Notes On The News
By Gwydion M Williams
In 1857, a mix of Hindu and Muslim soldiers trained by the British launched a major rebellion and had the aim of restoring the Mogul Empire, a state which had successfully ruled Hindus and Muslims and gained the loyalty of both. Most Indians view it as the First War of Indian Independence, but Britain hangs onto the untruthful name of ‘Indian Mutiny’.
By 1947, British India had vanished, though late-Imperial policy had successfully set Muslim against Hindu. In 1957, ‘Malaysia’ followed, a federation dominated by the Malayans. Independence had been part of the bargain in getting Malay support against a serious guerrilla uprising by Malaya’s long-settled Chinese population. This too was lied about, called the Malayan Emergency. Dedicated communist forces who had fought the Japanese were described as ‘bandits’. Rather, they were described as bandits outside on Malaya. Inside Malaya the term was identified with Mao’s armies, called ‘bandits’ by the pro-Western Kuomintang but visibly the victors in the 1940s. So they were called ‘Communist Terrorists’.
“The British Colonial government declared a State of Emergency after the murder of three European planters on 16 June 1948. It is notable that PSYOP [Psychological Warfare] was being used already as the British now called their enemy Communist Terrorists (CTs) instead of Malayan Communists. It is always good strategy to call the enemy ‘terrorists’ and depersonalize them. Another frequently used term for the insurgents was ‘bandit.’ The term invokes negative reactions and denies the legitimacy of the opponent. The British were also careful not to call the insurrection a ‘war’. It was always to be identified as ‘the emergency.’ Secretary of State for the Colonies James Griffiths noted that:
“‘Before I left for Malaya I had been advised not to refer to the operations as ‘war,’ but as ‘the emergency,’ and to the Malayan Liberation Army as ‘bandits.’ It did not take me long to find out that the so-called bandits were a well-trained, highly disciplined and skilfully led force.’
“Noel Barber tells us more about the British use of words as PSYOP:
“‘Communist Guerrilla fighters are referred to as CTs, short for Communist Terrorists. At first they were officially labelled “bandits,” until the British discovered that this word had unfortunate connotations. “Bandits” had been the identical term used by the Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek to describe Communists; since neither of these powers had been successful, the use of “bandits” by the British put them on a similar level in the eyes of the Malayan Chinese.’ “.[A]
The war failed to establish a communist regime, but did force the British out. Even after the loss of India, there was a serious attempt to hang onto a reduced Empire, one small enough for Britain to coerce. The wars in Kenya and Malaya tested this and the cost was found too great. They were only winnable with the help of local forces, people who acquired real power in the process.
“The British who had been very dismissive and callous towards the Malays were forced to get Malay cooperation to combat the menace posed by the MCP and the Malays, not unsurprisingly, rallied behind them not so much because they condoned the British policy, rather that they saw, like the Japanese occupation, 1hat the Emergency would hasten independence in which they would play a major role.”[B]
There was also massive state-organised terrorism, including former guerrillas recruited via loudspeaker broadcasts from aircraft. One reluctant British participant recalled:
“‘I did not like the idea of terrorist traitors receiving these huge amounts of blood money. The more of their so-called comrades they could set up to be killed, the richer they became. They were nothing more than ruthless killers whose slate had been cleaned and now had changed sides motivated by money. Many of them had been responsible for the most appalling deeds. There was a sliding scale paid rate almost like union rules; in other words, the higher you were in the communist chain of command, the more cash you received. Then there was a similar scale for arms. A Bren gun was worth more then a rifle and a grenade more than a round of ammo. I understand that some of them are now rich business men through their ill gotten gains, enjoying life under false identities in Spore [Singapore], Malaysia and Australia.
He concludes with a mention of small unit actions behind the lines.
