Tag Archives: war

Stand Down! A sermon for Remembrance 2020

In Britain, we have two national acts of civic remembrance within a few days. These early November events are the only two – save occasional royal nuptials or wartime special anniversaries – where we publicly participate in secular ceremony.

One of them – the latter, today – is also joined to churches, or more truly, the [reluctant capital] Church, for it is very much a civic show in those Anglicans designated as such. I don’t know about other faiths, but I do know that the Christian denominations I’ve experienced – which is most – mark this Sunday nearest to the 11th of November each year. If the 11th falls on a weekday, there is an additional marking, with a 2 minute silence that is even announced on trains and in work places. There is also the wearing of a poppy, which I have remarked on before. This year, it feels comparable to the wearing of a mask, which we can suffer for socially: Where’s yours? Why isn’t it red?

I only wear white (for peace) and purple (for animals in the war) and I’d like a yellow one – for the conscientious objectors. They too feel contemporary, because those of us not complying during this war-like event of covid are increasingly feeling a sense of persecution, or fear of it. We note that in both cases, that official resources are found to fight your own – not just ‘the enemy’ – a foreign body, in one sense or the other. This clearly casts suspicion on the justness of the conflict, and whether we can trust authorities we are meant to submit to.

I’ll be getting to that passage in Romans anon.

Armistice Day is the annual remembrance of a war that ended 102 years ago. Note that no veterans of the first world war – and very few if any of the second – are still with us. It is meant to be broadened to all conflicts, but we recall those especially.

Bonfire Night on the 5th is about an event 415 years ago and it is marked in a very different way. For the war, those with uniforms don them – boy scouts and girl guides, military personnel past and present, mayors and clergy. They parade solemnly through aisles and down streets to the secular altar of war memorials and lay oblations with slow speeches, lone bugles, and bowed silence. It is in the late morning – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. 11:11:11 has a meaning in numerology which I’ll be referring to in my next piece on that date/time, but it was unlikely to have formed the decision for ceasefire, allowing shelling and killing right up to that last moment.

Bonfire or Fireworks Night is by its nature a nocturnal affair. It requires dark for the fireworks to be seen against the sky. Participants wrap up warmly but – except for the poppies they may have already donned in anticipation – there is no dress code. It is noisy, with amplified music and fairgrounds perhaps; and the fireworks themselves let off with alarming bangs, distressing humans and animals alike. Indeed, this period around the 5th is one that sensitive beings dread, as families, fellowships and cities mark this day on a rolling basis, which can mean 10 days worth of skyward explosions as each group’s night fits in their show, in their garden, park or town square. As well as the misuse of fireworks, there are the misfiring of them, and I’m told that hospitals and police are busy – right after Halloween’s unwelcome import.

Why the explosives and the fires on this night? In Britain, we have but two other annual occasions: our local festivals, and new year. We may end a large party with them. But the most common time for incendiary incandescence is something that, via a rhyme, we are told to remember. Not an independence day, like America, but the day that someone who, along with 12 others, tried to fight for theirs by blowing up our parliament and was stopped and executed as a traitor.

“I can think of no reason why this should ever be forgot” goes the well recited rhyme. Gunpower, treason and plot. We’re just missing the gunpower this year.

Not just because in England – the setting of this treasonous tableau – has just gone into a second national lockdown, thus spoiling the opportunity to mark either event, but because the other two words are so apt to what is happening.

——

When covid was new I posted the first of several articles on it, comparing it to V for Vendetta, which swiftly came to mind as the virus was announced. I am not alone in seeing that comparison. It enjoyed a brief return to the cinema last week because of its timeliness. Now our cinemas are to close again.

I have seen the film – and read the script and graphic novel it’s based on – several times in the 14 years since the film was released. (It just missed the quadcentenary). But it was never more chilling than now. New likenesses have appeared since I wrote that early March piece. I am not going to incite further fear by enlisting them, or in predicting further stages. I do note that this story has been prescient in its timescale. The film mentions 2015-18 as years of comparable freedom and joy… and then a series of horrifying events occur which leave England in stultified acquiescence for a decade and a half, whilst America simmers in insignificance, civil war and poverty.

