information.

Greed, Prejudice, Imperialism, and Propaganda

Politicians and the media, all over the world have been guilty of blatant propaganda and mis-information or mis-representation of the refugee problem.  In this despicable behaviour they have appealed to the worst instincts of our societies, and have given justification in the minds of unthinking, selfish people, for brutal actions and denial of justice, to many thousands of homeless, stateless people whose only crime was to be the victim of war or despotism or civil unrest – elements that in some cases were fomented by the western powers themselves.  Mob law was supposed to be ended by civil societies, and the law of the land stood between accused persons and the lynch mob. Now those guilty of nothing more than being a fugitive from danger, starvation, or oppression, are denied justice, and often left to face the irrational inflamed passions of the mob.  Women and children who have committed no crime whatsoever, are locked up in our jails by our shameless authorities, and sent back to face worse treatment.

I respected Enoch Powell at one time, as an intelligent, honest and diligent politician.  But his “rivers of blood speech”, and how it was perceived and reported, added fuel to the flames of racial hatred, and encouraged the growth of groups like the British National Party. 

Politicians and media leaders have a solemn responsibility to think well on the impact of their words in a situation with enormous potential to release evil passions.  For example, I have complimented Thailand on its refugee efforts.  But there is another side to the story.  The Thai government of that time, connived with the Khymer Rouge to profit on the food trade, and made it known surreptitiously during the era of the boat people, that those refugees should be discouraged from landing in their country.  The Malaysian government may have done something similar.  This gave carte blanche to ruthless and brutal elements in the marine and fisheries fleets, to rob, rape and murder, boatloads of innocent fugitives.  I believe that all such crimes will be  answered for before the final judgement seat of God.

At the time of writing, we are witnessing the demonisation of the Moslem and Arab peoples by neo-conservative groups in America and in Britain, - including some in our New Labour government. Shame on them !  I never cease to share with those influenced by such evil propaganda, how my ten years or so among Moslems in Asia, S.E. Asia, Indo-China, Africa, and the Middle East, have been ones in which I experienced only kindness, hospitality, consideration and respect.

Never once has a Moslem ever shown me the slightest hostility or antipathy, and, though I am open and honest with them about my Christian faith, they have never failed to treat my beliefs and values, with respect.  But to say that is to invite the charge that I defend terrorism.  The accusation is as false as it is stupid.  It is as if when the IRA and UDF were at their worst, it would be wrong to profess a love of the Irish people and to defend the right of those who wanted a united Ireland, to express that wish democratically.  We did not bomb Belfast or Londonderry because a few terrorists were holed up there, and were being protected by some locals or some communities.  But we think we can bomb civilian areas in cities and towns in Iraq and Afghanistan to kill insurgents, and we actually imagine that God does not mind that we murder thousands of innocents in the process.

    Moslem people I worked with in SW Thailand                              Young Moslem women


Potential Conflicts over Resources

Most wars and conflicts have occurred partly if not wholly over the ownership and control of scarce resources.  The one resource in greatest demand today is petroleum, with other energy sources like natural gas also in demand.  United States foreign policy since WW2 has increasingly reflected that nation’s demand for abundant supplies of cheap petroleum. With only 5 % of the world’s population, the USA consumes over 25 % of the world’s oil production.  The U.S. is a large oil producer itself, but because its domestic consumption continues to rise, it has become a net importer of the commodity.  More than half of America’s oil now comes from abroad, and the percentage of imported oil is expected to continue to rise.  Most of the petroleum comes from the Middle East, the world’s largest source of oil.  The Caspian Sea and Caucuses region is the next most important, with West Africa, Latin America and the Far East also able to export.  But when one examines the figures in detail, - proven reserves, production potential, and oil available for export, then it becomes clear that America’s inflated demand for petroleum is coming under threat from a number of factors. 

The first is the growing energy demands of the rest of the world, particularly China which has a rapidly expanding economy and a colossal 1.5 billion population.  This is why the Middle East and other major oil regions are of strategic interest to the USA, Europe, Russia, and China.  Each of these major players is investing large funds in, and exerting diplomatic and military influence on, the oil producing states.  So the growing U.S. energy demand is in potential conflict with the energy needs of the other major competitors. 

