Beyond the Bloodshed

The events of the last few weeks are beyond the pale and the bloodlust arising is in stark relief. No one can condone any violent and terrifying attacks on children, the elderly and the sick, and the impacts of violence on this scale are thankfully outside the real and actual comprehension for most of us. This is equally true whether they arise as an unexpected and unacceptable incursion into community life, or the use of violence to control territory or limit people’s movement. Since Hercules encountered the Hydra that grew two heads for each that was cut off, it has been clear that unleashing violence is a strategy that increases exponentially until a different intervention occurs. 

Terrorists do not grow on trees or fall from the skies. They are spawned from injustice and nurtured by fear and outrage. Cut off the head of one and ten more will arise to take their place.

Difficult as it may seem, the events in the Middle East as well as the ongoing loss of life in Europe provide an imperative to condemn knee jerk military response and the use of force as ineffective as well as immoral. Whatever the rhetoric of racism and and indiscriminate violence, our first consideration for any reaction or intervention must surely be that it might alleviate suffering and/or reduce the violence. First do no harm.

Tom Clonan is an Irish Senator, former military analyst with the Irish Times, former Irish Army Captain who served with UN Peacekeepers in Beirut who acted as a whistle-blower through his PhD on sexual assault and harassment in the Irish defence forces. Tom knows a great deal about the use of force, and he has a better understanding of the role that Scotland could play than the present UK Government does.  He witnessed first hand the Israeli Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996 which attempted to end rocket attacks on Northern Israel by Hezbollah, and culminated in the massacre of refugees at the village of Qana in April 1996, and he has also acted as a UN sponsored observer, and he visited and reported on conditions at Guantanamo. 

He visited Scotland recently and spoke of the impossibility of a military ‘win’ for either  of the ‘sides’ in the European conflict and of the urgency of developing a real understanding all possible element of cease fire that could be applied and of the importance of listening to civilian voices. He estimates that the action of the invasion of Ukraine and military resistance/or reaction has taken the lives of around 1000 young men and women in combined military forces every day. These are young people at the peak of their physical strength and stamina. That figure does not include the civilian death toll that their actions have caused. 

The deaths have arisen directly as a result of the orders given by Russian generals, and also by the foreseeable reactions of the Ukrainian leaders and the orders that they have given, as well as actions by the European and US governments in providing the military aid and training in killing methodologies that are continuing and fuelling this crisis. Providers of weapons and supporters of the current regime(s) in the Middle East are accountable also for the deaths and suffering there.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), was established in 1915 in reaction to the carnage happening across Europe at the time. The decision that the women, who convened at the Hague, made was to resist and oppose all war and militarism, wherever they are found, and whoever perpetuates them. This was no empty gesture as they resolved to take action based on and informed by specific resolutions. They agreed to uphold human rights and equality, and to listen carefully to those affected in the conflict as well as to their governments. They acted on the importance of making delegations to raise civilian and governmental concerns directly to both belligerents and neutral parties as a step towards negotiations.

 We must challenge the very idea of war or militarism, and focus on practical alternative conduct and actions that offer support and assistance instead of contributing to the bloodshed. Neither adding to the violence nor telling perpetrators of human rights violations from a distance to stop it is strategically useful.

The fear and the complex history of people’s connection to disputed territories in the region all arise from previous catastrophic violence, which still needs to be addressed. The violent so-called solutions have repeatedly failed, as have external interventions involving threats or actual violence from parties outside the main conflicts involved in acting out proxy wars.

Humanitarian aid, not military support, is critical, as are global agreements that diminish or limit military escalation such as ensuring that all nuclear power plants are declared no-go areas for any military activity (as IPPNW are suggesting at the UN) and/or integrating national legislation to ensure that states protect civilians and refrain from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. These are  examples of limited cease-fires which offer many possibilities (aid corridors, inter-positional, interalia, 24 hour cessation of weapons use, all or any of which could reduce the slaughter. 

There is no shortage of specific action that can be taken that does not include weaponising  people or condoning violence. At the very least, considering these should be the first priority.

In addition to calling for cease fire, they include offering support for conscientious objectors in Ukraine, initiatives to promote and support the mass non-co-operation by Ukrainians under Russian occupation and offering help to the more than 20,000 peace activists arrested by Putin’s police in Russia, fundraising for medical aid for victims and survivors of conflict everywhere, and raising awareness of the impact of gender-based violence, especially in post colonial wars and conflicts that arise in disputed territories. 

