This all started rather strangely with the Dixie Chicks.
But, in order to think the whole thing through with all of the other stuff that was boiling up, I had to “go long” with this post.
The idea was to write a piece that made logical sense without upsetting patriotic Americans. Tricky for someone like me who doesn’t really understand patriotic people. This isn’t specifically an anti war, or an anti-anything post – I guess it just asks loads of questions and really requires those of you who disagree with me to genuinely help me understand.
To get to the point I originally set out to make I started to cover a whole bunch of bases like projected outcomes of a planned war, political ideals verses paranoia, pride and patriots, freedom and denial – oh yes, and don’t forget the Dixie Chicks! What made the post so long was the need to bring them all back together again.
Actually though, since only two people have been on this blog since it started – I don’t suppose I am likely to court streams of traffic with this anyway! Basically, if only for my own sanity, this had to be done.
If you’re American, why not tell me if this upsets you to read it!
IS FREEDOM WORTH FIGHTING FOR AND DO WE REALLY NEED TO BE PROUD OF IT?
Everybody loves freedom.... or so you’d think.
What does freedom actually mean, how much do we actually want it and what price are we prepared to go for it? Should we be proud of it? And what does pride actually mean?
Freedom is the buzzword that makes people seemingly patriotic in the West. But what is the difference between the perception and emotions connected to freedom in the USA and freedom in the UK? Why is there any difference at all?
Here’s where I went with this:
COMMUNISM & THE COLD WAR
The opposite of freedom is oppression.
During the Cold War, those of us in the west who were against communism did have a good point. There were plenty of reasons why we might have disagreed with a lot of the things that went on over this period in our history but the general atmosphere of the communist threat seemed quite clear to all of us then.
All you needed to do was to look at Russia and China etc. They had imposed rule over entire populations, were feeding them disinformation and were not allowing people to travel anywhere or to speak their own minds. Human rights were an issue and these countries had a history of deceiving everyone and invading and controlling other countries when they felt like it.
On the positive side, communism, purely in its political and idealistic form was then, and still is now a basis for a possible effective system of government. You could effectively believe in a concept of free-communism if you wanted to and many of the aspects of such a system could easily have better features over a capitalist alternative.
But if to be a communist involved the corruption and oppression that we could see in Russia and China and if we could also see certain evidence pointing towards hostility and even invasion, then the west wanted no part of it. We saw the communist threat as the enemy to freedom and we were prepared to fight for this.
Some of us however also saw problems with capitalistic excess and many people, who rejected the Eastern Block’s oppression at the time, still had socialistic political bents. There were idealistic and active communists living in free countries who weren’t necessarily in favour of autocratic and military control they just had some communist principles. These people were not dangerous!
However, because of over-reaction, we had to cope with some of our own hypocrisy on the matter which blurred the lines. For example, I remember seeing excerpts of various witch-hunts for communist sympathisers living in the US from the “House of Un-American Activities Committee”.
It seemed to us in the UK that Americans had at one point “thrown the baby out with the bath water”. They were now intolerant of anything remotely “red” and were publicly weeding people out and exiling them. The irony was not lost on those who looked on. Build a free country and then, in order to “protect” the people, ban any freedom of expression.
Meanwhile of course this was exactly what was happening in the Eastern Block – Oppression causing the weeding out of dissenters. And these same sneaky and intolerant tactics, when done in communist countries, were unacceptable and were the actual reason given for why we had to stop them.
Of course I understood at the time that there were plenty of examples available showing how NOT to represent communism – and the mothers of it were of course Russia. And Russians had plenty of aggressive policies and had nuclear warheads etc. But, didn’t freedom mean that you could have communist views in the ideology and still live in the US?
Well, I think you could in the UK. Yes we had spies everywhere and dirty tactics etc – so we certainly weren’t fully tolerant. But we also had a socialist government in the 70s and could see all the different shades of what “red” really meant. We had deals and pacts with the USA and had similar political issues and standoffs with Russia – but you could still be a communist if you wanted to... the UK is a free country. We were practicing freedom.
