Friday, November 17, 2023


At the Nuremberg trials one of the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen task forces (German death squads) suggested in his defence that he ought not to be held accountable for any atrocities committed against Jewish communities in Eastern Europe because, you know...Dresden.

The judges disagreed, and thus was established an important legal precedent for the difference between systematic barbarism and other forms of mass slaughter during warfare. If civilisation is anything other than a sham, this distinction matters.

The British 'genocide' against innocent German citizens has been flagged up quite a lot over the past month. But less attention has been given to other aspects of the dark arts of war which we were undoubtedly also pretty good at, such as lying, deception and propaganda. (The BBC for sure, has not somehow only recently acquired this skill-set.)

Amongst the Allies, these were basically our special area of expertise, indeed there may never have been such a thing as "the Allies" without all that painstaking work done on American public and political opinion before 1941.
In any conflagration all sides have strong incentives to dissemble. Hamas may however have overused #MrFAFO to the extent that he's become a little counterproductive to their global communications, except with their most committed apologists in the western media.

Israel too knows that the duty of truth is not quite the same thing inside and outside its own borders. The other day an IDF spokesperson was spoon-feeding an embedded CNN reporter with a carefully created mise-en-scène at a captured children's hospital in Gaza, which featured what seemed to me to be a rather dodgy collection of props, such as a pile of rusty AKs and a prison guard calendar which wasn't.

One of the problems here is that armchair observers and people who march around London still attached to their invisible virtual armchairs tend to suffer a collective misapprehension of how these things work at the bleeding end of the problem, so to speak.

The 'binaries' I mentioned the other day (plenty of them in this clip) come at this having made a key decision before any news, information or data is consumed: the OTHER side is the liar, the deceiver, the propagandist, the propagator of atrocities.

The way this mindset is expressed in public is often particularly juvenile and borderline offensive: the other side are 'Nazis'. (In practice the default position of the other side is 'colonisers' and' imperialists' and they are only upgraded to Nazis once one can point to specific examples of Naziness or find uses for support terminology like 'Apartheid' to basket together a whole range of oppressive incidents.)

These stigmata are designed to shut down all debate about what might be considered ethical in the pursuit of concrete goals during an existential conflict, though in terms of the judgement made at Nuremberg, the only side to have actually behaved like Nazis in a strictly legal sense so far, are Hamas, and even then, these comparisons are unhelpful and largely a cover for a refusal to engage in any adult discussion about so-called legitimate uses of both mechanised violence and dishonesty.

Yesterday an Instragram profile that I go to for reasons other than being informed about current affairs decided it was time to lecture followers on the likelihood that Israel was lying about the presence of Hamas combatants in the Al-Shifa hospital compound. Any intelligence support from the USA was also untrustworthy it informed me, because America is a staunch ally of Israel's.

The post has since been deleted, at the time I thought because of a belated realisation that its reasoning displayed a key flaw - why else would the IDF attack this hospital...unless of course they are 'Nazis'.

Yet the removal of this post did not signal a broader adjustment to reality, for today there's a new one suggesting that Israel's main interest in invading Gaza was to steal its oil. (No sense then that October 7 had forced a significant change of calculation across all parties to this conflict.)

This is how 'binaries' think. The motivation of the other side is always fundamentally malign and detached from circumstances e.g. they will do bad for bad's sake or for their own greed and other base motivations. 
Meanwhile, anything deeply unpleasant or barbaric that their own 'team' does can of course be forgiven by the circumstances. Good people are sometimes led to forgivable excesses etc.

Often enough, 'extremism' is just a way of making ignorance sound like an excitingly codified worldview.

Even football fans have a more mature outlook on the world - and when football fans talk nonsense, however much in earnest, they often seem to be doing so knowingly. 

No comments: