Lies, propaganda, scapegoats and cover-ups

FMD

DURING a recent dinner party a couple of long-time friends asked why I ‘always blame’ the so-called Establishment for so many of our current problems.

“Surely, if the BBC report it as fact, we can believe the BBC,” one friend added.

That was the excuse I needed, and fuelled by a few glasses of wine I began to burble a list which started somewhere around the creation of Israel, took a detour to the murder of Princess Diana, the real terrorists behind the 9/11 atrocities and crudely ended with Margaret Thatcher’s deployment of nuclear weapons during the Falklands War.

Yes, I suppose I am a bit of conspiracy theorist… but only when that conspiracy has credibility, and that credibility is supported by cast iron facts.

As a journalist I have witnessed far too often the lies and dirty tricks that the Establishment will stoop to, to get their own way.

Murder, war and disease are the forerunners.

And as a journalist, I know the deadly propaganda that our mainstream media – including the BBC and Sky – will feed the population to give credence to those lies.

The distorted reporting surrounding the recent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia are a case in point… but that would be another detour!

So to answer a few questions I have decided to dig out and reload one of my published investigations.

This one dates from early 2001, soon after Foot and Mouth Disease devastated British farming.

Conspiracy?

You bet!

THE British, Canadian, US and Mexican Governments were preparing for the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease FOUR months before it emerged on a Tyneside farm.

An investigation has discovered that all four countries were staging a co-ordinated Foot and Mouth simulation exercise in October 2000, despite the fact that Britain had not been struck by the disease for 34 years and the USA and Canada had not been affected since 1929.

And North timber merchants have confirmed that they were approached for urgent supplies to tackle the disease by Ministry of Agriculture officials as early as December.

Today scientists called for the Government to admit it knew that Foot and Mouth was present in the UK long before it was officially pinpointed at Bobby Waugh’s Heddon-on-the-Wall pig farm on 23rd February.

And Mr Waugh has called for a public apology from the Government after the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) consistently blamed his farm as “the likely source of the outbreak”.

An investigation has discovered that last October the United States and Mexico began preparing for “a simulated outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease” in all three countries.

According to papers leaked from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the exercise – which took place between 6th and 9th November – was “for the purpose of emergency planning”.

It took place in Ontario, Alberta, Texas, USA, and Tamaulipas, Mexico.

The papers say: “This exercise is the first of its kind and provides all three countries with a unique opportunity to apply their emergency response plans in the event of a real disease outbreak.”

Yet neither Canada, the USA nor Mexico had been affected with Foot and Mouth Disease since 1929.

And the exercise – which is estimated to have cost over $1million – was the first US “Foreign Animal Disease Response Simulation” of any kind since 1993. At the same time the UK Government was preparing its own “contingency plans” for a Foot and Mouth outbreak.

Yet the last Foot and Mouth outbreak was in 1967.

We discovered that MAFF officials began telephoning timber merchants as early as December asking if they could supply wood for pyres, should Foot and Mouth strike.

Mike Littlehales, who ran a timber yard in Staffordshire said he received a phone call “out of the blue”.

He said: “I got this call from a lady who said ‘This is the Ministry of Agriculture. Would you be interested in supplying timber in case of foot-and-mouth?’ because she wanted to update her records.

“It surprised me, and I thought it was doubly strange when three weeks later the Government tell us we have an outbreak of the disease.”

Mr Littlehales said the last time his timber business had received a similar call was during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 1967.

Fran Talbot, a timber merchant at Eccleshall, said she was approached in first week of February and asked about the availability of railway sleepers in the event of a FMD outbreak.

“The woman said ‘are you still in a position to supply timber for burning animals in case of an outbreak of Foot and Mouth’.

“It was a very odd thing to happen just three weeks before an outbreak.”

Mrs Talbot’s firm had supplied sleepers during the 1967 outbreak, but had not heard from MAFF since.

Tommy Norman, who runs a timber yard at Longtown, Cumbria – the centre of scores of cases of Foot and Mouth Disease – confirmed he had received a similar call from MAFF in January.

“It’s difficult for me to say any more,” he added. “I have provided masses of wood for MAFF pyres, but they still owe me a large amount of money.”

Top US scientist Dr Patricia Doyle, who has led a stateside campaign to discover the truth about the UK Foot and Mouth outbreak, said: “I am convinced that MAFF knew about the virus was on the loose long before this February.

“And the US Government was protecting its back because they weren’t sure how far the virus had leaked.”

Amble-based geneticist Bruce Jobson, added: “This confirms what we knew all along, that the Government was aware Foot and Mouth was on the loose long before they identified it at Bobby Waugh’s farm.

“The new Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) must now admit that MAFF had covered up the real cause of this outbreak”.

Newcastle-based microbiologist Dr Harash Narang added: “I firmly believe that the virus escaped from a MAFF experiment and had infected sheep as long ago as last October.

“This evidence now supports that belief.”

Mr Waugh said he felt vindicated that he was not responsible for the Foot and Mouth outbreak.

“Again, again and again I have been blamed for this disease, when I knew all along it wasn’t me.

“I now want the Government to admit they got it wrong and tell us all how this thing really started.”

Stuart Renton, a vet for almost 30 years, who works out of the Newcastle Foot and Mouth centre in Kenton Bar, Newcastle, launched a scathing attack on his MAFF employers.

He said he and many other vets working for MAFF believe Mr Waugh is innocent.

Dr Renton says he has seen enough evidence of ‘old’ Foot and Mouth sores on infected sheep to convince him the disease was present in the UK long before 15th February.

And he blasted the Government for adopting the wrong policies to deal with the outbreak. “They made our work extremely harrowing,” he said.

The 50-year-old North East vet’s contract with the MAFF may now be on the line for daring to tell what he believes is the truth.

Throughout the entire Foot and Mouth epidemic MAFF vets have not been allowed to speak about the crisis.

Instead any official comment has only come from MAFF press office in London, its chief scientist Professor David King or Agriculture Minister Nick Brown.

Dr Renton said: “Long standing Foot and Mouth lesions are being found in sheep nationally, indicating the disease was probably present long before the so-called initial outbreak in Heddon. We are still getting pockets of infection in sheep which we cannot trace back to Heddon.”

Dr Renton has been part of the MAFF team diagnosing and overseeing the destruction of animals since taking on a case at Black Callerton, Westerhope on 26th February.

He said: “Along with a number of the veterinary surgeons involved, I have serious doubts over the culling policies being adopted by the Government, which makes our work in this outbreak extremely harrowing,” he said.

“And from day one MAFF has been terribly under-resourced to cope. I knew when I took on case number 10 on 26th February that we were on the edge of a disaster and it’s been playing catch-up ever since.”