The British noticed the US paranoia. But then it seemed, a few years later so did the Americans.
Suddenly I saw US people relaxing a bit after the cold war and realising that it was okay to have different political viewpoints in this way. Communism didn’t seem to matter anymore and capitalism (ultimately unaffected by the cold war anyway) continued to dominate and succeed like it did before. Looking back now, the whole thing seems like a storm in a teacup. Shame it cost so much money and wasted so much time. At least the war stayed “cold”.
For a while it looked like people had grown up.
It seems that whilst there is no recession or abject poverty in the west, people don’t really tend to complain much. America, just like here in the UK, remained happily right wing in worldwide business practice and no one minded whether you were a communist or not. The ideals of socialist reform are not really in fashion.
In many ways this preamble on the Cold War has little to do with what originally inspired me to write this post but there are reasons why I brought it up. It was, for me the first time I really noticed a difference between our two nations psyches. It showed to some degree how many Americans feel about freedom and it also showed the effects of what happens when a government or a nation over reacts to something.
There is also another more direct connection.
Capitalism creates consumerism and this effects the environment. Capitalism thrives on greed. Our continual demand for a rise in our standard of living affects our control of things like oil, industry and farming and then because of all this, the cost that capitalism has on the third world.
Sometimes because of our own comforts, something has got to give somewhere else.
WAR ON TERROR
World banking habits, land borders, some old scores and the fight to control oil steered a path of hatred in the guise of religion. There was no real other reason for the attack.
Here in the UK we were shocked by the attacks but we were also a little more used to terrorists. Over the years, bombs and other attacks happened all over England and in Ireland and the nasty political peace process between the IRA and the Government took years and years to play out. It was complicated, it was stupid and it was terrible for those affected.
Things had really calmed down in the UK by 2001, but we identified immediately with the US. Our own death toll was not insignificant, the cost was huge and we lived with it for over 20 years.
Then we saw President Bush. I believe it was on September the 12th 2001 because of our time difference. He seemed to immediately say “retaliate”. Was this simply a knee jerk reaction? Perhaps he hadn’t really thought this through? Did he feel snookered into saying “war on terror” just because any other thing would have looked weak by comparison? What would such a war look like?
Bush, his war council and the no doubt huge team of (internationally aware) politicians seemed to take less than a day to work out the right response. But war didn’t make sense to me for two and half reasons:
1. America is very much a Christian country. Christianity is first and foremost a religion of forgiveness. Americans seem to go on about God and Christianity far more than we do here in the UK actually. I have never understood some of the directly contradictory stances taken here by those who carry a badge of Christianity and then react with the need for revenge. I am not about to turn this into a religious debate, but I thought I’d mention it in passing since George Bush and Tony Blair (the UK premier at the time) are both professed Christians. America is “one nation under God” but there was none of God’s forgiveness on the horizon.
1a. To get back to the point though, and taking religion out of my reasoning, forgiveness is also a secular tool. Every time someone in the past has forgiven their aggressor, there has been a better outcome than if they didn’t. History teaches us this. Forgiveness is a noble skill. I understand it is not a natural reaction in a school playground but it is something that wise men have used through the ages (whatever their faiths) and has stood the test of time as the best course of action. Hatred and revenge have a habit of not working so well by comparison. A huge and powerful government full of high ranking intellectuals, historians and strategists would be able to work this out for themselves. Hey, I’m just a regular guy and I can work it out – why didn’t Bush? It was this stonewall vitriol, this total retribution right from the start which really amazed me. Especially as........
2. Nobody knew who or where the perpetrator was. Yes of course it had a lot to do with Osama bin Laden who was probably in a desert hole in Afghanistan somewhere – but, after that, there really was no one else to hit.
These factors above seemed logical to me. To summarise here: You surely can’t go around bombing various non-descript people just because someone nearby was partially responsible for bombing you first.
And who are you going to bomb anyway? If revenge was high on your agenda, and even if you had no Christian beliefs or desire for forgiveness then perhaps you would want to arm yourself and plan an attack. But then the next factor stares you in the face. Who are you gonna hit? Those terrorists that flew in the September 11th planes are dead and everyone else is nowhere to find.
