The beheading of a young soldier in Woolwich is appalling, and seems all the more so for happening in open daylight in a suburban street in London. But would it be churlish to ask why it is any the less appalling than similar atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. And is it any less appalling than the deaths of innocents – the euphemism is ‘collateral’ – in U.S. drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan.
The young soldier was innocent, and I don’t accept that he was even in the slightest culpable because he had served in Afghanistan – if you want to blame anyone for the invasion of Iraq and what’s going on in Afghanistan, blame the politicians – such as that prat Tony Blair – for all the bloodletting, not the soldiers they send out there to do the work. Equally innocent are those who are killed in U.S. drone attacks. I have been looking up figures for those killed and am conscious that many of the websites giving them are very critical of the policy (as am I).
I shan’t suggest that the figures they give are in any way exaggerated – generally at least 700 adults and children are thought to have died and it could well be far more – because I am in no position to verify any claims made, but even one or ten or one hundred ‘collateral’ victims is one or ten or one hundred too many. In the past few days President Barack Obama has been defending the policy, and the general U.S. line is that the drone attacks are being used ‘defensively’. Well, as someone pointed out on radio a month or two ago, the interpretation of ‘defence’ is very broad indeed.
Let me put it this way: I wonder just how happy the U.S. would be if some foreign country pursued a policy of drone attacks on its enemies in the U.S. and innocent U.S. citizens were killed. I suspect it would throw the diplomatic equivalent of a hissy fit. In fact, it would be the mother of all hissy fits. Seems like there’s one rule for some, one rule for others. But then what’s new?
. . .
Naturally, the machete attack in Woolwich is still top of the news here in Britain, but there are two aspects about the coverage which I find discouraging, to say the least. It has long been a police practice to stage a press conference – especially if a child has disappeared or been murdered – in which parents or relatives appeal for a safe return or for anyone with any information to contact the police. There might well an element of voyeurism in it all when the public switches on the TV news and watches these appeals, but such conferences are defended by the police on the grounds that they are often very useful and do help to turn up more information from the public. But on TV all day today has been a press conference of the wife, parents and family of the butchered soldier in floods of tears, and at no point are we, the viewing public, being urged to come forward with information.
I can’t for the life of me think of any reason why this public exhibition of grief was staged. Well, perhaps one: if, in any small way, being able to share their grief in public somehow helps the soldier’s family deal with it, then one might argue that there is some justification. But to be honest, I’m playing Devil’s Advocate: I don’t for a moment think that was why this press conference was organised. In fact, I can’t think for a moment that there could be some reasonable explanation for staging it.
Call me a cynical old cunt, but I can’t help but feel it was just a very, very, very morbid manifestation of keeping the customer satisfied. I have seen the same clip on TV news about five times today, and at no point are we told exactly why we are given public access to this family’s grief, longlasting shots of the dead soldier’s widow weeping, longlasting takes of his stepfather reading out a statement and barely being able to keep his emotions under control.
Why was this shown? Can there really be any ‘news value’ in it? Perhaps. Or perhaps someone, somewhere, or many people everywhere decided it was ‘good television’, which it undoubtedly is depending on your moral values. For me it was nothing more than first cousin to the exhibition of freaks which is part of Britain’s Got Talent or, going back several hundred years, the public executions held at Tyburn Gate (now Hyde Park Corner) where Londoners in their thousands would turn out to watch some poor sap being topped, with a plentiful supply of beer and pies on hand.
I suppose that was the difference: London’s boys in blue did not arrange for a temporary bar and fast food outlets. Well, they missed a trick there.