WHY ARE *WE* THE GOOD GUYS? New from Zero Books

I must do a quick plug for David Cromwell’s excellent analysis of the ‘free press’ of the Western world.  It’s a riveting read, and very well researched.

Here are a couple of my favourite quotes.

“Whenever there is a Western ‘intervention’ – an attack on yet another vulnerable nation – ‘responsible’ institutions snap into patriotic mode to support ‘our boys’ (and girls) once the missiles start flying and the bombs start dropping.  And, at all times, then ‘mainstream. media can be relied upon not to dig too deeply or too systematically into the crimes of the West. But the whistleblowing organisation WikiLeaks sounds a warning note for all media professionals, echoing the Nuremberg judgements, that: ‘if a journalist hides the truth they are not journalists; they are partners in the crimes they are hiding.'”

On historian Mark Curtis’ estimates of the number of deaths in the post-WW2 period for which Britain bears significant responsibility:

“As Curtis acknowledges, estimates of deaths in any conflict often vary widely and he does not pretend to be offering a fully scientific analysis.  But erring on the side of caution, he arrives at a figures of around ten million deaths in the post-WW2 period for which Britain bears ‘significant responsibility.’  Of these, Britain has ‘direct responsibility’ for between four and six million deaths.  These are shocking figures, and essentially unmentionable in corporate news and debate.”

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11 thoughts on “WHY ARE *WE* THE GOOD GUYS? New from Zero Books

  1. Dear Pat,

    I have both read and enjoyed your comics for many, many years now and have especially enjoyed recently reading about the background to the creation of Judge Dredd – the last decade has started to see the publication of a lot of genuinely fascinating histories of comics that focus not just on the writers and artists but also on the editors and the pressures comics as a business have played in the making of some truly great popular works of art.

    … but I just cannot let the comment from Mark Curtis (in Cromwell) go by without a mention as it is just *so* preposterous that I’m not even sure how to react – and I am someone who has read fairly widely about the Malayan Emergency, from both sides, including National University of Singapore’s ‘Alias Chin Peng: My Side of History’, Caroline Elkins’s ‘Britain’s Gulag’ and who has also read a significant amount about Africa from African writers – Mudimbe, Mbembe, Saro-Wiwa, Okri, Olatunde, Soyinka, Wa Thiongo and others. I’m not meaning to name drop to show off so much as to avoid the charge of being some kind of chauvinist Republican neo-con – I’m not disputing that the UK has been involved in some very dubious ‘adventures’ but that Cromwell’s description of Curtis’s ‘cautious’ estimate of TEN MILLION is plainly ludicrous and as hysterical (not to mention inaccurate) as the ‘facts’ in Stannard’s ‘American Holocaust’.

    I’ve not read Cromwell (or Curtis and am even less inclined to do so now) but the only way in which I can imagine he/they can conceivably have come up with such a ludicrous figure is to have taken estimates from post-colonisation conflicts – Partition, Palestine, Biafra, etc.. If that does in fact turn out to be what Curtis has done, then he has made two mistakes: firstly, by taking all the blame from the former colonial subjects and putting it on the head of the former colonisers, he paints the latter as being far more powerful than they actually are – he turns them into mythical all-powerful forces of the ‘dark side’. You could say, ironically, that he turns them into what some critics like to call the ‘other’. And if he does do that, as well as removing the blame, he would also be taking away the sense that the the former colonized peoples are able to be responsible for and determine their own fates. Painting the one as all powerful and the other as completely helpless (‘vulnerable nation[s]‘) simply perpetuates the crude stereotype of western superiority and non-western inferiority. The argument then becomes not about what the former colonised peoples should be doing for themselves but how the west can and should conduct its affairs so as to manage the world better (which is not a million miles from the ‘white man’s burden’ argument).

    Secondly, coming up with that figure requires exactly the same kind of cynical manipulation of the facts that propagandists use – the same kind of manipulation I would guess very much that Cromwell wrote the book in order to expose in the first place. I’m not surprised Curtis “does not pretend to be offering a fully scientific analysis”(!)

