Thursday, January 14, 2010

You ain't seen nothin' yet

I can't believe I'm discussing The Wright Stuff for a second day in a row, but yes, I saw some of it again today (this is showing disturbing signs of becoming a habit), and yes, Stephen Kay-Amos was still on it. One of the topics for discussion was Oliver Stone's recent claim that the murderous actions of Hitler and Stalin need to be put in more historical context, with Hitler in particular being a 'product of his times'. Predictably this sentiment did not attract much sympathy from the panel, with Dan Snow pointing out that Germany had suffered much more at the end of World War II than it had at the end of World War I. He asked 'if Germany's ill-treatment at the hands of the Allies in the aftermath of 1918 made World War II somehow inevitable, why didn't its far greater humiliation in 1945 make it inevitable that the country would later launch World War III?' Well, if that's a serious question, I can think of a number of serious answers. For starters, the overwhelming evidence of the Holocaust engendered intense national shame in place of the intense grudge that had been felt a quarter-of a-century earlier. The abject surrender and total occupation of Germany made it near-impossible for the country to embark on a militaristic course even if it had wanted to - even after West and East Germany had been granted formal sovereignty, masses of troops from the former Allied countries on German soil were a highly effective guarantor of that. And, last but not least, the military threat from the Soviet Union was so great and so immediate in the post-1945 period that West Germany could not hope to ensure its national survival alone - and the only viable alternative was a western alliance, which along with NATO membership also necessitated firm adherence to liberal democracy, federalism, non-militarism, European integrationism, and so on. However, having said all that, Snow probably did have a point that Hitler's personal psychotic tendencies were a decisive factor in the build-up to war, and while an upsurge in German nationalism probably was inevitable following humiliation at Versailles in 1919, the emergence of a totalitarian Nazi state with ambitions for conquest on a Napoleonic scale was in no way inevitable.

The one area in which the panel felt Stone had a very limited point was that no person could be regarded as "pure evil" - even murderous dictators have the capacity for some good. What slightly amused me about this was that later in the same programme, while discussing Gary McKinnon's very welcome last-minute reprieve by the courts, Matthew Wright mused "say what you like about the Daily Mail, but they've been marvellous about this, haven't they?". Well, I think what I personally might be tempted to say about the Daily Mail is that you could hardly find a more apt example of an essentially highly objectionable (I'll shy away from 'evil') outfit doing a good deed once in a blue moon! What is it that's led the Mail to such a clear-sighted understanding of the issues at stake in the McKinnon case? Depressingly, it's probably that Gary McKinnon is a well-turned-out young man who loves his mum, and whose mum is an impeccably articulate, middle-class woman. I struggle to imagine a less presentable British victim of America's repressive anti-terror laws getting such a generous hearing from the paper. But, I hasten to add, just because they're being selective doesn't mean that they're not absolutely right on this individual case.

The great thing about the court judgement yesterday is that, even if McKinnon loses his judicial review, it should string the issue out until after the general election, and the Conservative Party have been hinting they might find a way of keeping him in the UK if elected. And what do you know - there's yet another instance of an essentially highly objectionable organisation doing something good for a change! What makes it even rarer is that it would be an act by a Tory government that would displease the United States. I wouldn't hold your breath for many more such instances if the Tories do triumph in May - if you think the current Labour administration have acted as America's poodle, you ain't seen nothin' yet...

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