Their Morals and Ours
By Alan Woods
"Ye hypocrites! Are these your pranks?
To murder men and give god thanks?
Desist for shame! Proceed no further;
God won't accept your thanks for Murther."
(Robert Burns, On Thanksgiving for a National Victory.)
In every war in history, God is always on our side. That is what Tony Blair and George W. Bush fervently believe. And as the armies of the United States and the United Kingdom of Great Britain mass in the Gulf, preparing the serious business of mass slaughter in Iraq, the Almighty is being mobilized for war service, along with everyone else in sight and out of it.
The propaganda machine is working overtime to condition public opinion in the build-up to hostilities with Iraq. The first question, of course, is whether God is a Muslim or a Christian. In the Muslim world the proposed attack on Saddam Hussein is seen as an assault on Islam, despite the protestations of George Bush and Tony Blair to the contrary. The American President is not unduly concerned with the sensitivities of Moslems. He knows that God is an American (Isn't the Bible written in English?) He even referred, early on, to the whole business as a crusade, which immediately confirmed the deep suspicions of many Muslims.
George Bush showed his customary ignorance in making such a remark. In the West the crusades were always portrayed as a glorious mission to win back the Holy Land from the unbelievers and carry the sacred flame of Christian civilization to the unlightened peoples of the East. In fact, they were among the most vicious and bloodthirsty wars of plunder and exterminations that blacken the annals of human history - a fact that is still not generally known in the "civilized" West.
Blair and Bush both see themselves as the most devout Christians. As The Independent (21 February 2003) pointed out, in "the hothouse religious atmosphere in the White House, many in the US administration see the conflict in Manichean terms of good and evil - and view their role as a messianic mission. The problem with this is that those who claim the moral high ground in such matters are those most likely to suffer from illusions about their own righteousness. Then morality becomes merely a matter of opinion."
The 'moral case' for war
After two million people marched in protest through the streets of London, Mr. Blair decided to shift his ground to the moral case for war. Blair's blatant sophistry provoked Britain's two most senior archbishops to respond, questioning the legitimacy of his logic. Even before he was appointed, the new Archbishop of Canterbury went public, along with 200 other religious leaders, with a Pax Christi petition which insisted that there could be "no war without a UN resolution". Senior church figures in the United States and in many other countries did the same.
This is all very unwelcome to Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair. "Obviously they're entitled to their views," a Downing Street spokesman said of the archbishops. The trouble is that it's not their opinion they're voicing; it is, for many people, God's." Yes, and everybody knows that God is on our side.
The critical comments of the religious establishment were an embarrassment to Mssrs. Blair and Bush, but did not noticeably change their stand on the war. Last Saturday Tony Blair went to Rome to meet the Pope, possibly to put forward his name for future beatification, but by the way to convince the Holy Father that the best way to save the souls of the wicked Iraqis is by bombing them to kingdom come.
Unfortunately, the Pope (hardly the world's most progressive politician) has already set his face against the war, announcing: "War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations." But that is precisely what war is, as old Clauswitz explained long ago, when he pointed out that war is only the continuation of politics by other means.
In a formal bourgeois democracy, a tiny handful of wealthy people who own and control the means of production always take the most important decisions. Naturally, "everyone is entitled to their views" in such a system, After all, is this not what distinguishes us from Saddam Hussein? Yes, indeed! The difference is that under Saddam Hussein, dictatorship is overt and blatant, whereas in Britain and America the dictatorship of the bankers, monopolies and oil barons is exercised more subtly, in a hidden, hypocritical manner.
That is to say, it is normally exercised in such a manner. But war is not a normal state of affairs. A war has many negative features in that many poor people lose their lives. But it at least has this advantage: that in a war all that was hidden becomes open, all that was disguised becomes evident. The class antagonisms in society come sharply to the fore. The smiling mask slips to reveal the crude and ugly face of violence and oppression.
It is a simple fact that the great majority people in the world are opposed to the act of military rape that is being planned against the people of Iraq. That goes for Britain, and, if the truth were to be told, for the United States also. Blair's response to the mass demonstrations was predictable: at least we live in a country where demonstrations are allowed - after the government had done its best to prevent it! Yet the "democratic" governments of these countries have shown their complete disregard for the views of the majority. They have this exposed the essence of a bourgeois formal democracy: everyone can say what they like, as long as the big banks, monopolies, oil barons and generals, decide what happens.