“‘We formed a “Special Operation Volunteer Force” (SOVF). It was made up of surrendered terrorists. The SOVF was a shadowy, little known unit. By 1957 there were eight or nine platoons of SOVF throughout Malaya, each under the command of a Police Lieutenant. With years of jungle warfare under their belts, these hard-core former terrorists would use all kinds of tricks, including PSYOP and “black” tactics to eliminate their former comrades. They not only spread confusion amongst the CTs, they also dispatched a good number of them.’
“In fact, the SOVF was formed in 1953 and consisted of about 180 ex-Communists grouped into twelve platoons of fifteen men each. The men and women signed up for 18 months, lived in police compounds and were paid about the same as junior policemen. Once their tour was over they were released into Malayan society with a clean slate.
“The British used the same tactic against the Mau Mau, using surrendered terrorists to enter the Bush and interact with their own comrades before ambushing them. The Americans did something similar in Vietnam, the Phoenix Operation, where through the use of former Viet Cong and informants they identified the infrastructure of the Communist movement in a local village or area and then took military action.” [A]
‘Operation Phoenix’ was one of the dirtiest and least-discussed aspects of the USA’s Vietnam War. Covert murder. ‘Operation Voldemort’ would have been a better name for it. They have been reports that they want to do something similar in Iraq, but they seem to have left it much too late. They made no effort to sign up ex-Baathists: the US took away their paid employment, implied that they might face criminal prosecution and the US were then very surprised when they came under attack.
The US actually blundered all round, making foes in places like Fallujah that had always been anti-Baath. And showed a belief that it didn’t matter what lies you told if you had control of the media. In this they were much less smart than the British in Malaya. Lies were told about matters where the truth was hard to prove and the ordinary fighter might be uncertain. On operational matters, they kept credibility by sticking to hard facts.
“The propaganda messages were always the same:
“All statements must be true. This principle has been rigidly adhered to in Malaya, and it is noticeable in statements by surrendered terrorists that they never doubted information heard from voice aircraft. Threats must not be used, unless the authorities intend to, and can carry out the threatened action. The messages must be brief and clear. Words or phrases must be carefully chosen.” [A]
Rather different from the US in Vietnam, where US news was disbelieved even by their own side, with priority given to making things look better than they actually were.
Saddam Hussein ran a secular state in a territory that the British had assembled from three distinct provinces of the Ottoman Empire. There had been no common identity, so he invented one based on Arab Nationalism. This worked about as well as any Iraqi state is likely to work, functioned in a region where it is impossibility of being effective without being brutal. (But easy enough to be brutal without being effective: the US have shown this very nicely.)
The New Right saw it as a struggle of Democracy against Autocracy. Which sounds nice and is historic rubbish. English culture was defined by a series of autocrats, some of them very brutal. William the Conqueror laid waste whole counties, Henry 8th imposed his own version of Christianity against the will of the majority. By the 18th century, when the USA hived off from this tradition, power was in the hands of a wider class of gentry, and it was the US members of this gentry that made the War of Independence. Democracy came rather later, and also meant that slavery could not be arbitrarily and peacefully abolished as it was in the British Empire in the 1830s.
Multi-party democracy in Iraq meant a set of separate party conflicts within the main communities. Those who tried to bridge the Sunni-Shia gap got very few votes. What played well among Shia was a promise to advance Shia interests at Sunni expense: what played well among Sunni was a promise to prevent this. And as a side-line, bashing minor religions played well with almost everyone.
Christians were safe enough under Saddam, so long as they accepted his authority. Now they are fleeing in huge numbers. Likewise Mandeans, who honour John the Baptist and view Jesus and Muhammad as false prophets. Saddam made a show of Islam but could coexist with other beliefs. But if your religion is the core of your identity, how can you co-exist with people who reject your religious authorities?