Will we call for real investment in renewable energy to end reliance on Russian fossil fuels, and explore how real food security can allow Ukraine to stop destroying its own environment and feed itself, along with other states that currently rely on Ukraine’s grain ? 

Are we as individuals offering solutions that address people’s human, rather than their government’s national security? Applying the lessons learned from the UN’s work on women, peace and security could ensure that we are actively upholding women working at a grass-roots level to alleviate suffering and insisting on women being included in efforts at negotiation to bring violent conflict to an end. 

Governments only have the capacity for organisation of militarised violence with the consent of the people who empower them. Without limitation on that capacity, it will escalate until we reach a point where the destruction of everything becomes inevitable. Violence and militarism are not an inevitable consequence of territorial dispute or ideological difference. We can lay down the gun and reallocate resources according to actual threats and causes of insecurity such as inequality and climate change.

While we all feel the frustration and distress at the horrific suffering currently induced by a militarised approach to security, if we accept with maturity and compassion that further arms and weapons will only increase the death toll, another way will be found, a way that is about meeting everyone’s needs, upholding human rights and taking on the environmental responsibilities that can make it possible to do that. Achieving that will require concrete suggestions and courageous actions.

Comments (6)

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  1. SteveH says:

    Yes, Some terrorism does arise from injustice. But others arise from ideology.

    Throughout the world Islamist groups have been reigning terror on innocents.

    Consider Africa: Boko Harum, ISIS, AQIN, MNLA, MUJAO, ISGS, JNIM, etc

    The murder, rape and abduction of young Christian girls and butchering of Christian villagers doesn’t even raise an eyebrow of the Critical Social Justice Warriors, let alone anger them. Hypocrites!

    Islamists are secular political groups hiding behind a religion, and who want to create caliphates, oppress the people especially non-believers. Its a scam to consider them as any thing else than terrorists. Certainly not victims of injustice.

    The UK needs to find these extremists and remove them. They do not tolerate our liberal social justice or culture. They are therefore a threat to our society.

    Palestinian groups in Lebanon are also terrorists. A Lebanese friend told me of his horror of returning to his Lebanese regular army unit, to find that Palestinian terrorists had attacked his tiny signals unit, lined them up and cut their throats. There wasn’t even a war on at that time.

    I have worked in the region, and understand the difference between devout Muslims and Islamists . Beware the latter.

    1. Satan says:

      It’s not limited to Islamic fanatics – for example, the Lord’s Resistance Army in N. Uganda / S. Sudan are insane Christians who also go in for widespread abduction and murder.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    The bombing of civilians from the air with impunity can trace its descent from colonial air policing, pioneered by Italy, preferred by the British and French Empires for terrorising its colonised subjects and extorting tribute. They didn’t even have to bomb the ‘right’ recalcitrant village to bring the others into line; accuracy was not a priority compared to damage. For a philosophical treatment, I recommend AC Grayling’s Among the Dead Cities, where the author says that the British and French blocked an interwar move to add aerial bombing of civilians to its banned activities. The German Condor Legion used Guernica in the Spanish Civil War as a trial run. During WW2, the British developed their firestorm method of city destruction on Germany and tested anthrax bombing on Gruinard, the USA tested napalm on the French and atomic weapons on the Japanese.

    For a contemporary perspective and criticism, I recommend Vera Brittain’s Seed of Chaos: What Mass Bombing Really Means (1944). These were crimes the victorious Allies, having committed most of them, did not wish to punish the Axis for, so both got away with them, and these crimes did not feature at the Nuremberg war crime trials. Brittain writes: “The popular tendency, in this as in all wars, is to erect a psychological barrier against any fact which leads to the discomfort of an uneasy conscience.” Remember Pforzheim.

    The victors in WW2 created a new world order where the Allies, through control of the UN Security Council, would legitimise the bombing of civilians in ever more hideous extent, to the point that NATO, the greatest evil that the world has ever produced, planned to nuke the population of China on the event of war with the USSR whether China was involved or not. Most of Europe was consigned to the flames and would have become an irradiated wasteland in their plans. See The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg for more detail.

