It is clear even from their titles that corporate newspapers are objective, balanced and impartial. Or so we are to believe. The Telegraph and Mail are disinterested systems of communication – the prejudices of telegraphists and postmen/women certainly do not influence the content of the messages they deliver. The Times and Financial Times simply reflect the key events of our time, as, of course, does the Mirror. The Sun impartially spreads illumination to the benefit of all life on earth. As does the Independent, with no shadows cast by the Russian oligarch by which it is owned or the adverts on which it depends. The Observer looks on and records, a mere Spectator. Only the Guardian hints at political engagement. A staunch defender of ‘free’ comment and ‘sacred facts’, the title is commonly understood to indicate the paper’s determination to act as a guardian of ordinary people against powerful interests.
And, as the name suggests, the Express is an entirely neutral rapid information delivery service – we will have to look elsewhere for political bias. Last November, the editors of the tabloid opined:
From the smallest village memorial services to the 10,000 who marched solemnly past the Cenotaph, the nation came together yesterday in an overwhelming display of respect for the fallen.
With poppies and soldier silhouettes, with beach artwork and bell-ringing, or simply with quiet reflection, they honoured those who sacrificed themselves for the freedoms we hold dear. Up and down the country, the two-minute silence was immaculately observed, though the message it conveyed was deafening: We will not forget. Leading it all, as ever, was the Queen. She has lived through most of the 100 years since the Armistice that ended the First World War and she remains as staunch and dependable as ever.
There was no hint of bias in this idea that the ‘nation’ was united in this view of the Great War and its commemoration. The nation ‘came together’ in ceremonies led by royalty and religion, with the key focus – appropriately enough – on silence.
Why this constant emphasis on silent remembering: ‘We will not forget’? What is it that we are supposed not to forget, and to what purpose? What exactly is the point of it?
Of course, we are being asked to ‘remember’ the suffering and death of ‘the fallen’, of those who ‘served’ and ‘sacrificed’. But, in fact, they did not fall. They were pushed: by bullets, shells and bayonets. They were pushed by elite-run systems of propaganda that think nothing of exploiting the vulnerability of children to patriotic, religious and militaristic manipulation long before they are capable of intellectual self-defence. They were pushed by nationalistic sloganeering and shaming, by the threat of jail, by the threat of bullets from a firing squad. In 1895, Tolstoy observed:
From infancy, by every possible means – class books, church services, sermons, speeches, books, papers, songs, poetry, monuments – the people are stupefied in one direction’ – unquestioning patriotism.1
And as psychoanalyst Erich Fromm explained on the basis of decades of research:
The average individual does not permit himself to be aware of thoughts or feelings which are incompatible with the patterns of his culture, and hence he is forced to repress them.2
The psychologist Stanley Milgram agreed, noting:
The individual often views authority as an impersonal force, whose dictates transcend mere human wish or desire. Those in authority acquire, for some, a suprahuman character.3
Milgram concluded of the modern individual:
The culture has failed, almost entirely, in inculcating internal controls on actions that have their origin in authority.4
This is the reality behind the claim that the ‘fallen’ had ‘sacrificed themselves for the freedoms we hold dear’. They ‘sacrificed’ themselves to defend a system that attacks the freedom of the young to think for themselves in challenging the views of ‘authority’ on the crucial issues facing us as human beings.
Consider religion as a further example. A child, of course, has not the remotest idea about the meaning of the word ‘God’ that features so prominently at times of ‘remembrance’. And yet innumerable societies throughout history have taken for granted that children should be exposed to education from the earliest age to ensure they become ‘good’ Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists. What strange, heretical parent would encourage the child to think, feel and decide for him or herself on these issues, to consider different ideas about how best to relate oneself to existence, how best to experience love, truth and delight?
Proudly irreligious parents need not crow too hard. Their tiny children enjoying the inborn delight of non-competitive being are trained just as fanatically for ambition – to exult in coming first in class, to despair at coming last, to get to the best university, to get the best job with the best salary – before the child has any idea of what is at stake, of what he or she stands to lose. Which school explores the mystical philosophy of purposeless being, the sheer ecstasy of living in the moment, comparing it to the heart-rending stress of exam-oriented, ‘success’-oriented living that subordinates the present moment to some future moment deemed far more important? Anyone who understands that authentic religion is fundamentally concerned with identifying and dropping the ambitious ego, knows that this, too, is a form of religious indoctrination.