MAFF said it was ‘unfortunate’ one of its vets should choose to speak to the press. “We will investigate this immediately,” said a spokeswoman.

Although Dr Renton’s contract with MAFF could be terminated by his decision to speak out, we understand it is unlikely he will lose his job because of a shortage of replacement vets.

A spokesman for the Canadian Government said he was unable to comment on its Foot and Mouth simulation exercise due to agreements it had made with the British Government.

“Due to the sensitivity surrounding events which have occurred since February this year, we are unable to comment further on the reasons or results of the November exercise,” he added.

But a DEFRA spokesman denied that MAFF had tried to cover-up the outbreak.

He said: “We did not know of Foot and Mouth in this country at a time earlier than 21st February, when it was identified at the abattoir in Essex and then traced to Mr Waugh’s farm in Northumberland.

“There has never been any deliberate concealment.

“From time to time we do emergency planning exercises and the inquiries about wood may well have been of this nature.”

According to official records the last official UK Foot and Mouth contingency plan was in 1993.

  • NOTE: This investigation led directly to me receiving an honorary doctorate in written journalism from an US university.

Big Brother is Watching You… and now it gets really scary

BIG BROTHER

I HAVE just read the most disturbing news item I have come across in a long time.

I am beyond shocked… I am frightened for my children and my grandchildren.

I cough and allow my mind to drift to a peaceful place sitting in the summer sunshine on the north side of the Isle of Jura watching the sea wash white horses on the rocks below me.

Less than 300 yards to the south of where I am sitting is the isolated cottage known as Barnhill… this was the rented home of writer George Orwell, who lived there intermittently from 1946 until his death in 1950. Orwell completed his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four while living there.

It was a place I visited often during my two years living and working as a newspaper editor in the wilds of Argyll, in western Scotland, some 28 years ago.

Barnhill always held a fascination for me, because Nineteen Eighty-Four had remained my favourite novel since I was first mesmerised by Orwell’s vision of a future dystopian world as a raw 14-year-old. And I loved to imagine the views he must have taken in while writing that classic of English literature.

First published in 1948, yet set 36 years later, Nineteen Eighty-Four tells the story of Winston Smith, a citizen and ordinary member of the Outer Party.

Winston works in the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth, rewriting and distorting history, under the dictator Big Brother.

But Winston is determined to remain human under inhuman circumstances and begins a diary. Yet telescreens are placed everywhere — in his home, in his cubicle at work, in the cafeteria where he eats, even in the bathroom stalls. His every move is watched. No place is safe.

One day, while at the mandatory Two Minutes Hate, Winston catches the eye of an Inner Party Member, O’Brien, whom he believes to be an ally. He also catches the eye of a dark-haired girl named Julia from the Fiction Department.

A few days later Julia secretly hands him a note that reads: “I love you.” Winston takes pains to meet her, and when they finally do, Julia draws up a plan whereby they can be alone.

Once alone in the countryside, Winston and Julia make love and begin their allegiance against the Party and Big Brother. They fall in love, and, while they know that they will someday be caught, they believe that the love and loyalty they feel for each other can never be taken from them.

Eventually, Winston and Julia confess to O’Brien, whom they believe to be a member of the Brotherhood (an underground organization aimed at bringing down the Party), their hatred of the Party.

O’Brien welcomes them into the Brotherhood with an array of questions and arranges for Winston to be given a copy of “the book,” the underground’s treasonous volume written by their leader, Emmanuel Goldstein.

Winston gets the book and takes it to the secure room where he reads it with Julia napping by his side. The two are disturbed by a noise behind a painting in the room and discover a telescreen. They are quickly dragged away and separated.

Winston finds himself deep inside the Ministry of Love, a prison with no windows, where he sits for days alone. Finally, O’Brien comes. Initially Winston believes that O’Brien has also been caught, but he soon realizes that O’Brien is there to torture him and break his spirit.

O’Brien spends the next few months torturing Winston in order to change his way of thinking — to employ the concept of doublethink, or the ability to simultaneously hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind and believe in them both.

Finally, O’Brien takes Winston to Room 101, the most dreaded room of all in the Ministry of Love, the place where prisoners meet their greatest fear. Winston’s greatest fear is rats. O’Brien places over Winston’s head a mask made of wire mesh and threatens to open the door to release rats on Winston’s face.

When Winston screams, “Do it to Julia!” he relinquishes his last vestige of humanity.

Winston is a changed man. He sits in the Chestnut Tree Café, watching the telescreens and agonizing over the results of daily battles on the front lines. He has seen Julia again. She, too, is changed, seeming older and less attractive. She admits that she also betrayed him. In the end, there is no doubt, Winston loves Big Brother.

Today, the year 1984 has long passed, but Orwell’s futuristic vision of hell on Earth remains.

Big Brother is now everywhere

  • Mainstream newspapers and TV channels feed us daily propaganda – the “facts” the Establishment wish us to believe
  • CCTV cameras are on every street corner and inside every store – yet we never know who is monitoring them
  • Number Plate Recognition cameras are installed at almost every filling station and car park
  • Sat Nav satellites pick-up every move of our car, van or truck
  • Cookies and spyware follow every finger click we make on our PC or tablet
  • Police DNA and fingerprint databases have more than 30% of adults logged on their files
  • MSN, Messenger text messages and private phone calls are harvested by government snoopers at GCHQ
  • Our employment, financial and residential history is catalogued in the finest detail by so-called credit reference agencies such as Equifax and Experian

Our lives are no longer secret… Big Brother knows all of us.

Which brings me back to beginning…

I stare again at the news item and in something which can only be described as Nineteen Eighty-Four meets Black Mirror the headline reads: Implanting Microchips for Convenience.

The article explains how plans are already being rolled out to implant a tiny microchip in people’s hand which could eventually replace the need for credit cards, car keys and much more.

And this dystopian world is almost upon us right now.

Micro-chipping is almost routine at the Swedish start-up hub Epicenter. The company offers to implant its workers and start-up members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

The injections have become so popular that workers at Epicenter hold parties for those willing to get implanted.

“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter.

As a demonstration, he unlocks a door by merely waving near it.

“It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys,” he explains.

The technology in itself is not new.

Such chips are used as virtual collar plates for pets. Companies use them to track deliveries. It’s just never been used to tag employees on a broad scale before.

Epicenter and a handful of other companies are the first to make chip implants broadly available.

While biologically safe, the data generated by the chips can show how often an employee comes to work or what they buy. Unlike company swipe cards or smartphones, which can generate the same data, a person cannot easily separate themselves from the chip.

“Of course, putting things into your body is quite a big step to do and it was even for me at first,” said Mr Mesterton, remembering how he initially had had doubts.

