British Prime Minister Theresa May will use nuclear weapons “as a first strike” against UK’s enemies, even if the country is not directly attacked, says Defense Secretary Michael Fallon.
“In the most extreme circumstances we have made it very clear that you can’t rule out the use of nuclear weapons as a first strike,” Fallon told state-funded BBC on Monday.
Asked what the circumstances would be, the British Defense chief said, “They are better not specified or described, which would only give comfort to our enemies and make the deterrent less credible.”
He further argued that “The whole point about the deterrent is that you have got to leave uncertainty in the mind of anyone who might be thinking of using weapons against this country.”
Later in the day, Fallon’s spokesman asserted that there was “no reason to disagree with what the defense secretary said.”
Last year, a vote in the House of Commons saw MPs vote for Trident’s renewal, which would cost billions of pounds.
Activists oppose the renewal of Trident, describing it as a violation of international commitments, unsafe and ill-suited for contemporary warfare.
Airstrikes should be suspended and all parties should get back to the negotiating table in a bid to end the Syrian war, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said.
Corbyn told the BBC Monday that he supported an end to the UK’s airstrikes in the war-ravaged country, and said that it was in the interests of all parties to return to the negotiating table.
“I would say to President Trump ‘listen, it’s in nobody’s interests for this war to continue. Let’s get the Geneva process going quickly,” he told the interviewer.
“In the meantime, no more strikes. Have the UN investigation into the war crime of the use of chemical weapons in Syria and take it on from there.”
“I want us to say ‘listen, let’s get people around the table quickly.’ A way of achieving that – suspend the strikes? Possibly. The point has to be to bring about a political solution.”
As Labour leader Corbyn opposed extending bombing to Syria in the 2015 vote on the issue, but gave his MPs a free hand to decide for themselves.
In the end, 66 Labour MPs backed the bombing.
Asked if he would use the UK’s extrajudicial drone assassination program to go after terrorist leaders like Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, Corbyn asked: “What is the objective here?
“Is the objective to start more strikes which may kill many innocent people, as has happened, or is the objective to get a political solution in Syria? Approach it from that position,” he said.
“I think the leader of Isis not being around would be helpful. I am no supporter or defender in any way whatsoever of Isis. But I would also argue that the bombing campaign has killed a large number of civilians who are virtually prisoners of Isis, so you have got to think about these things.”
Corbyn’s comments came as Defence Secretary Michael Fallon took to the airwaves to blast the Labour leader.
In an interview with Sky News, Fallon said Corbyn’s approach to defense was “staggeringly irresponsible” and “chaotic” and would risk the security of the country if he was elected.
The Weekly Standard’s Fractured History and the Reality
The Sinking of the Lusitania, 1915 Painting. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
It was one hundred years ago this month that America entered World War I, which began July 28, 1914. On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress and requested it to declare war on Germany. The Senate would vote in favor of war on April 4 and the House would follow suit on April 6. This essay critiques a recent article in The Weekly Standard by Geoffrey Norman, who has written articles on multiple topics in a number of mainstream journals in addition to neocon ones. His article represents the conventional neocon thinking on World War I and since they have been major players in shaping American foreign policy—especially in the Middle East—Norman’s piece is of significance in understanding their foreign policy Weltanschauung. Moreover, this essay will try to bring out what appear to be the causes of American entry into the war.
For Norman, Germany was the villain in World War I, and largely because of its ruthless nature would have been a serious threat to the United States if it had won the war and expanded its power. He writes that during the German invasion and occupation of Belgium “civilian hostages were rounded up and executed by firing squad as a way to keep the populace terrified and docile. Germany was, from the beginning of the war, the aggressor.” Although British propaganda exaggerated German atrocities in Belgium, historians in recent years have concluded that the invading Germans did kill significant numbers of French and Belgian noncombatants. According to Alan Kramer in the International Encyclopedia of the First World War, “from August to October 1914 the German army intentionally executed 5,521 civilians in Belgium and 906 in France” Kramer goes on to write, however, that “Essentialist claims about unique German ‘barbarism’ would be mistaken. . . . The Russian army committed many acts of violence during the invasion of East Prussia in August/September 1914. Germany denounced the Russians for having devastated thirty-nine towns and 1,900 villages and killed almost 1,500 civilians. Research by Alexander Watson has confirmed these figures, and he concludes that 1,491 German civilians were deliberately killed in executions and individual murders. Given the smaller population of East Prussia (about 1.7 million people in the areas invaded by the Russians) this was directly comparable to the intensity of violence against civilians during the invasion of Belgium in August/September 1914.”
Killing civilians, however, would have nothing to do with determining the aggressor. Historians, however, have differed on the primary culprit for the war and have spread the responsibility to many of the major combatants. Furthermore, it should be stressed that the German killing of Belgians would not come close to equaling the hundreds of thousands of German deaths resulting from the British starvation blockade, which will be discussed next.
The United States had historically claimed its right as a neutral to be able to trade in non-contraband goods with belligerents and with other neutrals. The exact definition of these neutral rights, however, was not universally agreed upon. The United States had traditionally taken an expansive view of its rights as a neutral, which had, in the past, caused it to clash with the European powers, especially during the wars taking place during the era of the French Revolution and Napoleon.
In 1909, an effort had been made to define and codify the existing rules of wartime trade. These rights were incorporated in a legal document developed at the International Naval Conferences in London in 1909, which became known as the Declaration of London. The Declaration contained a number of features that were very favorable to neutrals. It was signed by all major countries that would fight in World War I, but it would only be ratified by the United States. Although Britain played a major role in the Conference, and the House of Commons would ratify the Declaration, the House of Lords rejected it on the grounds that it was unfair to major sea powers. Britain’s rejection dissuaded the other signatories from ratifying.
Nevertheless, shortly after the war began, U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan asked the major belligerents to abide by the Declaration of London. Germany and Austria said that they would conform contingent upon the Entente Powers doing likewise. Britain stated it would observe the requirements of the Declaration, though with certain modifications. Very soon, however, it would reject part and then almost all of restrictions embodied in the Declaration that applied to activities it deemed necessary to prosecute the war. This entailed seizing all goods that were helpful to its enemies, which would ultimately encompass preventing food from reaching the German civilian population. This was an obvious effort to starve the German people into submission–essentially Britain was making war on the civilian population, the prevention of which was a fundamental reason for having rules of warfare. Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty in 1914 and one of the framers of the scheme, admitted that its purpose was to “starve the whole population — men, women, and children, old and young, wounded and sound — into submission.’” Norman even acknowledges this goal as he writes: “The Royal Navy ruled the seas—the surface of them, anyway. And its blockade threatened to starve Germany.” But while he is aghast at German actions that killed many fewer people, the starvation blockade does not engender any negative response from him whatsoever. In his obliviousness to the immorality of the British blockade, Norman is quite similar to Woodrow Wilson. Political scientist Robert W. Tucker points out that despite the Wilson administration’s concern about German activities that caused civilian deaths, “neither Wilson nor his advisors had expressed any qualms over the moral implication of the blockade.”
Many aspects of the British blockade diverged significantly from the traditional interpretation of maritime law. For example, the Declaration of Paris of 1856 (still in force in 1914) held that a blockade to be legal had to be an effective close blockade, which would entail the stationing of a group of ships off an enemy port or coast. Declaring areas of the ocean that were entry ways to the enemy’s coast to be off-limits, as Britain did, failed to constitute a legitimate blockade.