A second major factor is the potential of disruption of supplies from political instabilities in the states and regions producing the oil.  Practically every production area is vulnerable to such instability whether expressed in ethnic, religious, or political forms.  The resulting conflicts and tensions have crippled production in states like Iraq, Angola, and Nigeria, or limited export possibilities as in regions like the Caspian Sea.

A third factor is the potential for natural disasters to disrupt production and supplies.  The power and frequency of abnormal weather patterns are increasing as evident in the severe hurricanes and typhoons striking the coasts of southern USA and the Asia Pacific coast.  Earthquakes and tsunamis can also be expected.  Some of these phenomena are due to global warming; how much is not certain, but the pattern is already clear.  And as has happened in the Gulf of Mexico, these storms can halt the production from marine oil installations, and even damage refineries.

The problem for the biggest consumer, America, is that its transport systems and military machine cannot function without oil.  There is no ready alternative fuel.   That being said, it would appear to be extremely prudent for the USA to commence development of alternative fuels, and to take steps to reduce excessive consumption.  Instead, the current U.S. government is doing the reverse.  The Bush – Cheyney plan simply calls for ever-increasing supplies of oil from abroad, and ever-escalating military and diplomatic efforts to secure these supplies.  They also plan to drill for and extract oil from wilderness areas designated as nature reserves, though the amounts to be obtained there would not make any significant dent on the need for imports.

                                  Huge modern oil rig                                                Oil drilling rig

Oil tanker

Queue of vehicles at a petrol station

In rough round figures, world oil consumption has risen to over 70 million barrels per day. Most experts believe it will rise to 100 mbd after which the ability to meet the demand will be in serious doubt.  A barrel of oil equals 159 litres (35 imp. gallons; or 42 U.S. gallons).  When refined, it yields 72 litres of petrol.  America produces 5 mbd (million barrels per day), plus another 4 mbd of fuel inputs like ethanol, giving it a total domestic supply of over 9.0 mbd.  But U.S. oil consumption is now 20.5 mbd and is projected to rise to over 28 mbd during the next two decades.  At the same time, the domestic demand in China, Russia, Latin America, India, Africa and Europe, is also expected to increase.  Even with the most optimistic projections of global oil production, it is far from certain whether world demand can be met in the years beyond 2010.  The elements of potential conflict are therefore in place, yet the current U.S. administration appears to be making no effort to get off the collision course.  Given the other risks referred to above, further and more serious global wars over petroleum resources are extremely likely.

Some observers believe that the energy resource wars have already begun.  They have been taking place through ‘proxy’ combatants in several parts of the world over the past 50 years.  Africa suffered perhaps more thany other continent from such conflicts.  We had the dreadful civil wars of Biafra in Nigeria, and of Angola, and more recently the Congo, (formerly Zaire).   Indonesia’s successful take-over of Irian Jaya, (the former Dutch part of New Guinea), and its unsuccessful but brutal attempt to invade and control East Timor, both had the petroleum deposits of those regions as the prime motivating factor.  Territorial arguments over islands like the Spratleys where oil deposits are believed to exist, pit China against Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan.  The struggle to gain control of oil supplies can have unfortunate political repercussions as in Sudan which can ignore world opinion on its scandalous treatment of the people of Darfur, since China and the USA both want its production to boost their nation’s demand for imported petroleum.

A barrel of oil.  It costs but $3 or $4 to produce.  Why then does the public pay over $ 80 or $ 90 for it?

The start of the 21st century has the most powerful states and groups of states competing for access to the main petroleum and gas production fields in the Middle East, The Caspian Sea basin, West Africa, and parts of South America.  The USA, the EU states, Russia, and China, are the main players in this high risk and dangerous global power game.  Some suspect the worst of motives in recent military adventures by the United States Bush administration, supported by the Blair government in Briain.  Their actions are believed to be undertaken on behalf of oil and financial oligarchies that want to enrich themselves through predatory wars to seize control of the world’s major resources, and facilitate a massive redistribution of wealth away from the world’s poor to further enrich the already affluent and powerful. 