    I also find it disturbing to hear Cromwell say: “These are shocking figures, and essentially unmentionable in corporate news and debate.” because the first resort of a range of people from comparatively harmless right-wing talk radio hosts, Glenn Beck and conspiracy theorists like David Icke, all the way to the more sinister nuts like the KKK, Combat-18 and David Irving etc. etc. is also that the ‘liberal media’ refuses to print the ‘real truth’ either because it’s ‘too shocking’ or because ‘companies’ are bribing the press into silence. So-called ‘truths’ such as the Royal Family are actually intergalactic lizards or successive British governments have been responsible for a conservative estimate of 10,000,000 deaths is ‘unmentionable’ but only because it’s a bunch of crap.

    I really didn’t mean to write quite so much but it aggravates me that when there are so many genuine misdemeanours both large and small going on all the time that we have to fabricate complete nonsense like this

    I hope you’re not offended and I see this as response in a debate, not a ‘trolling’ of your otherwise superb and informative blog.

    Cheers,

    n

    • Thank you for your thoughts, I appreciate the time you’ve taken to respond, and I’m certainly not offended!
      I’m not qualified to substantiate the facts that are stated in the book, but I think what is pointed out is very valuable and as I see it, very true. Maybe I should have included a longer quote, but I was pressed for time. But to add a bit more info, the mortality estimates included Malaya, Kenya, the Shah’s regime in Iran, Indonesian army slaughters, the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, US aggression in L. America, the Falklands War, the bombing of Yugoslavia, the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq.
      In my own experience of reading the ‘liberal press’ I am aware of omissions and gaps, and it is often down to the extreme conspiracy sites (as you mention) to report on issues, some of which seem far-fetched – that is, until the liberal press picks up on the story, eg the North Wales child sex abuse scandal, which even now is being utterly whitewashed and misdirected. And rarely will you find mention in the mainstream press of key historic events, such as the Holodomor (known as the Ukranian holocaust), or the high numbers of Germans who died in POW camps after the end of WW2.
      “Painting the one as all powerful and the other as completely helpless (‘vulnerable nation[s]‘)”
      Interesting point. Yes, our participation in wars and conflicts does tend to diminish other nation’s ability to self-rule without interference. But I wouldn’t see them as completely helpless. They do fight back, it’s just that we tend to fight back even harder.

  2. If Cromwell/Curtis have included all the conflicts that you list, then it is certainly a wild exaggeration – but I agree that whatever the actual figures might be, the point is that it’s never a bad thing to scrutinise your own country’s actions with the same degree of detail as you might someone else’s.

    You’ve already touched on ‘Crisis’ (Black Man’s Burden) in a recent blog and I look forward to hearing more about ‘Marshal Law’ too, which I still think is one your (and Kevin’s) most outstanding projects (the vitriol against the notion of superheroes was quite something to behold!).

    At any rate, comics can be a great medium for ideas to pass through.

    • Third World War is Pat’s most overtly political work, but it was Nemesis which first illustrated to me the usefulness of the concept of ‘The Other’ (alluded to above) in politics.The then-very-topical flashbacks to The Zone in Marshal Law were the first time I’d ever heard mention of water boarding, and they introduced me to the idea that the US military and their government approved the use of torture in Vietnam and that their involvement in Central America was fairly cynical.

      Regarding the thesis of Cromwell’s book, was I the only person in the world who’d hardly ever heard the term ‘insurgent’ prior to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? That might just be ignorance on my part, but the way everyone from The BBC to The Sun immediately and universally adopted that relatively obscure term when referring to those opposing the Anglo/US forces – rather than, say, ‘rebels’ – doesn’t strike me as any less odd today than it did ten years ago.

      The ‘rebels’ had returned by the time of the Arab Spring, though.

    • OK, just take Iraq from 1991 to 2003. Battlefield deaths and atrocities committed on the road to Basra estimate around 250,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in just a few weeks. The entire civilian infrastructure of the country was systematically destroyed. Power plants,water and sewage systems, electical grids, bridges,roads, health centres, schools, industry were all repeatedly attacked and destroyed. The wanton destruction of civilian infrastructure is today a war crime. This resulted in many 10s of thousands of civilians dying through lack of food and water and power and access to medical facilities.

      From 1992 onwards, the US and the UK through the UN put in place one of the most punishing sanctions regimes in history. The UK continually used it’s diplomatic ties to ensure this was grinding in full knowledge that the Iraqi population were suffering appallingly. This was a society devastated by allied bombs and then crushed through sanctions.