In regard to visiting and searching ships for contraband, which was allowed by international law, the British likewise took a questionable approach. The traditional way was to engage in this activity at sea. The British, instead, took the ships to their ports to search because it required a long time to search large modern ships during which the British warship would be vulnerable to attacks by submarines.
Britain also inhibited neutral trade with Germany (and other neutrals) by applying the doctrine of “continuous voyage,” which meant that it would have the right to interdict goods brought to a neutral port by sea that were intended, in its opinion, to be sent to Germany by land. Heretofore, international law had only applied the concept of “continuous voyage” to a trip that went solely by sea. Furthermore, traditional international law only applied “continuous voyage” rules to absolute contraband—goods whose sole purpose was for warmaking—whereas the British applied these rules to almost every type of good.
Another questionable step taken by Britain was the mining of the North Sea, which was the entry way for ships to reach neutral and German ports. To avoid possible destruction, merchant ships had to stop at a British port where they would get an Admiralty pilot to lead them through the mine fields. While there the ships would be searched and stripped of goods. Although the neutrals, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, protested this practice, the United States refrained from joining them.
The United States did protest many British violations of America’s neutral rights. Sometimes the British would yield on relatively insignificant points. And the British would compensate Americans for some losses. However, the United States never warned the British that their failure to comply with American demands would have drastic consequences. And ultimately the United States would tacitly acquiesce to the British position, which was often far different from what had traditionally been considered legitimate and what the United States had demanded in the past regarding its neutral rights.
Legal scholars Edwin Borchard and William Potter Lage point out that the U.S. made it known as early as December 1914 that it would give Britain wide latitude in determining its maritime policy. A U.S. note protesting the British violations of international law stated: “that the commerce between countries which are not belligerents should not be interfered with by those at war unless such interference is manifestly an imperative necessity to protect their national safety, and then only to the extent that it is a necessity.” Obviously, Britain could argue that everything it did during the war was absolutely necessary for its safety.
It was the issue of German submarines that ultimately brought the U.S. into the war. Norman does little to explain why Germany would have to rely heavily on the submarine and simply looks upon its use as a justification for the U.S. entering the war. For example, he writes with some astonishment that “neutrality was the Wilson cause, even after a German submarine torpedoed the liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915. The ship sank in 18 minutes, and of the 1,198 passengers who drowned, 128 were Americans.” But it is not self-evident why the United States would consider such an attack as a justification for war. The ocean liner was a British ship; German submarines did not sink American ships. The German embassy had placed a warning in a New York newspaper that the Lusitania would be traveling into a war zone and was liable to be attacked by a German submarine. Unbeknownst to the passengers, the ship was carrying war munitions, a charge made by Germany that the British government did not fully acknowledge until 2014.
Wilson considered the taking of lives by submarines as abhorrent, and thus put their use on a totally different level from the maritime violations by the British surface navy. Tucker quotes Wilson’s reference to this issue in his war address in 1917: “’Property can be paid for’, Wilson declared, ’the lives of peaceful innocent people cannot be.’” Most Americans agreed that killing civilians was inhumane. As mentioned earlier, however, Wilson’s distinction did not actually apply since the British starvation blockade violated traditional international law by starving German non-combatants. Sinkings by submarines, however, understandably received more media attention than the slow deaths from starvation and this was heightened by the pro-British bias in most of the media.
Making the submarine issue especially explosive was Wilson’s firm defense of the neutral right of American citizens to travel unmolested on Allied merchant ships. Tucker points out that this was the “only issue of diplomatic consequence to arise between Germany and the United States, it led America to the point of war with Germany.”
It is not self-evident why Wilson, if he truly sought to avoid war, held that American citizens should have the right to travel unmolested on belligerent merchant ships when they could travel in safety on U.S. ships. Germany even offered to extend this safety to neutral and perhaps even a few belligerent liners that flew the American flag. Certainly this met the needs of American travelers, but Wilson would not accept it because it violated principle—that is, the right of neutrals to travel on belligerent merchant ships, even armed belligerent merchant ships.
Wilson’s inflexibility on this issue is hard to justify since he was willing to alter other traditional maritime strictures to propitiate Britain, and the submarine was a new weapon for which the maritime rules had not been developed. Given the nature of the submarine (which will be discussed shortly), the logic of Wilson’s approach would essentially preclude German submarines from attacking a non-military British ship because there might be Americans aboard. It should be pointed out that American lives would also have been lost, if ships with Americans aboard had attempted to traverse the North Sea mine fields without first stopping at a British port.
Not having a surface navy comparable to that of Britain, Germany had to rely on submarines if it were to have any military impact at sea. Wilson demanded that the German submarines adhere to the traditional rules of cruiser warfare that would require a submarine to surface and fire a warning shot before searching the enemy merchant ship, or attacking it, if it tried to flee. Furthermore, before launching a torpedo, the submarine was expected to provide for the safety of the crew and any passengers. The submarines of the day were quite fragile, and could be destroyed by one shot from a naval gun, or rammed and sunk by a merchant ship. Many British merchant ships were armed and the British Admiralty had ordered them to ram German submarines. In essence, if submarines were to follow the rules made for surface warships, they would be largely ineffective.
Germany offered to follow the traditional rules of cruiser warfare if Britain disarmed its merchant ships. Britain refused to do this and the United States, though considering the matter, did not put pressure on it to do so. However, according to the traditional maritime rules of war, armed merchant ships could be treated as warships. Nevertheless, the Wilson administration refused to apply this traditional interpretation on the grounds that the British intended to use those weapons only for defensive purposes. The leading World War I revisionist historian of the interwar period, Charles Callan Tansill, writes that if Wilson “had taken any decisive action against the admission of armed British merchantmen into American harbors, and if he had warned American citizens of the dangers that attended passage on belligerent vessels, America might well have been spared the great sacrifice of 1917-1918.”
As it was, there were a few significant incidents in which German submarines would sink belligerent merchant vessels—the Arabic in August 1915 (two American lives lost) and the Sussex on March 24, 1916 (with four American casualties). To these, the Wilson administration would protest vigorously and get the Germans to make concessions. As a result of breaking relations in the Sussex case, Germany promised to stop unrestricted submarine warfare toward merchant ships of all countries, and relations were restored.
The unanimous view of Wilson by historians (as far as I know) is that in regard to the war in Europe, he made his own decisions and did not rely on the views of his advisors. Nonetheless, it should be pointed out that three of his key advisors on the subject—his closest associate, Colonel Edward House (who had an honorary title but did not hold an official government position); counselor of the State Department and later Secretary of State, Robert Lansing; and Ambassador to Great Britain, Walter Hines Page—wanted the U.S. to pursue an even more favorable policy toward Britain than Wilson, and all supported America’s entrance into the war considerably earlier than Wilson. Although Wilson did not automatically accept the opinions of his advisors, it would seem highly likely that their pro-British views affected his own thinking since in a number of areas they were more knowledgeable than he. Nonetheless, it is not apparent that he even wanted to enter the war, though his bias toward Britain would ineluctably lead in this direction. Moreover, the fact that Wilson won the election of 1916, campaigning on the slogan, “He kept us out of war,” indicated that it might not be politically feasible to go to war. Certainly, a significant part of the Democratic Party was against war.
