Saturday, March 05, 2005

Shipman vs Blair: No Contest

A paragraph from an article in The Guardian by Steven Rose (03.03.05) is worth sharing. He's talking about the Home Office's interest in using brain imaging to identify serial killers before they kill. This is because the Holy Grail of current penal policy is to lock people up before they commit crimes rather than afterwards. The new powers of detention under the terrorism laws could provide a convenient framework for this.

"There are serial killers and serial killers, and I do not anticipate that Tony Blair will be asked to undergo an fMRI scan to determine whether a brain abnormality was responsible for his participation in the killing of 100,000 Iraqui civilians. Being evil is perhaps to be defined as killing more than 10 but less than 500 people? Below that level, you may be a psychopath, or have understandable motives. Above it, you are a statesman, unless you are on the wrong side, in which case you are a genocidal tyrant."

'Ah, but that's different!" people will say, because we've been conditioned to accept a dual morality for hundreds of years. That's the great problem with nation states, or more specifically the governments which rule them. They claim the right to engage in activities that are illegal for the people that inhabit the nation state. This goes beyond killing and includes such things as torture and spying on people.
However there are some eccentric people like me who have never accepted this two-tier morality. That is why I sometimes refer to Blair as a child murderer. He is also, of course, an adult murderer, a baby murderer and a murderer of pregnant women.

I am not an absolute pacifist in that I believe one has a right to use violence in the most extreme cases of self-defence (which does not include shooting burglars in the back). A nation state can claim the same right. Nobody, not even Blair, is now able to claim that the mass killings in Iraq were done in self-defence. I don't believe that was ever the raison d'etre for the war, but that's another story.

So can an end (removing a tyrant) justify the means?
The problem with that argument lies in the nature of modern warfare. When war was confined to soldiers fighting on a battlefield, often with national leaders or monarchs at their head, that was very different from the 'shock and awe' of aerial bombing which kills and maims thousands of civilians.
We were told, you may remember, that American weaponry was so advanced that it could be precisely targeted and avoid so-called 'collateral damage'. This was, of course, complete nonsense. And consider how few American and British soldiers were killed in Iraq compared to the numbers of Iraqui civilians killed. Some military personnel can kill hundreds of people by simply pressing a button on a submarine hundreds of miles away.
The Battle of Agincourt it isn't. But the political spin presents it as though it were. The pre-war rallying speech of one British commander to his troops was even compared to the pre-battle speech of Shakespeare's Henry V and George Bush, that well-known Shakespearean scholar, pinned it on the wall in the Oval Office.

The reason that Harold Shipman and not Tony Blair holds the title of Britain's biggest mass murderer is that most people are happy to accept a dual morality and willing to compartmentalise their moral judgements, a position that is sanctioned by most leaders of the Christian religions. Curiously, it is those of us who reject such an illogical and perverse morality who are regarded as at best ridiculous or at worst extremists or even complete nutters.


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