The Petroleum Dependency Dilemma

“The U.S. National Energy Policy 2001, (NEP), or Cheyney Report as it is sometimes termed, envisages no reduction in petroleum use by the USA.  Instead it proposes steps to increase consumption and calls for intensified exploitation of all domestic reserves including untapped fields in Alaska and other protected wilderness areas.  …  A chart projects U.S. oil production and consumption over the next 20 years.  Domestic production will decline by 18 % while consumption will grow by 31 %.  Petroleum imports will have to grow by 68 %, the equivalent of the combined consumption of China and India today.  Future U.S. demand for foreign oil will be staggeringly large. The NEP Report makes 35 foreign policy recommendations.  These recommendations are mostly region- or country-specific ideas for overseas procurement, by removing economic and political obstacles, bolstering ties with oil-rich countries, and expanding U.S. presence in key oil producing areas.  It also envisages a close working relationship between the Federal Government and American oil giants.  The government will work with foreign governments to overcome obstacles to American investment, and the energy companies will put up the investment capital and assemble technical and logistic capabilities to extract oil and deliver it to U.S. refineries.   

The U.S. Department of Energy in 2003 released reports projecting global energy patterns that show the Gulf producers, - Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, will have to double their total daily output from 22.4 to 45.2 million barrels, to satisfy projected American and international demand.” 

                                        Professor Michael Klare, Hampshire College, Amherst, USA

In his State of the Union address of January 2006, President George W Bush finally admitted to the American people the energy dilemma faced by the nation.  He told them bluntly that America was addicted to oil, and that the nation was too dependent on unstable regimes for the 60 % of its petroleum needs that it imported.  He then promised to do what others had urged for years, to no avail.  He committed his administration to funding the development of alternative energy resources and bio-fuels for automobiles.  Even wind energy was to be tapped to a greater degree.  There was to be renewed effort to utilize coal fuel in environmentally clean ways.  It remains to be seen how much of the new energy programme President Bush would see realised during the remaining two years of his tenure.

Prime Minister Tony Blair uncharacteristically called for a massive global effort to cut pollution, reduce consumption of carbon fuels, and promote a range of viable natural energy systems.  This he did with his typical messianic zeal.  His message comes a bit late and might be better received if he had more credibility.  but he has recognised the urgent need to reduce global warming and protect the ozone lyer, and should be given credit for that.

Critcs of major energy systems change, and of the development and reliance on natural renewable energy and fuels, mostly question the cost if not also the feasibility.  The cost is much, much less than what we spend on arms and munitions.   While we have given lavishly to nuclear energy and weapons research, we have spent next to nothing on alternative systems.  In fact, for periods we have blocked andf legislated against any introduction of renewable energy technology.  In the following box I outline just how profligate and wasteful our leaders have been on wars, military spending, and doctrinaire actions, and how ready they have been to promote rather than end conflict.

Our Fiscally Conservative and Peace Loving Leaders

Ronald Reagan, beloved by most Americans, put that great country into enormous debt by military spending on a scale never known before in the USA.  This was during a time of peace !   In his actions he was enthusiastically supported by his profligate Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, who had a bottomless pit of insanely expensive projects, including, ‘star wars’ – the militarisation of outer space !  To show a strong image to Americans, and to the world, these sabre rattlers invaded Grenada, allowed the finance of brutal contras in Nicaragua, undermined democratically elected governments in Latin America, and bombed houses in Libya, killing a child in Muammar Gaddafi’s family.  They also displayed brazen hypocrisy, selling arms to both Iraq and Iran, as well as providing weapons and training to the Mujahadeen and Osama Bin Laden.  Reagan’s enormous national deficit was not eliminated until the Presidency of Bill Clinton. 

George W Bush, enthusiastically supported by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, not to be outdone by Reagan, took the Clinton surplus and turned it into an even larger deficit, in the trillions of dollars – money Americans’ children and grand-children will have to repay.  This debt was incurred in record time, - not to finance economic growth, education or social services, but to pay for an illegal and ill-advised conflict in Iraq, planned years before by his oil industry colleagues, to gain control over the second largest petroleum source in the world.  Afghanistan was also invaded, and its Taliban government removed, a regime the U.S. had financed earlier, (along with a certain Osama Bin Laden), to help defeat the Soviet army.  Afghanistan was the most logical overland route for a pipeline to take oil from central Asian states through Pakistan for shipment to the USA.