There was one major figure close to Wilson who dissented from the pro-British viewpoint, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan. A leader of the Democratic Party, Bryan had been its candidate for president three times. And as an ardent opponent of war, Bryan believed that the U.S. should balance its firm line toward Germany on submarines with an equally strong stance toward Britain on America’s neutral rights. Moreover, he wanted the government to warn Americans that they would travel on belligerent ships at their own risk and to ban armed merchant ships from American ports. Wilson rejected all these measures on the grounds that they would violate America’s neutrality. Bryan resigned rather than sign a second harsh note regarding the Lusitania sinking in 1915 and Lansing would replace him as Secretary of State, which meant that the U.S. would become even more pro-British.
What Norman leaves out in his presentation are the economic factors that likely played a significant role in leading the United States to war. Some writers during the interwar period, both popular and professional historians, focused almost solely on America’s economic connection—American trade and loans– with the Allies as the cause of American involvement in the war. Greedy American banking interests—especially the House of Morgan, which served as the agent for the British and French in floating loans—and munitions makers were especially blamed, and this theory was pursued by the Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry (April 12, 1934–February 24, 1936), commonly known as the Nye Committee since it was chaired by staunch non-interventionist Senator Gerald P. Nye.
America was in an economic depression when the war began in August 1914. “It was the rapid growth of the munitions trade which rescued America from this serious economic situation,” writes Tansill. And soon the Allies, especially Britain, became dependent on many types of goods from America—food, raw materials, and manufactured goods—which directly, or indirectly, aided their war effort. The American economy boomed, and those who benefited were not only a few bankers and “merchants of death” but also average American workers and farmers. But on the negative side, America’s now-booming economy was dependent on the war, not peaceful trade. Germany also sought goods from the United States but such trade was largely prevented by the British blockade.
It stands to reason that if the general American public materially benefited from the war trade—and would conceivably suffer severely from its elimination—it was politically necessary to continue a policy that benefited the Allies. America was essentially serving as a supply base for the Allied war effort, whereas Germany and the other Central Powers had to rely almost exclusively on their own populations and territory for their war needs. Obviously, Germany realized that this situation would be apt to lead to its defeat if the war dragged on too long.
Selling munitions by private companies, as opposed to governments, was traditionally considered legal for neutral states. However, Wilson could have been given the power by Congress to ban the sale of munitions and armaments, which it had done in 1912 regarding Mexico during its civil war, but Wilson did not request this authority and Congress did not grant it. Tansill maintains that because of the strong desire of the American people to stay out of the war it would have been politically feasible for the U.S. to have taken this position early in the war before the U.S. economy began to depend on this trade.
Also, it became apparent that the warring countries would need loans to cover the cost of the war trade. Bryan, with Wilson’s approval, however, banned loans to the warring powers although neutrals were traditionally allowed to engage in this activity. However, Bryan allowed “credits,” and soon, owing to the realization that the warring parties did not have the funds to directly cover purchases, allowed what were essentially loans under the guise of “credits.”
Credits and loans differed significantly from the fundamental trade of goods in their effect upon the parties involved. Tansill noted that “[a] loan to any of the belligerent nations would make the American investors partisans of the country whose bonds they had bought.” Tansill continues: “It is obvious that Secretary Bryan did not appreciate the strength of the economic ties that would be forged between the United States and the Allied Governments by the extension of large credits by American bankers to these same governments. He seemed unaware of the fact that there is little difference between credits and loans. These credits that had been authorized would bind the most articulate class in America to the Allied Powers.”
In the end, it was America’s favoritism toward Britain and its Allies that caused Germany to accept war with the United States. America was not only serving as a supply base for the Allied war effort but was prohibiting Germany from making effective use of the submarine, its only way of competing with Britain at sea.
At the beginning of 1917, German naval and military leaders argued that even though unrestricted submarine warfare would almost guarantee an American declaration of war, for a long period of time it would be unlikely that a belligerent United States could do more damage to Germany than it was already doing with its benign neutrality toward the Allies. This was especially due to America’s lack of a large standing army which it would need to develop. Furthermore, German financial experts had calculated that the U.S. supply of munitions to the Allies was already at its peak so that its entrance into the war would likely cause this to decline significantly. Not only would unrestricted submarine warfare reduce the war supplies reaching the Allies but the U.S. as a belligerent would need to divert a significant proportion of its war production to its own expanding military.
While the German naval leaders presented the unrestricted submarine warfare as a virtual panacea to bring the war to a close, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg questioned this claim, maintaining that it would be best to work for a compromise peace. In the end, the submarine warfare option was largely seen as a desperate gamble. Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, the German Army’s chief of staff, stated at the conference where these plans were solidified on January 8, 1917: “We are counting on the possibility of war with the United States, and have made all preparations to meet it. Things cannot be worse than they now are. The war must be brought to an end by the use of all means as soon as possible.”
Embellishing his own interpretation, Norman appears to get the time sequences confused as he writes: “Then Russia quit the fight. The German troops fighting on that front could be sent to fight the French and the British. It was, the Germans believed, an opportunity to win the war in early 1918. So they decided to resume unrestricted submarine warfare.” Germany’s decision on submarine warfare on January 30, 1917 was made long before Russia left the war. While the Tsarist regime was overthrown in mid March 1917 (Western calendar), its replacement, the Provisional Government, continued the war — even though the Russian army was disintegrating as many soldiers refused to fight — until the Bolshevik Revolution in early November (Western calendar). And even after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, which officially removed Bolshevik-ruled Russia from the war, large numbers of German troops remained in the East as an occupying force.
Norman acknowledges that the war did not achieve a good outcome. But he emphasizes that this was “was not a result of America and its allies being too tough. They—and especially Wilson—had been too idealistic, too naïve. Wilson seems to have believed his own high-minded rhetoric and denied the evidence in front of his face.” This allegedly obvious evidence was the evil nature of Germany, as Norman recaps Germany’s alleged war crimes: “Germany had been the aggressor nation in 1914. Had invaded Belgium and murdered that country’s citizens for committing war crimes when they resisted. Had imposed ruthlessly tough terms on Russia in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Was ready to ally itself with Mexico in a war with the United States. Whatever it took to win Germany’s place in the sun—that was what the German rulers were willing to do.”
Having earlier dealt with the “rape of Belgium” and “war guilt” issues, it should now be noted that the territory the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk removed from Russia was inhabited largely by a number of non-Russian ethnic minorities—Ukrainians being the major one–and if this were a crime, it is odd why the United States today, and especially the Weekly Standard, condemn Russia for interfering in this very same region. Furthermore, Germany’s offer to align with Mexico against the United States was contingent upon the United States going to war against Germany. This tactic was hardly irregular since Britain was offering all types of territorial bribes in secret treaties—territory that belonged to other countries—to entice other countries and groups to make war against Germany and/or some of the other Central Powers.
Denying that the peace settlement imposed on Germany was too harsh, Norman contends that “a persuasive case can be made that if Wilson had been more ruthless at any point, the first war might have been won sooner and another one prevented. Only two of America’s wars have been bloodier than Wilson’s. Both the Civil War and World War II ended with total defeat and more or less unconditional surrender. And things were settled pretty much once and for all.”
