Bombing Syria, Bombing Britain, Bombing Guernica

Image via Oireachtas Retort https://twitter.com/Oireachtas_RX

Image via Oireachtas Retort 

 

The anti-war movement in the UK, rightly, is using the phrase ‘Don’t bomb Syria’ on its placards. From what I can see, just looking at news reports and the like, the phrase is not being used so widely by outlets and political figures calling for bombing. They are more likely to use ‘air strikes on Syria’, or in more specific terms, air strikes on IS in Syria’, though ‘bombing Syria’ frequently crops up on broadcast during less guarded conversation.

Thinking about each of these phrases in turn: an air strike is bombs dropped from the air, or, more likely, launched from the air with great force. But the term invites us to think the operation more precise than generic bombing. Most people know that bombs are not precise.

Granted, bombs receive adjectives that makes their effect seem less harmful: precision bombing, surgical bombing. If one does get to the point of imagining what bomb shrapnel slicing and burning through human flesh might feel like, or what the shrieks of agony and fear might sound like, one may be still inclined to think that these precision bombs, these surgical bombs -our bombs- have this effect only as far as is necessary given the task at hand, and that our bombs manage to pick out only the designated targets.

Such was the understanding contained in the wording of the UK government’s parliamentary motion in proposing ‘airstrikes, exclusively against ISIL in Syria’. ‘Exclusively’. As if there were bombs that could negotiate their way through densely populated areas and pick out only those identified as ISIL by infallible information systems. Even if we do get to the point of acknowledging that innocent people will be killed by such ‘moderate’ bombs, our imagination is still limited, and perhaps tranquilised, by this idea that the effects will not be as bad as horror inflicted by more dreadful, ‘extremist’ bombs, which kill even more indiscriminately. After all, if they kill civilians, it is for the greater evil. Whereas if we do it, whatever it is, it is always for the greater good.

To his credit, the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn emphasised in interviews that the bombing of Raqqa and other places will kill ‘people like you and me’. But it takes a lot, more than could be mustered in the House of Commons last night, to overcome the idea that whoever is killed by such bombs are not like you and me at all. The overall picture of the Middle East presented in the UK and other Western countries is informed by all manner of racist stereotype. People living there are amalgamated into a threatening and strange collective under the sway of ‘Islam’. They are presented as being used to getting blown to bits and dying violently in any case. So our bombs, even if they do kill innocents, may not kill as many innocents than if they exploded in London or Birmingham.

If, somehow, people in Britain had access to English-language 24 hour news channels and internet pages bearing headlines speaking of ‘bombing Britain’, or ‘airstrikes on Britain’, or even ‘airstrikes on the evil criminals in Britain’, it would not take people too long to feel that what was hanging in the balance, but discarded as irrelevant, was the lives of ordinary people living in Britain. They would feel the bombs had their name on it. They would see the claims of those proposing to use these bombs for limited, precise and surgical purposes, those who claimed they were dropping them for the noblest of reasons, as murdering psychopaths who held their lives in contempt.

Moreover, if such bombing did happen, do we imagine that those British people who felt under attack, those who witnessed the scenes of destruction and death themselves, those who saw the images of carnage and heard the screams of agony, would show gratitude – for the fact that they were not bombed even more, for the fact that there were intense discussions held over whether it was the right thing to do, for the fact that it was all being done in the name of some honourable tradition?

Do we imagine none of them would be given to retaliation? Yet MP after MP yesterday advocated airstrikes on Syria as a means of keeping the streets of Britain safe. The imperial arrogance of the British establishment is matched only by its stupidity. Or perhaps its callousness.

Last night, Hilary Benn, the UK Shadow Foreign Secretary, gave a speech in the Commons, in favour of bombing Syria, that made Guardian journalists cream themselves.’Something special’, purred one. There are fulsome effusions throughout the UK media this morning, Benn held aloft as some kind of worldly statesman, borne by gratitude and relief that someone had finally given something that at least sounded like a good reason to drop bombs that would kill people like you and me. When your military has helped lay waste to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya in less than a decade and a half, when your government supplies weapons to the most brutal theocracy on earth,  it’s hard to reach the right mix of bloodlust and high-mindedness to crank up the war machine proper.