Moving on from these two (and a half) logical positions, now consider this next one:
- The terrorists that hit on Sept 11th think they were and are right
- You will not convince them otherwise
- They are either in hiding somewhere or they are dead
- They are not expert negotiators
- They don’t have anything we want in particular
- They are probably quite fundamentalist and illogical in their need to exact their brand of violent expression
If you go over to one of the countries where they come from (or did their training in etc etc) and carpet bomb them, consider these two alternative reactions.
a. “We are sorry for doing what we did. We now realise that terrorism is wrong and we won’t do it anymore”, or
b. “We are now really angry and we are going to get more recruits and we are going to make a real mess of your country every opportunity we get for as long as this takes – which will be real long by the way!”
PROJECTING AN OUTCOME – IS IT SOMEONE’S DAY JOB?
It’s not really rocket science is it?
And you may be surprised to know that I’m no genius and I didn’t work this out with hindsight or anything – anyone with even an ounce of brain could surely tell that this current mess in the Middle East would be the outcome before even thinking about sending troops anywhere.
Do you suppose that it someone’s job somewhere in either the UK or the USA to try and ascertain risks and responses before making big decisions? Difficult to imagine that this isn’t a major part of any country’s response planning process. And if these people that make war council and political countering their jobs thought about this then what happened? The UK and the USA are democracies. The people have a representational voice. What happened when literally millions of the people took to the streets prior to any campaign and protested?
So bare faced logic, the history of thousands of years of human conflict, and millions of people marching against war around the world didn’t seem to make any difference to the decisions our governments ultimately made.
What I am saying here is that once we were decided on revenge, we knew that the outcome we now have is the one we would be getting. Pure and simple.
And why Afghanistan? Most of the terrorists, the money that funded them and the political and logistical organisation came from other countries including I think Saudi Arabia? Better not bomb Saudi, we might upset some delicate business deals! There are some training camps in Afghanistan and Osama is probably there too. So let’s do that then!
And then why a need for bombing and troops etc? The phrase using a “sledge hammer to crack a nut” springs to mind. It just seemed so random, blunt and infantile.
PERHAPS IT ISN’T THIS SIMPLE
Did they know something that they weren’t telling us? And if so, why the secrecy?
Since they made us all angry and since they made us look like fools marching and protesting for no reason and since they lied to us with pathetic motives why not just tell us the real reason why they had no choice but to go in? I’m a grown man. I can take it.
Was it that the real reasons were too shameful to admit because they were linked too much with power, greed, pride and oil? There is no doubt that intelligent people will jump to this conclusion if we are kept in the dark and fed weak disinformation. By saying nothing, or at least nothing credible, our governments implicated themselves.
Whatever was going on in the background, everybody knew that the reasons given for going into Afghanistan were clearly not the real reasons. It surely amazed me when I saw the ships leaving and the planes taking off.
Power, greed, pride and oil and of course revenge. Anyone embarrassed to be from the "developed" West yet?
Now is it me or was the Afghanistan campaign a bit of damp squib? Nobody found Osama and lots of innocent people died for no apparent reason at great cost. Oh yes and don’t forget the (b) thing above: IE All it really did amongst the Al-Qaeda camps was to rally for more future blood spill. War on terror? Well you got your war alright! But wasn’t the idea to stop people doing terrorist things rather than do the opposite? I say again - could anyone have seen this coming?
So add to the above points with pointlessness, death, cost and angry people…. And then, before my very eyes, as I watched television I started to see a political swing that really blew me away. Suddenly Saddam is in the chair as Mr. Baddie.
Before long, thanks to what can only be described as manipulative media information, opinion polls in the USA indicated that the American Public had started to believe that Saddam Hussein was actually in some way linked to the September 11th attacks! He must be forcibly deposed immediately because he has weapons of mass destruction. He was left more or less alone for ten years since the last pointless Gulf war and now he was suddenly a dangerous tyrant again. Can someone explain this to me?