I think that V for Vendetta, by David Lloyd and Alan Moore, shows us what could happen, and I hope that flash of scrying mirror into our possible future makes us not wait almost a score before settling it with tyranny. The film doesn’t make clear what inspires V to act this particular Guy Fawkes Night. For he – Guy – has been the unnamed elephant thus far. Some of us drop his moniker from our November 5th hot chestnuts and soup fuelled firework viewing, but there is a horrific re-enactment element to this event. The bonfire sometimes has an effigy on it – his effigy. This is the man who history has blamed for the attempt to blow up London’s houses of Parliament and its Scottish king, James I/VI (depending on which side of the border you are). The high heeled Stuart had united the warring neighbours, but forsook his homeland to travel to the big and aggressive sister to rule from there henceforth. Many Scots felt – and still do – that he betrayed them.

V of the film title wears a mask that deliberately emulates and pastiches this early 17th century man from York, who is portrayed as a wicked traitor, and whose like we must never allow again. The film decries V as a terrorist – a title which he doesn’t try to throw off. Filmmakers make clear that they see this unnamed masked titular character – played with such a beautiful voice by Hugo Weaving – as a complex antihero. They do not suggest that his behaviour is always right; they do not justify his assassinations or his bombs or general violence. They certainly do not exhort that we follow him in those ways.

Here I approach a V of my own, in logic of which narrative path to take next. I want to tell you that what we in Britain and beyond popularly know of this story is carefully curated. A few years ago, Kit Harrington of Game of Thrones fame brought an alternative story about his forebear Robert Catesby to the screen. He showed that the throne game wasn’t what we got told in history books, and that Guy may not have been the ring leader. It is the story of a harsh Protestant king squashing Catholics as much as would-be regicidals. This same king had a Bible put out in his name, often touted as the true Bible in English, and one of our great literary works, comparable to contemporary Shakespeare. In this tome is a particular rendition of some infamous passages, one which I will share and discuss shortly, which underpins a vital point in V for Vendetta’s world and our own.

My other V was to contrast Guy Fawkes with William Wallace. Both died a traitor’s death for fighting the government and crown based in London. But whereas Braveheart is famous as a hero, with a large monument in Stirling, and a well known movie – made with an Australian star (as is Hugo as V) – Guy is denounced. Note that the Scottish/English factor is reversed: William Wallace fought the English king trying to take over their land, but King James is a Scot who took England – not by battle, but not by referendum either. William Wallace, a bloody fighter, is seen as a warrior for freedom who was martyred by an unjust king; Guy was rightly put to death for what he was going to do to the parliament and king. We celebrate the thwarting of his wickedness and the victory of the King.

I note that V is a story about England – Scotland and Wales aren’t mentioned – although apart from the location of Larkhill camp near Salisbury and the Valerie flashbacks, everything takes place in night time or interior London. It makes London the synecdoche for England, which provincials are annoyed by. We’re supposedly a united island – with Northern Ireland – but since covid, we’ve largely devolved into our four countries and we’ve all got strong identities. England has the least, so it’s interesting that the comic and film made ‘England prevail’ rather than Britain. A quick moan: that this film is made by Americans is clear from slips such as the pronunciation of ‘lever’ and ‘standing in line’. We queue here, Natalie, James McTeigue and the Wachowski brothers. And V’s underground lair – like Lex Luthor’s in Superman The Movie – wouldn’t have natural stone in it if in was anywhere near London, for London doesn’t have natural stone – and there’s none nearby that colour. And Lewis Prothero, Voice of London on the official British Television Network, is more of an American or Australian style talk show host than anything I’ve seen here.

Gripes over…. I’ve more important points to make, and I’m going to the Bible now to make them. A little exposition is coming…

Romans 13 is famous, or infamous. It says – or appears to say – that we should submit to authority. No rebellions, then. No questioning. It’s God will and way.

I note that Americans on both sides of their revolution used those verses – mostly 1-7 – for each of their positions. I note that some of the advocates for the alternative version come from the more conservative Christians, which I am not. But despite big theological and moral differences on many other topics, I am pleased to see that this end of the Christian spectrum is speaking out and thinking for itself, and thus I claim them as brothers and sisters.

I feel that skewing of this passage happened in the King James Bible. Note that it appeared just 6 years after the Guy Fawkes incident. It suits our leaders – who were then as now closing down playhouses due to the plague – to have us not question but obey them. In response to those outraged by recent US immigration policies, Jeff Sessions took this passage in a speech to basically tell Christian critics to shut up and let them continue to split up families at the border.