    Although I have sympathy with this article, I would not have started with a myth, and I would reject its narrow formulation of terrorism, which is sometimes the weapon of the strong, as Ruth Blakeley writes in State Terrorism and Neoliberalism: The North in the South. Indeed, Elizabeth Windsor was the world’s longest-reigning nuclear terrorist. The Christian Empires of Europe were especially given to terrorising subject populations, perhaps the greatest atrocities by King Leopold II of Belgium against the people of Congo, but there are so many examples.

    When a serving British policeman is sentenced to life for offences against 200 girls is part of an established trend, when an ongoing enquiry into British special forces allegedly murdering Afghan children in their beds finds “‘indecent images of children’ on the server of the unit in question”, after a years-long enquiry into institutional child abuse in Britain reported last year that after investigating a wide range of bodies including 38 religious ones, including “The investigation into the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales revealed a sorry history of child sexual abuse where abusive priests and members of religious orders and institutions preyed on children for prolonged periods of time.”, we should never imagine that child sexual abuse is a far-off problem.

    One of the most sobering articles I have read recently is by an Icelandic teacher explaining why she is taking part in activities around the women’s strike there, in a country which apparently tops world equality charts:
    “I am a teacher and I have worked with teenagers for almost 20 years. I have heard more stories of sexual harassment and violence than I can count.”

    The UK is an arms-dealing Empire and nuclear terrorist state employing secret services at home and abroad precisely because its rulers do not want to play fairly and above board. Historically, pacifists like Vera Brittain and anticolonialists like Shapurji Saklatvala (who I’m reading about in Priyamvada Gopal’s Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent) were part of small minorities. I think it is pretty clear that the British establishment is fairly well-proofed against reasoned criticism. The political question is often what methods a radical flank may find productive (unlike Star Trek’s Data, I think terrorism is counterproductive in achieving stable political goals), and here we may look to international movements like the school-strikers, the business-as-usual saboteurs, the whistleblowers, and beyond.

    1. Iain McLean says:

      “bombing of civilians from the air with impunity”

      The trend suggests it is those who gain the upper hand in a conflict who ratchet up the bombing of civilians from the air. Why? Avoidance of deaths on their side primarily.

      In some cases however, some combatants do not have an airforce, air defences, a navy, a properly constituted army or advance intelligence / surveillance technology. The combatants live amongst the people and rely on third parties to supply their weapons and or make their own.

      In such situations war becomes a horrific turkey shoot that all decent people should be repulsed and demand a cease fire. Instead however our media and state broadcaster get caught up in the weeds or even worse, taking sides. As for the uk government,………..

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Iain McLean, your first point is also made by historian Anthony Beevor in D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, who in the Foreword writes:
        “British, Canadian and American armies all shared one belief. To reduce their own losses, they would always rely on a massive artillery bombardment, and on several occasions heavy aerial bombing. The battle for Normandy led to the deaths of 35,000 French civilians and the serous wounding of probably 100,000 more.”
        But even more than bombing friendly civilians in occupied countries (see Caen, Saint-Lô, Nijmegen et al), the Allies bombed civilians of countries that weren’t even at war, like in Switzerland. Not for nothing these crews were called ‘terror fliers’.

        Beevor recounts the opposition of US commander Spaatz to ‘Bomber’ Harris’ insistence of moving from bombing infrastructure to bombing civilians in urban areas, which the British worked through systematically in Germany, down to the least significant to the war effort, like the RAF’s mass murder in Pforzheim (a war crime most British people seem unaware of):,the%20town%27s%20population%2C%20were%20killed.

        The recent erection of the monument in London to RAF Bomber Command was apparently unthinkable in the decades after WW2, and was funded by campaigns in right-wing British newspapers in modern culture wars. Historian Keith Lowe has a chapter to it in Prisoners of History, a book about the trap of a mythologised past. The reality is possibly best summed up in Jörg Friedrich’s systematic history The Fire (Der Brand):
        p90: “A steamroller worked its way through Germany one last time from January to May 1945. It was almost totally devoid of military purpose and was free from all tactical risk.”
        The last sentence might apply to more than WW2, of course.

  3. Pat Bryden says:

    THank you, Janet, as ever putting the case for just peace everywhere so clearly.

    Just hope people will read and take appropriate action, even if just in talking to friends and neighbours.

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