Things are even worse with the Yazidis. They are non-Muslim Kurds, their faith might either be ancient and pre-Islamic or an invention from the 12th century. Awkwardly, their chief object of worship is an angel called Melek Taus, but also known as Shatan. Western writers sometimes saw them as devil-worshipers, but this is probably wrong. Shatan or Satan seems to be an old deity and not originally evil. In the Book of Job, Satan is a servant of God, pointing out defects in the virtuous rather than rebelling against God’s authority. In the Christian New Testament, it is supposed that Satan had only recently been cast out of heaven. Milton in Paradise Lost ignored this and also floated the idea that pre-Christian gods were devils. JRR Tolkien picked up on this idea – his first vision of the Dark Lord Sauron was of an evil spirit who became a pagan God in Mesopotamia. Events of the Lord of the Rings were added to this existing framework, where it is mentioned that Sauron is a god to many of his followers. So what’s the surprise if Iraqis feel suspicious of worshipers of Shatan? Especially with life around them becoming increasingly hellish?
Of course it’s not just religion. Counted as Kurds, as Kurdish Muslims are willing to do, the Yazidis tip the balance in disputed territories. Yazidis, like other Kurds, saw the US invasion as positive – the only ‘Iraqi Army’ units that fight with any determination are Kurdish units taken over wholesale into an army that isn’t really national.
[Things got much worse later on, after the West helped disrupt Syria and the Sunni population in Syria and Iraq re-organised themselves as the self-styled Islamic State and decided that the inoffensive Yazidis were an evil that must be destroyed.]
Born in New York and with a Turkish grandfather, Mr Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson might seem a fit representative of London’s diversity.[C] But I know the type, the idiots who can’t understand why Britain’s world standing has slid down and down and down in the 20th century. A mass of resentments that sometimes surfaces as a really nasty remark that is then excused as ‘humour’.
Racist stereotypes like ‘ crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies’ is not humorous, unless you see it as a daring expression of racism in the face of ‘political correctness’. Racism killed the British Empire: the non-white population were ready to be part of it in the early part of the 20th century, but there was entrenched resistance among the Empire’s white rulers in allowing this. The Empire then collapsed and the idiots failed to see it as their fault. Even losing Singapore in 1942 did not persuade them that they’d been stupid about racial superiority. Singapore was supposed to be a mighty fortress, but 35,000 Japanese defeated in 85,000 British-led forces in a six-day walkover.
In the 1960s, most left-wingers assumed the British Empire was a dead issue. Did not say enough about how it was built with brutality and lost with incompetence. Preserve Empire long-term, would have needed modesty and intelligence, but the ruling class was seriously short of both these qualities. Churchill’s big contribution before opposing Hitler was to ruin some sensible plans to give India the status of a Dominion, a scheme that might have kept some sort of connection if it had been done in time. But this isn’t well enough known, and Boris Johnson is very much part of the people who’d deny it.
Just calling him ‘ Mr Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’ should dent his prospects no end. It’s a dirty tactic, but no dirtier than the stuff he himself does routinely.
The main function of street-gangs is to pump drugs into their own community. They do also supplying drugs to the better-off, mostly existing users, but degrading their own people is their core business. If they posture as rebels, it is only a posture and the authorities see them as much less of a problem that real left-wingers. Most criminal gangs have a rat-like existence, a menace to their neighbours and a nuisance to society as a whole. Gangsterism is a sign of a community not in control of its own destiny, and not taking the proper steps to correct this.
Crime in Britain was at an all-time low in the 1950s, when there was a secure job for anyone willing to do a basic days’ work. Crime revived when unemployment rose, when Thatcher sneered at social values and denied that society existed. But this in turn was caused by earlier errors. The 1960s saw a rejection in the West of traditional elites. Not just the old land-owning ruling class, but also the new technocrats. This in itself was an idea, but in the 1970s the chance was missed to build something positive, an extended Social Democracy with Incomes Policy and Workers Control. When this failed – in part because most of the left opposed it bitterly as a diversion from Revolution – there was a kind of vacuum which the New Right filled. Social responsibility was officially condemned. There were substantial common values between a criminal Underclass and a detached Overclass that has turned the world economy into a giant casino.