      By 1995 through direct result of UN sanctions an estimated 500,000 children under the age of 5 had died. Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state was infamously asked if this was worth it and she said yes!

      No fly zones were regularly patrolled by allied aircraft who would often bomb and strafe targets at will causing more devastation. The use of Depleted Uranium has been a disaster with birth defects and an explosion of childhood leukemia throughout Iraq in the 90s. And the inability of Iraqis to import drugs and equipment to help this and address other issues was purposely blocked by US and the UK on dubious “dual use” grounds.

      The impact has been catastropic and essentially unseen on the mainstream TV. Estimates put the body count at comfortably over 1 Million. For which US and UK policy is DIRECTLY responsible.

      THIS IS BEFORE YOU EVEN GET TO the 2003 invasion and the utter disaster that has followed over the last 10 years with a body count once again north of 1.5 Million. Did you know that estimates from the UN suggest there are 750,000 orphans under the age of 5 in Baghdad alone.

      That is JUST Iraq.

      I could move on to Indonesia, where just one UK supported slaughter in 1965 resulted in the deaths of at least 500,000 people.

      10 Million is a conservative estimate. If you widen the timeframe by 2 years to include the Bengal famine in 1943 and you could safely double that.

      The point is that this is nowhere on our TV screens or in the pages of our intrepid “free” press

      • Thanks, Neil. It’s so valuable for this information to become widely known. I recently watched The Gathering Storm – Churchill in the interwar years – and was depressed by how jingoistic it was. It had the sacharine cosiness of Agatha Christie or Midsomer Murders. His darker side was hidden, although some aspects are covered in Zero Books Unpatriotic History of the Second World War. Ironically, it’s actually true patriotism to reveal what you and others have written because it means we care very much about what’s happening to our country and want to acknowledge its demons. I also try and cover these themes in fiction, but it’s hard finding the right dramatic forum.

        I recently tried and failed to get left wing journalists interested in the astonishing story of the larger than life Iranian Fouladvand. A distinguished actor and scholar, in the time of the Shah he was the dubbed voice of Gary Cooper, John Wayne and more in Hollywood films, then showing in Iran. He represented a third way in Iranian politics. I saw some of his sattelite broadcasts and phone-ins which were hard hitting, controversial and often very funny. He was silenced in Britain which was covered in the national press by some very questionable and limited reporting. Later the Iranian regime got him and he’s probably dead now. I see his entry on Wikipedia has been reduced from a detailed and comprehensive piece to a stub. He’s become a non-person because what he had to say was uncomfortable and problematic for both sides where everything must be polarised into good guys versus bad guys.

        I’ve covered a little of his story in fiction (Greysuit) but rather inadequately.

        I wonder how many other people and events have become non-people and non-events in this way. I suspect it happened a lot in World War Two and we will never know about them. But their shadows are still on the wall.

  3. Dear Neil and Pat,

    Please excuse the digression from Pat’s excellent work in comics (again), but Neil, with respect, my issue with the David Cromwell passage was that if he is going to write a book called “Reclaiming your mind from the delusions of propaganda” then the onus is very, very much on him to be either accurate in his presentation of the facts and/or completely honest about the limits of the facts he presents as ‘truth’– because if he is not prepared to do that then he is (wittingly or otherwise) in danger of committing the very same sin he claims to be exposing in the mainstream media.

    How ironic that he accuses corporate media of deception when he begins his own paragraph with a frank admission that casualty figures vary wildly and that Curtis himself has offered no ‘scientific analysis’, for which read reliable evidence. And yet, completely undeterred by this acknowledged absence of any proper research, he concludes that Curtis’s ‘figures are shocking’ as if he’s lost the thread of his own opening sentence.

    He says the figures are ‘unmentionable’ but my question is why would any journalist quote a historian (i.e. Curtis) if by that historian’s own account he hasn’t actually investigated the figures he is quoting and, we assume, the reason for his not doing this is that data collection on casualties is extremely unreliable? What’s more, would you trust a journalist who freely quoted ‘experts’ without doing fact checking? (There’s far too much of that going on as it is without us actually encouraging it).

    I agree with Pat when he says: “it’s actually true patriotism … [to] want to acknowledge [your country’s] demons.” But I also think that point should be extended beyond patriotism to other areas of life such as politics.

