In Max Dunbar's response to Stephen Mitchelmore's critique of Max's review of Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke (yes, the internet is an echo-chamber!), Max quotes Steve's summing-up of some of the parallels between World War Two and the Iraq war. The parallels are important -- and it is especially important to draw attention to them to someone who suppported the slaughter in Iraq, as Max did.

Max quips that "it may stun Mitchelmore to know that the facts around Western support for Saddam, and the true motives behind the 2003 invasion, are available outside the Medialens chatboards." Well, indeed. But there is an interesting slippage when Max continually suggests that, with regard to that invasion, and to WW2, "it’s outcomes, not motives" that matter. This is, of course, a very convenient way to forget -- to ignore the history of -- how and why wars occur, how we got into Iraq, how the invasion was sold to us, and how those who bought the lies that created the conditions that allowed for invasion further communicated those lies to their own constituencies. This is very similar to WW2. The myth, so often told that very many people do believe it, is that the Allies were White Knights who came to the defence of the Jews. Are we to forget that that is a lie because "it’s outcomes, not motives" that matter? Because saving the Jews became the post-facto justification for the Allies war to prevent German imperial ambitions, are we to forget the anti-semitic nature of much Anglo-American domestic discourse in the 20s and 30s (and beyond)? Perhaps more importantly, however, is that the outcome of the Anglo-American adventure in Iraq has been chaos and death on a huge scale. If "it’s outcomes, not motives" that matter then the outcome here has been catastrophic for ordinary Iraqis.

Mitchelmore, we are told, "upbraids" Max:

... for using the term 'lazy moral equivalence': which is no surprise, as it's a technique he's fond of using. Thus: 'The recent invasions by US and UK forces are direct equivalents of the Nazi assaults on Poland and Russia'.

But as Steve makes very, very clear in his example (which Max does not quote in full): "The recent invasions by US and UK forces are direct equivalents of the Nazi assaults on Poland and Russia in that they violate the sixth Nuremberg Principle and the 1949 Geneva Convention." A factual equivalency then, not a moral one.

Max jokes that those who supported the slaughter in Iraq don't bear any responsibility for what has happened there ("I suppose that's for the tribunal to decide when we are all shipped off to the Hague"). Well, sadly, those who clamour for war from the safety of their front rooms don't have to take responsibility for their words, but they should be reminded that they help create the conditions that make war acceptable and that they thus bear some of the responsibilty for the death and destruction that war brings. It might be a laughing matter for Max, but I reserve the right not only to find it far from funny, but to find such a political position morally reprehensible.

Readers Comments

  1. If Dunbar doesn't feel responsible, yet those of us who wrote and marched against the invasion *do* (because our elected representatives prosecuted it and our taxes paid for it), then are we dealing not with a liberal-left consensus but a psychosis? Dunbar's elision is a disturbing reminder of the question.

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