There is argument about the meaning of the Greek word for ‘power’ in Romans 13, and it is often rendered in English as ‘higher power’. Hence, it’s taken beyond earthly authorities to spiritual realms. Some commentators list the use of this word throughout the Bible and point out that the word sometimes rendered as ‘obey’ doesn’t mean that, and that another word could be used instead if that was what was intended. They urge us to be familiar with the preceding chapter of Romans, and the Bible as a whole. They remind us that Christian heroes went to prison because they upset the authorities. In Acts, Peter – champion of the established churches – told the court he was dragged before that contrary to their bidding, he would not cease to teach about Jesus. Paul – author of this letter and much of the NT – was martyred by the authorities, as were other apostles. Those who built the early church were often in prison, as have more recent believers been. They saw it as a proud duty to have put their faith and principles first before an unjust government – and not only over freedom to worship and preach. (C of E and Hillsong, take note). In the century of James and Guy Fawkes, many Christians were in prison or in threat of it because they weren’t Anglican – from Quakers to Baptists to Catholics. The famous German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned during Nazi leadership, and he criticised those Christians who obeyed Hitler and allowed those atrocities to take place.

So there is a strong precedent of Christian non submission, despite that verse. I also remind that Daniel and his friends in the book of that name in the Old Testament defied rules, and showed incredible courage in the face of furnaces and lions – and were delivered from both. And in the end, a hand wrote on the wall denouncing the tyrant king and ‘requiring his soul’. It was taken that night.

This is obviously a story which our Jewish friends share, as you do that of Moses who asked Pharaoh to let God’s people go – or face the plagues. Note that it was God who made the demands and exacted the punishment on the unjust earthly ruler.

There is also the argument that ‘what God ordains’ is more like God saying: I foresee and allow some people to take their place on the world stage. I don’t think that God creates them and plots them, for that takes too much freewill from us and makes God tyrannical. But with the authorial point of view which I spoke of in my Easter sermon, he can see that these sorts of leaders are not only possible with the choices given to humans, but drive the human story forward.

I think that they’ve driven it long enough. I’m told that we’re at the end of a multi-millennial cycle. The abuse of power and the lust for it is not going to serve or be possible for much longer. It’s in its death throes. Sometimes we need the most of extreme circumstances to take action and break free, as happens in V for Vendetta.

God pushes us to make us what we need to be to become heroes of our own story and of other people’s. That’s what is meant by God ordaining those powers.

Personally, I believe that the Bible does not have to be an eternal mandate to us all – for Romans was a letter to one young church – and that Paul is not all wise. I am appalled that he did not speak out against slavery and thus his words about obeying masters were used to justify this unspeakable system. But if we do wish to follow Paul’s ideas, I am interested in the argument that he is saying that a good prince is he who inspires fear only in the wrongdoer. Thus those of us who do good and keep the Biblical commandments which he goes on to enumerate should not fear our rulers; if we do, then something is wrong with the rulers. In the Wycliffe Bible – the earliest translation into English – verse 9 and 10 of Romans 13 read:

…Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. [note the ‘as’] 10 The love of thy neighbour worketh not evil; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. 11 And we know that the hour is now that we rise from sleep… 12 we cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light (cf Ephesians 6).

Paul asks us to ‘not be conformed of this world’ in the previous chapter (v2).

Remembering that Jesus was killed by the authorities, as was John the Baptist, for speaking out; that another John wrote Revelation as persecution literature from a prison colony, and the Old Testament features prophets and advocates who took risks to speak to ungodly rulers, I find it hard to square a reading of Romans 13 with a mandate to always obey. (I’ll get to taxes another time).

——————–

In an intense film of wonderful dialogue, the immense vocabulary of V, and several poignant moments I am spoiled to choose a favourite part of V for Vendetta. Many have already become famous – not least the courageous tagline:

People should not be afraid of their government

Government should be afraid of their people.

But the line that moves me most comes at the denouement of the film. It is indeed the most critical moment. It’s not the beauty of the words – it’s what they signify.

It’s the scene where the army gathers in Parliament square. Thousands, millions, of protestors likewise gathered, as they have around the world – from Indonesia to Nigeria to Nepal – ever since. Yes they even gathered this week, with all the restrictions, including in London which had gone into lockdown again that day.

All are wearing identical caricatured Guy Fawkes masks, just as V himself does. “What do you think will happen?” wondered one police detective to another, seeing the throngs of military in their riot gear, with not only hand guns but tanks and weapons big enough to blow them up. It seems set to be another Tienanmen Square. “What normally happens when people without guns stand up to people with guns.”