“But then on the other hand, I mean, people have been implanting things into their body, like pacemakers and stuff to control your heart,” he said. “That’s a way, way more serious thing than having a small chip that can actually communicate with devices.”

Epicenter, which is home to more than 100 companies and some 2,000 workers, began implanting workers in January 2015. Now, about 150 workers have them.

A company based in Belgium also offers its employees such implants.

And last year a company in Wisconsin has become the first in the USA to roll out microchip implants for all its employees.

The initiative, which is optional for employees at snack stall supplier Three Square Market (32M), implants radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in staff members’ hands in between their thumb and forefinger.

Once tagged with the implant 32M says its employees will be able to perform a range of common office tasks with an effortless wave of their hand.

“We foresee the use of RFID technology to drive everything from making purchases in our office break room market, opening doors, use of copy machines, logging into our office computers, unlocking phones, sharing business cards, storing medical/health information, and used as payment at other RFID terminals,” says 32M CEO, Todd Westby.

The chips make use of near-field communication (NFC), and are similar to ones already in use in things like contactless credit cards, mobile payment systems, and animal tag implants.

“It will happen to everybody,” says Noelle Chesley, 49, associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“But not this year, maybe not my generation, but certainly that of my kids.”

But Gene Munster, an analyst at Loup Ventures, thinks embedded chips in human bodies is 50 years away.

“The idea of being chipped has too “much negative connotation today,” he says, but by 2067 “we will have been desensitized by the social stigma.”

So the next time your child has to stand in-line for an eye recognition device to pay for their school dinner, or the next time you use your finger print to log into your iPhone, remember the Isle of Jura and George Orwell’s words of warning.

Big Brother is watching you.

Into the gutter with the Daily Mail

Daily Mail

THERE are only a few things in life I really hate, and one of them is the Daily Mail.

It is a poisonous rag which cloaks itself in the clothes of middle class decency while demeaning everything which is good.

And, as a journalist, I find its pretence at factual reporting frightening.

Its so-called news reeks of innuendo and loaded propaganda.

And its agenda is unwavering: preserve Conservative Britain from the rabid threat of Marxism, the Labour Party, Comrade Corbyn, trade unions, the unemployed and working people.

There are many reasons to despise the Daily Mail… its casual attitude towards the truth which it pretends to be both seeking; the way that minorities are ridiculed and blamed; how it randomly chooses which causes to back and which to dump; the way in which “outsiders”, such as recent immigrants are demonised and its gutter trawling for so-called “dirt” on anyone who stands in its way.

My own dealings with the Mail as a journalist were rather more obscure.

I would like to take you back to 1997.

I was at the pinnacle of my career working as the Chief Investigative Reporter for The Scotsman.

A whole world away from the Daily Mail.

In three years, I had broken a series of major exclusive investigations. Among the highlights were the dumping of millions of tons of munitions in the Irish Sea, the deadly legacy of the Dounreay experimental nuclear plant in Northern Scotland and a probable link between pesticides and BSE.

I had also been honoured with two back-to-back awards as Scottish Journalist of the Year and was in line for a third.

I loved my job and the collegiate atmosphere I worked in. I honestly believed I would spend the rest of my working life at North Bridge, with no aspirations other than to continue in my role.

But all that changed when in December 1996, our newspaper was surprisingly bought out by property billionaires and close friends of Margaret Thatcher: the Barclay Brothers.

With the new owners came a new Editor-in-Chief, the infamous Andrew Neil.

There was a corporate intake of breath as we all wondered for the future.

That intake turned into something approaching choking when our much loved editor, Jim Seaton, was placed on ‘gardening leave’ awaiting early retirement and a new editor Martin Clarke was announced.

We all winced… Clarke had trained under Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail and he was well known as a Rottweiler in the newsroom.

Clarke’s editorial demeanour attracted a range of tributes from former colleagues: “vile”, “offensive”, “appalling”, “obsessive”, “childlike” and “foul-mouthed” being among the less flattering.

Like Dacre, whose briefings were called “the vagina monologues” for their reliance on one particular expletive, Clarke went one better.

“He would start by saying, ‘You’re all a fucking disgrace and one of you is going to be fucking sacked this week,” and the terrible thing was, one of us usually was,” said Alexandra Blair, The Times educational correspondent, who worked for him for a year and a half at The Scotsman.

Another reporter who worked under Clarke said: “He once said to me: ‘You’ve got to go and shout at the bastards or they won’t respect you.'”

My stay under Clarke’s editorship was brief… just six months.

I moved on after being told to follow his own loaded agenda, which included one weird instruction to prove that wild deer being pursued by hounds are “no more stressed than a cow in a slaughterhouse”!

The final straw came in a bleak week, which began by Clarke blanking me at a press awards lunch after I had been highly commended as reporter of the year and finished by him standing over me at 10pm on a fourth rewrite of a story, berating my journalism as “fucking bollocks”.

I introduce a clipping of a piece written by Rob Brown in June 1997.

“Senior writers and sub-editors now find themselves being showered with expletives by their new editor Martin Clarke, whose lexicon of abuse is fairly extensive.

“Several executives have resigned in disgust. They included the picture editor Paul Dodds, who quit after being ordered to get better pictures from his “f***in’ monkeys”.

“Also out is associate editor Lesley Riddoch, who suddenly found her articles being repeatedly spiked.

“One of the journalists who has quit in disgust said: “I have worked for some brutal editors in my time, but Martin Clarke behaves like a feudal squire and treats his staff like serfs. Change was certainly needed at The Scotsman, but not this. He is running amok, creating a totally demoralised and demotivated staff.”

“But, put it to Clarke that he is pursuing a monstrous form of macho management and he professes his innocence with almost schoolboyish sense of hurt.

“Clarke, 32, says the complaints are emanating from only a couple of “malcontents”. Some people, he says, are driven by “personal pique because they never got a job they wanted”. Nic Outterside, head of the paper’s investigative unit, left last week. Clarke says the unit was disbanded because it was “a crock of shit”.

“Others, according to Clarke, have become “malcontents” simply because they cannot stand the new pace in the newsroom.

“I demand a greater level of working than perhaps some people are used to here and I can be robust at times, like all editors,” he says.

“Clarke confirms that he drew up a five-and-a-half page document a few weeks after he took charge recommending that a number of senior Scotsman staffers should be removed from their posts. This “operation review” leaked from the editor’s office into the newsroom, where it was seen as a sinister hit list. Clarke admits to some regrets about that.

“Of course it was bloody unfortunate, but you don’t expect to work in a place where such illegal activities take place. It was stolen from my computer. I’ve worked in some pretty rough newspapers, but nowhere where people are that underhand.”