    When I first heard a neo-con Republican announce on the World Service (pre-9/11) that Ronald Reagan had ‘won the cold war’ as a consequence of the CIA’s activities in Afghanistan I nearly choked on my tea (right now, you’re probably wishing I had!); when later I heard Donald Rumsfeld (around 2002) crowing about how American Special Forces in Afghanistan had done in just 5 or 6 weeks what the Soviets had not managed to do in 10 years or the British in nearly a 100 I thought ‘Jesus, he’ll find out’; and finally, when I heard Tony Blair’s ‘45 minute’ WMD speech I thought I’d actually die laughing.

    But in the same way that I had absolutely no faith the ‘facts’ I’ve just quoted, I am not about to accept other spurious claims. We cannot expect our leaders to uphold the highest standards of honesty and integrity if we do not apply those same standards to ourselves.

    At the very least, we would be in no position to call Bliar [sic] out as the scumbag and possible war criminal that he is on the basis that he knew his JIC dossier was jam-packed full of b*llsh*t if we are unable to be equally rigorous when it comes to our own claims.

    True enough that degree of stoicism might not get you very far in life – just look at Cato the Younger – but that’s the nature (as I understand) of Pat’s description of true patriotism – that you keep true to your standards and integrity, even, especially, in regard to yourself.

    But anyway, for that reason if no other, I’m not going to accept Curtis’s figure of 10,000,000 or yours of at least 20,000,000 or that “Battlefield deaths and atrocities committed on the road to Basra estimate around 250,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in just a few weeks.” So far at least, you offer no source(s) for this information or even any reference to how you arrived at that figure. If you can point me to a reliable source for the figures then I would be more than willing to concede the point (or points) but not before then.

    I agree that modern war is a pretty atrocious affair but I think you should have good evidence for the claim of ‘atrocities’ (plural) on the road to Basra. There was the high profile case of Baha Mousa, but that wasn’t until the autumn so was not ‘on the road to’ Basra (and besides which a soldier pleaded guilty to war crimes for that murder and was sentenced accordingly). And if you claim that ‘there must have been’ some atrocities as a certainty without evidence then you are in no better position than Blair was with his 45-minute warning.

    Much is made of that Madeline Albright* appearance on 60 minutes you mention but all I can see there is a typical cynical politician attempting to completely sidestep Stahl’s question altogether by ploughing on with her own agenda and not responding to “We have heard that half a million … that’s more than … Hiroshima”. The best that you can say from that is that it proves Albright was an insensitive, boorish and inept.

    Incidentally, I do find quoting CBS’s 60 minutes as a reliable source of information a little ironic given that the general drift of the thread is that ‘our TV screens’ and ‘intrepid “free” press’. I’m pretty sure that CBS would be considered part of the corporate news machine Cromwell sets out to criticize.

    Surely the issue with all propaganda is the selectivity with which it picks up some stories but ignores others – if we do the same thing, we are guilty of perpetuating the very thing we claim to be reclaiming our minds from.

    *Albright is one of my least favourite political people for her disgraceful role in Serbia-Kosovo

  4. Why do you always have to produce such trite Marxist wank-fantasy? Really enjoyed your basic story-telling skills as a teen, but the politicization and hippy bollocks has always demeaned you. Now I’m more politically aware and can see how you were trying to use the comics medium to indoctrinate young minds, I can tell you with a degree of satisfaction that it manifestly failed with myself. In fact, this sort of shit, and the awareness of it, has turned me to the right. In fact, I’m heartily sick of pc bores and alp their works, ukip for me from now on. I guess it’s too late in the day to change your style, but my advice would be sick to the story telling and leave the political indoctrination to the experts …

      • “Ah, well. Ya win some, ya lose some…”

        It’s the Marxist wank that keeps me coming back for more, Pat. Interesting to learn that the fetish wear and exploitation of Sex Warrior, the guignol of Martial Law, and the David Icke fantasy of Finn are, apparently, the very definition of PC.

  5. Dear John Simpson,

    Thank you for sharing your … well it’s not really an idea is it, your … um, well whatever that was, with us anyway. I, for one, feel a great deal better for knowing that you have managed to find in UKIP a home for your political … (thoughts? musings? profane haiku?)

    Enjoy your weekend,

    Best,

    n

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