This is precisely why the American President and the British Prime Minister felt obliged to call upon the aid of the Almighty. After all, what else is one to do when one can find such little consolation in earth? Since millions of ordinary mortals are opposed to the war, it is necessary to direct one's eyes to the heavens and appeal to the Lord of Hosts for a little support. The war against Iraq is now said to be divinely inspired.
Someone once said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Now we must add: religion and morality on the lips of warmongers are the last refuge of a hypocrite.
Of course, we accept that there is such a thing as a just war. Marxists have never been pacifists. The war of Spartacus against Rome was a just war - and so was every other war in which the slaves, the serfs, the colonial peoples and the working class, took up arms against their oppressors. Those were just wars which we support unreservedly.
But the wars waged by the slave-holders against the slaves, the lords against the peasants, the capitalists against the workers, the imperialists against the colonies, are reactionary wars by definition, and must be strenuously opposed by the workers' movement and anyone with the slightest claim to stand for human progress. From any point of view, Bush and Blair have abjectly failed to make a coherent cause for the war against Iraq. The deceit here is so blatant that we are forced to exclaim, in the words of Shakespeare: "These lies are like the father that begets them: gross as a mountain, open, palpable."
Blair changes his tune
Like a criminal trying to establish an alibi for a crime, Blair has changed his story several times in the space of a few months. He started by claiming that the reason for the war was that the Iraqis possessed huge quantities of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But since none of these have been found, he changed his tune.
The second argument was that Saddam Hussein was linked to al Qaida. This was so ridiculous that it fell by its own weight. A year and a half after the September 11 nobody has been able to find any link between the attack on the Twin Towers and Iraq - a fact that even Blair was obliged to confess. It is well known that the secular Baathist regime in Baghdad and the fundamentalists groups like al Qaida have always been enemies. The attempt by Bush to make us of the most recent tape recording by bin Laden ended in farce when it was pointed out that on that very tape, the leader of al Qaida attacked Saddam Hussein as an infidel.
The next attempt to establish an alibi, quoting a "new dossier from British Intelligence" also ended in farce, when it was revealed that the document was a crude forgery based on a PhD thesis by an American student. This did not prevent Colin Powell from citing it as key evidence in his speech in the Security Council!
By this time, Blair was clearly getting desperate. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, he came up with the argument that the Iraqi regime was an Evil Regime, and therefore should be eliminated. We pass by the obvious point that "regime change" was not supposed to be the reason for this war, and that this had been steadfastly denied by the British government from the beginning, and that this is yet another somersault which Mr. Blair has performed in his efforts to please the US President, while fooling the British public.
And so, having run through all the possible options (as well as some impossible ones), Mr. Blair has been reduced to appealing to - morality! This would be quite amusing if the consequences were not so serious. This most Christian gentleman, with a straight face, informs us that the best interest of the Iraqi people is to be served by bombing them to hell and invading their country.
Where does "lawful authority" lie in making declarations of war? Is the fact that Iraq represents a "real and present danger"? But the previous policy of "containment and deterrent" was quite sufficient to keep Saddam Hussein under control. A shattered country with a destroyed army and a hungry population was no threat to the USA, Britain or anyone else.
If Iraq only had coconut palms and camels, there would be no question of war. But Iraq is sitting on the second largest reserves of oil in the world. Nobody doubts that the "moral" argument for attacking it is to be found mainly in its oilfields.
There is not the slightest doubt that this war will produce many more evils than it removes. It will cause chaos both in Iraq and in all the surrounding countries. It will mean decades of hostility from the Muslim world to the West. It will be the most efficient recruiting sergeant for al Qaida and be the starting point for new terrorist outrages.
All this is quite irrelevant for those fundamentalists like Blair and Bush who are on a direct line to God, who has answered all these questions to their complete satisfaction. Tony Blair and George W Bush see themselves as devout Christians and regular churchgoers. They make a really fine pair, with their truly evangelical zeal for war against the people of Iraq, which they are eager to present in the light of morality. They have no doubts: God is on their side!
Blair's latest sermon
So the coming onslaught against Iraq is morally justified. Such crude considerations as oil have nothing whatever to do with it. That was the text of the speech delivered by the reverend Tony to the Labour Party's spring conference in Glasgow which unfolded at the same time as the mass demonstrations against the war. The most remarkable thing about this speech was that it was delivered with a perfectly straight face, so that any tendency on the part of the audience to laugh would be strongly discouraged.