Norman’s argument here is a standard defense for the failed wars that the neocons have advocated. For example, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not the cause of the disaster that has emerged there but instead was the result of an improper occupation, for which a number of scenarios have been presented. Regarding World War I, however, there are many factors that could have precluded the success of a more ruthless peace—British/French rivalry; the opposition of the American people; the inability to maintain such a situation; the effect this would have in generating more support for Leninist Communism, to name but a few. However, discussing these would require an entire new essay, and the fact of the matter is that the U.S. did not enter the war to destroy Germany.
 This was the date that Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The major powers—Britain, France, Germany, and Russia—became involved at the beginning of August.
 Geoffrey Norman, “Woodrow Wilson’s War, One hundred years later, idealism still isn’t enough,” Weekly Standard, April 3, 2017, http://www.weeklystandard.com/woodrow-wilsons-war/article/2007341
 Alan Kramer, “Atrocities,” International Encyclopedia of the First World War, http://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/atrocities
 Kramer, “Atrocities.”
 For views by recent historians that reject the exclusive German guilt thesis, see Paul Gottfried, “Sleepwalk to Suicide,” American Conservative, January 21, 2014, http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/sleepwalk-to-suicide/
 “Blockade of Germany,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blockade_of_Germany In December 1918, the National Health Office in Berlin determined that 763,000 persons had died as a result of the blockade by that time. A study done in 1928 put the death toll at 424,000.
 Quoted in Ralph Raico, “The Blockade and Attempted Starvation of Germany,” review of The Politics of Hunger: Allied Blockade of Germany, 1915-1919 by C. Paul Vincent, Mises Daily Articles, May 7, 2010, https://mises.org/library/blockade-and-attempted-starvation-germany
 Robert W. Tucker, Woodrow Wilson and the Great War: Reconsidering America’s Neutrality 1914-1917 (Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Press, 2007) , p. 97.
 Charles Callan Tansill, America Goes to War (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1938), p. 216.
 Wayne S. Cole, An Interpretive History of American Foreign Relations, revised edition (Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press, 1974), p. 288.
 Edwin Borchard and William Potter Lage, Neutrality for the United States, second edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), pp. 15-16, 68-69.
 Justus D. Doenecke, Nothing Less than War: A New History of America’s Entry into World War I (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2011), p. 47.
 Tansill, p. 177.
 Borchard and Lage, p. 34; Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1914, Supplement, The World War. Document 559, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1914Supp/d559
 “Did Britain doom the Lusitania?,” BBC History Magazine, May 2015, http://www.historyextra.com/article/premium/did-britain-doom-lusitania
 Tucker, p. 142.
 Note that the deaths, including alleged deaths, caused today by Assad’s bombings in Syria cause far more concern than the many more deaths caused by Saudi bombings and blockade, supported by the United States, in Yemen.
 Tucker, p. 142.
 Tucker, p. 143.
 Borchard and Lage, p. 87.
 Tansill, p. 258.
 Tansill, p. 55.
 Tansill, p. 64.
 Doenecke, pp. 44.
 Tansill, p. 83.
 Patrick J. Buchanan, A Republic, Not an Empire: Reclaiming America’s Destiny (Washington: Regnery, 1999), p. 206.
 According to Timothy C. Downing in his article “Eastern Front” in the International Encyclopedia of the First World War: “The [German] occupation of Ukraine tied down thirty or forty divisions that might have enabled the Spring (Ludendorff) Offensives of 1918 to find success.”
Theresa May’s Conservative Party has launched its general election bid with a fresh scaremongering campaign, arguing that unless Tories prevail, Vladimir Putin will win.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has already become a prominent figure in Britain’s upcoming general election, having been dragged into the pre-election debate by the Tories.
Facing widespread public criticism for not having a clear Brexit strategy and constantly implementing austerity measures, the Conservative Party has resorted to the now globally-tested method of using Vladimir Putin as a bogeyman to win more votes.
Earlier this week, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Russia’s president would welcome a Labour Party victory.
Speaking at an event to mark the deployment of 800 British troops in Estonia as part of a NATO mission in the region, Fallon claimed that a “feeble and gutless” Corbyn plays into the hands of Moscow.
“Russia will be watching Labour’s feebleness that Jeremy Corbyn has not supported this deployment. He has questioned it. He has questioned this deployment.
“Russia will be watching that, will have noted that feebleness and will be watching it throughout this campaign,” the Defence Secretary said.
This rhetoric echoes an accusation made by Tory Armed Forces Minister Mike Penning, who claimed that Corbyn was in some way collaborating with the Russian government.
“The Labour leader would rather collaborate with Russian aggression than mutually support Britain’s NATO allies,” Penning said, referring to Labour’s concerns that further NATO deployment on Russia’s borders could escalate tensions.
In addition to accusing the main opposition leader of being in bed with the Kremlin, the Tories also warn that Vladimir Putin could try to hack the British elections in order to prevent the Conservative Party from winning.
For instance, Fallon made the unsubstantiated suggestion that Russian intelligence services will try to influence the upcoming elections through hacking, while at the same time assuring that the British security agencies are fully prepared for any cyberattacks.
“We took steps before the 2015 election to protect our systems against Russian interference, including our democratic systems.
“Those protections remain in place and we will obviously be watching for any of the kind of interference we have seen in continental elections and is alleged to have taken place in the American election but we are well protected,” Fallon said.
GCHQ, Britain’s cyber-intelligence agency, which is subordinate to Tory Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, made a show of going on high alert less than 24 hours after Theresa May announced the upcoming general election to fend off Russian cyberattacks.
“It is understood that GCHQ and the National Cyber Security Centre will be working with the Cabinet Office to deliver a safe election so the same thing does not happen here as happened in America,” a Whitehall source told the Times, referring to allegations that Russia had hacked the 2016 US elections to aid Donald Trump.
However, the report by the US intelligence community said that, even if the alleged Russian involvement had taken place, it could not make judgment as to whether it had affected the outcome of the American presidential elections.
Western establishment parties have consistently accused Russia of rigging elections in favor of its opponents, but the Russian government has staunchly denied these claims as “baseless and amateurish.”
Unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claimed that Vladimir Putin has a personal “personal beef” against her, and thus ordered a cyber-attack on her election campaign.
Richard Ferrand, the campaign manager for Emmanuel Macron, a liberal candidate in France’s presidential election, has also argued that Putin is hacking his boss’s campaign.
“These attacks are coming from the Russian border,” Ferrand said.
“We want a strong Europe. That’s why we’re subject to attacks on our information system from the Russian state,” he said.
It’s already clear that the British general elections will not be exempt from the same anti-Russian scaremongering rhetoric, which critics say is an attempt to divert attention from the real issues.
The attempt by Western countries to derail Russia’s fact-finding initiative in Syria to examine the site of the chemical incident in Idlib province exposes their aim to topple the Syrian government, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
“I believe that it’s a very serious situation, because now it’s obvious that false information about the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government is being used to move away from implementing Resolution 2254, which stipulates a political settlement with the participation of all the Syrian parties, and aims to switch to the long-cherished idea of regime change,” Lavrov said, speaking at a press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Astana.
UNSC Resolution 2254 calls for an inclusive government in Syria and a peace process that would involve a new constitution and free and fair elections.