But, as the general phones for permission to launch on ‘the enemy’ – his own people whom he swore to protect – the line is silent. The evil leaders are dead.

And so this general has to make his own decision. Will he tell his troops to fire on these unarmed people, close range, for simply standing in the street with a mask on? (note the irony of that this year). No; he will not.

Instead, he shouts: stand down!

And the army lets the myriad masked march approach and pass them without incident. In this way, this Guy Fawkes night is celebrated Remembrance Sunday style – a reverent silent parade, symbolically going in the other direction to the military meant to stop them. They gather, not at a cenotaph for The Last Post, but for a firework display and rousing overture to accompany gazing on an edifice which is blasted away before their eyes, signalling the end of dictatorship forever.

Let us not need a V to galvanise us. Let us not wait until the horrors of the last war resurface, or that we’ve accepted a new normal for over a decade.

Fireworks in the film meant the end of an old era, not the subjugation of those trying to overthrow it. I’m not advocating blowing parliament up, but I no longer see it as the world’s most beautiful building, but the cipher of an empire of inequality and elitism and unjust power. I was moved by the very different ideas behind Scotland’s modern parliament which is the only one I know which displays a Bible verse and mentions love. Outside in the pavement on the Canongate in Edinburgh are other worlds attributed to Paul, in Scots: [from 1 Corinthians 13]

Gin I speak wi the tungs o men an angels

but hae nae luve i my hairt

I am no nane better

nor dunnerin bress

or a ringing cymbal

But it isn’t living it. None of our authorities are. They’re showing us that despite the promises they may have made to us and the precepts they are founded on, that they are capable of the greatest darkness of the human heart.

Like V, a great game of dominoes has been set up – but the downfall is theirs.

Let us stand up… and let authorities who support those not living in love and truth stand down. Let us live in love, of God and each other, and not be ‘dunnerin bress.’

Let us hear a new sound. This year, fireworks aren’t annoying me. They are the pops of freedom and the bangs of the pangs of a new world birthing and the old leaving.

Here is Isaiah 2:4 – almost the copy of Micah 4 – reworked:

hammer your spears into pruning hooks

your lances into ploughshares

melt your rifles down for kiddie’s toys

your tasers into vibrators [turn the power down]

your spy cameras into plastic alternatives

your riot gear into outré party gear

Let us stand together in love and have this as the anniversary that we remember November for. Let us a year on from now see that world shaping on its first birthday.

You can listen at https://yourlisten.com/BetweenTheStools

The next planned sermon is 6th Dec, for the festival of the 8th

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Is the poppy our most sacred symbol?

Reading about previous year arrests for acts that seemed to denigrate the emblem, I am wondering if the same would be true of a key religious symbol, or a national flag. I know that Christians have had various attacks – such as Francis Bacon’s crucifix in a pot of piss, or an episode of Jonathan Creek, or even you could say, Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Did they spark off arrests and complaints in the way that teenager from Canterbury experienced last year, or a Muslim the year before?

The end of the first story seems to be that the Kentish offender was let off as he agreed to meet war veterans to apologise. It seems a resocialisation went on – is that what restorative justice is? It recalled an episode in prison drama Bad Girls where a character who had accidently killed through an angry practical joke was made to face her victim’s family. Is a poppy burning photo on social media with an alleged crude comment on a par with that act of irresponsible manslaughter?

It felt like this young man had to also face his elders (and betters) and be turned into the kind of citizen that’s appropriate, or desired. Orwell had another word for that.

Whether offence can be an offence is interesting to debate and a hard line to draw, but for any of us with a faith or who support for anything that’s unfashionable and unpalatable to those around, we might feel it unfair that our deeply held beliefs are not a police matter, and yet ones that are a political tool are. It reminds of what I wrote in the summer about the homophobic comments of a pastor about the local Rainbow Pride parade – horrid, hurtful (I’d argue more than poppy burning as some gay people carry an almost suicidal guilt burden and fear of persecution, but our soldiers are venerated) – but rightly a police affair?