At the time of writing this blog, Clarke is tipped to succeed Paul Dacre as the next editor of the Daily Mail.

And the art of being underhand is surely what the Mail is all about.

 

The political bloodshed of Poppy Day

white poppy

SO with most of those who fought in World War 2 now resting in their graves or in a nursing home for the over 90s, why are we again in such bloody state over Poppy Day?

Like World War 1, which is now 100 years ago, it is another tragic part of our inglorious military history, as much as the battles of Hastings, Agincourt, Crecy, Waterloo or Trafalgar.

Like a twisted Groundhog Day, it is a history which is repeating itself in the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria.

And every November our collective conscience becomes blood-soaked with paper poppies festooning the lapels of our politicians, newsreaders and business leaders.

Why does our Establishment not do the same for those who have died from cancer, MS, Aids or heart failure?

It is because our leaders and the most fortunate in our society have turned the solemnity of remembrance for fallen soldiers in ancient wars into a justification for our most recent armed conflicts.

The American civil war’s General Sherman once said that “war is hell”, but unfortunately today’s politicians in Britain use past wars to bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens, in the name of the public good.

Yesterday, football’s governing body, FIFA turned down requests from England and Scotland for players to wear armbands featuring poppies during their World Cup qualifiers on 11 November, because it breached a ban on “political” symbols.

FIFA bans “political, religious or commercial messages” from being used on national teams’ shirts.

The decision got the English and Scottish FAs in quite a lather, with both threatening to defy the ban, at the risk of heavy sanctions for doing so.

Lucy Noakes, a social and cultural historian at the University of Brighton, thinks it’s not accurate to depict the poppy as apolitical.

Despite the fact that it was introduced in 1921 for charitable purposes – to raise money that would help World War 1 veterans with employment and housing – it has “been politicised almost since its inception”, she says.

Among political objectors to the red poppies is West Bromwich Albion and Republic of Ireland midfielder James McClean, who refuses to wear a poppy, arguing that it represents all the conflicts the UK has taken part in.

He cites in particular “the history where I come from in Derry” – the Northern Irish city in which British paratroopers killed unarmed civilians on “Bloody Sunday” in January 1972.

In 2010, a group of Celtic supporters unfurled banners objecting to poppies on their team’s kit, citing British interventions in Afghanistan, Ireland and Iraq.

Among those today who also argue that the poppy is political is Harry Leslie Smith, a 93-year-old World War 2 RAF veteran, who has not worn a red poppy since 2013 because he believes “the spirit of my generation has been hijacked” by today’s politicians to “sell dubious wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Three years ago, Harry explained his decision: “I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one’s right to privacy.

“We must remember that the historical past of this country is not like an episode of Downton Abbey where the rich are portrayed as thoughtful, benevolent masters to poor folk who need the guiding hand of the ruling classes to live a proper life.

“I can tell you it didn’t happen that way because I was born nine years after World War 1 began. I can attest that life for most people was spent in abject poverty where one laboured under brutal working conditions for little pay and lived in houses not fit to kennel a dog today.

“We must remember that the war was fought by the working classes who comprised 80% of Britain’s population in 1913.

“My uncle and many of my relatives died in that war and they weren’t officers or NCOs; they were simple Tommies. They were like the hundreds of thousands of other boys who were sent to their slaughter by a government that didn’t care to represent their citizens if they were working poor and under-educated.

“My family members took the king’s shilling because they had little choice, whereas many others from similar economic backgrounds were strong-armed into enlisting by war propaganda or press-ganged into military service by their employers.

“Today, we have allowed monolithic corporate institutions to set our national agenda. We have allowed vitriol to replace earnest debate and we have somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that wealth is wisdom.

“If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn’t be left to die on the battleground of modern life.”

The power of the privileged Establishment is there for all to see as they move Heaven and Earth to keep Poppy Day as a sacred national institution.

Last year our right-wing press launched a scathing attack on Jeremy Corbyn, claiming a video from 2013 showed him calling WW1 commemorations “pointless”.

The papers (the usual suspects) the Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Telegraph – concentrated on one line from a speech in which the Labour leader says: “I’m not sure what there is to commemorate about the First World War.”

They then went on to claim Mr Corbyn “denounced” the money that was to be spent on – amongst other things – the huge display of ceramic poppies that filled the moat around the Tower of London in 2014.

But what Mr Corbyn said in 2013 was actually spot on: “Keir Hardie was a great opponent of the First World War… I’m not sure what there is to commemorate about the First World War other than the mass slaughter of millions of young men and women, mainly men, on the Western Front and all the other places.

“And it was a war of the declining empires and anyone who’s read or even dipped into Hobson’s great work of the early part of the 20th century, written post World War, presaged the whole First World War as a war between monopolies fighting between [inaudible] markets.

“The reason I say this is next year the government are planning this celebration and I think that’s an opportunity for us. It’s an opportunity to discuss war and discuss peace and to put up an alternative point of view.”

As a life-long pacifist I write each November about the farce and fallacy of the British Establishment’s Poppy Day.

Two years ago I stumbled upon a wonderful piece written by Guardian journalist Jonathan Jones, which not only underscores what Mr Corbyn said, but also many of my own beliefs.

I won’t reboot all that he writes but his salient points are:

“Recording only the British dead of World War 1 confirms the illusion that we are an island of heroes with no debt to anyone else, no fraternity for anyone else.

“In 1924, the German artist Otto Dix depicted a skull, lying on the ground, a home to worms. They crawl out of its eye sockets, nasal opening and mouth, and wriggle among patches of hair and a black moustache that still cling to the raw bone.

“Dix recorded his memories of fighting in the First World War. He was a machine gunner at the Somme, among other battles, and won the Iron Cross, second class. But he remembered it all as pure horror, as did other participants who happened to be artists or writers such as George Grosz, Siegfried Sassoon, Ernst Jünger and Robert Graves.

“We need to look harder, and keep looking, at the terrible truths of the war that smashed the modern world off the rails and started a cycle of murderous extremism that ended only in 1945. If it did end.”

I agree with every word and every sentiment, but sadly the ‘murderous extremism’ has sadly never ended, a glance in the direction of Israel, Iraq or Syria will confirm that.

But let’s go back to the root of this.

If we honour the fallen Allied soldiers of the 1914-18 conflict, why do we not do the same for the German soldiers or indeed the dead of the Crimean War, Waterloo, the Boer War, the battles of Bannockburn and Culloden or the dead from the English Civil War, Agincourt, Crecy or even the Battle of Hastings?

Where does logic and reality stop and politics and propaganda begin?

