Sunday, September 01, 2013

Carry on killing

Something inside me felt queasy at the sight of an MP punching the air in delight that Britain will do nothing to impede the mass killing in Syria. It didn't feel like a moment for joy.

This was a rerun of an old argument; one clouded by rhetoric about peace. It began in the 1870s with the response to the Bulgarian Atrocities. The Peace Society found itself caught between its own campaigning against the massacres, carried out by the Ottoman Turks, and its determination to oppose the liberal interventionists who wished to support Russia against the Turks when they declared war in 1877. Here we see the first manifestation of the dilemmas of deploring the actions of a government and rejecting the means to end them. It is a recipe for inaction. Peace and non-intervention became interlinked.

And we haven't moved on. The same arguments were rehearsed over the Boer War and split the anarchist movement in World War One. They had a disastrous manifestation as the intellectual underpinning of the appeasement of Hitler and have reappeared countless times in the post war period. Their hand maidens are apologia and sophistry, but the main problem that dogs these 'peace' activists is their understanding of the word peace. The vote has been seen as a victory for peace campaigners. Unfortunately we have few of those; we have a noisy and self-righteous anti-war movement that spans both left and right. They define their position purely negatively, usually on the basis of the non-involvement of their own countries in war, regardless of the consequences. They were the winners.

If peace is seen as positive, based on equitable social relations and the absence of violence, then a peace movement has to face the realities of the grotesque, deliberately sadistic, mass murder being visited on the Syrian people by their own government. Pacifists will demand that resistance is non-violent, but they will still want and will take direct action, often at great personal risk. Peace activists who believe in just war will advocate the use of military force to end acts of barbarity.

I heard little of this from the opponents of military action in the debate, merely isolationism and sophistries about the preference for a negotiated diplomatic settlement that is not possible. It is an excuse for doing nothing. The confrontation here dramatically exposes their bluster when faced with reality. Labour's abandonment of principled internationalism is one of its most shameful, opportunistic moments. It may yet come back to haunt it. The suffering of the Syrian people demands justice, an end to the regime and the opportunity to rebuild civil society despite the many obstacles in the way; positive peace. I see little chance of that happening without the use of force to defend them.


Anton Deque said...

Yet this was a Commons motion for 'not quite war'; a 'limited and targeted response'. I cannot think this is other than a gesture that may produce worse. I do not think it was Labour alone who sank Cameron's flotilla either; his own side of the House were lacking in conviction and it isn't true to think of this as isolationism on all sides; no one could explain how air strikes would change the situation. If there was move to invade so be it; that would remove Assad, preferably to a cell in the Hague. But what then? The outcomes in Iraq (I supported the 2003 invasion, dodgy dossier and all) and Afghanistan (to be confirmed) have nothing much to commend them to today's voters. The national appetite for intervention in a region without a democratic bone in its history is exhausted.

The Plump said...

But what then?

Well we know what went before, we have a pretty good idea of what would be if the Taliban and Saddam had stayed in power, but we can never know what will come after a revolution. The considerable progress in Afghanistan is under-reported because it isn't sensational. Change takes time and it will be a new generation that will shape it, one less tolerant of the old ways. Continuing dictatorship will freeze it.