Ryeview – January 2002

Are our standards any better?

John Clark writes…

First published: January 2002 – Gazette & Herald

My Ryeview this month was about the threat of global warming. The ‘alleged’ events of the last few days have changed the subject rather dramatically.

I am not a pacifist but I am one that believes we tend to ‘go to war’ too easily. My father was the nth generation of pacifists in our family. He decided that Hitler would not be stopped by discussion. Force was needed. I hope I would have the sense to agree with him if the same circumstances arose today.

One of the jobs he was involved in was ‘cleaning up’, whatever that meant, a concentration camp. He didn’t often talk about the subject and then only said very little. What he did say was that it was almost impossible to believe that one group of humans could so mistreat another group of humans. It was vital that even in conflict there must be ‘rules’.

The Taliban and al-Qaida are objectionable organisations. However if we wish to be on the side of the angels our opposition must be ‘civilised’. We (I use ‘we’ because we have been told ‘we’ are part of the world wide alliance and are either on the side of George W. Bush or on the side of the Taliban) may

  • Carry on bombing a defeated country.
  • Take prisoners and put them in cages (like the Viet Cong put the American soldiers in cages.)
  • Drug prisoners to sedate them, as was done by the Nazis.
  • Shave off the beards of prisoners in the same way as the Nazis shaved off the beards of the Orthodox Jews.
  • Carry on ‘pretending’ we have not been at war with the government of Afghanistan – thus we don’t have to treat the prisoners according to the Geneva Convention.
  • Carry on in any other dubious way.

All of the above is wrong if the ‘allegations’ turn out to be incorrect and hence we can show that the handling of this is ‘civilised’, ‘democratic’ and ‘humane’. On the other hand if the allegations turn out to be correct then all will be indefensible and the alliance will have lost the moral high ground.

If American soldiers were going through these alleged treatments followed by ‘infinite justice’ from the Taliban I expect the indignation would be absolute. My understanding from the British Government and the USA was that the whole anti-terrorism campaign was on behalf of the United Nations. I’m obviously not keeping up somewhere. Hopefully I’m wrong and these ‘accused’ wrongdoers will be tried before an independent unbiased and international court. If this is not the case then maybe the British government could bring ‘terrorists’ back from the USA using bombing if necessary. The whole thing is so silly that it would be unbelievable if not true. The Lockerbie disaster was terrible but at least attempts have been made to use legal procedures rather than what ‘appears’ to be brute force. My fear is that the reprisals will be worse than the original reasons for going to war.

One concluding thought again comes from my father. “What Hitler did and attempted to do was completely unjustified. However what made it nearly possible was that after the Ist World War the victors did not sort out the German problems. Hitler had a fertile ground for his fanaticism.” Please let us not create a fertile ground that will make recruiting easier for the terrorists.

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