The reasons given for World War 1 commemoration that is we must remember our dead. “They died for us and our freedom. The cost of sacrifice. Remember Passchendaele. Never forget.”

Total balderdash!

As a child I remember sitting on my Great Uncle Jack’s knee as he told me tales of the Somme and the mud, horror and death. He showed me the 11 inch scar on his back where a German sniper had almost taken his life as he crawled back to his trench from no man’s land. And he also told me of his older brother Burnet who died from enteric fever in the trenches at the Somme, like many thousands of his compatriots.

There was no glory, no heroism, just as Harry Leslie Smith also observed: the mechanised slaughter of millions of young working class men.

As World War 1 poet Wilfred Owen wrote: ‘the poetry is in the pity’.

One example of the mindless killings occurred on the 24 and 25 September 1915 when the 4th Black Watch was decimated at Loos.

“Haig had ample warning that an unprepared attack by two untrained divisions was unlikely to succeed. And so the stage was set for a repetition of the charge at Balaclava.

“For the set-piece attack of the 11th Corps was as futile and foredoomed as that of the Light Brigade. There had been 12 battalions making the attack, a strength of just under ten thousand, and in the three and a half hours of the actual battle their casualties were 385 officers and 7,861 men. The Germans suffered no casualties at all.”

Little wonder the Germans called the battlefield “Leichenfeld (field of corpses) von Loos”.

Perhaps in war, it’s the names that count. Dead soldiers had no gravestones before the Great War, unless they were generals, admirals or emperors worthy of entombment in Saint Paul’s Cathedral or Les Invalides.

The soldiers were simply dumped into mass graves.

At Waterloo, the remains of the dead were shipped back to England to be used as manure on the fields of Lincolnshire – sometimes tilled by their unsuspecting farmer sons.

No posthumous glory for them.

It is perhaps easier to believe that the names will “live for evermore” even though hundreds of thousands of World War I British and French and Germans and Austrians and Irishmen in British uniform and Hungarians and Indians and Russians and Americans and Turks and even Portuguese have no graves at all.

Or as German comedian Henning Wehn recently observed about Poppy Day, the British have: “A highly selective remembrance.”

The last words of Nurse Edith Cavell, shot in Brussels by the Germans for rescuing Allied soldiers behind enemy lines, are inscribed on her monument beside the National Gallery: “Patriotism is not enough.”

In the four years of World War 1, Britain endured 658,700 fatalities, 2,032,150 wounded and 359,150 men missing in action. This adds up to total of over three million casualties from one side alone.

Add to this the four million fatalities from the German side and other civilian deaths, the total death toll was in excess of 16 million.

No glory, just death and suffering.

Historian Phillip Knightley wrote that during the war: “More deliberate lies were told than in any other period of history, and the whole apparatus of the state went into action to suppress the truth”.

When war broke out in 1914, it did so to flag waving and patriotism. Men were promised honour, glory and a conflict over by Christmas.

This was the Great War, to end all wars!

These were times of great social inequality and disenfranchised boys from the poorest communities could, for the first time, be useful. The army offered food, clothing, camaraderie and the respect of the nation.

Enlistment was a collective endeavour – many battalions were made up of men from the same villages. They joined together and died together.

There was no way out. Not to join was cowardice – a treacherous act which would bring shame upon their family and nation.

And they would be fighting against an identifiable evil.

The British propaganda painted German Kaiser Wilhelm as the devil incarnate. The Daily Mail of 22 September 1914 portrayed him in separate reports as a “lunatic”, “madman”, “barbarian”, “monster”, and “modern Judas”.

The German soldier raped, mutilated and tortured. Stories of Hun atrocities in Belgium were front page news despite there being little proof of their occurrence.

The Times of January 8, 1915, stated: “The stories of rape are so horrible in detail that their publication would seem almost impossible were it not for the necessity of showing to the fullest extent the nature of the wild beasts fighting under the German Flag.”

So when we read about the heroism of all those dead men, when we pause to consider their sacrifice we should remember also a propaganda system which romanticised and demonised, misled and obfuscated.

As Lloyd George, Prime Minister in 1916, said: “If the people really knew the truth the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and can’t know.”

And what they don’t know, can’t hurt, can it?

This year, like many before, I will not wear a red poppy.

 

The Loaded Language of the British Press

FOR the majority of the British media, the importance of presenting impartial news coverage is a key objective, but balance is now being questioned with the escalating violence in the Middle East.

As many times before, it is the reporting of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and murders of innocent Palestinians which has come under the closest scrutiny.

The death and destruction – especially the deaths of so many children – has appeared in brutal contrast with the relatively minor impact of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.

Moreover, Western media has been criticised for failing to cover the conflict in a fair manner and some media outlets, the BBC in particular, appear infused with a pro-Israeli bias.

Often it is down to the language used in such reports, which creates bias and distorts the view of the watcher or reader of the news.

The late Tony Benn said in his inaugural annual lecture in Bristol in 2006 that the BBC refer to the Palestinians as “Militants” but to the Israeli aggressors as the “Israeli Government”. Thus giving legitimacy to the Israeli side against the Palestinians.

Mr Benn said that in reality he believed the reverse was true.

In recent days we have seen the use of language challenged both between politicians and within the press.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister David Cameron was repeatedly asked to apologise for labelling MPs who might vote against bombing in Syria as “Terrorist Sympathisers”.

It was a failed but oblique attempt to score points against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for his historical support for Hamas and the IRA.

Quite an ironic choice of language from Mr Cameron, who once called for Nelson Mandela to be hanged as a terrorist!

During the House of Commons debate on bombing Syria we also witnessed an agreement between the SNP and many Conservative and Labour MPs to refer to ISIS as Daesh. In doing so it would lock away the word Islamist, used by so many of the national press and the BBC to describe terrorist attacks.

Biased use of language, with a nakedly political motive, is clearly poisonous.

Note how the single photograph of a dead Syrian child on a Mediterranean beach in September this year reshaped the way our press reported the Syrian refugee crisis.

The public outcry at that image was so immense that our newspapers started to refer to the hapless refugees by the correct terms rather than the “swarms of migrants” favoured by David Cameron and Nigel Farage.

But sadly that didn’t last and following the Paris attacks of 13 November these self-same Syrian refugees were being labelled migrants and potential terrorists by our press.

UK tabloids like the Murdoch-owned Sun that has compared immigrants to ‘cockroaches’ recall the dark days of the Nazi media attacking those they sought to eliminate, says the UN’s human rights chief.

“The Nazi media described people their masters wanted to eliminate as rats and cockroaches,” said UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

He singled out an article by former gameshow contestant turned-commentator Katie Hopkins, published by the Sun, in which she wrote: “Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.”