According to the minister, the decision displayed “complete incompetence” on the part of his Western colleagues, who, in fact, are “prohibiting the OPCW from sending their experts to the site of the incident, as well as to the airfield from where aircraft loaded with chemical weapons allegedly flew out.”
“Yesterday [April 20], our proposal that experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] visit the sites of the suspected chemical attack in Syria was blocked by Western delegations without any explanations,” Lavrov said.
In the meantime, the UK and France claim their experts have received samples from the site of the incident, Lavrov added.
“London, Paris, and the OPCW have given no answers to our questions as to where they took these samples, who took them, or when they were delivered,” Lavrov stated.
“I think we are very close to this organization [OPCW] being discredited,” Lavrov added.
On Thursday, the OPCW’s executive council overwhelmingly rejected a proposal from Russia and Iran for a new investigation into the Idlib chemical incident.
The proposal had been amended to agree to Western demands that the investigation into the alleged attack be carried out by the existing OPCW fact-finding mission, but was defeated nonetheless.
The draft proposal seen by AFP called on the OPCW “to establish whether chemical weapons were used in Khan Sheikhoun and how they were delivered to the site of the reported incident.”
Both OPCW fact-checking missions tasked with looking into the Idlib incident are being headed by UK citizens, which Lavrov called “a very strange coincidence” that “runs contrary to the principles of an international organization.”
Earlier in April, an incident in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun reportedly killed as many as 100 people and injured several hundred. The US has squarely laid the blame on Damascus, claiming that it hid chemical weapons stockpiles from the OPCW after pledging to hand them over in 2013.
Moscow, however, said a thorough investigation, including an on-site inspection in rebel-held territory, should be carried out before jumping to any conclusions. Russia has cautioned that the incident may have been a false flag operation meant to provoke a US attack against Syrian government forces.
The Russian military has questioned the swift conclusion of chemical weapons watchdog the OPCW, which has reported identifying sarin in samples related to an alleged attack in Syria on April 5.
The Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) convened in the Hague on Wednesday for an update on the investigation into the reported chemical weapons attack in the town of Khan Shaykhun.
Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü told members that four OPCW designated laboratories have studied samples collected from three victims of the alleged attack during their autopsy and seven individuals undergoing treatment after surviving the incident. He said analysis of all samples indicated exposure to sarin or a sarin-like substance.
“While further details of the laboratory analyses will follow, the analytical results already obtained are incontrovertible,” the official said.
The OPCW statement didn’t explain how exactly the samples were collected. The inspectors have yet to visit Khan Shaykhun, which would allow the collection of samples on the ground to confirm contamination from a chemical agent. The site is located in a rebel-controlled territory in the Idlib province. Üzümcü said such a visit would depend on the security situation and cited an attack on an OPCW fact-finding mission in May 2014.
The Russian military, however, questioned the swift analysis of the samples, saying the OPCW did not act with such speed in another incident in which a militant group reportedly used mustard gas in Aleppo.
“Russian specialists on the site of the crime [in Aleppo] collected samples of the agent, which had been delivered to representatives of the OPCW and transported to the Hague. By the way, the Syrian leadership at the time offered safety guarantees and insisted that OPCW experts visit Aleppo, but nobody came,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Thursday.
“Four months later the OPCW still cannot come to a conclusion and call the mustard gas found there mustard gas, saying additional analysis is necessary,” he remarked.
The Russian military said it wanted details on who collected the samples and how they were studied at OPCW designated labs, and why the analysis in this case was completed in a much shorter space of time.
He added that if the OPCW states that sarin gas had been used in the incident, it would find it difficult to explain how White Helmet first responders survived exposure to the agent.
Footage taken at the scene in the aftermath of the alleged attack showed people from the controversial rescue group helping the victims while wearing no protective gear rated for handling sarin.
The OPCW is expected to provide a preliminary report on the incident within two weeks.
The incident in Khan Shaykhun reportedly killed as many as 100 people and injured several hundred. The US squarely laid the blame on Damascus, claiming that it hid chemical weapons stockpiles from the OPCW after pledging to hand them over in 2013.
Washington fired a barrage of cruise missiles at the Syrian airbase from which it claimed the chemical weapons attack was launched – a move that was hailed by Syria’s neighbor Israel. Europe backs the accusations against the Syrian government, even though no solid evidence has been made public.
Russia has called for a thorough investigation of the incident, which would include an on-site inspection in the rebel-held territory, before coming to any conclusions. Moscow believes that the incident may have been a false flag operation meant to provoke a US attack against Damascus.
Russia said no serious steps have been taken to investigate into the alleged chemical attack in Syria’s Khan Sheikhoun.
“Reports (about the alleged chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun) started coming 15 days ago but no steps have yet been taken in order to investigate into this incident,” Director of the Armaments Non-Proliferation and Control Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry Mikhail Ulyanov said on Wednesday.
He was addressing the special session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), held in The Hague, Russia’s foreign ministry’s posted on its website on Thursday, according to TASS Russian news agency.
Ulyanov pointed out that all accusations against Damascus of using chemical weapons were groundless as they were based only on questionable data available on social media.
At the same time, according to the Russian diplomat, representatives of some countries are acting as if the circumstances surrounding the incident, as well as those responsible, have already been established.
“In this regard, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s article for the Telegraph is notable in which he said that ‘this was highly likely to be an attack by Assad.’ It means that the British Foreign Secretary is not completely sure. Then why do our British counterparts make such unequivocal statements on the international level?” Ulyanov said.
Meanwhile, he slammed Washington over its claims to be absolutely certain it was Damascus who was to blame.
“This is what our US counterparts call a bad case of deja vu. We heard them say the same things 14 years ago, ahead of the military invasion in Iraq,” the Russian diplomat noted.
On the other hand, Ulyanov voiced Russia’s readiness for consultations with the US before the OPCW vote on proposals on the incident.
“Before putting a draft up for vote, all possibilities for reaching a consensus should be exhausted,” Ulyanov said.
“We are ready for immediate intensive consultations for that purpose, including with the US delegation,” he added.
“If our US partners are indeed interested in establishing the truth by carrying out a serious and prompt investigation, we have chances to reach an agreement,” the diplomat said. “If not, there is almost no room to search for mutually acceptable solutions.”
President Trump’s radical change in rhetoric concerning his foreign policy was accompanied by the bombing of an air base in Cheyrat, and that of an Afghan mountain.
The world trembled before the deployment of such force – 59 Tomahawk missiles in Syria and one GBU-4/B3 mega-bomb in Afghanistan. Yet the base in Cheyrat was already operational again the following morning, while the « Mother Of All Bombs » certainly caused the collapse of three exits of a natural tunnel, but did not destroy the kilometres of underground passages created over time by the rivers within the mountain. In short, much ado about nothing.
These two operations were clearly intended to convince the US deep state that the White House was once again supporting its imperial politics. They had the desired effect on Germany and France. Chancellor Angela Merkel and President François Hollande applauded their lord and master, and called for an end to the Syrian situation. The surprise arrived from elsewhere.
The United Kingdom did not only follow the movement. Their Minister for Foreign Affairs, Boris Johnson, proposed to levy sanctions against Russia, according to him an accomplice in the Syrian « crimes », and responsible in one way or another for the Afghan resistance and a plethora of other evils.