Blair told the conference: "The moral case against war has a moral answer: it is the moral case for removing Saddam. It is not the reason we act. That must be according to the United Nations mandate on Weapons of Mass Destruction. But it is the reason, frankly, why if we do have to act, we should do so with a clear conscience."
So there we have it! The war against Iraq is said to be "morally justified" and therefore, when the missiles start raining down on Iraqi cities, we can sleep soundly in our bed with a clear conscience. Isn't this a perfectly "Christian" message? He went on:
"Yes, there are consequences of war. If we remove Saddam by force, people will die and some will be innocent. And we must live with the consequences of our actions, even the unintended ones. But there are also consequences of ‘stop the war’."
It is impossible to read these lines without a feeling of nausea. This middle class hypocrite who goes to church every Sunday to pray to God is prepared to unleash the dogs of war on 22 million people and then retire to bed with a perfectly clear conscience. "Some" of these people will die, he says, but so what?
Most extraordinary of all, the British Prime Minister attempted to justify war because of the harm done to the Iraqi population by the sanctions imposed on them for the last 12 years. If I listened to the demonstrators, says Mr. Blair:
"If I took that advice, and did not insist on disarmament, yes, there would be no war. But there would still be Saddam. Many of the people marching will say they hate Saddam. But the consequences of taking their advice is that he stays in charge of Iraq, ruling the Iraqi people. A country that in 1978, the year before he seized power, was richer than Malaysia or Portugal. A country where today, 135 out of every 1000 Iraqi children die before the age of five - 70% of these deaths are from diarrhoea and respiratory infections that are easily preventable. Where almost a third of children born in the centre and south of Iraq have chronic malnutrition. Where 60% of the people depend on Food Aid. Where half the population of rural areas have no safe water."
Isn't this absolutely monstrous? The American and British imperialists, together with their fellow criminals in the "United Nations" for 12 long years have imposed a criminal blockade on Iraq and reduced it to appalling levels of poverty. This has indeed led to the deaths of a million Iraqi children from malnutrition, lack of clean water and medicine. And what is Mr. Blair's solution? To launch a war that will kill many more Iraqi children!
The United Nations (which Mr. Blair swears by in every other sentence) recently concluded in a leaked memorandum, that half a million Iraqi children will die in the bombardment of Iraq, and that a million and a half more will die of the consequences of the war, which will destroy the already shattered infrastructure of the country, depriving the population of food, drinking water and medicines.
Yes, regrettably some people will die in this war, and some will even be innocent. What a shame! Of course, this is "unintended", so that is all right. And at the end of the day we will have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein, so that is even better. And Mr. Blair will have a clear conscience. What a fine thing it must be to be devoutly religious!
Carried away by a paroxysm of moral indignation, Mr. Blair continues: "Where every year and now, as we speak, tens of thousands of political prisoners languish in appalling conditions in Saddam's jails and are routinely executed. Where in the past 15 years over 150,000 Shia Moslems in Southern Iraq and Moslem Kurds in Northern Iraq have been butchered; with up to four million Iraqis in exile round the world, including 350,000 now in Britain.
"This isn't a regime with Weapons of Mass Destruction that is otherwise benign. This is a regime that contravenes every single principle or value anyone of our politics believes in. There will be no march for the victims of Saddam, no protests about the thousands of children that die needlessly every year under his rule, no righteous anger over the torture chambers which if he is left in power, will be left in being."
Yes, the regime of Saddam Hussein is an objectionable regime, that it suppresses dissent and uses torture, arbitrary arrest and murder to keep itself in power. But wait a moment! These things are certainly evil, but they are by no means the monopoly of the Baghdad regime.
Let us examine for a moment the record of other regimes - including members of the Bush's coalition. Saudi Arabia's record on human rights is well known, as is that of Turkey. In both countries, opposition has been brutally suppressed, dissidents imprisoned, tortured and executed. They are also evil regimes. Yet nobody is proposing to bomb and invade them. On the contrary, they are our allies (i.e., partners in crime).
What about Mr. Putin's Russia, whose support the USA and Britain are desperately seeking? The Chechen war has been the scene of the most ghastly atrocities against the Chechen people on a daily basis. The country has been reduced to rubble, its civilians killed, tortured, raped and pillaged. But none of this is considered evil by Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair. In fact, it is not even worth a mention. The one time the reverend Tony Blair saw fit to refer to it was to praise Putin's handling of the hostage crisis in Moscow, when the Russian forces with typical heavy-handedness caused the deaths of a large number of people.
