Musings, Politics

On Being The U.S’ Wingman. We Don’t Care.

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A very silly point of view. Britain is supposed to run after the Americans doing whatever it is they want when they want however we may feel and regardless of our doubts?

If we don’t:
“Britain, however, has degraded its position and credibility … While France is reasserting its claim to be a global power”.

What the British parliament did was in sync with what the British public want. The public may not always be right but it is folly to ignore them altogether. It’s their money that will be spent fighting wars, it’s their children/uncles/fathers who will be sent to war zones, it’s their cities that could be terrorised by bombers etc. Prestige of working alongside the U.S should never take precedence over first coming to an agreement that this is what must be done. Maybe the Prime Minister should have spent more time on propaganda before going to the MPs but I think in the end the decision not to back a Syrian attack at this point was the correct one. It may well not be the correct one when the full facts are in. We remember Iraq. France doesn’t because it wasn’t there. France was in Libya and Mali. But those countries are not Iraq and Syria and are not in the Middle East.

Good luck to France being the wingman who jumps when the U.S barks.

Musings, Politics

Syrian Dilemma

Syria: to war or not to war. This is our dilemma. Political or moral? You can’t choose to never ever go to war (say, for moral reasons) because some people have no scruples and, given the opportunity which can always be manufactured, will totally crush you. On the other hand you can’t always go to war on the slimmest of excuses (or reasons) because that’s insane and you’ll wander into areas not right for civilized behaviour. The question is: when to war?

It’s unclear to me why Syria is the right one. Bashar Al-Assad is ‘evil’ (so was Bush in the effects of his actions) so we must depose him. So goes the central argument. But wait a minute: no one advocates war over Putin who must be the most sinister of all major political leaders and no one contemplates war against that hell-whore, Mugabe. Bashar dropped chemical weapons and we have a moral obligation to … but to whom? If China uses chemical weapons (‘oops, sorry it was a factory accident, it just happened to fall on malcontents’) so do we have an obligation to risk the whole of mankind by fighting a war with China on moral grounds?

Syria is militarily weak (compared to the ‘allies’) and we can get away with it but will we get away with it or do we just end up with side effects that turn one bad situation into another kind of bad situation or worse, into a worse situation? We drop some bombs, certainly kill a lot of Syrians and maybe, just maybe kill Bashar and then what – the Iraq scenario? That turned out well.

The neo cons are all out again justifying war for moral reasons (chemical weapons is illegal, right?) and that dubious term ‘human rights’. The neo-libs are out eschewing war because it’s also illegal but this time against ‘international law’ whatever that is. Both sides marshal the most audacious arguments but, for anyone who hasn’t taken a stand and isn’t just banging the party drum, life isn’t black and white. It’s muddy;  very very muddy. Sometimes you have to respect the law because it’s a civilized way of resolving conflicts and other times you must fuck the law because it sucks and one has to resort to moral actions and common sense. Which road one takes calls for wisdom. In the old days one consulted the gods. They turned out to be frauds but that’s another write-up.

Just because something is lawful (e.g. arranged marriages) doesn’t make it a good thing and just because something is illegal (e.g. LGBT equality) doesn’t make it evil. The real question is: if we go into Syria  what do we get out of it? After Iraq we don’t need another fine mess. “Women and children are suffering” may well be true but the fact is dropping a few bombs here and a few more there will not stop that. The West are not fairy godmothers from a Cinderella story who will make pain and suffering go away. We only replace one form of suffering with another.



The Greatest War, Anti-War And Poem Ever?

I first read The Iliad almost twenty years ago and what a turgid hard read that was. I couldn’t wait to put it down. It was my first contact with Greek literature and everything about it was unfamiliar and frustrating: the style, the characters, the length. Fast forward to today during which time I have spent a considerable time reading Greek literature and history and I thought, “Hmm let’s tackle The Iliad again but let’s get a new translation.” So I got this one by Robert Fagles. The Introduction is massively important and I’m glad I read it first. Then I jumped right in and the story hits you right out the gate: the power, the electricity, the passion. It felt like I had turned the corner from a street enveloped by darkness into one illuminated by the blinding razzle-dazzle lights of an amusement park.

The story is set in the final year of the great Trojan War between the Greeks and the rich, proud city of Troy. The war was started when Paris, the handsome godlike prince of Troy stole or eloped with Helen, wife of Menelaus, King of Lacedaemon. She refused to go back to her wedded husband who, as far as he was concerned, believed she had been kidnapped. So ensued ten years of bitter bloody war that involved some of the greatest and most illustrious names in pre-writing Grecian history (or myth): Odysseus, Agamemnon, Ajax and the two central heroes, Achilles (on the Greek side) and Hector (on the Trojan side).

This book is, if anything, an incredible rush. Homer will make your hair stand on its roots and his pace and rhythm (as translated by Fagles) will make your heart race. Also captivating are the sideline schemes of the Gods – Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Poseidon etc – all supporting different sides and torn with grief when a favourite is doomed to hit the dust. The air is filled with a palpable sense of tragedy especially for the soldiers; their hopes and fears and fathers and mothers and wives and children to whom they will never return. Homer spares you none of the gory details of death and that darkness that claims the eyes when a spear runs one through and comes out the back or when an axe spills open the contents of the brain. Fagles is quite adept at ensuring your stomach turns.

It is easy to see how generations of Greek recruits could be energised by these stories and today’s flying of the Stars & Stripes gives an idea but doesn’t come close. But after six hundred pages one also starts to feel sick of the earth running black with blood. In that respect the greatest war book also becomes a potent anti-war polemic. When the book draws to a close with its climactic finish you feel subdued awe at what just happened. Homer does not end with the sacking of Troy (via the Trojan Horse) but you know it’s coming and your mind creates the carnage that must have ensued. [Homer’s “The Odyssey” and Vergil’s “The Aeneid” carry on from the end of the Trojan War if you want to read more].

PS. I thought that since I loved this translation I should go compare with the one from twenty years ago to appreciate the difference a translation makes. Oops, turned out the old was the new; it was the same translation! Goes to show how we often get rubbed the wrong way by the new and unfamiliar like I was twenty years ago; and how a little education, like I’ve done in the meanwhile, can make us less intimidated by worlds (and people) unlike what we were used to and to open us to discovery and a wider circumference of enjoyments.

Musings, Politics

The Incomparable Mr Churchill

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind.” – May 1940

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” – July 1940

“It is not possible to form a judgement of a public figure who has attained the enormous dimensions of Adolf Hitler until his life work as a whole is before us. Although no subsequent political action can condone wrong deeds, history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim, and even frightful methods, but who, nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler” – 1935
As quoted in “Arguably” by Christopher Hitchens’ book Arguably and taken from a Churchill’s book “Great Contemporaries”.