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Sunday, March 30, 2003

Erstwhile cabinet minister and horny wee devil Robin Cook popped his head out this morning to say:

"I have already had my fill of this bloody and unnecessary war. I want our troops home and I want them home before more of them are killed."

Later this morning, he dived back down into his bunker:

"Now that the war has started it's vital that it ends in victory. There could be no worse outcome than one that lets Saddam Hussein survive."

Try squaring that circle.


Friday, March 28, 2003

Peter's Friends

Reading Peter Hitchen's latest in the Spectator I wonder whether he has just bumped his head or is beaming his dispatch in from some parallel universe where it's the left that supports the war.

I think he's suffering from cultural shellshock. How else to account for skewed nonsense like:

The idea that naked force can create human freedom is itself a left-wing idea. Even more socialist are the war faction's contempt for the sovereignty of nations and their unashamed belief that ends justify means.

I can almost hear the echoes of little-England conservatives pleading that the European war looming in 1939 was none of our business. Vastly different circumstances, yes, but the same failure of imagination. And I liked this not too subtle hint at a fraternal spat:

No wonder that the war’s hottest-eyed supporters on both sides of the Atlantic are ex-Marxists who have lost their faith but have yet to lose their Leninist tendency to worship worldly power.

That's Peter's attempt at an ideological bitch-slap. If this actually led anywhere interesting I could understand but Peter's main objection isn't political at all, it's aesthetic:

This juvenile, boastful spirit was epitomised last week by the US navy’s Vice-Admiral Timothy Keating, aboard the USS Constellation. Vice-Admiral Keating waved his arms about and told his ship's company, 'It’s hammer time!' to the accompaniment of Queen’s 'We will rock you' played at maximum decibels. Adult cultures think war deserves reflection and seriousness of purpose. This war seems to have been imagined and designed by spiritual teenagers. Will the next begin to the obscene rattle and boom of gangsta rap? I do not know, but there was an ugly hubris about the bombardment of Baghdad which followed soon afterwards.

That's the best he can come up with? Never mind destabilising the region, creating a new generation of terrorists or reaping the sodding whirlwind etcetera - the real problem is that the Yanks are too vulgar?! It's called motivating the troops. Pumping them up for battle. Some commanders do it with poetry, some do it with Queen. And as for gangsta rap, well if hearing it made one man or woman on active duty feel just one iota more self-assured then all the better.

We don't live in the world Peter imagines, a village enclave with everything in the right place: church on the hill and family at the dinner table. In truth, Britain was probably never like this at all - but more and more the world is characterised by the permeability of cultures and the dizzyingly rapid spread of ideas. Traditional British (but really universal) values of freedom and rule of law are prized by the oppressed abroad. Formerly "alien" concepts like Islamic extremism are adopted by British people. Nutty ideas like Maoism are adopted by barmy college students everywhere.

The reasons don't matter. Put it down to mass communications, economic fluidity, cross-fertilisation of populations or the peculiar grip of popular culture. The result is the same. It's different now.

This war has got nothing to do with September 11 and it's got everything to do with it. That day was the horrible confirmation of truths we had long suspected - that local problems don't stay local, that dictators are as adept at exploiting our shrinking world as humanitarians, that terrorists won't just think globally but act it too given the opportunity.

Forming a realistic view of the world doesn't require that we abase ourselves before "wordly power" as Peter puts it, but it does require that we understand it. "Progress" may be an ugly word to him but it is, of course, inevitable. Those who have no qualms about destroying the freedoms we take for granted won't explore the moral ramifications of the technology they're using or ponder the ugly aesthetic of their actions. They will simply do.


Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Getting Things Into Proportion

People have written lots about how biased or objective BBC coverage of the war is over the last couple of days. To be honest, I can only go by what I've watched and sometimes I've been happy and sometimes I've nearly yelled oh come on at the screen. Andrew Sullivan's "Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation" jibe was unilluminating but during the weekend I think there was a problem.

Criticising the BBC doesn't mean you're an armchair general. Nor does it mean your opinion is worthless next to those of the journalists who risk and lose their lives on the front line. It doesn't mean you advocate state censorship of the media or demand the Union Jack flutters across the screen as newsreaders salute the bravery of "our boys".

There's no point getting in a huff if a journalist asks General Tommy Franks an awkward question. And a reporter in the thick of the action will frame his report around the dramatic here and now, not the overall strategy, so it's understandable if they are prone to overstatement while they are being shot at.

Television news has an editorial voice. Depending on your politics that voice will chime with your opinions and sound objective or strike a discordant note and sound biased. That's to be expected. We can't expect the BBC to say what we want it to say all the time.

But we can still expect it not to talk crap. There's no excuse for stuff like "significant casualties" and "small victories at a very high price". On Sunday BBC News 24 was doing its utmost to portray the fighting in the gloomiest possible light. Coalition forces were getting bogged down, meeting unexpectedly fierce resistance, discovering that war was really a big fucked-up mess and not a two day march and a ticker-tape parade after all. On and on and bloody on. As one comment in Harry's blog put it, you'd think we were taking losses like the first day of the Somme. Whatever the coverage was, it wasn't impartial.

The Beeb has brightened up since the weekend but I'm still inclined to switch to ITV whenever I can. Their studio analysts are more interesting and Alistair Stewart gets quite giddy with enthusiasm sometimes. Maybe it's not just the overall tone of the news that's the issue either. If we have high expectations of the BBC perhaps they're justified because even if we turn it off in disgust we're still expected to pay for it.


Monday, March 24, 2003

The Worm Has Turned

Amongst the huge amount of television coverage I caught a reporter talking to a US Marine with "Shai-Hulud" written on his helmet. Obviously a fan of Frank Herbert's Dune ("Shai-Hulud" is the name given to the huge sandworms that roam the desert planet of Arrakis).

Coincidentally, the Dune books also refer to "Fedaykin" - death commandos dedicated to protecting prophet and Emperor Paul-Muad'Dib. Herbert based the Fremen language in Dune on Arabic so he probably derived the word from "Fedayeen".


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