Along with the Holocaust, the poppy is a matter to tread carefully on. I note that it’s an offense to trivialise or deny the Holocaust in Germany now. Yet I feel the reasons behind this German rule are different to our poppy ones; one is a kind of rehabilitation programme, a keen (in the sharply felt sense) appropriation of past guilt in an attempt to atone, but it’s also the reverse of whitewashing or glorifying the horrors of war. The Poppy is something else…

I’ve read several online comments about the poppy as well as attended services yesterday.
I agree with the well penned words of Harry Leslie Smith in the Guardian, a man who was born shortly after the first world war and fought in the second. He explains why this is the last year he’ll go to the cenotaph and wear a poppy, although he will continue to remember the war and his friends and colleagues privately. I was surprised by how many younger people disagreed with him and will continue to wear the red flower, using phrases like “gave their lives” and “honour”, saying the Poppy shouldn’t be commandeered by the politicians as a tool to steer our thinking about today’s wars and ourselves as a nation, or shunned because of it; its meaning and the donation go to better things.

But I looked at the British Legion website and I find it hard for anyone to claim that they aren’t part of the jingoism, that the political meaning of a poppy is nothing to do with an organisation who has changed its strapline to “Shoulder to Shoulder with those who Serve”. The people chosen to say “Why I wear a poppy” all had loved ones in wars, describing in emotive language the loss, bravery and sacrifice, and the use of debt and respect for their part in freedom preserving battles.

Reading the White poppy people (Peace Pledge Union) website is quite a different experience. The fact I recall most is that their annual budget is the same as the chief of British Legion’s salary. The white poppy, as its centre says, is about peace and ending wars. The red poppy isn’t now the encapsulation of 60s protest song “Where have all the flowers gone”: it’s more Rupert Brooke than Siegfried Sassoon.

I suppose the Christian cross is a symbol that can mean many things, as can the St George’s Cross. The stars and stripes might mean the worst or best of what America stands for. But if the exclusive people who made my national flag had a particular slant and my donation to buy one went to them, I might think about whether I wanted to adopt that symbol, whatever its genesis. I’ve heard feminists reclaim the cross, but they don’t pay a patent to wear one round their neck. If all cross necklaces came from a specific denomination with a particular mission, expressed in particular words…

I reluctantly agree that as Big Brother Watch says, freedom of expression means the right to offend and do crass and unkind things. BBW fought against the arrest of the Canterbury young man, though I am also not saying what he did was a good thing. But I note I would be afraid to say so if I did, and that is wrong. There are no holy wars or crusades. Much of war is coercion, money making and power wielding (or returning power) and it is an exercise in encouraging one’s citizens to overlook other issues by telling us there is a greater enemy than our own establishment, and that we must unite and be obedient, even unto death, and to speak against it becomes not just offence, but civic and secular blasphemy.

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George Galloway – I’m Not The Only One

I first found the Respect party when I did a search for alternatives to the main ones. I was  intrigued by a social justice, anti war eco driven new political group and wanted to know more about George, their best known MP. I thought I might support and learn from him.

I have come to see him as the caustic Caledonian  – Labour’s Lucifer.

I’m Not The Only One is a hard book to read – not because I can’t understand it, though he does have a wide vocabulary, and his own word “obfuscate” best describes his writing style with sentences constructed like this – but because of his tirade. After the introduction, I wondered if I could manage the rest of the book as I felt I’d been battered with an energy like Michael Moore’s, but more erudite and snide. Happily, the tone lets up a little, but it is still an intense diatribe, though profanity free. George is often very personal and insulting about other politicians. He rarely explains a situation so you only get the George rant, which feels off kilter and his long multi clause sentences seem to hide answers to or ignore the many questions a reader will have.

George spends much time aggrandising or in apologetics. He speaks of his love for Iraq, which at first was very interesting to hear a passionate description of this country  – one he claims he knows better than anyone else in Britain. But the other thread of this book is the love that jilted him, the Labour party whose exclusion after over 30 years of marriage was still very raw in this 2005 book. He defends various things said about him regarding Saddam Hussein, Mariam the Iraqi child he brought to Britain for leukaemia treatment; the War on Want funds; a transcript of his trial in Washington – but not exactly why the Labour Party claimed to need to put him on trial. He often depicts himself as a hero – and a victim.

He had not yet parted ways with Respect leader Salma Yaqoob; and this book is before his Big Brother/Jungle appearances, and that awful rape comment, which he refused to rescind. It is pre the infamous Jeremy Paxman interview when he’d just won the London seat, and though he happily put down Britain’s rudest current affairs presenter, George repeated what seemed a deeply racist and thoughtless statement for someone who claims to understand the Middle East so well. From his website, it seems his style and sentiment hasn’t changed, treating his recent Ed Miliband meeting in the same way.