Margaret Thatcher, renowned for her conservative values and monetary policies, was remarkably wasteful in some ways.  She cost the country many billions of pounds paying benefits for 3 million unemployed she created in order to make a few firms more profitable.  She spent over a billion on the Falklands war, and a similar sum in a failed and foolish attempt to impose a neanderthal ‘poll’ tax.  All her reign she was the first Prime Minister to benefit from (Scottish) North Sea oil.  Much of that priceless wealth was squandered, as was the proceeds from sale of the ‘family silver’ – public assets that were sold to finance privatisation schemes.  British Rail and the country’s water supplies were two of the costly and ill-advised privatisations.  She forced premature closure of the coal mines so Britain could move to oil-fired energy.  She displayed little interest in manufacturing, believing that the City of London’s wealth manipulators were actually wealth creators.

John Major, Thatcher’s successor, lost the country over a billion pounds in the utter folly of trying to keep Britain in the ERM at a currency value far above the pound’s real worth.   Tony Blair, Major’s successor, and ideological child of Thatcher, propagated blatant untruths and false scaremongering stories in pushing Britain into an illegal and costly (in human, political and financial terms) invasion and occupation of Iraq with his political soul-brother George Bush, so making himself look like a second ‘Iron Lady”. 


Terrorism has become a global monster at the start of the 21st century.  I daresay it was always around, but in these modern times it has assumed dangerous proportions for two reasons.  One is that the weapons available to a ruthless terrorist who is prepared to kill himself in the process, are horrificly powerful and cheap to obtain.  The handful of 9/11 hijackers had just a few hundred dollars worth of tools, yet they brought down the twin trade towers in New York.  A second reason is that our modern cities and societies are extremely vulnerable to such attacks.  Aircraft, and mass transit systems are ideal targets for the terrorist.  And our mega cities can be brought to a standstill by a small attack on a strategic location. There is little that democratic societies can do to prevent such disasters. All the identity cards and armed police in the world would not stop a determined and imaginative terrorist as is evident in Israel that exists in a constant state of war alert.

Aftermath of an IRA bomb

Carnage following explosion of a bomb by the IRA                 IRA mural, Northern Ireland

I worked in the Republic of Ireland, and in Ulster (Northern Ireland) over several years, when the IRA were at their most active.  At one time I was driving across the border between the two parts of Ireland, four times a week, and knew what it was to be stopped at gunpoint and searched by British soldiers.  I was working in Italy during the period when the Red Guard were kidnapping and murdering prominent political leaders.  I have also spent brief periods serving in rebel-controlled, or rebel infiltrated areas of North Sumatra, Southern Thailand, Southern Philippines, Sri Lanka, Yemen (before its unification), and in Papua New Guinea during the Bougainville secession.  So I do not speak from lack of experience of the terrorist problem.  I have walked through clouds of tear gas in Manila when Marcos was suppressing all dissent, and through marchers in Rome when striking workers and communists brought the country to a standstill.  At no time in all of these experiences did I feel personally threatened, though no doubt I could easily have become a civilian casualty in the tense circumstances. 

The problem with many of the terrorist-related situations, is that the West is treating the symptons but not the disease (and with little apparent success – often just adding fuel to the flames).   The difficulty for western governments is that they do not want to concede their own guilt or culpability in any way.  Yet they (or their predecessors) have sown the seeds of terrorism, all over the world.    I do not accept the view that “9/11 changed everything”, and led to the global “war on terror”.   Al Qaida was armed and encouraged by the USA when Bin Laden fought the Russians in Afghanistan.  But it had the West in mind as a target even then, in response to years of exploitation of Arab oil, and the seduction and domination of Arab governments.  As President Kennedy said in his inaugural address, those who take a ride on the back of a tiger may well end up inside the beast.  To a degree that has happened, and we now begin to see the ‘smile on the face of the tiger’.

[Kennedy was referring to the limerick poem: 

                       There was a young lady of Niger who went for a ride on a tiger,
                       They ended the ride with the lady inside, and a smile on the face of the tiger.

He intended the quote as a warning to small countries which were being courted by the USSR, but it would appear to apply to some aspects of U.S. foreign policy in recent years, in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Remnants of a suicide bombing in Iraq

One has to ask, as was in the mid twentieth century, - what right has a colonial power got to control a country and its people against their will?  For colonial power, now read ‘neo-colonialist imperialism’. 