Benn’s reference to the Spanish Civil War in this regard was a crafty touch. It was designed to send thousands of bellowing Orwell-worshippers out into the night, bent on hunting out the ‘fascism’ lurking behind the rib cage of anyone who suspects reproducing Guernica-like scenes in Syria may be the wrong thing to do. Against this cod-internationalist warmongering, let’s bear in mind that those in Spain who are most strongly opposed to bombing Syria are precisely the same people who uphold the memory of the Spanish Republic and the fight against Franco’s fascist putschists. On the other hand, those strongest in support of the war are in fact the political heirs of Franco, those who want to see the corpses of Franco’s political enemies kept in their unmarked mass graves and forgotten.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Bombing Syria, Bombing Britain, Bombing Guernica

  1. Bogman's Cannon

    Reblogged this on The Bogman's Cannon.

  2. PW

    Here’s why it’s dead wrong to talk about “bombing Syria” in this case.

    When Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters on the ground select targets and provide the coordinates, the U.S. air force takes them out. Here’s what it looks like in practice:

    I don’t think there’s even one example of indiscriminate bombing in the Kurdish areas of Syria in the past 14 or so months because of the use of the above-described method. Furthermore, the U.S.-led bombing campaign against has not targeted all or even most of Syria so it is false to claim that the U.S. is “bombing Syria” when in reality the U.S.-led campaign’s targets are in maybe 3 or 4 out of 14 the country’s governates.

    This is not to suggest that bombing (or any form of warfare) is clean, tidy, or clinical, that information/intelligence in war can ever be perfect, or that unintended consequences (such as killing civilians) are 100% avoidable. But there is a vast range of options for military action against ISIS between doing nothing and 2003-style invasion or saturation bombing of an entire country by a Western power. On top of that, you have failed to evaluate the pros and cons of the existing U.K. air war in Iraq of which this campaign in Syria is an extension.

    You write, “Against this cod-internationalist warmongering, let’s bear in mind that those in Spain who are most strongly opposed to bombing Syria are precisely the same people who uphold the memory of the Spanish Republic and the fight against Franco’s fascist putschists.”

    And those in Syria who are most strongly opposed to U.S./U.K. airstrikes are the ISIS fascists, the fascist regime of Bashar al-Assad, and jihadists like Al-Qaeda and those who favor U.S./U.K. airstrikes are the socialist-led YPG. In the struggle between those camps, which side are you on — ISIS, Assad, and Al-Qaeda or the YPG? Are you an isolationist or an internationalist?

    • You have got to be kidding. The whole argument that bombing from the air will only take out ISIS is predicated on the idea that ISIS will be good enough not to hide in the vicinity of hospitals, orphanages etc. which we both know they will. Civilians will be killed and have been killed. Best estimates at the moment are that between 682 and 977 civilian non-combatants have already died in airstrikes on Iraq and Syria since 8 August 2014.

      • PW

        “The whole argument that bombing from the air will only take out ISIS is predicated on the idea that ISIS will be good enough not to hide in the vicinity of hospitals, orphanages etc. which we both know they will.”

        No, it’s not predicated on that. It’s predicated on the fact that none of the forces on the ground worth supporting (YPG, peshmerga, Free Syrian Army) have an air force so they’re asking the U.S. and the U.K. So far, YPG hasn’t targeted a single hospital or orphanage.

        “Best estimates at the moment are that between 682 and 977 civilian non-combatants have already died in airstrikes on Iraq and Syria since 8 August 2014.”

        How many of those were killed by YPG-directed airstrikes? 0, or close to it.

    • gbelljnr

      Look at this guy!

      1. The bombing that has been authorised is against “the strongholds” of Daesh in Syria, i.e., populated urban centres like Raqqa, where there are still civilians who are living under Daesh occupation. By showing missile strikes against Daesh forces assaulting towns in Syrian Kurdistan he does not show why it is “dead wrong” to call this “bombing Syria.”