In the Guardian, columnist Suzanne Moore wrote of the ‘remembrance’ ceremonies:
The act of remembrance is significant because forgetting is what destroys us.
But is it? We come closer to the truth when we amend Moore’s observation that: ‘Terrible wars are happening right now that no one thinks can end.’ The reality, of course, is that terrible wars are happening right now that no one thinks about at all; that no one thinks, writes or cares about.
‘Don’t you care about Yemen?’ Moore asked as an example of ‘petty political point-scoring’ at a time when we should all be united in ‘remembrance’. In fact, this was the sixth time since the war began in 2015 that Moore has mentioned the word ‘Yemen’ in her Guardian column5 – all have been the briefest possible mentions, all in passing. Moore has not offered a single substantive comment on the nature of the conflict – on the civilian death toll, on Britain’s role in waging a truly devastating war against an impoverished, famine-stricken country.
And this gives the lie to the whole focus on ‘remembering’. It is not ‘forgetting’ that destroys ‘us’; it is a level of power-serving propaganda, mendacity and indifference that overwhelmingly destroys ‘them’ while ‘we’ know little or nothing of what’s happening. There is no risk of us forgetting because we don’t know. We don’t know because journalism has been transformed into one more corporate product where celebrity media workers sell their ‘brand’ as columnists without risking their privileged lifestyles by treading on important toes.
A Country That Is Not Yours Needs You To Kill And Be Killed
The ‘fallen’ were pushed by a fantastically distorted version of the world calculated to manufacture their consent. The implication is unavoidable: the choices they made were not free choices.
In 1931, Winston Churchill noted ‘the reputation of the British empire as a valiant and benignant force in the history of mankind’.6 Churchill later described ‘what is called colonialism’ as ‘bringing forward backward races and opening up the jungles’.7 Like everyone else, he was ‘brought up to feel proud of what we had done’.
Historian Mark Curtis takes a different view:
As regards the promotion of the principles noted above – peace, democracy, human rights and Third World economic development – much of Britain’s history is embarrassing by virtually any standards.
Britain ‘led the world in enslaving what is now known as the Third World by a series of human slaughters and military conquests before instituting an economic imperialism that enforced virtual (and real) slavery on tens of millions of people while using their resources for Britain’s enrichment’.8
In November 1935, Major General Smedley D. Butler supplied a rare honest insight into the role of the West’s military:
I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service as a member of our country’s most agile military force – the Marine Corps… And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.
Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City boys to collect revenues in. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.9
When groups of powerful, violent egotists clash in pursuit of empire, extreme violence is inevitable. This is essentially what happened with the Great War, in which 1 in 3 British men aged 19-22 in 1914 were killed.
Of course, when exploitative elites clash, the public is told, ‘We are at war!’ What began as rape and pillage, as ‘opening up the jungles’, is magically transformed into a noble cause. Up to this point, there was no question of elites insisting ‘We are at business!’ or, ‘We are at self-enriching conquest!’ The spoils are not shared in the same way that killing and dying are shared. But when the violent thieves of state power meet resistance from other state thieves, ‘We are at war!’ ‘The nation is at war!’ and so: ‘Your country needs you!’
Suddenly it’s ‘our’ country! The giant corporations, banks and the elite class that owns them are imaginatively turned over to us, and thus ‘our’ country needs us!
In 1937, anarchist writer Rudolf Rocker commented:
The love of his own nation has never yet prevented the entrepreneur from using foreign labour if it was cheaper and made more profit for him. Whether his own people are thereby injured does not concern him in the least; the personal profit is the deciding factor in such a case, and so-called national interests are only considered when not in conflict with personal ones.10
Consider, for example, the behaviour of German capitalists after the Great War:
It never occurred to them that in order to rescue the rest of the nation from helpless despair and misery after the war they might be content with smaller profits. They stole what they could lay their hands on, while the nation fed on dry bread and potatoes and thousands of German children died of under-nourishment. None of these parasites ever heeded that their uncontrolled greed delivered the whole nation to destruction. While the workers and the middle class of the great cities perished in misery, Stinnes became the owner of fabulous riches. Thyssen, who before the war had approximately two hundred million gold marks, is today the owner of a fortune of a billion gold marks, and the other representatives of German heavy industry enriched themselves in the same proportion.11
As the modern climate change crisis reveals with even greater clarity, establishment self-seekers do not care much even for themselves, much less for ‘the nation’. Even as these interests have driven governments to invade Iraq and Libya to gain control of oil resources, fossil fuel interests, the most powerful industries in the world, have waged a no-holds-barred propaganda campaign against their own domestic populations to prevent them from understanding the true seriousness of the climate disaster.