During the meeting of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs at the G7, Johnson announced the cancellation of his trip to Moscow, and invited all his partners to break off their political and commercial relations with Russia. However, though approving the British initiative, these partners prudently stayed in the background. Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, incontrovertibly dismissed this insane proposition and maintained his trip to Moscow. Brazenly, Johnson then declared that the Europeans had appointed Tillerson to go and talk some sense into the Russians.
Although international protocol states that Ministers are to be received by their opposite numbers, and not by the Head of State, the Atlantist Press presented Tillerson’s welcome by Lavrov as a cooling of Russo-US relations. Before he had the time to salute his guest, Sergey Lavrov was interrupted by a Washington journalist who took him to task. Reminding him of the conventions of basic politeness, the Russian Minister refused to answer him and cut the presentations short.
The meeting, behind closed doors, lasted for more than 4 hours, which seems fairly long for people who have nothing to say to one another. Finally, the two men requested an audience with President Putin, who recieved them for 2 extra hours.
After these meetings, the Ministers gave a Press conference. They declared without irony that they had done little more than take note of their divergences. Sergey Lavrov warned the journalists of the danger that this rupture represented for the world.
However, the next day, the same Lavrov, addressing the Russian Press, indicated that he had concluded an agreement with his guest. Washington had agreed not to continue their attacks on the Syrian Arab Army, and the military coordination between the Pentagon and the Russian army for circulation in Syrian airspace had been re-established.
In appearance, the Trump administration is roaring its power and throwing bombs around, but in reality, it is taking great care not to cause any irreparable damage. The worst and the best are therefore possible.
Translation by Pete Kimberley
The Russian embassy in London is calling on Britain to explain its testing of an alleged chemical weapons attack site in Syria, adding it hopes the UK’s “takeover exercise” does not destroy the possibility of an impartial investigation.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs British scientists found sarin or a sarin-like substance in samples obtained at the scene of a chemical incident in Syria’s Idlib province.
“We know from shell fragments in the crater that not only had sarin been used, but sarin carrying the specific chemical signature of sarin used by the Assad regime,” Johnson said.
“And given that samples from the victims showed conclusively that they had been exposed to sarin gas, there is only one conclusion: that the Assad regime almost certainly gassed its own people in breach of international law and the rules of war.”
Russia has consistently called on both the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN to undertake a separate investigation of the site.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Russian embassy in London questioned why British scientists were attempting to update the OPCW, an international body. It says it would like Britain to clarify elements of its investigation, including the procedure and site of the sampling, what specific samples were taken and whether OPCW standards of safety and integrity in collecting evidence were upheld.
“Do we understand correctly that the British side gained access to Khan Sheikhoun, and if so, can it assist in providing full and safe access directly to the site of the chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun for the OPCW inspectors in order to conduct a comprehensive and objective investigation?” the embassy said.
“If the samples were not taken at the scene of the events … then what, in London’s opinion, is the value of such an analysis?”
The embassy adds that Russia continues to insist on an immediate on-site investigation under the auspices of the OPCW and UN, despite Johnson claiming otherwise.
“We hope this entire takeover exercise is not meant to destroy the very possibility of an impartial international investigation into this incident,” the statement says.
Damascus has refuted allegations of any involvement in a chemical weapons incident in Idlib.
I’m no expert about Syria, so why these blogposts? The initial stimulus was realising that people of good will and similar ethics can have some markedly contrasting views of the situation in Syria. This was a puzzle to me. And given the gravity of what’s at stake, I felt an obligation to try and solve it.
The basic disagreement could not be explained by familiar sorts of political bias. It cuts across left-right and authoritarian-libertarian lines; a person’s stance on it can not even be predicted by their stance, say, on Palestine, or Cuba. Attitudes to Russia can be a better indicator, but if my own case is anything to go by, this has nothing particularly to do with political views and is anyway an effect rather than a cause. What Putin says about Syria tends to resonate with what I’ve come to think; I have never thought that any statement was true because Putin made it. I also just don’t think it very intellectually mature or responsible to suppose that something is false because he says it!
Still, it is understandable that people would rather accept the consensus view of our news outlets, especially since it is echoed by the vast majority of our politicians and opinion formers, along with NGOs like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and MSF. They present Assad as the problem in Syria and regime change as the solution.
The general public do not perceive that view as a controversial one. It seems established beyond the range of normal political debate that ‘Assad must go’. ‘Assad’s regime’ is regarded, like Hitler’s, as beyond the pale of reasonable disagreement. The only kind of debate there can be on this basis is whether Assad is as bad as Hitler. In fact, US spokesperson Sean Spicer recently suggested Hitler was less bad.
As karma would have it, the hapless Spicer also let us know, with a slip of the tongue, that America’s “first goal is to destabilise Syria”.
Should we believe the official narrative or the one that, while suppressed, still sometimes slips out? I have asked this question of reports from Channel 4, from BBC, from Amnesty International, from Doctors Without Borders, and from UK Government. I’ve shared my findings in the five blogs respectively linked. I have concluded that none of those reports provides credible evidence to support the mainstream account of what has been happening in Syria these past six years.
I ask nobody to take my word for it, though, and I would urge everybody, who gets the chance, to look more closely for yourself. This is not a matter on which any established authority should simply be assumed reliable.
It is not a matter of normal political loyalties. On Syria I now have more faith in the views of Peter Hitchens or Peter Oborne writing in the Daily Mail, for instance, than in those of George Monbiot in the Guardian; I got blocked on Twitter by Paul Mason for asking an awkward question; I’ve even questioned the wisdom of a statement by Caroline Lucas (here). I feel all the more resolutely ecologically socialist for recognising that independently conservative thought can sometimes be more astutely resistant than that of progressives to the deceptions of a delinquent neoliberal globalism.
The issue here is not a normal part of political argument. Politics can even serve to distract us from what I believe is a serious matter of truth against war. The agenda underlying foreign states’ investment in the war in Syria is continuous with what came to fruition in Iraq and Libya. We have good reasons to fear that it will lead on to a still more catastrophic confrontation with Iran and even Russia.
Perhaps that’s why those who do not accept the mainstream narrative can be presented as ‘siding with the Russians’, who don’t want war either! But I’d go further and say there are people of no nation on this planet who want war. That is why we should not let ourselves be deceived into thinking that anything we truly want can only be achieved at the price of war.
As for the war in Syria, please don’t believe me. Please just don’t let yourself be deceived. This is too important, not only for you and me, but for our children, and everyone else too. Please ask questions about who wants war and why, and please then think about how they can be stopped from getting it.
Who do I believe? I tend to believe those I find sincere and whose statements are coherent, consistent, and not belied by their actions. I believe ISIS when they say they want to destroy the Syrian secular state and create their caliphate. I believe Al Qaeda and the multitude of other Islamist terror organisations that threaten terrible violence of the kind they routinely execute. I believe the ordinary people who live in Syria and say they just want to be left to live their lives in peace. I find I also believe, on the basis of scores of interviews I’ve now seen, that the Syrian president is doing all he can to fulfill the wish of the latter against threats of the former. I believe his claims that the foreign states’ regime change agenda has nothing to do with trying to do right by the Syrian people. If that makes me an ‘Assad Apologist’, I make no apology. For anyone who thinks Iraq or Libya today have better governance than Syria’s government-protected areas do is not someone I would feel capable of debating with. Of course, Syria could do a lot better still, and the Syrian people should be free to choose their government. My instinct, for what it’s worth, tells me that Bashar Al Assad and the First Lady Asma Al Assad long for such a day to come. But the nation’s sovereignty has first to be fully restored.