We could go on almost indefinitely, but it would be a superfluous exercise. The point is that the concept of "evil" advocated by Bush and Blair turns out to be rather a flexile one.
The 'method' school of acting
Having given vent to his moral indignation, Blair then turned the full blast of his scorn on the anti-war demonstrators:
"I rejoice that we live in a country where peaceful protest is a natural part of our democratic process. But I ask the marchers to understand this. I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honour. But sometimes it is the price of leadership. And the cost of conviction. But as you watch your TV pictures of the march, ponder this:
"If there are 500,000 on that march, that is still less than the number of people whose deaths Saddam has been responsible for. If there are one million, that is still less than the number of people who died in the wars he started. […]
"Saddam has murdered more than a million Iraqis over the past 30 years, are you willing to allow him to kill another million Iraqis? Saddam rules Iraq using fear - he regularly imprisons, executes and tortures the mass population for no reason whatsoever - this may be hard to believe and you may not even appreciate the extent of such barbaric acts, but believe me you will be hard pressed to find a family in Iraq who have not had a son, father, brother killed, imprisoned, tortured and/or ‘disappeared' due to Saddam's regime."
So serious was the expression on the prime minister's face when he pronounced these words that one was almost tempted to believe that he really believes it! Almost, but not quite. Blair's Glasgow speech brings to mind the well-known school of acting of the celebrated Russian director Stanislavsky, known as "the method" in the West. This means that when an actor delivers his lines he must think himself into the part he is playing so passionately that he ends up believing it. And when an actor really believes the lines he is saying, the audience is so carried away that they almost end up believing it themselves.
A clinical analysis of the logic of this part of the speech shows that it is divided into two parts: 1) You demonstrators should think yourselves lucky we tolerate you; in Baghdad you would be in jail, and 2) There may be a lot of you, but Saddam Hussein has killed far more. Let us examine these assertions a bit more closely.
1) Blair's hymn of praise to the virtues of British democracy would be more convincing if everybody did not know that he and his ministers did their best to sabotage the London anti-war demonstration by denying access to Hyde Park - the only place in the capital capable of containing such a large number of people. They were only forced to back down under pressure. There is also the little detail that his message to the demonstrators was more or less: You can demonstrate as much as you like, that is your right. My right is to ignore you and the majority of the British nation - and that is just what I intend to do.
2) The atrocities perpetrated by Saddam Hussein against the people of Iraq were well known to the British and American governments a long time ago. That did not prevent them from supporting, financing and arming him - up till the invasion of Kuwait. They supplied the bombs and poison gas and with which he attacked the Kurds. They backed Iraq enthusiastically in the bloody war with Iran, which is when all these Iraqis were killed, which Mr. Blair is so indignant about. But he (or his speech writer) has forgotten all about this little detail.
3) There is clearly no moral equivalence between the numbers of people killed in Iraq over a 30 year period (or any other period) and the number of those demonstrating to prevent a new slaughter of people in Iraq. However all these inconsistencies do not prevent Mr. Blair from pursuing his moral line of argument to the bitter end:
"So if the result of peace is Saddam staying in power, not disarmed, then I tell you there are consequences paid in blood for that decision too. But these victims will never be seen. They will never feature on our TV screens or inspire millions to take to the streets. But they will exist nonetheless. Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane […]. "
In the end, Tony Blair triumphantly trumpets the conclusion: "If the international community does not take note of the Iraqi people's plight but continues to address it casually this will breed terrorism and extremism within the Iraqi people. This cannot be allowed to happen".
If there is a lesson to be drawn from history it is this: the people of Iraq (and in particular the Kurds and Shiites) can expect neither help nor humanitarianism, neither justice nor democracy from the British and American imperialists. The cause of the Kurds has already been bartered away to the reactionary Turkish bourgeoisie in exchange for the use of their bases. The Shiites would also do well to remember 1991, when George Bush senior first incited them to rise in revolt against Saddam Hussein and then cynically sat back and watched while the uprising was drowned in blood by the Republican Guard. This kind of thing is what Blair considers "humane" politics.
Those foolish politicians in exile who imagined that America was going to war to re-establish democracy in Iraq have also been given a good lesson in the value of the promises of Washington and London. It has been made quite clear that after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there will be no democracy In Iraq, but only a military dictatorship with an American general in power instead of the latter. This has a name - it is called good old fashioned colonialism. As for the assurances of Colin Powell that the Americans do not want Iraqi oil - that is enough to make even Donald Rumsfeld laugh.