The comment piece was published just hours before a boat containing hundreds of displaced people capsized in the Mediterranean, killing 800.

“This type of language is clearly inflammatory and unacceptable, especially in a national newspaper. The Sun’s editors took an editorial decision to publish this article, and – if it is found in breach of the law – should be held responsible along with the author,” said Zeid.

Zeid said the Hopkins piece was by no means a one off, but rather the result of “decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion.”

“This vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK tabloid press has continued unchallenged under the law for far too long,” he said.

Like the Sun, The Daily Express was also a prime culprit, he said.

“To give just one glimpse of the scale of the problem, back in 2003 the Daily Express ran 22 negative front pages stories about asylum seekers and refugees in a single 31-day period,” he said.

“Asylum seekers and migrants have, day after day, for years on end, been linked to rape, murder, diseases such as HIV and TB, theft, and almost every conceivable crime and misdemeanour imaginable in front-page articles and two-page spreads, in cartoons, editorials, even on the sports pages of almost all the UK’s national tabloid newspapers.”

And the use of language to load news reporting is used often in domestic situations.

The British press regularly use the adjectives “Far Left”, “Hard Left” and “Loony Left” to describe Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour Party, while referring to more right wing MPs as being “Moderates”.

Never do they seek to define what the word “Moderate” means or ever refer to David Cameron or George Osborne as being “Far Right” or “Hard Right”.

What we are observing is an adjectival degradation.

Every report, coming from inside governments or institutions outside is, if it contains some form of criticism, therefore “damning”, “devastating” or “scathing”.

Warnings, which most of the time were not heeded anyhow, are “stark”, differences of opinion between politicians of the same party are “dramatic splits”, developments are “alarming” – the consumer of the media is confronted with a permanent linguistic overkill.

Ironically, official language is evolving in the opposite direction, it is becoming more sanitised, cautious, bureaucratic and politically correct.

Remember how Tony Blair and his spin doctors rebranded the Labour Party as New Labour and Blair’s Labour as he courted Rupert Murdoch and the so-called Middle England vote in the 1990s.

For marketing and propaganda purposes he even banned the use of the word “socialist” or “socialism” among his MPs.

The final irony is that almost 20 years later the word “Blairite” is now a term of abuse among most Labour Party members and commentators.

Words matter!

 

Dirty Tricks, Murder and the Masters of War

Come you masters of war

You that build all the guns

You that build the death planes

You that build the big bombs

You that hide behind walls

You that hide behind desks

I just want you to know

I can see through your masks

 

You that never done nothin’

But build to destroy

You play with my world

Like it’s your little toy

You put a gun in my hand

And you hide from my eyes

And you turn and run farther

When the fast bullets fly

 

Like Judas of old

You lie and deceive

A world war can be won

You want me to believe

But I see through your eyes

And I see through your brain

Like I see through the water

That runs down my drain

 

You fasten the triggers

For the others to fire

Then you set back and watch

When the death count gets higher

You hide in your mansion

As young people’s blood

Flows out of their bodies

And is buried in the mud

 

Let me ask you one question

Is your money that good

Will it buy you forgiveness

Do you think that it could

I think you will find

When your death takes its toll

All the money you made

Will never buy back your soul

(Bob Dylan, 1963)

 

SIX days have now passed since the atrocities in Paris, and it seems that the Western governments’ strongest efforts to pin the blame on radical ISIS jihadists is not going to plan.

Increasing numbers of observers and journalists are now questioning the role that the USA’s CIA and Israel’s Mossad may or may not have had in the killing of at least 129 people.

I have already written about the dirty propaganda behind the supposed killing of ‘Jihadi John’ in Roll On John https://seagullnic.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/roll-on-john and the unanswered questions behind the Paris murders Beyond the Horizon Oer the Treacherous Sea https://seagullnic.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/beyond-the-horizon-oer-the-treacherous-sea but now we need to look in greater depth at the USA’s murky interference in the Middle East.

In one of the fiery oratories for which he was well-known, the late Hugo Chávez once stated that “the American empire is the greatest menace to our planet.”

Looking at the history of US engagement in Latin America, it is easy to see why Chávez made such a claim.

From overthrowing democratically elected leaders, operating death squads, and torturing civilians, the history of US involvement in the region helped create a widespread popular backlash that persists to this day.

Since the late 1980s the USA’s theatre of war has switched from Latin America to the Middle East, and many of the same tactics of that period were redeployed on the other side of the world.

Since the end of World War 2 the world’s biggest super power has:

  • Attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically-elected.

  • Dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries.

  • Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.

  • Attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries.

  • Interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.

Investigations reveal that Pentagon officials at the highest levels oversaw torture facilities during the war in Iraq in 2003. The evidence includes: rooms used for interrogating detainees stained with blood; children tied into extreme stress positions with their bodies beaten to discoloration and others tortured with high voltage electricity and waterboarding.

Most chillingly, a veteran of the United States’ “dirty war” in El Salvador was reported to have been brought in to personally oversee the interrogation facilities.

As described by Iraqi officials this programme was condoned at the highest levels of the US military and utilized “all means of torture to make the detainee confess … using electricity, hanging him upside down, pulling out their nails”.

At the now infamous School of the Americas, thousands of Latin American “special forces” were explicitly trained in torture techniques by US handlers. Many of those SOA graduates took their new training home to El Salvador, where they waged a war that killed an estimated 80,000 Salvadoran civilians.

The creation and patronage of locally trained indigenous militias – such as we are seeing with ISIS – to wreak havoc among subject populations in pursuit of American military objectives is a tactic that seems to have been adapted to the present day with great effect.

The USA’s most prominent trained paramilitaries were the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF), an elite counterterrorism force referred to as “the dirty brigade”.

Trained and guided by US military advisers at every level of its hierarchy, the ISOF was structured so as to place it outside the confines of normal oversight by international observers.

The use of torture, the patronage of sectarian proxy forces, and the facilitation of widespread human rights abuses all characterize US policy in the “war on terror”.

Evidence has emerged that ISIS and its military advances in northern Iraq and Syria has been shaped and controlled out of Langley, Virginia, and other CIA and Pentagon outposts as the next stage in spreading chaos in the world’s second-largest oil state, Iraq, as well as weakening Syrian stabilization efforts.

There is widely corroborated evidence that MI6 cooperated with the CIA on a “rat line” of arms transfers from Libyan stockpiles to the Syrian rebels in 2012 after the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

So a year into the Syrian rebellion, the US and its allies weren’t only supporting and arming an opposition they knew to be dominated by extreme sectarian groups; they were prepared to countenance the creation of some sort of “Islamic state” – despite the “grave danger” to Iraq’s unity – as a Sunni buffer to weaken Syria.