This week, the Guardian reported that Brad Lister, Professor of Biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic University in the United States, had returned to a Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years. Lister found that 98 per cent of ground insects had vanished: ‘The most likely culprit by far is global warming’. Lister commented:
It was just astonishing… It was a true collapse of the insect populations in that rainforest. We began to realise this is terrible, a very, very disturbing result.
We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on this planet, along with all the other life on the planet. It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this.
This follows research in 2017 which found that 75 per cent of flying insects in Germany’s nature reserves had vanished over the previous 25 years. Professor Dave Goulson of Sussex University warned:
We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse.
The response: last year, the world’s airlines carried 4.3 billion passengers, up 38 million compared to the year before. At a time when rapid and massive reductions are desperately needed, global carbon emissions reached an all-time high, up 2.7 per cent, after a 1.6 per cent increase in 2017. Unsurprisingly, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also reached an all-time high in 2018, 410 parts per million (ppm). Science writer Peter Gleick commented on Twitter:
The last time humans experienced 410 ppm was… never. Never. Humans hadn’t evolved yet.
Corporate media around the world have sometimes reported but always essentially shrugged off these terrifying developments – the focus on consumerism, entertainment and indifference continues as before. Even now, with scientists warning of a ‘climate emergency’, of imminent catastrophe, and even of human extinction, corporate interests are continuing their campaign of denial, even though their own lives and the lives of their children are at stake.
These are essentially the same forces driven by the same goals that built empires on the suffering of weaker peoples and animals throughout the world for hundreds of years. Remarkably, it turns out that, in 1914-1918 and in 1939-1945, ordinary men and women killed and died to defend a status quo that, within a few short decades, would bring humanity to the brink of extinction.
Who made fully aware of even a portion of this reality would have been willing to fight for the British Empire against the German Empire in the war of 1914-1918? Who would have been willing to experience the obscenity of killing another human being – of mutilating, burning alive, shredding; of being oneself mutilated, burned alive, shredded – for this cause?
Unsurprisingly, we are told in no uncertain terms that ‘respectability’ requires that ‘remembrance’ of this mass deception, this mass capitulation to self-destructive illusions, requires, not rational, open discussion, but solemn silence. We are to quietly ‘remember’, to sadly reflect, to quietly thank the ‘fallen’ ‘who sacrificed themselves for the freedoms we hold dear’ but do not possess.
The emphasis on silence serves a purpose; it is used to suggest that painful questioning is an insult to the ‘memory’ of the dead. As if a memory can be insulted. As if the dead can be insulted at all. As if responding with patriotic platitudes and deceptions would not be viewed as an insult by the people killed by them.
All too many of us have bowed low to ‘authority’s’ demand for silence. The result could hardly be more catastrophic. Erich Fromm saw it with astonishing clarity:
This attitude of the dehumanised human – of the person who does not care, of the person who not only is not his brother’s keeper but is not even his own keeper – this attitude characterises modern man.12
- Tolstoy, Writings On Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence, New Society, 1987, p. 95.
- Fromm, Beyond The Chains Of Illusion, Abacus, 1962, p. 120.
- Milgram, Obedience to Authority, Pinter & Martin, 1974, p. 162.
- Ibid, p.164.
- ProQuest newspaper database search, January 15, 2019.
- Quoted, Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p. 1.
- Ibid, p. 5
- Ibid, p. 5.
- Butler, quoted, Sidney Lens, The Forging of the American Empire, Pluto Press, 2003, pp. 270-271.
- Rocker, Culture and Nationalism, Michael E. Coughlan, 1978, p. 261.
- Ibid, p. 264.
- Fromm, ‘On Being Human’, Continuum, 1997, p. 29.