April 24, 2007

Ship of Fools

In the middle of the South China Sea I’ve discovered that I am on a cruise entirely filled with self-serving members of the Republican Party.

I didn’t realise that we had a few ‘Liberal Democrats’ on the ship until enduring repeated comments from the more voluble of our passengers, former advisers, trade attaches and men who made their money from oil. I’m stuck on a floating cliché.

Over dinner I sat through the garrulous rantings of a rotund Houstonian. Conversation focused on a handful of attractive women on the boat who were looking for some action, as though tattooed on their foreheads. The evening ended with a bottle of Hennessey and a very generous box of cigars, shared amongst six men who didn’t look like they were going to see any of the action themselves.

The clincher was a southern gentleman who was bigger than Texas with an accent wider than the Mississippi. In long drawn tones he laid out the misgivings of his seating arrangements earlier in the evening, having been sat next to the pretty young philly from New York. Not only was the hapless girl a damned Yankee but her extreme liberal persuasion made her an entirely unsuitable conversation partner for dining.

She apparently was not considered to be worthy of seeing any action either, and the last drops of cognac were emptied into glasses and thrown down like swill.

Most of my conversations aboard the ship have the potential to create enemies, as the majority of passengers are fervent believers in the good sense of President Bush and the righteous manner in which the American forces have conducted themselves to make the world a safer place.

These people have described to me the excellent conditions at Guantanamo Bay, a prison of comfort and privilege. They deny the liberal media’s representation of torture and abuse and tell me that ‘proper reports’ have shown otherwise.

These people are keen to point out that no-one has attacked the USA since 9-11, due to the deterrent force of the US military. They seem to overlook Madrid, Bali and London in this testament to how the world is a safer place.
These people blame the media for showing such graphic pictures of the combat and wounded soldiers – this is war after all and ‘they declared war on us’!

For a group of travellers so keen to learn about the history of war in the Pacific they seem to be very flexible with recounting the history of more modern events.
But not everyone on the ship are obnoxiously tragic fans of the conservative right.

Strangely enough the two historians and authors, who are the lead identities in telling the story of WWII in the Pacific, are both of liberal leaning. It is with begrudging respect that our compliment of Bush barkers sit back and listen the telling of history, a balanced and factual account of the greatest conflict the world has ever known.

The lessons of a war sixty years old are no less relevant today.

April 04, 2007

Ignorance is Strength

There is some very good analysis being written on the state of human rights in the USA. It's the stuff of history books. Decades from now people will look back at the remarkable events surrounding the Iraq war and the subsequent collapse of trust in the American style of democracy.

If this was a plane crash the explanation would be described as a "chain of errors". No single fault could have produced the final disaster, only a series of independent events linked to each other.

Eugine Robinson points out to readers of the Washington Post the tragic reality of court-room confessions being played out in Guantanamo Bay this week. No one is surprised that men locked behind bars and tortured, having been denied basic human rights for over four years, fronted up to a secretive hearing and confessed to any crime put before them.

[ The story in the Washington Post ]

No one is surprised - the torture and deprivation has done its job. This great disaster to mark the beginning of the 21st century is the result of a chain of errors that begins with ignorance.

There could be no dodgy trial if not for the sham of a court setup by the Bush Administration. There could no extracted confessions in the sham court if not for the barbaric treatment of the prisoners. There could be no barbaric torture if not for the re-classification of these men as "enemy combatants" and the detainment on foreign soil. There would be no "enemy combatants" if the Bush Administration had not undermined civil liberties.

The undermining of civil liberties could not have happened without a climate of fear and distrust within the American people. The politics of fear could not have been manipulated if the threat of terrorism had not been exaggerated by an influenced government. The government institutions would not have been so easily influenced if the executive power was more accountable to the people. The people of America could hold their government to account if they enjoyed the privilege of a true democracy. The American democratic process would be a true democracy if not tainted by corporate money and an ill-informed population. The voters of America can never be expected to make an 'informed decision' when they vote, not without an effective media and a basic standard of education for all citizens.

And there's the starting point. Ignorance is strength.

We're not just talking about an Administration in the USA that keeps the people ignorant of the truth, it's an entire class of our Western society that maintains the status-quo and reserves the privileges for themselves. Lack of funding for public schools, indulgent taxation benefits and the folly of aspiration to keep class awareness under control.

Someone put it nicely when they pointed out that "Capitalism doesn't work for everybody". It needs a strong democracy and an effective government to ensure the spoils of success are distributed with a little equanimity.

Orwell's pithy revelation was more than just observation, it was a warning. The chain of errors that lead to the appalling display of human betrayal in Guantanamo begins with our ignorance, our dejection and our apathy in the democratic process.

Ignorance is strength.