Reading this book was like a rickety high speed train where you’re glad to get to the end of the journey – or disembark early.

I am surprised but glad that Penguin has published this – it shows freedom of speech being endorsed by a major publisher. For there are some shocking accusations is this book about the truth of US/UK governments and their behaviours, particularly in the Middle East. And sadly, I think they are true. And for bringing those horrors to our attention and daring to say such against grain going risky statements, I applaud George.

I do think that George genuinely wants a better world and has taken brave steps towards that. I’m just not sure about all his methods of getting there.

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Poppyday controversial thoughts

Last year, at the start of my Justice/Chickens piece I said I’d missed the day and hadn’t quite formulated my thoughts. This year, I have attempted to marshal them in time.

 

I note what an emotive subject this is, and I sense an expectation to wear poppies and say the “right thing” around Armistice day. Those two minutes of silence always make me uncomfortable as I wonder quite what to think, having been a pacifist for as long as I knew what one was – though I had strongly been drawn to the military as a child.

 

You’ll also note that I opposed to the idea of debt, so this being a day of reflecting on what we owe is also not something I am comfortable with.

 

I realise that for those who have been in war, or their loved ones have, that they believe they have made a brave sacrifice in serving their country in order to keep the rest of us safe.  I am respectful of the sentiment behind this, and most of all, of the trauma and suffering caused for all those concerned.

 

It is that trauma that asks why it is ever suitable to serve in this way. What is being achieved when for everyone involved, there is ongoing pain (either from bereavement, stress, disfigurement…)

 

I am also against the manipulation being used  around poppy day – an unsaid pressure to wear one (as seen in so many photographs of officials this time of year) and I feel, a lack of freedom of expression around the subject. As I learn more about what went on during the war, I am increasingly infuriated by the amount of control exerted by our own side: employing women to give out cowards kisses to men not in uniform; to imprison and even kill your own; some have even been coerced into being assassins for their country, unbidden to share their burden; destroying heritage as well as animals.

 

I never see violence as a way to solve violence. We solve no other conflict in this way, so why between countries? And why is it seen as heroic to have been part of inflicting that violence on others? Saving others and extreme survival are medal worthy – that is not.

 

I am pleased to be part of a service tomorrow to pledge to stop all wars. Though I realise there are many reasons to wear red poppies, but mine will be white, as part of that pledge.

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Whistleblower

is a 2010 film starring Rachel Weisz about the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac.

It’s the flip side of My Age of Consent post on Socyberty (link in previous post). I want to make clear that I take abuse very seriously. Whereas some young women manipulate older people and it is inappropriate to call what might be unwise and unhealthy relationships child abuse, this film is clearly a story of what is.

In fact the legal ages are irrelevant, as what is happening is horrific and wrong for anyone of any age. It would not be less shocking if these were over 21s, and no less horrible for those that suffered.

I am not going to make any explicit comments here, should anyone be alarmed. The film too conveys horror without detail.

One one level, I am impressed by the film. It is based on the memoir of an American former police woman who was sent to Bosnia in the late 1990s as a peacekeeper, and who uncovered wide spread trafficking overlooked and often used by personnel of international military, law enforcing and peacekeeping organisations.

First of all, I want to back up. Why is an alien country going into one already torn with civil war, to have a foreign military and police help them sort out their problems?! What right does another country have to go barging and interfering, setting themselves up as world police?! Do any of these countries exemplify a perfectly just, libertarian society? No!! In fact as I shall write in the future, I don’t think democracy is the best system; I am intrigued by Isonomy as suggested by a former lecturer. (This could end up going back into another summer of Wonder Woman, who upheld democracy – see my earliest posts). And I feel that the US particularly* is not in a position to show another country how fairness works; there’s enough corruption at home without spreading it to a land limping after years of guerrilla warfare.

Spreading that corruption is exactly what seems to be happening.

Even Kathryn’s contract was dubious – $100,000 for 6 months work – tax free. After the global financial problems and cuts, such pay makes me livid – why should anyone work even indirectly for a government and be exempt from contributing with such a high salary?! “Is this even legal?” Kathy asks in the film. It shouldn’t be.

Next, there is legal “immunity” for those working for the various organisations. In the film it is called Democria, a British registered international company recruiting army and police officers. There should never be immunity – if you’re wrong, you should be brought to justice.