I have stopped believing reports about Syria from Amnesty International, an organisation I actively supported for two decades. For no report I have seen produces credible evidence to support its claims about the war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Syrian government. I illustrate this here, and here, and I further show how the organisation has been captured by people with no interest in human rights here. I fear there seems to be a similar problem even in some parts of MSF’s organisation. As for the news outlets, with almost nobody on the ground, they provide little coverage of areas that are under legitimate government, while, from occupied areas, they rely heavily on terrorist sources like Al Qaeda, under its various rebrandings. And our government? It provides funds, weapons and training for Al Qaeda. Some of this goes into the PR campaign sustained as White Helmets. If you are inclined to believe what the White Helmets say, then I suggest you watch the Oscar-winning documentary about them and ask yourself one simple question: where are the terrorists? I assume that anyone who is reading these words does not need me to make any comment about poor little Bana Alabed. But you might know people who do, so please be gentle with them. We are all at different stages of learning about how we are misled.
The chair of the “Friends of Israel” caucus of Britain’s UK Independence party (UKIP) apologized recently for tweeting a picture of himself burning a New Testament.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports that Shneur Odze, a candidate for mayor of Manchester, found the New Testament in his synagogue.
He took the offending volume outside and set it on fire, then posted photos of the book burning and wrote on Twitter: “Grateful to whoever put a missionary bible amongst our synagogue’s books. Was wondering what I’d burn my Chametz with.”
According to JTA, Odze “felt he had no choice but to burn the book because he did not want to pass on what he believes is false religion to someone else and said that throwing a religious text in the garbage was distasteful, especially because it also contains the Five Books of Moses.”
The Times of Israel reports that the New Testament was in a Hebrew-English Bible published by the Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures, and had been placed in the synagogue without permission by a member of the Christian group.
JTA reports that Odze, a former city councilman for north London for the Conservative Party, is a rabbi and member of Chabad-Lubavitch.
Parliament Today reported in 2014 that at a UKIP Friends of Israel reception, Rabbi Odze said: “UKIP doesn’t just talk the talk on its support for the people of Israel. Only last week UKIP Councillors in Dudley blocked an attempt by Labour to impose a sanctions policy on the Council. It was UKIP Councillors in Dudley that had this proposal quashed. And it is UKIP Councillors who are leading the fight against anti-Semitism in town halls across the country.”
The Airwars.org U.K.-based monitoring group reports that 41 U.S-led air strikes targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria killed at least 296 civilians during the week after the chemical weapons incident on April 4. U.S. cruise missiles reportedly killed another nine civilians in villages near the Shayrat airbase that was targeted on April 7th.
But the fragmentary reports compiled by Airwars.org can only reveal a fraction of the true numbers of civilians killed by U.S. and allied bombing in Iraq and Syria. These are only the minimum numbers of civilians killed in 41 of the 178 air strikes reported by the U.S military that week.
In other war zones, when such compilations of “passive” reports have been followed up by more comprehensive, scientific mortality studies, the true number of civilians killed has proved to be between 5 and 20 times higher than numbers previously reported by “passive” methods. [For a fuller discussion of the differences between passive reporting of civilian deaths and actual estimates based on scientific mortality studies, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Playing Games With War Deaths.”]
So, based on the fragmentary nature of passive reporting of civilian deaths and the ratios to actual deaths uncovered by more comprehensive studies in other war zones (such as Rwanda, Guatemala, D.R. Congo and U.S.-occupied Iraq), it is likely that U.S.-led air strikes killed at least 1,500 innocent civilians in just this one week, or conceivably as many as 6,000.
To put this scale of civilian deaths in the larger context of the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria since 2014, the 589 bombs and missiles dropped in the week of April 4- 10 made this only an average week in a campaign that has been waged consistently at this intensity for more than two-and-a-half years.
Airwars has been investigating reports of civilian casualties caused by U.S. and “coalition” bombing since 2014. It has investigated U.S. or allied responsibility for incidents that have killed between 8,303 and 12,208 civilians, reported by local and international media and groups like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At this point, it has confirmed that 3,061 to 4,943 civilians have been killed in 1,197 U.S. or allied air strikes. Airwars classifies these deaths as “confirmed.”
Airwars classifies the reporting as “fair” for another 454 strikes that have killed between 2,635 and 4,192 civilians, based on reporting by two or more credible sources and confirmation that an alleged U.S. or allied air strike did take place. Airwars classifies the remaining reports of a further 2,607 to 3,093 civilians as either “fair, but with no confirmed strikes,” “weak,” “contested,” or “discounted.”
Applying the 5 to 20 percent ratio of passive reporting to actual deaths found in other war zones to Airwars’ minimum and maximum figures for “confirmed” and “fair” reports of civilian deaths, a reasonable estimate of total civilians killed by U.S. and allied bombing in Iraq and Syria since 2014 would be between 28,000 and 180,000.
We can hope that Airwars’ thorough investigations have already captured a higher proportion of civilian deaths than were counted by passive reporting in Guatemala (5 percent) or occupied Iraq (8 percent). This would mean that the true number of civilians we have killed is closer to the lower of these numbers than to the upper level.
But a similar effort by Iraqbodycount during the first three years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq only counted about one-twelfth of the violent civilian deaths subsequently revealed by a comprehensive mortality study of the same period, and we will only know for sure whether Airwars has been more successful once we can compare its figures with a comprehensive epidemiological mortality survey of the present conflict in Iraq and Syria.
Claims by U.S. officials that the true civilian death toll from the U.S. and allied bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria is in the hundreds, as opposed to the tens of thousands, have never been credible, as senior officers have occasionally admitted. The uncritical repetition of the U.S. military’s absurd claims by U.S. media as if they were credible estimates of civilian deaths is a journalistic scandal. This has only served to increase the near-total ignorance among much of the American public about the real human costs of the wars being waged in our name.
As with the reporting of domestic gun violence in the U.S., occasional reports of single acts of mass killing grab headlines, but give only a hint of the constant slaughter that rages on unreported, day in, day out, in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and across the ever-spreading area of the world being dragged into the bloodbath unleashed since 2001 by the U.S. “Global War on Terror.”
Nationalism, Ignorance and Consequences
There is another critical factor in the under-reporting of these constant, daily atrocities, one that has probably been a common pattern in every war ever fought. George Orwell described it very well in an essay entitled “Notes on Nationalism” that was published in May 1945, as the allies celebrated Germany’s surrender at the end of World War II.
“Actions are held to be good or bad,” Orwell wrote, “not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage – torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians – which does not change its moral color when it is committed by “our” side… The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”
Far from treating this prejudice as a problem to be overcome through public accountability and serious journalism, our current military and civilian leaders and their media mouthpieces treat this kind of nationalism as a weakness they can exploit to further suppress public awareness of their own atrocities.
Then, when a single horrific incident like the mass casualty air strike on West Mosul on March 17 breaks through this wall of silence into the public consciousness, the propaganda machine is quick to frame our killing of civilians as “unintentional” and contrast it with the “deliberate” killing of civilians by our enemies.