But all is not as it seems.

According to well-informed Iraqi journalists, ISIS overran the strategic Mosul region, site of some of the world’s most prolific oilfields, with barely a shot fired in resistance.

According to one report, residents of Tikrit reported remarkable displays of “soldiers handing over their weapons and uniforms peacefully to militants who ordinarily would have been expected to kill government soldiers on the spot.”

We are told that ISIS masked psychopaths captured “arms and ammunition from the fleeing security forces” – arms and ammunition supplied by the American government. The offensive coincides with a successful campaign by ISIS in eastern Syria.

According to Iraqi journalists, Sunni tribal chiefs in the region had been convinced to side with ISIS against the Shiite Al-Maliki government in Baghdad. They were promised a better deal under ISIS Sunni Sharia than with Baghdad anti-Sunni rule.

Key members of ISIS were trained by US CIA and Special Forces command at a secret camp in Jordan in 2012, according to informed Jordanian officials.

The US, Turkish and Jordanian intelligence ran a training base for the Syrian rebels in the Jordanian town of Safawi in the country’s northern desert region, conveniently near the borders to both Syria and Iraq.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two Gulf monarchies most involved in funding the war against Syria’s Assad, financed the Jordan ISIS training.

Advertised publicly as training of ‘non-extremist’ Muslim jihadists to wage war against the Syrian Bashar Assad regime, the secret US training camps in Jordan and elsewhere trained perhaps several thousand Muslim fighters in techniques of irregular warfare, sabotage and general terror.

Former US State Department official Andrew Doran wrote in the conservative National Review magazine that some ISIS warriors also hold US passports!

Iranian journalist Sabah Zanganeh notes: “ISIS did not have the power to occupy and conquer Mosul by itself. What has happened is the result of security-intelligence collaborations of some regional countries with some extremist groups inside the Iraqi government.”

Very revealing is the fact that almost two weeks after the dramatic fall of Mosul and the ‘capture’ by ISIS forces of the huge weapons and military vehicle resources provided by the US to the Iraqi army.

Whatever the final details that emerge, what is clear in the days since the fall of Mosul is that some of the world’s largest oilfields in Iraq are suddenly held by Jihadists and no longer by an Iraqi government determined to increase the oil export significantly.

Of course this is not the story given to us by our Western media, most of which owned by the same billionaire big businessmen which in turn manipulate our governments.

War propaganda often demands the abandoning of ordinary reason and principle, and the USA’s Dirty War in the Middle East demonstrates this in abundance.

Normal ethical notions of avoiding conflicts of interest, searching for independent evidence and disqualifying self-serving claims from belligerent parties have been ignored in much of the western debate.

As in previous wars, the aim is to demonise the enemy, by use of repeated atrocity claims, and so mobilise popular support behind the war.

In the words of leading Nazi, Hermann Goering: “Why of course the people don’t want war… that is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along.

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

Today those who finance and arm the sectarian groups have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

We now know is the air campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has killed more than 450 innocent civilians, according to a new report, even though the US-led coalition has so far acknowledged just two non-combatant deaths.

More than 5,700 air strikes have been launched in the campaign, which had its first anniversary this week with its impact on civilians largely unknown.

Now Airwars, a project by a team of independent journalists, has published details of 52 strikes with what it believes are credible reports of at least 459 non-combatant deaths, including those of more than 100 children.

One of the attacks investigated was on Fadhiliya, Iraq, on 4 April where witnesses and local politicians said a family of five had died, including a pregnant woman and an eight-year-old girl.

These figures do not take into account any more civilian deaths caused by French and US airstrikes since last Friday’s Paris atrocities.

Finally to give some insight into the impact of US foreign policy in the Middle East, Wikileaks obtained and decrypted a previously unreleased video footage from a US Apache helicopter in 2007.

It shows Reuters journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen, driver Saeed Chmagh, and several others as the Apache shoots and kills them in a public square in Eastern Baghdad.

After the initial shooting, an unarmed group of adults and children in a minivan arrives on the scene and attempts to transport the wounded. They are fired upon as well.

The official statement on this incident initially listed all adults as insurgents and claimed the US military did not know how the deaths occurred.

Wikileaks released this video with transcripts and a package of supporting documents on http://collateralmurder.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rXPrfnU3G0&sns=fb

It is frightening in its content and a chilling sub text of the way the USA treats its friends and enemies.

It is also clear why the USA is so keen to bring Wikileaks founder and the director of the video into its custody.

As British Prime Minister Lloyd George said in 1916: “If the people really knew the truth the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and can’t know.”

 

‘The Old Lie’ and Right Wing Propaganda

white poppy

OUR right-wing press have launched a scathing attack on Jeremy Corbyn, claiming a video from 2013 shows him calling World War 1 commemorations “pointless”.

But it doesn’t.

The papers (the usual suspects) the Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Telegraph – concentrate on one line from a speech in which the Labour Leader says: “I’m not sure what there is to commemorate about the First World War.”

They then go on to claim Mr Corbyn “denounced” the money that was to be spent on – amongst other things – the huge display of ceramic poppies that filled the moat around the Tower of London last year.

But what Mr Corbyn said in 2013 was actually spot on: “Keir Hardie was a great opponent of the First World War and apparently next year the government is proposing to spend shedloads of money commemorating the First World War. I’m not sure what there is to commemorate about the First World War other than the mass slaughter of millions of young men and women, mainly men, on the Western Front and all the other places.

“And it was a war of the declining empires and anyone who’s read or even dipped into Hobson’s great work of the early part of the 20th century, written post World War, presaged the whole First World War as a war between monopolies fighting between [inaudible] markets.

“The reason I say this is next year the government are planning this celebration and I think that’s an opportunity for us. It’s an opportunity to discuss war and discuss peace and to put up an alternative point of view.”

Despite this, even MPs were today quick to level accusations at the Labour Leader.

Tory MP, Tom Tugendhat, said: “”Commemoration of sacrifice is not glorification of war, as anyone who has fought knows only too well. Not to remember would be a betrayal of that courage.”

UKIP MEP, Mike Hookem, said: “He is lucky that he lives in a country where he can enjoy free speech but it’s thanks to those men who fought for our freedom in 1914-1918 that he can.

“Once again Jeremy Corbyn has shown how out of touch he is with the nation’s sentiments during the centenary of The Great War.”

But in my opinion, Mr Corbyn has hit a rusty nail bang on its head.

As a life-long pacifist I write each November about the farce and fallacy of the British establishment’s Poppy Day.

Last November I stumbled upon a marvelous piece written by Guardian journalist Jonathan Jones, which not only underscores what Mr Corbyn said, but also many of my own beliefs.