I feel like I did after the Valerie Wilson Plame film, Fair Game – that I both admire the person for sticking up to a powerful system and telling the world what’s really happening; and dis-ease for their jobs. As much as I don’t support the work of the CIA, the peacekeepers (ironic title) are another shadowy force supposedly for the good of civilians. Anyone reading this very much will know my thoughts on the irony of suppressing liberty to protect it, of opaque organisations off public radar who want to hold secret courts  – yes I opposed that British proposal. (See https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/justice-is-restored-but-the-chickens-are-gone)

The verb ‘police’ is one I am uncomfortable with. Although I have seen police strap lines claiming role is support for the public, practice is one of non action when needed with heaviness when it is not.

Kathy wants better recruitment and training for those doing her work – and clearly she took her police role seriously and genuinely, as I’m sure many others do. But that shouldn’t be a surprise – people shouldn’t be getting through the recruitment net who don’t. She recognised the need for better cultural understating in her role, but I really feel outsiders should not be there, especially as she’s shown the UN to have serious corruption at its core. She claims some officers were actually running the sex rings, while the organisation wouldn’t allow inquiries.

Death threats are are sure sign that she’s right. Officials have made statements that Kathy is wrong, even that she deserved her dismissal… but why the threats if she was erroneous and had a genuine reason to be sacked? Why would she make such a thing up, and go to such a risk, especially if it only over sour grapes for a job loss?

I was pleased that the book has been published and a film made, with many well known actors keen to be involved, as well as being an opportunity for a first time director. But I can’t see that the Whistleblower got an airing in Britain, or perhaps as widely internationally as it might have been. It wasn’t nominated for any of the usual film awards, though it did get some humanitarian type ones. I can’t find a British release date for it, and I have checked my own film magazines and brochures – I don’t think it came to my city nor was it picked up by the major cinema chains. I found it in the library, a single copy, unlike the mass orders of some new films.

I am writing this partly to say, this is a film that needs to be seen. This is an issue that needs to be known – but what can be done to stop it?

And I am also voicing my mixed views. Portrayed by a favourite actress, it was easy to sympathise with the actions of Kathryn. Reading more about her, I felt conflicted and this is as much about keeping out of other countries and the immunity/tax free corruption as it is the atrocities being inflicted on young women.

*PS that was not meant to be an anti US diatribe. You know I criticise my own country enough!

Someday, I shall write an article called “Things I love about America”.  Several individuals will feature, including dear friends.

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Justice is restored but the chickens are gone

by me

I have been researching for my next post and I wanted to get it right. I have views on Poppy Day which passed before I had consolidated them. I had read various stories relating to war and the secret service, but also felt frankly afraid to voice them.

You will notice by now that I write against harmful systems and for justice and liberty. I am against control and propaganda. What I have to say this time particularly concerns those, linked by my unlikely sounding title.

‘Justice is restored’ refers to a missing statue. In that same town, something else that’s a known local feature has disappeared – the wild chickens who refused to move when their home became a roundabout on a busy bypass.

I saw a local news headline that ‘justice has been restored’, but then I wondered about that in larger terms. Each time I pick up a newspaper, I read something else which makes me angry because justice is being evaded or distorted. The people meant to protect justice curtail or suspend it for the citizens they are mean to be servants of. Policing of riots and protests; secret courts; laws coming in by a government we didn’t choose to make it ever harder for the public because of actions by rich people who are still rich. I suspect whatever country my readers are from, you can relate to this in some way.

I read Robert Harris’ wartime code breaking novel Enigma and again felt anger at the secret service. It may be fiction, but it is based on some truth. The public are recruited by a crossword competition; in the book Hester is told to sign the Official Secrets Act and stick to it or the gun on the desk beside the form will be used on her. She has not yet volunteered nor understands how her cryptic puzzle solving skills will be used or what threat she may be under. Tom is also recruited in an underhand way that leaves him little choice. He is threatened by security service officers who appear in his home to scare him off something he accidentally discovers.

It struck me that in the name of protecting democracy, secret services go against the very values that the countries they serve are built on: openness, honesty, trust; protecting the public so that we can go about our lives freely, without fear. I am always appalled when I read of how much control the military and government exerted in the war. What system can be worth fighting for when refusing means that your own side turns on you? Why does an army find the resources to harm conscientious objectors from its own people? In the 1970s TV series, Wonder Woman turns a Nazi through demonstrating that the German army did not care for its own and were happy to kill them. Wonder Woman implies that hers is the better side for its contrasting ethics and treatment. I did some wondering of my own.