No one has yet convinced me that invading Iraq was a good idea – and, in a way I wish someone would – because otherwise here is what this looked like to me:
1. Sept 11th 2001 - We need to get Osama. We need to make this war on terror look impressive. Let’s go over to Afghanistan and make some noise.
2. Oh dear, we don’t have Osama and this looks a bit crap if our troops come back now with not very much to talk about other than the people we have accidentally killed and a few abandoned desert training camps to film.
3. March 20 2003 - Oh look, Saddam is just down the road and he’s bad. Let’s quickly make him really bad – and go over there and kick his butt. Then we’ll have a better story to tell when we get back.
Now the reason why I say I wish someone would re-educate me here is that, if I am right about the unfolding of the Iraqi chapter then I am yet again very offended that any politician or government thinks that us normal people are so totally stupid that we would buy their tenuous motives for such a nonsense swizz.
They didn’t even bother to make up a proper story before going in – they just did it knowing that we would either believe them with some liberal spreading of white wash or otherwise just not really care one way or another.
When a government lies to you so badly, you just want to say “who do you take us for?”. The answer to this unfortunately seemed to be “we take you for utter fools – and what does it matter what you think anyway because we will ultimately just do whatever we want”. How does this make you feel?
- Who did you vote for?
- What kind of choice was it in the first place?
- Would it have made any difference if you had voted for someone else?
THE WHITEHOUSE DOESN’T TOLERATE LIES
Makes a bit of a joke of that Clinton impeachment thing when you compare the lies in question. Bill Clinton didn’t have “sex” with “that woman” and George Bush (and Tony Blair) had totally realistic and righteous reasons for going into Iraq.
Look at the two stories next to each other: Impeach Clinton for some Oval Office antics or Blair and Bush for fooling the people into thinking that killing hundreds of thousands of people, making enemies across the world and spending so much money on armaments is actually part of a necessary fight to ensure our freedom?
Which situation looks the most important? Which one would you like to get to the bottom of?
I haven't seen even a hint of an impeachment trial for Bush or Blair. Clinton's went on forever - Clinton's sex lies were important apparently - lying can't be tolerated!
I totally choked into my cornflakes in 2007 when I heard that Tony Blair’s new job is to be the peace envoy for the Middle East!
Here in the UK, as it was in the US it was an utterly embarrassing farce watching the weapons of mass destruction thing unfold. What an utter joke! All of the reasons for going in to Iraq were entirely founded on nothing whatsoever and now we see the real price.
And did anyone notice how sorry our governments have been so far? Apparently saying sorry is considered a weakness. Admitting errors are not part of a government constitution. Bomb and kill, realise the failure then walk away. I'm not sure I was brought up to behave that way by my parents. When governments represent us, why should they be any different? Meanwhile I am trying to bring up my children to respect adults and be prepared to say sorry when they have done wrong. If my kids grow up to be honest, honourable and balanced human beings I shan’t be recommending they pursue careers in politics!
And look how grateful the "liberated" Iraqis are that we spent multiple millions of pounds and dollars and lost hundreds of our troops lives. – They really love us now don’t they!
All that has happened is that there has been a huge surge of terrorist training because now these people have something very tangible to fight. If a simple guy like me can see this utter folly then what does this say about the trained, powerful, experienced, leaders who we voted in?
I know I have kind of laboured my point a bit by now but this kind of politics is their job to do and we trusted them to get it right.
We need this fixed - but who can we turn to?
We have a new Prime Minister here in the UK, Gordon Brown. Nice and easy for Blair to slip out the back door now and wait for everyone to forget his total folly. But is it really that easy? How long until Gordon Brown picks up the battle gauntlet? I certainly don’t see him removing our troops in any bold moves. Instead it seems to be sideways and silently when no one is watching. Does this mean some people have something to hide or regret?
Everything has to always be orchestrated so as to say “we never went wrong” and “this was a great success and liberation for the Iraqi people”. “Failure” and “mistake” are just not words these people use.