A prayer for Mr. Bush
These ladies and gentlemen are hypocrites of the worst sort. They imagine that this hypocrisy will go undetected. They are mistaken. Too many people have already seen through their mask. In Europe it merely produces a feeling of disgust, and even in the USA, where, for historical reasons, religion is still a force to reckon with, an increasing number of people are critical of the administration's Iraqi policy and opposed to war.
The morality of Bush and Blair is a class morality. According to their class interests, this is OK. It is correct and moral. This is quite consistent. For Bush and Blair, anything that serves the interests of the big monopolies is fair and good.
In reality all this moralistic cant and religious mumbo-jumbo is merely a screen and an excuse for engaging in acts of manifest piracy and murder. They reinterpret the teachings of religion quite shamelessly to justify their ends. More correctly, they interpret their vested interests through the language of religion and morality. And this is quite understandable. Not many soldiers would be prepared to fight and die for the oil fortunes of the big Texan corporations or to get George W Bush re-elected. It is necessary to send the boys off to the front with an inspiring hymn ringing in their ears and tears in their eyes, Hence the high moral tone of the speeches of Bush and Blair in recent days.
Napoleon, who knew a thing or two about war, pointed out the extreme importance of morale (that is morale, with an "e", not moral). It is necessary to give both the troops and the public something worth fighting for. And that cannot be related to dollars. In warfare morality has its value, just as so many tanks, planes, missiles, tins of beans, sacks of potatoes or cans of diesel. In fact it is worth its weight in gold.
Tony Blair and his friend George W are both well aware of getting the Almighty on board (or "on message" as they put it these days") in good time. They have even shown pictures on the television screens of the US government leaders - Bush, Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and the rest of them - saying their prayers before they vote to send goodness knows how many young Americans (not to speak of Iraqis) to their deaths. One can only wonder what the content of this prayer consists of.
Maybe it went something like this:
"O Lord of Hosts, mighty in battle, rise up and destroy the Evil Axis! Smite them hip and thigh! Make their soldiers as stubble to our swords, and destroy their seed, leaving no trace on the face of the earth, that we might praise Thee forever.
"Lord, shower Thy blessings on our bombers as they shower their bombs on the cities, towns and villages of Iraq.
"Make their aim good and true, so that they destroy our Enemy and Thine in double-quick good time, so as not to cause too much bother in Saudi Arabia, which is next door, and not too much damage to the infrastructure of the oil industry.
"And let there be a minimum of body bags on our side so that we might smite the Democrats and dwell in the White House forever.
"Deliver unto our hands the cities and oil wells of the Unbelievers so that we may glorify thy name and replenish our coffers without raising the taxes of the rich men that are pleasing in Thy sight.
"Thou leadest me beside running lakes of crude and falling prices of other raw materials. Thou restorest my rate of Profit and renewest my Credit Rating. Yea! my stock market boometh. Surely, goodness and a low rate of inflation shall follow me all my days.
"Thou preparest a table in the midst of mine enemies and annointest my head with Iraqi oil. My cup runneth over.
"Give us this day our Second Security Council Resolution, and lead us not into new anti-war demonstrations but deliver us from the French Veto.
"For THINE is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory…
"But OURS are the Second Biggest Reserves of Oil in the World for ever and ever.
London, February 24, 2003.
The causes of the Franco-American conflict and the policy of the French left on the war in Iraq. By Greg Oxley (February 20, 2003).
Iraq and the crisis in the western alliance By Alan Woods (February 14, 2003)
Every member of the UN Security Council has a price. By Fred Weston(February 11, 2003)
The In Defence of Marxism Manifesto on the imperialist war against Iraq. By Alan Woods and Ted Grant (February 6, 2002)
The war aims of the Great Powers in the Middle East and the consequences of the coming invasion of Iraq. By Greg Oxley (January 23, 2003)
The Split in the western alliance - Can Europe's opposition prevent war? By Alan Woods (January 24, 2003)
"Delenda est Carthago" - US imperialism hell bent on war with Iraq By Alan Woods (January 21, 2003)
Iraq - Security Council gives the green light to US aggression, By Alan Woods, (November 11, 2002)
Diplomacy prepares the way for war By Alan Woods. (September 25, 2002)
IISS Report on Iraq: Why let the facts spoil a good story? By Fred Weston. (September 10, 2002)
The first shots in the war against Iraq By Alan Woods. (September 6, 2002)
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