      2. Syria is not being bombed because bombs have only been dropped on parts of Syria? So if someone shoots me only in the gut, I cannot claim I have been shot? By this logic, unless every inch of Iraq was traversed by US troops, the invasion and occupation of Iraq never happened! What amazing sophistry! All in service of bombing Syria.

      3. Look at how he just presumes that “something must be done”, and treats the war-skeptic as the person who must argue her case. It’s the other way around.

      4. The appeal to “internationalism” immediately followed by moral blackmail (“whose side are you on?”) in support of imperialist powers in yet another escapade in the Middle East. What cynicism! David Graeber disgraced himself making the same argument. None of the reasons given for this war make any sense. The only credible reason is that it further accumulates arms capital. Internationalism demands that we recognize who the imperialists are, and that we oppose them, rather than being carried along into blind support for imperialism on the threat of moral blackmail from a cynical reactionary armchair thug on the internet.

      • PW

        “Syria is not being bombed because bombs have only been dropped on parts of Syria? So if someone shoots me only in the gut, I cannot claim I have been shot?”

        You cannot honestly claim to have been shot in all areas of your body, no. But then again honesty isn’t really your specialty, now is it? 🙂

        “Internationalism demands that we recognize who the imperialists are”

        So you think YPG and the peshmerga are the imperialists? Interesting viewpoint, but reality begs to differ.

    • Ed

      I will bet any sum of money that PW only discovered the YPG the morning that US air strikes in support of the defence of Kobani began. His only interest in them is as a foil to his true love, NATO. Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, has a long record of defending Kurdish rights, he has a warm relationship with the PKK activists in his north London constituency, and he spoke at the London rallies in support of the PYD in Rojava before it became a trendy cause (I saw him there myself).

      PW might want to do some elementary research before trying to crowbar events in Syria into his own infantile framework. For one thing, the people who are most keen on supporting the rebellion against Assad tend to denounce the PYD as collaborators who have done a deal with the regime in Damascus to take over Rojava and give it a free hand elsewhere. I think that’s an exaggerated charge, but at least it demonstrates a familiarity with some of the realities and complexities of the situation on the ground in Syria. Give us a break from this ‘fascist’ ‘whose side are you on’ stuff, please. If Assad’s regime is ‘fascist’, then the YPG have certainly been guilty of reaching a tacit accommodation with ‘fascists’; if ISIS and the Nusra Front are ‘fascists’, then elements in the FSA have done the same. Anyone who thinks you can draw a neat line with all the ‘fascists’ on one side and the good guys on the other is a baby looking for a soother in the realities of Middle Eastern politics.

      • PW

        Actually I’ve been following the Syrian conflict since 2012 and if you knew anything about the YPG you’d know that ISIS=fascist is YPG’s characterization, not mine (they also say the Ba’athist regime is fascist also because of its Arab supremacist policies).

        At this point, I think you’re setting a world record for the number of times a person has been wrong in a single comment thread on the internet. 🙂

      • Ed

        Coming back to this thread out of curiosity after a long break, I find that this genius continues to invent his own reality: the Assad regime is fascist because the YPG says so; but the YPG have been acting on the basis of a tacit agreement with the Assad regime for a long time now (a non-aggression pact, as it were), so by his own logic the YPG are on the side of the fascists. In fact the YPG have been fighting lately in direct partnership with the Russian air force which is the main ally of the Assad regime, so it’s far more than tacit at this point. So basically PW supports fascism, by his own brilliant logic. Whose side are you on, mate? Whose side are you on? Why are you on the side of the fascists, eh? Why do you support fascism? And when did you stop beating your wife? As I said, a baby in search of a soother, who would be well advised to keep his smiley faces to himself.

  3. @PW. What on earth is this sophistic nonsense? Who claimed YPG, peshmerga, Free Syrian Army were bombing civilians? Simple fact: bombing will result in civilian deaths. It has caused civilian deaths, because it is impossible to isolate ISIS or any enemy for that matter away from civilian areas where they can be safely targeted without “collatoral damage”. Refute that, without resorting to irrelevant verbage and rhetoric to mask the weakness and/or duplicity in your logic.

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