SORRY TO KEEP SAYING THIS BUT…
What a dreadful situation we are now in thanks to these mad decisions to go to war! I am now completely ashamed to be western and, as a result, rather than feeling safe and protected by our leaders, I am instead just waiting for the next attack.
Had we stayed out of Afghanistan and Iraq – and had we just found a more diplomatic and less violent way of dealing with September the 11th, the world would be in such a better place now.
BACK TO FREEDOM
This final aspect to the whole story stems mainly from America. Perhaps this is where I need educated the most since I am British. But this brings us back to the beginning of this piece and is a very unusual aspect to human nature.
Whilst I was witnessing this madness I then noticed an American stance that surprised me greatly. It seemed that loads of people in the US were totally behind the war and weren’t questioning anything. I mean obviously most populations around the world are made up of a large percentage of relatively complacent people that don’t get interested or involved in world politics – I’m almost one of them myself! – but the first thing that drew my attention to the situation was when I saw the reaction to burning of the American flag.
You see, here in the UK, we don’t really mind if you torch our flag. Yes we are “proud” to be British, but the word proud needs to be looked into semantically.
Basically, it seems that national pride is a different thing in the States. Of course it is perfectly natural to have a culture and an identity, but should national pride include blind bias? In other words – if a person is proud of being American, does it follow that the same person will unquestionably back all political and internationally diplomatic decisions made by the US government?
I asked an American friend recently what the whole flag thing was about, and he told me that American people emotionally identified with their nation’s belief in liberty and/or freedom. National pride is part of the American way and The Stars and Stripes are the embodiment of this.
But we in the UK also identify with our freedom – IE we are grateful for it (as opposed to oppression) and we use it – but we don’t emotionally connect it with our country or flag because we don’t see ourselves as any more or less free than the USA or the rest of Europe. Basically we don't see the ceremony in it. Most countries that we deal with on a daily basis are all politically free nowadays. It’s like air – it’s important, but we don’t go on about it all the time.
I guess we still identify very much with having to fight for it because we have faced war and invasion on a couple of fairly recent occasions. But this doesn’t mean that we need to “pledge allegiance” to anything, other than life as we know it.
It seems like America has created an image of itself, as represented by the “stars spangled banner” or the statue of liberty etc and given it some emotional collective personality that requires some sort of worshipful recognition. Whereas us in the UK (who, some might argue, actually have a far greater reason to identify with freedom than the US because of the amount of times we have been invaded) are fairly laid back about needing to mark the concept by gluing it to an autogenetic national pride.
Nothing wrong with being a bit ritualistic if that’s your thing, at least patriots don't take freedom for granted, but what happens if a great deal of the populace begin to associate the mantra of patriotic allegiance for an obstinate and narrow-minded political position that never stops to consider the wider picture?
TWO TYPES OF PRIDE
I would argue that positive national pride is different to the negetive side of a proud and "stuck up" person.
Using pride in a positive way, you could say that national pride can be shown by someone who loves their country (the land, the people, the freedom) and is prepared to die for it. This pride must surely be made of different stuff.
Then look at the negetive kind of pride this way: If you meet someone who thinks that they are amazing – like some puffed up movie star, have you noticed that they tend to treat everyone else with contempt? Have you noticed that they never admit to being wrong? The rest of the world is beneath movie stars! This is ugly pride and no one likes people who show slight regard for others just because of their own postition in life. This kind of pride is recognised as being one of the seven "deadly sins"!
So if you are proud of your country, how does this pride manifest? Are there any of the negetive aspects coming through?
The USA is an enormous environmental consumer, a huge wealth of power and a empirical political world leader. What would happen if this same nation was filled with single-minded people who get angry whenever they are challenged?
Perhaps one of the obvious traits of this problem would be that diplomatic dialogue in delicate international situations would appear difficult.
And then why do so many Americans get angry so quickly when George W. Bush is criticised? Bush is only an American, he’s not America itself.
I have heard that Fox News never carry “un-American” stories and that, although US citizens have access to other media channels, they actually choose to only watch or read from biased media.
