Tuesday, August 27, 2013

David McReynolds on Syria

David McReynolds, who worked tirelessly for the War Resisters League from 1960 to 1999 and was also active with the Socialist Party USA (running as its presidential candidate more than once), a theorist also experienced in organizing and activism, nowadays is semi-retired but is still applying a keen analysis and a sense of history (of which he has witnessed a great deal) to current events.  These words are mostly disseminated through private emails, which he gives us permission to share.

And so I am sharing his words about Syria, where, as we are sure you know, there is video evidence of a terrible attack on civilians using what certainly appear to be chemical weapons.  The clear suspect is the regime of Bashir al-Assad, whose government has notoriously stockpiled chemical weapons and has the capacity to deploy them using rockets. Although this is not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt -- there are now U.N. inspectors at the site, after being delayed several days by the Assad regime and then attacked by snipers, and even this investigation is only into what was used, not the perpetrator -- it is persuasive enough that the U.S. government has essentially announced it will escalate its involvement in the Syrian civil war with a retaliatory military strike.

The questions are, what is appropriate, what is the aim, and are we prepared for the consequences?

Here are David's comments, shared with his permission.


First, "we" - the broad radical democratic left and the forces of the nonviolent movement - must not become apologists for any regime, in this case neither the Assad regime nor that of the disorganized Islamist opposition. 

If we are honest (and if we don't make that effort, we are of little value) we know that there are conflicts where, while pacifists would not take up arms, we can't pretend there are no moral differences. In World War I there were none of importance - it was a mad, indefensible war.

In World War II, while, by the end, with the massive Allied bombing of German and Japanese civilians, and the use of nuclear weapons in Japan, the moral differences had been largely erased, one cannot equate the systematic, industrialized murder of Jews, Roma, Slavs, and others by the Nazis with the Allied side.

In the Spanish Civil War, while there were atrocities on both sides, only the blind would have equated Franco's side with that of the Republic.

In Vietnam it was obvious from very early in the  tragedy that if there was a "good war" it was that of the Vietnamese Communists against the US. That was then, and remains, hard for many of us to concede, since the nature of Stalinism had erased what might have been the "moral edge" of the international Communist movement.

Those of us who are pacifists - and I am firmly in that camp - look for alternatives, refuse take up arms, and pledge, with Camus, "to be neither victims nor executioners".

In Syria I can find no significant difference between the sides. (Nor could I find such a difference in the case of Libya where I felt the Western actions were indefensible). Now there is a sudden rush to some military strike on Syria. I am truly appalled at the duplicity of the British, French, and US forces pressing for an attack. I am particularly struck by the casual dishonesty of Hague of the British government.

Let us leave aside the fact we simply do not know whether poison gas was used. The Syrian government has opened the way for inspectors, but the Western governments have already determined it is too late to be sure of the facts. Too late to be sure - but nonetheless there is pressure for military action?

To what end? Any compassionate person is horrified by the shambles of what is left of Syria, by the estimated hundred thousand dead, by the hundreds of thousands fleeing Syria for their lives.
And what will a military strike achieve? 

But what primarily drives me nuts, and leaves me in almost incoherent rage at the Western states, is the fact that the military dictatorship in Egypt has murdered at least a thousand civilians, almost all of them unarmed, but the US still cannot bring itself to utter the word "coup" in reference to the military takeover - and, more criminal, cannot end US military aid to the regime there.

Rarely have we have so clear a chance to see the duplicity of those states which claim to hold the high moral ground. Rarely have we been so painfully reminded that nation states seek, first of all, to defend their own interests, and that those interests are largely indifferent to great moral issues to which they would lay claim.

The last time this was laid so painfully bare was more than fifty years ago when, as the workers and peasants of Hungary sought to establish a democratic government, replacing the Stalinist dictatorship that had been imposed by the Soviet Union, Israel, France, and Britain jointly launched an invasion of Egypt to try to stop Nasser from taking control of the Suez Canal. If ever there had been a moment when world attention should have been focused on a single event, it was that October Revolution in Hungary, which had suddenly opened the door to the possible dissolution of the Warsaw/NATO military alliances (the Warsaw Pact clearly was useless if the troops were going to be used to suppress people within the Warsaw Pact, and NATO clearly wasn't need to protect the West from a military threat from the East, if the East was unable to maintain iron control over its own territory).
That is now long in the past, but the lesson remains - there are no calls from the British Tories or the French Socialists for military intervention in Egypt, and no move by the US to at least cut its military aid.

Instead, even without waiting for solid proof, the old amalgam of imperial forces seek to punish the Syrian government - with or without any solid proof.

These governments do not speak for us. Nor do they speak for the human interests of either side in Syria, where what is most urgently needed is humanitarian aid  in terms of food, medicine, shelter.

--David McReynolds

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