Underclass and Overclass both prize the concept of a ‘winner’. In my view, a winner is basically someone with no purpose except to win the approval of others. Who won’t ask if what they seek is worth the pain. Or if there might be other higher or deeper values that they were too busy to notice. Both Underclass and Overclass behave like a bunch of high-tech baboons.
I’ve seen the film City of God and also read the book. Both are random collection of events, told by people who have no notion of the overall shape of events. These gangsters may be dangerous at the level of street violence, but in the wider world they are complete mugs, corralled where much stronger and cleverer people would see them as doing the least damage. Gangsters meekly accepted a subordinate role in the wider society, and just get violent with people much like themselves. They are completely different from a genuine rebel army, gangs are often the hired thugs of the ruling class. Shanghai’s formidable underworld helped Chiang Kai-Shek defeat the Communists in the 1920s, kept quiet when the Japanese invaded and mostly ran away when the much-strengthened Chinese Communists re-took Shanghai. That’s the real measure of what gang culture amounts to.
A bit of this has got into Britain, though we always have had street gangs and it may be just the circulation of guns that makes it newsworthy. Gun-crime at a serious adult level does seem to have been clamped down upon, but some of the discarded guns were sold to silly teenagers, with tragical results.
If it were seen as getting out of control – for the moment I doubt this – then the answer would be to simply ban gangs and associations known to encourage crime. Including the Hells Angles, obviously. It does have an influence, people fighting private wars and getting away with it. So stop them getting away with it, stamp down on the public expression of gang culture.
Then again, the Underclass is not that formidable, it would be more than an Underclass if it knew how to organise itself on a grand scale, and it does not. In Russia, the formidable gangsters of the 1990s have become part of a new ruling class, those that survived the killing era. That or fled to London, which seems happy to harbour such people and then sneer at Yeltsin for running Russia competently.
A nation-wide network of criminals kill at least 750 innocents a year in Britain, maybe as many as a million globally. These criminals deeply resent effective law enforcement – what criminal feels any different? But this particular network gets listened to respectfully by the official media.
These criminals are known as ‘speeding motorists’. Their activities are seldom mentioned. The best figures I could find said there were around 3000 deaths per year in Britain, a figure that has fallen since speed cameras were introduced. Not that speed is everything: “excessive speed was reported in 15% of all accidents and 26% of fatal crashes.”[E]. Which is still 750 deaths a year, two a day, unacceptable in a civilised country. Speed is also one of the simplest things to control: ‘motorist error’ may cause more deaths, but how do you make drivers infallible?
News programs used to give the figures of motorists killed on bank holiday weekends, till it was pointed out that this was much the same as on other weekends. But it would have been a much better policy to make it a regular part of all broadcasts, every day of the week.
That’s not how the media like to play it, of course. There has been immense publicity about one small child gone missing and presumed abducted: it won’t look good if it turns out the parents are guilty. Campaigns like that absorbs and perhaps waste a lot of compassion. Meantime road safety has a lot more potential for good, but it offends those with the power. Very few of them would wish to abduct a four-year-old, but a lot of them break speed limits and think themselves very oppressed if they can’t get away with it.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the sensible economic controls of the Keynesian era were eroded. A general movement of ‘liberation’ was applied to good rules as well as bad or updated rules. It could seem a single movement, the transition from Hippy to Yuppie, sometimes the same individuals transformed into capitalist pigs and ignoring whatever was decent in the system they had once protested against.
Yuppies had no real ideology, the New Right supplied this. Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve of the United States, learned his world-view from 1920s Russian-Jewish exile Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum, a woman who cunningly took the name of Ayn Rand. A name that was a hybrid of Finnish and Estonian elements which meant she didn’t seem Jewish and could pass in right-wing business circles where hostility to Jews was much stronger than it was after World War Two.
George Orwell once remarked that Hitler’s vision was very much a continuation of whatever he learned in the 1920s, with new ideas not registering. Much the same was true of Ayn Rand: her 1950s novel Atlas Shrugged is supposed to take place in a socialist USA several decades in the future, but is very much the 1920s in fancy dress. Railways dominate long-distance travel and aircraft are a personal amusement with no major economic role.