I also heard that the Country and Western female trio, the Dixie Chicks, lost an enormous fan base and received death threats the moment they stated that they disagreed with the war in Iraq.
These girls are musicians. They are artists. Real cerebral art is rarely bereft of opinion and statement. The Dixie Chicks have a political standpoint and they use the vehicle of their art, in this case music, to describe their position. As citizens of a free country they have earned their right to express themselves and not be nationally ostracised.
If everyone has to wait until people like musicians begin to shout that the King has no clothes, what does this say about the state of the nation?
How large is this problem and how crazy is the irony that people fight for and believe in freedom, and then put themselves in a media cocoon actually choosing to oppress themselves without having to wait for the government to do it for them?
Do these Americans really love freedom? What do they do with it if they deny themselves access to available information?
Back we go to the beginning of this article and to communist Russia where people are fed data that keeps them tame so that they all fall in line. Back we go to Red China when propaganda meant that anyone speaking out against any of the state’s policies was immediately silenced.
If so many people in the States cry when they see their flag set on fire and get angry when they meet people who have different political opinions then perhaps this goes some way to explain the kind of violent flavour George W. Bush had in his war speech in September 2001.
Perhaps when people’s pride leaves no vehicle for the admission of mistakes this goes some way to explain the deeper and deeper mess in the Middle East.
And then, to cap it all, the freedom that is so precious to so many gets voluntarily turned off so that denial can set in - in its place.
Your freedom to choose either political indoctirination from biased media agencies telling you that everything bad is really always someone else's fault or you can choose an ambivalent shrug away from the truth.
Why fight for freedom if you don't use it?
UK & THE US
So here I am in the UK - I am not in any way proud of my country, especially in light of recent foreign policies as you may have guessed. Tony Blair made exactly the same decisions that Bush did. Yes he followed the American stance, but it doesn't mean I could ever blame the USA for what the UK did. We made our own bed to lie in. Most of the people in the UK feel like me.
I also know that there are millions of people in the US that also disagree with George Bush's decision to go to war.
My reasons for penning this article are really based on the issues concerning the indoctrination of those in the States that think that that Afghanistan and Iraq were and are a good idea and are right behind George Bush because of national pride. These people trust their leaders because they are the representation of freedom and righteousness.
If you are one of these people, and you feel angry right now because of what I have said, my next question to you is - What kind of "proud" are you? - Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you ever wrong?
- Do you have what you would call a "balanced opinion"?
- Do you research your stance and beliefs using all available information, and find yourself changing your mind on stuff occasionally?
- Is the "American way" right?
- How do you really define the American way?
- What is different about the American way to other countries stance's on morality and behaviour?
Basically I have "gone long" on this article - and sorry it was a bit of a disperate rant in the end - but it was boiling up in me for four main reasons:
1. I have never been so shocked and appalled to see what our two governments have done. I am almost unable to put my sadness and anger into words!
2. I was therefore all the more astonished to see anyone at all rallying behind Bush and Blair in their own aftermath and mess.
3. This really tipped me over when I saw people like the Dixie Chicks being severely ostracised for expressing their opinions in a free country - Is this really what life is like in the States at the moment? Is the whole country divded or do these small voices stand alone in fear of their lives?
4. And those that attacked the Dixie Chicks on one hand do so in the name of freedom whilst ironically auto-self indoctrinating and oppressing themselves on the other hand into believing what corrupt media organisations tell them is the truth.
This time the war isn't "cold" and now the bloodshed goes on indefinately. I for one hang my head in shame because of what we have done. For me, now is not the time to be proud of one's country.
Waving a flag and singing about freedom must surely be the ultimate insult for a poor and indigenous family left out in the desert, somewhere in the Middle East, coping with their own multiple losses dealt to them by the hands of a rich, trigger happy and ultimately confused agressor who appears to have made no headway. And this same pride that never dampens or questions itself must simultaneously help the terrorists re-arm themeselves with vigour.
I can see, just like nearly all of us could back before any of this started, where we are going next. There will be no apology. There will be no real admission of mistakes. There will be no diplomacy. There will be more death.
I wish I was wrong.