Friday, December 01, 2006

One no, many yeses

It was pointed out to me earlier in the week that the US forces have now been engaged in Iraq (part two) longer than they were involved in the Second World War. That's a terrifying thought, I know that the US only took part in the second half of WWII and got in on the ground floor for Iraq II but it certainly helps bring the war into historical perspective.

So this little factlette got me thinking about the parallels between the propaganda of the Second War War and that of today (except we don't call it propaganda anymore, we call it CNN).

There's the obvious one about everyone being the new Hitler. It's funny how although Milosovic was the new Hitler, Saddam was not the new Milosovic - it's almost as if they lack confidence in their analysis, hmmm. But mainly I'm interested in the idea of a war for democracy.

It seems to me that during and after WWII the idea that the war had been one against fascism and for a free society fed into the desire for a society quite different to that of the thirties. The public consciousness had been mobilised and the government couldn't just send those thoughts packing again once they'd finished with them.

In the UK there is a connection in people's consciousness between the welfare state, Labour's programme of nationalisation and that bloody conflict. Part of the reason, I think, that the NHS has such a special place in the hearts of people from the UK is not simply about health care free to all at the point of delivery, but also that this was fought for at the cost of many lives.

In the US I've always felt that there was a connection, perhaps quite deep down, between the civil rights movement and the idea of the war against fascism. In defining clearly what we are against we inevitably define what kind of society we are - and it's hard to fit racist segregation into that model of freedom and democracy. Although certainly many gave it a try.

There was a story, I don't know if it's true, about the Nazi war criminal who fled to the US after the war and was discovered because he gave up his seat on the bus to a black woman, something no self respecting white Southerner would do. Whether this happened or not there's no fiction about the levels of sanctioned racism that existed at the time.

Now I've always maintained the whilst there is a truth to the idea of this "good war" there are also some equally valid alternative ways of looking at it (see also Moll). During the war in the East, after the Japanese surrender, the Vietnamese set up an interim government and began running the place for themselves. Then the Allied army turned up and restored Vietnam to its rightful owners, the French, at the point of a bayonet.

You can't fit that historical moment into a narrative that only understands the war as one against tyranny. You have to see that "our side" were imperialist powers too. Don't expect a Vietnamese perspective to see much difference between the French, Japanese, Australian and American occupiers that they had to throw out by force in turns.

Imperialist jammy dodger eaterBut whilst those "in charge" of the Iraqi occupation try to mobilise exactly the same ideas; opposition to racism, tyranny and for democracy, because this war has been opposed in a way that WWII never was the only hold these phrases have had on the public conciousness is to highlight the hypocracy of our rulers.

We've won the argument that the Iraq war is a bad thing - but we haven't really made a start on what we should be fighting for. This time our governments are in no position to co-opt our good intentions - but are those who oppose this war taking the opportunity to redefine what kind of society we should be living in?

6 comments:

LeftyHenry said...

So this little factlette got me thinking about the parallels between the propaganda of the Second War War and that of today (except we don't call it propaganda anymore, we call it CNN).



propaganda has always been widely excepted as fact in its era. Maybe in the future they'll look at the propaganda of this era the same way we do of WWII propaganda...

Jim Jay said...

But is today's war propaganda excepted as fact?

WMD's anyone?

Why did people accept the Korean war (say) and not this one?

Graeme McIver said...

"During the war in the East the Japanese were driven out of Vietnam and the locals began running the place for themselves. Then the Allied army turned up and restored Vietnam to its rightful owners, the French, at the point of a bayonet."
Well, no. The Chinese (Kuomintang)occupied part of Vietnam after the war and the locals (Ho Chi Minh) wanted the French to come back and facilitated their return. They knew they stood a good chance of getting rid of the French eventually, they thought getting rid of the Chinese would be a lot harder (think Tibet). And the allied army didn't turn up, the transition was handled by Japanese troops under allied command. Because they hadn't been driven out, they just stopped fighting the Viet Minh after the end of the war.

Graeme McIver said...

And another thing...
leaving aside the immorality of the invasion of Iraq, for me the parallel between Iraq and the 2nd world war is this. In 1939-40 the UK came close to going to war with the Soviet Union over Finland (for details see Shirer "Rise and Fall of the 3rd Reich"). An expeditionary force was being prepared and it is possible that RAF pilots were helping the Finnish air force. This was an absolute strategic nonsense which was abandoned after the German invasion of Norway. We could have fought Germany and the Soviet Union together?
So in 2003 instead of finishing off Al Quaida in Afganistan/Pakistan, we attack one of their enemies, Iraq.....
And thereby in effect bring them back from the grave.

Jim Jay said...

GM: I'd better go and read up on the Vietnam thing - will get back to you.

And on the second (very good) point - bit of trivia. Christopher Lee volunteered to fight in what became known as the winter war, I think as a pilot, as he joined the RAF when he got back (then SOE).

Jim Jay said...

After due research and consideration I have reworded the offending para and given an explanation here. A post which gives more of the ins and outs of the matter.

Thanks for raising this Graeme.