As far as I can tell, Ayn Rand didn’t once comment on the whole emergence, growth and final defeat of fascism. Her mind was locked into her experience of the 1920s, a straightforward fight between capitalism and socialism. She also simply didn’t notice or admit that 1920s-style capitalism produced the 1930s Great Depression, whereas Roosevelt’s semi-socialist New Deal created a partial recovery in the mid-1930s and then a much bigger boom when Japan’s foolish attack and then Hitler’s foolish declaration of war on the US allowed Roosevelt to ramp up state spending to the point where the economy became healthy again. From Ayn Rand’s continuous 1920s vision, such things were not supposed to happen. Even if mundanely such things were facts, she had a Platonic vision of a Higher Reality in which everything matched her prejudices.
Alan Greenspan was one of a circle of disciples who did indeed accept Ayn Rand’s Higher Reality. Learned that limits on money-makers was wicked, were offensive to the Higher Reality even if mundanely they had worked well. To actually run the USA’s financial system he had to accept some wickedness, a minimum of regulation. The crises of 1987 and 1997-1998 were overcome with massive government intervention, but that was only allowable when rich people might have suffered.[D] 1997 and the knock-on damage to Yeltsin’s Russia is the real reason why Russia has turned against the West. But in Ayn Rand’s Higher Reality, such events are impossible and Russia rejecting Western advice is an unexplained outbreak of evil. Nonsense like that goes a lot further than just Ayn Rand’s disciples.
[More on Ayn Rand elsewhere on this site.]
Rather than the sudden slumps of 1987 and 1997, the current crisis has been a series of falls and recoveries. Banks and governments keep pumping in money to stop a collapse.
I read it as a series of bounces that will give a good excuses to buy at any given moment. Delaying tactics that will gives the ‘smart money’ time to get out, but this can only happen if enough ‘stupid money’ can be found to replace it. Which makes me wonder whether some of the experts with their mysteriously high ratings of bad debts were in fact something else. Infiltrators placed to persuade a big institution to buy something a speculator wants to sell, at much too high a price. If the employee has been covertly paid, it matters little if they get fired. There are all sorts of places to hide cash, this has been deemed a fundamental human right.
Or maybe it is all honest, an outbreak of events that economic theory had said were impossible. I’ve always rated New Right economics as junk, but some people spend a lifetime working within its framework and clearly do believe in it. According to their theories, the events that have just happened are billion-to-one improbabilities, much less probable than Senator Hilary Clinton getting married to President George Bush. So either they are suffering from God’s Wroth with the laws of probability overturned, or their so-called expertise was always fantasy and foolishness.
Will this crisis cure society of it’s belief in New Right formulas? It’s not a matter of remote financial institutions, the crisis has hit the fund-based pensions that a lot of people are relying on for their old age.[F] A surplus of £12 billion has turned into £15 billion deficit, money that ordinary people were expecting for their retirement and that has somehow vanished. Speculators make billions when the market rises. Necessary social functions lose billions when the market falls. ‘Blessed be the name of the market’ – at least that’s what people end up saying in Britain, each time it happens. I’m not that hopefull it will be any different this time round, not in Britain.
But Britain is no longer the core of the world. Russia and China have definitely rejected Western values, while Latin America is asserting itself. The Republic of India is superficially pro-Western but maintains its own cultural values. African is a mess but too poor for financiers to batten off. Globalisation in its SubAmericanisation variety has just gone pear-shaped.
[Things got much worse in 2008, of course. But somehow the blame was shifted to state spending. The gambling financiers lost very little and the rest of us paid their debts through painful Austerity.]
[A] [http://ics.leeds.ac.uk/papers/vp01.cfm?outfit=pmt&requesttimeout=500&folder=64&paper=2648] Psychological Warfare of the Malayan Emergency. Also at [http://www.psywar.org/malaya.php]