The eminent historian Howard Zinn pointed out the flaw in this frame of reference in a letter published in the New York Times in 2007, based partly on his own experience as a a U.S. Air Force bombardier in World War II:
“These words are misleading because they assume an action is either ‘deliberate’ or ‘unintentional.’ There is something in between, for which the word is ‘inevitable.’ If you engage in something like aerial bombing, in which you cannot possibly distinguish between combatants and civilians (as a former Air Force bombardier, I will attest to that), the deaths of civilians are inevitable, even if not ‘intentional.’ Does that difference exonerate you morally?”
“The terrorism of the suicide bomber and the terrorism of aerial bombardment are indeed morally equivalent,” Howard Zinn concluded, “To say otherwise (as either side might) is to give one moral superiority over the other, and thus serve to perpetuate the horrors of our time.”
Chemical Weapons: Propaganda and History
The persistent role of chemical weapons in U.S. propaganda to justify attacks on Iraq and Syria turns on its head the way that Western powers actually used chemical weapons themselves in the past. During World War I, American factories produced 5,770 tons of chemical weapons for use by the U.S. and its allies on the Western Front, and this was only a small fraction of the weapons produced and used by the U.K., France and Germany.
This past weekend marks the centenary of the first time that chemical weapons were used in the Middle East, by British forces in the Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917, where they failed to dislodge the Ottoman defenders barring the British advance to Jerusalem and Damascus.
As British occupation forces faced a nationwide rebellion in Iraq in 1920, British leaders in London sent chemical weapons to Iraq, but historians disagree on whether they were actually used. British forces relied mainly on bombing, and fire-bombing in particular, to put down the rebellion and enforce British rule in Iraq. One of the British squadron leaders in Iraq, Arthur Harris, is better know to history as Air Marshall “Bomber” Harris, who ordered the fire-bombing of Dresden and other German cities in World War II.
Winston Churchill was a strong advocate for the use of chemical weapons. As War Minister during the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Versailles, he wrote in a memo to his staff:
“I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favor of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.”
At that time, the British Army’s Manual of Military Law stated explicitly that the laws of war applied only to war “between civilized nations” and “do not apply in wars with uncivilized States and tribes.” The United Nations Charter in 1945 and the revised Geneva Conventions in 1949 formally abolished such legal distinctions between wealthy Western nations and the rest of the world. But attitudes born of wealth, privilege and racism die hard, and the purpose of much of today’s Western propaganda is to convince the world of the moral superiority of our mass technological violence over the asymmetric warfare of our less wealthy and more lightly armed enemies.
As Howard Zinn concluded, these claims to moral superiority only serve to perpetuate a mutually-reinforcing cycle of violence and to foreclose any attempt to resolve any of these conflicts except through even greater violence.
The unwritten rule that our propaganda seeks to impose on the world is that the U.S. and its allies have the right to use unrestrained, unlimited violence at will, with total impunity, while any country or government that dares to oppose us forfeits any right to defend itself, to determine its own future, or even to exist.
After George W. Bush’s administration’s crimes alienated much of the world, President Obama conducted the next phase of this aggressive policy under cover of his iconic image as a hip, sophisticated celebrity-in-chief with roots in African-American and modern urban culture. This triumph of style over substance constituted a new achievement in neoliberal “managed democracy,” allowing him to carry out policies that were the polar opposite of what his supporters thought he stood for.
With Trump, the mask is off, and the world is suddenly faced with the unvarnished reality of an aggressive military power that accepts no legal constraints on its violence.
Justice for War Crimes
If we or our leaders ever seriously want to prevent war crimes and hold war criminals responsible, we must start with the basic principle of justice invoked by Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson at the London Conference that drew up the Nuremberg Principles in 1945. But this is a principle that Trump, Obama and other present-day U.S. leaders would find quite alien. Robert Jackson declared:
“If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”
When civilians in New York, Washington and on a plane flying over Pennsylvania became victims of an unprecedented crime of mass murder on Sept. 11, 2001, former Nuremberg chief investigator and prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz was a lonely voice invoking another basic principle of justice. Ferencz demanded genuine criminal accountability for the crimes committed, and insisted that only the guilty should be punished.
On Sept. 19, 2001, Ben Ferencz was interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR). “It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done,” he told NPR’s Katy Clark, “If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t approve of what has happened.”
Clark asked him, “So what do you say to skeptics who believe the judicial process is inadequate because it is very slow and very cumbersome?”
“I realize that it is slow and cumbersome,” Ferencz replied, “but it is not inadequate. I say to the skeptics, ‘Follow your procedure and you’ll find what happens… We will have more fanatics and more zealots coming to kill the evil, the United States.’ We don’t want to do that. We want to uphold our principles. The United States was the moving party behind the Nuremberg Trials and behind insisting upon the rule of law.”
As Ben Ferencz predicted only a week after the 9/11 attacks, our failure to follow the “slow and cumbersome” path of justice and our resort to systematically indiscriminate and illegal threats and uses of force has left us trapped in a cycle of violence that has so far destroyed half a dozen countries and killed about 2 million people.
More are being killed every day, and our government has no mechanism or policy in place to prevent further, even unlimited escalation. Like a blinded and wounded giant, the U.S. lashes out at every perceived enemy on every pretext, falsely invoking laws, values and standards of accountability that our leaders doggedly refuse to apply to their own actions.
Our leaders effectively claim the sole power to define whose violence is justified and whose is criminal, and on a strictly self-serving basis. Our violence is always legitimate. Our enemies’ is always criminal. Noam Chomsky has referred to this as the “single standard” that governs U.S. foreign policy. It is more traditionally referred to as “might makes right,” or the “law of the jungle.” It bears no relation to the rule of law, except to violate, abuse, undermine and discredit it.
Back Through the Looking Glass
Through several administrations, across political parties, and with the active collaboration of the U.S. mass media, our leaders have replaced the rule of law with the rule of propaganda, treating flaws in our public debates like those exposed by Orwell and Zinn only as weaknesses to be exploited, instead of dangers to beware of. The vital principles of justice upheld by Robert Jackson, Ben Ferencz and the ghosts of Nuremberg are reduced to inconvenient obstacles to be marginalized by propaganda and flushed down the memory hole.
Political skill across the spectrum is now measured in the ability to “connect” with the public in a way that is completely divorced from the actual details or effects of government policy. U.S. politics has gradually been reduced to the corrupt circus of smoke and mirrors now personified by President Trump.
And yet we all have to live in the society that our political and economic systems create. The distractions of glitzy political campaigns and Hollywood fantasies can provide only superficial relief from the monopolization of our resources by an insatiably greedy ruling class; the resulting poverty of more and more working Americans; the systematic corruption of every institution of government and society by corporate power, or “inverted totalitarianism”; and the extreme violence of a foreign policy whose only response to the endless crises its militarism provokes is to threaten and then destroy yet another country and kill hundreds of thousands more innocent people.
It is becoming essential to our very survival that we find our way out of this self-destructive propaganda world, back through the looking glass to the real world: to the beautiful but fragile natural world in which we live; to the kaleidoscopic diversity of our fellow human beings and their societies; and to the serious problems we must all work together to resolve if any of what we each value in life is to survive, let alone thrive.
As our wars escalate in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, as U.S. warships bear down on Korea, and as our leaders issue new threats against Iran, Russia and China, we may have less time to save ourselves, each other and our world than we have previously assumed.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.