After being shocked again at the Katyn forest massacre of Polish prisoners of war and how that the British knew but pretended not to, I decided to watch the Polish 2010 film Katyn to see what they had to say on it. I was horrified at how anyone could shoot thousands of men and dump them in a mass grave, as I was to see a country’s own police demand entry and haul its own people out of their homes to concentration camps in Sarah’s Key. Note none of this was Nazi doing.

Nationalism frightens me when it threatens to make us hate other people and to incite acts of cruelty against them. It is one thing to be proud and loyal of one’s country, another to use that to create otherness instead of brotherness (girls included). The world is our neighbour, not just those with the same passport.

I am struck by the propaganda about war in my own country and am wary of how public statements may be used to influence peer pressure and curtail dissent.

The head of Britain’s MI6 gave a speech about how secrecy is necessary for our country and the rest of the world to go about safely. Yet I don’t feel safe – not because I especially fear terrorism, but the shadowy world of government endorsed crime fighters. I am appalled that the tax office can use spying and that financial safety is a reason to for secret intelligence  – along with that much used slippery phrase ‘threat to national security’.

To complete my trilogy, I watched Fair Game, from the memoir of Valerie Plame Wilson, the former CIA agent (starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn). She was deliberately outed after her ex-diplomat husband Joe spoke out that he found no weapons of mass destruction and therefore the basis of the 2004 Iraq war was spurious. They fought a long battle against the CIA and the US government. I am unsure exactly where she stands on some issues – in her DVD commentary she does not comment on the question: ‘have you killed people’ or that the CIA bound and beat recruits as part of a training exercise to find their breaking point. Or that she recruited people by manipulation and stealth and that they were not protected by the agency but killed.

I did like her line: security should not stop freedom.

If people fear police and military and security agencies more than terrorism; if liberty is curtailed in the name of keeping us safe, then security ‘services’ are no longer morally or operationally justified as it is acting against their very raison d’être. I read that there have been calls to abolish some secret services. I wonder if any such an agency is really necessary or the best way to combat these problems.

A service built on secrecy and deception is not sound and clashes with the morals and codes of many faiths and ideologies. It involves falsely presenting oneself not only to the adversaries but to one’s own loved ones, meaning isolation for employees as well as anyone who is recruited or who accidentally has a brush with one.

Just as a faith and its true believers are more than and separate to the official church, a nation is not its government, its laws or its leaders and figureheads. These organisations do not get to say what it is we are defending or believing in.

A national interest is not something than an agency or minister defines.

You can’t have equal opps laws and boast of your diversity on one hand whilst enforcing conformity on another.

I am glad of the attempts by the intelligence agencies to be accountable in my country and of the laws which govern them. But then we don’t chose or scrutinise the ministers that call into account or make the laws. Democracy means ‘rule by the people’ but many of us in those kinds of societies don’t feel we get to do the choosing and have the input that so titled society ought.

The  ‘C’ of MI6 speech speaks of enjoying public confidence – which it needs. But stories about Guantanamo Bay, like those on the Canadian Homes Not Bombs site, and Britain’s foreign secretary’s ideas undermine that. I believe that is just part of what many of us are speaking out against. (I have also seen Friday’s news about US police and Occupy protestors).

If secret services fight threats to economic stability that harm the public, I consider they ought to be busy – at all those who caused the recession and its effects. There’s more damage done there by our own  supposed legit institutions than terrorists.

And lastly to those chickens. What do they represent? Freedom despite control. Not being part of the regime. A reminder of nature and how we try to dominate it. A Unitarian hymn at first shocked me by its triteness – but there’s something affirming about ‘the grass that breaks through the concrete’ and the chickens that roost despite the tarmac and concrete built round them. I see those chickens as a symbol of a simpler, more natural life, a refusal to let human bureaucratic control spoil their lives. Their absence therefore concerns me.

After calls to remove them, they were poisoned and attacked and then were rehoused reluctantly by the man who had been feeding them. I know what I infer from that.

And my final word for today on security:

To paraphrase what the Governor of Oregon said today regarding execution:

“I do not believe that these made us safer and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society.”

http://www.chickenroundabout.co.uk/

You can even buy a board game of it!

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