What right does the CIA and the big oil corporations, the mining companies, communication giants (like ITT), the drug companies, the loggers, the major bankers of the world, - to bribe politicians, to manipulate elections, to invade illegally, or to terrorise the population through surrogate groups like the ‘contras’, or right wing military troops ?  Yet all of that continues to this day. The ill-advised and illegal invasion of Iraq, justified on the basis of totally false information, is but another example of western imperialism to extend its controls over the resources of other states, (in this case, petroleum).   The removal of a brutal dictator was also given as a reason, but we have such in Burma, North Korea, Turkmenisan and Zimbabwe, to name but a few, and there seems to be remarkable reluctance on the part of the West to remove them, or to change the regimes in places like Sudan or Somalia.  When a unity government emerged recently in Sudan, out of years of chaos, the U.S. promptly armed an insurgent group, causing a mini-civil war.  The group was defeated, but in reaction, an extreme Islamic regime seized power making the last situation worse than the first.

Some evil regimes, such as the oil and gas rich central Asian and Caspian states are even supported and provided with arms and military training, since they provide the USA with bases for its military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and apparently for secret prisons where terrorist suspects could be tortured far from the prying eyes of the media, and where no system of justice might protect them.      

The Democratic Deficit and Dishonesty in High Places

Democracy is wonderful in theory.  How it is expressed is less admirable.   Even brutal dictatorships hold ‘free’ elections to demonstrate that their regimes have genuine legitimacy.  When I first lived in Indonesia, civil servants and soldiers had to vote within their place of work.  Any brave government employee who dared to vote for the opposition would soon be detected and in consequence forfeit their job eventually.  I mentioned elsewhere the Governor of Batangas who spent years in prison because President Marcos received so few votes in that precinct.  In Africa by contrast, voting mostly follows tribal affinity, with the power base of political parties running along tribal lines.  In Northern Ireland, one might say (with thankfully less accuracy than before), that votes are cast according to religious denomination. 

I remember after watching a BBC programme on the treatment of the mentally ill, debating with my dear mother-in-law, why people who suffered from some form of insanity were denied the vote.  (I believe the law has changed somewhat since).  She suggested that it must be because “they would use their vote in a foolish way”.  I responded, “but is that not what at least half the voters do anyway?”!  She had to agree !   I mention the silly anecdote to highlight the fact that even in the best democracies, a seemingly educated, informed electorate, casts its votes in response to a range of stimuli, not the least of which is the media that often plays on prejudices, ignorance and fear.  One of my best political friends used to tell me that people are far more likely to vote out of fear than out of hope.  The present administrations in the UK and the USA are using the powerful weapon of fear to extend government control and snooping to a degree that we thought could only happen in a fictional “1984”.   During the 2006 Congressional elections in the USA, the Republican Party openly admitted that it had used fear as a weapon to intimidate voters, and that they felt it was their duty to continue to do so.

For a democratic system to have integrity, there has to be truth, transparency, and accountability – qualities more conspicuous by their absence in public life today.  Lying has become a way of life for politicians.  Some say there is no future for an honest man in politics.  At one time, Ministers resigned when caught out lying or deceiving the public, or being found guilty of conflicts of interest.  Today, most of them brazen it out in a conscienceless way.  One can imagine Machiavelli applauding from the visitors’ gallery!

Italian political theorist, Machiavelli

Britain was lied to by Churchill reporting on the Yalta agreement and what it meant for most of eastern Europe, especially the Polish nation [In fairness, Churchill lobbied privately (in vain) to FDR to protect Poland from the Soviet Union.  My point is that he lied about the final Yalta agreement to Parliament and to the British people.].  Harold Wilson during his tenure, hid from the British people the real condition of the country’s economy.  We were lied to by Edward Heath over the implications and intent of the European Common Market.  Scottish people were lied to by London over the value and significance of its oil resource.  We were lied to by Mrs Thatcher over the Belgrano sinking.  (Nothing unusual since lies are the norm rather than the exception when it comes to armed conflict).  We were lied to about the ERM and the debacle and loss suffered in our unseemly exit, by John Major and his Chancellor.  We have been repeatedly deceived and lied to about the implication of the treaties of the European Union.  At the time of writing the Scottish Executive continues to lie and suppress the truth on the McKie fingerprint scandal that could have implications on events as far back as the Lockerbie bombing lies, and the nefarious activities of Colonel Oliver North.