I won’t reboot all that he writes but his salient points are:

“Recording only the British dead of World War 1 confirms the illusion that we are an island of heroes with no debt to anyone else, no fraternity for anyone else.

In 1924, the German artist Otto Dix depicted a skull, lying on the ground, a home to worms. They crawl out of its eye sockets, nasal opening and mouth, and wriggle among patches of hair and a black moustache that still cling to the raw bone.

Dix recorded his memories of fighting in the First World War. He was a machine gunner at the Somme, among other battles, and won the Iron Cross, second class. But he remembered it all as pure horror, as did other participants who happened to be artists or writers such as George Grosz, Siegfried Sassoon, Ernst Jünger and Robert Graves.

Personally I would rather see the moat of the Tower of London filled with “barbed wire and bones” than the red ceramic poppies currently drawing huge crowds to see what has become the defining popular artwork in this centenary of the Great War’s outbreak. I called the sea of poppies now surrounding the Tower “toothless” as art and a “UKIP-style memorial”.

My criticism of this work of art was and is reasonable, honest and founded not in some kind of trendy cynicism but a belief that we need to look harder, and keep looking, at the terrible truths of the war that smashed the modern world off the rails and started a cycle of murderous extremism that ended only in 1945. If it did end.”

I agree with every word and every sentiment, but sadly the ‘murderous extremism’ has never ended, a glance in the direction of Israel and Palestine or Isis and Syria will confirm that.

But let’s go back to the root of this and the war that defined so called glory and greatness.

If we honour the fallen Allied soldiers of the 1914-18 conflict, why do we not do the same for the German soldiers or indeed the dead of the Crimean War, Waterloo, the Boer War, the battles of Bannockburn and Culloden or the dead from the English Civil War, Agincourt, Crecy or even the Battle of Hastings?

Where does logic and reality stop and politics and propaganda begin?

The reasons given for World War 1 commemoration that is we must remember our dead. “They died for us and our freedom. The cost of sacrifice. Remember Passchendaele. Never forget.”

Total balderdash!

As a child I remember sitting on my Great Uncle Jack’s knee as he told me tales of the Somme and the mud, horror and death. He showed me the 11 inch scar on his back where a German sniper had almost taken his life as he crawled back to his trench from no man’s land. And he also told me of his older brother Burnet who died from enteric fever in the trenches at the Somme, like many thousands of his compatriots.

I have my Uncle Jack’s pencil written letters from the front – and from hospital – at my side as I write this.

There was no glory, no heroism, just the mechanised slaughter of millions of young working class men.

As World War 1 poet Wilfred Owen wrote: ‘the poetry is in the pity’.

One example of the mindless killings occurred on the 24 and 25 September 1915 when the 4th Black Watch was decimated at Loos.

“Haig had ample warning that an unprepared attack by two untrained divisions was unlikely to succeed. And so the stage was set for a repetition of the charge at Balaclava. For the set-piece attack of the 11th Corps was as futile and foredoomed as that of the Light Brigade. There had been 12 battalions making the attack, a strength of just under ten thousand, and in the three and a half hours of the actual battle their casualties were 385 officers and 7,861 men. The Germans suffered no casualties at all.”

Little wonder the Germans called the battlefield “Leichenfeld (field of corpses) von Loos”.

Perhaps in war, it’s the names that count. Dead soldiers had no gravestones before the Great War, unless they were generals, admirals or emperors worthy of entombment in Saint Paul’s Cathedral or Les Invalides. The soldiers were simply dumped into mass graves.

At Waterloo, the remains of the dead were shipped back to England to be used as manure on the fields of Lincolnshire – sometimes tilled by their unsuspecting farmer sons. No posthumous glory for them.

It is perhaps easier to believe that the names will “live for evermore” even though hundreds of thousands of World War 1 British and French and Germans and Austrians and Irishmen in British uniform and Hungarians and Indians and Russians and Americans and Turks and even Portuguese have no graves at all.

The last words of Nurse Edith Cavell, shot in Brussels by the Germans for rescuing Allied soldiers behind enemy lines, are inscribed on her monument beside the National Gallery: “Patriotism is not enough.”

In the four years of World War 1, Britain endured 658,700 fatalities, 2,032,150 wounded and 359,150 men missing in action. This adds up to total of over three million casualties from one side alone.

Add to this the four million fatalities from the German side and other civilian deaths, the total death toll was in excess of 16 million.

No glory, just death and suffering.

Historian Phillip Knightley wrote that during the war: “More deliberate lies were told than in any other period of history, and the whole apparatus of the state went into action to suppress the truth”.

When war broke out in 1914, it did so to flag waving and patriotism. Men were promised honour, glory and a conflict over by Christmas.

This was the Great War, to end all wars!

These were times of great social inequality and disenfranchised boys from the poorest communities could, for the first time, be useful. The army offered food, clothing, camaraderie and the respect of the nation.

Enlistment was a collective endeavour – many battalions were made up of men from the same villages. They joined together and died together.

There was no way out. Not to join was cowardice – a treacherous act which would bring shame upon their family and nation.

And they would be fighting against an identifiable evil.

The British propaganda painted German Kaiser Wilhelm as the devil incarnate. The Daily Mail of 22 September 1914 portrayed him in separate reports as a “lunatic”, “madman”, “barbarian”, “monster”, and “modern Judas”.

The German soldier raped, mutilated and tortured. Stories of Hun atrocities in Belgium were front page news despite there being little proof of their occurrence.

The Times of January 8, 1915, stated: “The stories of rape are so horrible in detail that their publication would seem almost impossible were it not for the necessity of showing to the fullest extent the nature of the wild beasts fighting under the German Flag.”

This was the absolute necessity of conflict; ironically the same necessity that Michael Gove now points to as he rewrites the history of the war and instills his own propaganda.

Cambridge history Professor Richard Evans accuses the right wing led commemoration of gross oversimplification: “How can you possibly claim that Britain was fighting for democracy and liberal values when the main ally was Tsarist Russia? That was a despotism that put Germany in the shade and sponsored pogroms in 1903-1906.”

Unlike Germany – where male suffrage was universal – 40 per cent of those British troops fighting in the war did not have the vote until 1918.

“The Kaiser was not like Hitler, he was not a dictator… this was not Nazi Germany,” he added.

So when we read about the heroism of all those dead men, when we pause to consider their sacrifice we should remember also a propaganda system which romanticised and demonised, misled and obfuscated.

As Lloyd George, Prime Minister in 1916, said: “If the people really knew the truth the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and can’t know.”

And what they don’t know, can’t hurt, can it?

 

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep.

Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod.

All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!

An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,

And floundering like a man in fire or lime…

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

October 1917 – March 1918