The Argentinian warship Belgrano (a former WW2 vessel, sunk on Thatcher’s orders when heading to sea outside of Falklands waters)

Among the greatest of political lies of the past 50 years was that perpetrated by Tony Blair and his supine New Labour Cabinet, over Iraq.  A detailed scrutiny of Prime Minister Blair’s record has led some close observers to conclude that the man’s instinctive response when in a tight situation, is to lie. Yet when found out, he can turn truth on its head and claim without shame that he acted out of the best of motives and intentions.  It says much of our current bunch of parliamentarians that such behaviour is not considered grounds for impeachment.

In January 2008, a study of false information was released by the Center for Public Integrity, and the Fund for Independence in Journalism.  It had studied official statements by the Bush administration in a two year period following the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.  The study counted 935 falsehoods released in speeches, briefings, interviews and other communications.  Officials responsible were President George W Bush, Vice President Dick Cheyney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House Press Secretaries An Fleischer and Scott McClellan.    The exhaustive examination of records in the 5 years since the invasion, concluded that the statements were “part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion, and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretences”.

The study, Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War, estimated that the greatest number of false statements were from President Bush who was credited with 260.  Colin Powell was next with 254 falsehoods, then Rumsfield and Fleischer with 107 each, Wolfowitz with 85, Rice with 56, Cheyney with 48, and McClellan with 14.  Most of the untruths concerned WMD in Iraq, while others related to Saddam’s (non-existent) relations with Osama Bin Laden.  The misleading information was massively amplified by a media that has since admitted its coverage was “far too deferential and uncritical”.

Politicians also lie when presenting their policies and manifestos.  How often have the past few British Governments suddenly sprung legislation or measures upon the country, that were never mentioned in the manifesto?   More blatantly now, how many times do we see an unjust or unpopular measure trumpeted as if it would accomplish the precise opposite of its real intent?  The word “reform” has taken on a new meaning under New Labour.  It used to convey the sense of improvement, as in housing, pensions, prisons, hospitals.  It now covers a multitude of sins – including reductions in pensions and health benefits, the politicisation of education, and additional taxation by every stealth method possible.

Our much lauded democratic system has been narrowed and hijacked by political parties to become a once-in-five-years event.  They respond to the popular will as expressed by the ballot box (with all the injustice of a first-past-the-post system), yet regard public opinion with contempt in between.  Public protests about the poll tax, and more recently over the war in Iraq, were treated with derision.  And as ever when it comes to war, the dissenting voices of those who are privy to the truth, are ruthlessly suppressed.  Senior civil servant Clive Ponting was dragged into court for speaking out on the Falklands war.  BBC broadcaster Andrew Gilligan was pilloried and sacked, and the great organisation emasculated as a result of one brief radio broadcast that challenged the government’s story on weapons intelligence.  Worse, an honest senior civil servant of true integrity who was caught up in the crossfire, Dr David Kelly, lost his life. They said it was suicide. Rumours from within the security services indicate it may have been murder.  Some day perhaps we will learn the truth.  I for one still believe that God is in ultimate charge, and both governments and peoples will reap what they sow.

Dr David Kelly, British expert on Iraqi weaponry who died in suspicious circumstances following his testimony before a Parliamentary committee looking at the possibility that Downing Street exaggerated evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

While I criticise the West, let me also mention the shocking and brutal murder in Russia of the investigative reporter Anna Politvoskaya who was shot in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building.  Her books, Dirty War, and Putin’s Russia, exposed the injustice and cruelty of the war in Chechnya, and the corruption in high places associated with the amassing of obscene fortunes by Russia’s current elite.  We should be so grateful that there are still a few brave souls around like Politvoskaya, willing to risk life in the cause of truth and justice.  Needless to say, President Putin has not shed a single public tear over her death or expressed the slightest regret.

Body of murdered journalist, Anna Politkovskaya

In the United Kingdom we have forgotten about the recent murders of eloquent opponents of war and nuclear expansion.  On 21 March 1984, a celebrated writer, rose-grower and environmentalist was to have presented a paper on An Ordinary Citizen’s View of Radio-Active Waste Management, when she was brutally attacked and murdered.  while some believe that her opposition to nuclear weapons was the reason, others like veteran MP Tam Dalyell, suspected it was because she had been sent papers for safe keeping by her nephew, Commander Robert Green.  These papers were believed to have exposed the source of orders to sink the Argentine ship Belgrano.  The murder then may have been some kind of botched intelligence robbery attempt since the house had been ransacked but no money taken. 

On the 6th April, 1985, another prominent anti-nuclear campaigner, William McRae, was found shot and dying in his car north of Fort William in the west of Scotland.  his car had been ransacked and the contents of his briefcase had been meticulously shredded.  Nurse who attended McRae in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary said that there were two bullet wounds in McRae’s head.  Police refused to release information on some of the belongings found in the car or near it, which they claim to have later returned.  No one was arrested for the murder which the authorities claim was suicide.  (A revolver was later recovered some distance from the car).  Mccrae was a lawyer and a former Vice-Chariman of the Scottish National Party.  He also had some connection with a smaller nationalist group, Siol nan Gaidheal, or ‘seed of the Gael.  Before his death he had repeatedly told colleagues that he was under surveillance by intelligence bodies.

Both the UK and U.S. governments have resorted to astonishing levels of propaganda and bombast to attack opponents of their policies.  Abusive and cleverly dishonest rhetoric bordering on slander if not downright lies, is incorporated in the speeches and utterances of ministers and officials.  Much more appalling propaganda pours out of their surrogate mouthpieces like Fox News in America, and the Sun or Mail newspapers in Britain.  If any readers doubt my judgment, they might care to read how publicity and accusations were orchestrated during the McCarthy era in the USA, from around 1948 to 1952, with politicians like Richard Nixon, and even the Kennedy’s climbing on to that bandwagon.  The parallels with today’s “war on terror” are extremely troubling. 

Scotland has suffered so much from the democratic deficit, it is hard to know where to begin in selecting examples.  I mention the propaganda on Scotland’s oil resource above, and have alluded to the Trustee Savings Bank rip-off elsewhere.  A few years ago the brave new Scottish Executive announced it would repeal Section 28 that prohibited the teaching of homosexuality in school.  Now many will think that was a proper action to take.  But I am here talking only about its democratic or undemocratic nature.  Brian Souter offered to finance a referendum on the subject.  The government tried to prevent official bodies from involvement.  Eventually it went ahead, and those against scrapping it won by over a million votes.  What did the Executive do?  It poured scorn on the whole exercise.

A second item from Scotland’s experience will arouse less passion.  In despair at the loss of their industry and the growing number of men and boats forced onto the scrapheap, some fisher wives in Grampian ports decided to act.  They formed a group, The Cod Crusaders’ and proceeded to lobby for an end to the iniquitous, irrational, and doctrinaire aspects of the EC Common Fisheries Policy.  Over 250,000 persons signed their petition.  That was more votes than any politician was elected by, - and more than some Scottish Parliament parties had received.  So what was the response of our democratic institution and its leaders?   They decided it merited no action whatsoever.

Nelson Mandela who struggled against the oppression and denial of human rights and dignity that characterised Apartheid South Africa, spoke in his Nobel Peace Prize speech about the challenge of the dichotomies of war and peace, violence and non-violence, racism and human dignity, oppression and repression, liberty and human rights, poverty and freedom from want.  He said there must be a world of democracy and respect for human rights; a world freed from the horrors of poverty, hunger, deprivation and ignorance; relieved of the scourge of civil war and external aggression, and unburdened by the tragedy of millions of refugees.

Well might we quote some lines [From “Recessional”, by Rudyard Kipling] from the one often termed ‘the poet of imperialism’:

Far-called, our navies melt away; on dune and headland sinks the fire;
Lo, all the pomp of yesterday is one with Niniveh and Tyre!
Judge of the nations, spare us yet, lest we forget - lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies; the captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice, - a humble and a contrite heart
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget – lest we forget!

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus