Freelance writer from Cornwall
Hypocrisy is a strange thing and it’s probably as old as humanity itself. People do love to look down their noses at others with an air of moral superiority because they do or don’t do certain things while thinking ‘I’m so much better than they because they do that and I don’t’ or ‘They’re a lower form of life because they don’t do this and I do.’ It’s a basic human tendency, if a rather ignoble one. It’s also fundamentally dishonest. If you’re preach one creed when people are watching and then spend your free time doing the exact opposite then you’re either a liar or have the self-awareness of a boiled potato.
With the current Gaza crisis in mind, British left-wing commentator Owen Jones tweeted today:
‘Western pro-Israelis totally morally disgraced, ignoring or excusing atrocities they’d be screaming about if an official enemy responsible.’
And he’s right, some of them are. But this does sound a little rich coming from a British commentator, considering that we Brits, lovers of ‘fair play’ and not hitting below the belt and being sporting ‘playing the game for th game’s sake’ as public school teachers might have put it a hundred years ago, aren’t exactly lacking in doing exactly what he’s described. Historically, we Brits are hypocrites. And we’re also liars. In the same sense of one man’s terrorist being another man’s freedom fighter, we don’t have such clean hands (or honest opinions) ourselves, either.
Right now, Israeli troops are blasting the Palestinian population of Gaza with a huge amount of heavy weaponry. Casualties are high, the Israelis know full well the ‘collateral damage’, to use that revolting euphemism, is high and it doesn’t seem to be slowing them down much. A great many Brits are appalled by it and, morally and ethically, so we should be. Rather a shame that, when faced with the Easter Rising in 1916, what did we do to Dublin, also a rather heavily-populated urban area with a large civilian population?
We shelled it. We brought in artillery and used it freely against the Irish rebels and, inevitably, against the population of Dublin, including those who had nothing to do with the Rising at all. I suspect there are possibly many Palestinians who don’t have anything to do with Hamas, either, but that hasn’t stopped the Israeli troops and it certainly didn’t stop ours.
The powers that be weren’t too keen on the original ‘Bloody Sunday in 1921 when members of ‘The Squad’ (also known as ‘The Apostles’ and formed by Michael Collins) spread the word of Irish freedom by effectively wiping out the British Secret Service contingent in Dublin, known as the ‘Cairo Gang’ for their having performed counter-insurgency operations in Egypt. They did this by finding their locations and killing them off. Unfortunately for those Brits who believe that Collins’ methods were sneaky, barbaric, underhand and dishonourable might want to consider the activities of the ‘Cairo Gang’ in a slightly more balanced manner, seeing as the members of the ‘Cairo Gang’ had done their work in Cairo by similar means. Quite a few Egyptian nationalists found themselves either ‘disappeared’, publicly murdered or grabbed off the streets and tortured for information. Don’t seem quite so saintly now, do they?
The Luftwaffe air raid on Coventry was decried at the time as butchery, the ruination of a city with massed air power. Which it was. Civilian casualties were high, as they were in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Plymouth and a great many other places. British propaganda of the time carried a simple and blunt message that carpet-bombing of cities with large civilian populations was an horrendous activity. it was barbaric, cruel, murderous and vicious. All of those things are true, but I suspect the citizens of Hamburg. Cologne, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would also have similar opinions on exactly the same subject.
Espionage is a dirty sordid, dishonourable, treacherous business. During the First and Second World Wars the British shot and hanged many spies if they couldn’t be ‘turned’ and used as double agents, that is. German spies were the bad guys, they were the enemy within, the termites secretly nibbling away at the collective heart of oak that represented the English spirit and way of life. They were dirty people doing a dirty job and so richly deserved their fates. Apparently, Edith Cavell didn’t. Nor did British spies in both wars who were caught operating behind enemy lines, in civilian clothes, with false identities and without diplomatic cover. The nationalities were different, the causes were different, the legality of their deaths was different. But their spies were bad while ours, doing similar work in similar circumstances and sometimes with similar ruthlessness and violence, were brave, selfless heroes doing their bit for Blighty.
During the First World War, both sides decried the existence of snipers (sly little men shooting from cover, not coming out to fight like proper soldiers), but both sides had plenty of them. The British were self-righteously indignant about Zeppelin raids and their terrorising of British civilians, this while the ‘Independent Air Force’ (a forerunner of Bomber Command) were busily flying over German cities such as Mannheim trying to hit military targets while causing civilian casualties. The Zeppelins were aiming for military targets as well. The use of chemical weapons, poison gases such as cyanide, phosgene, chlorine and mustard gas was bitterly opposed by the British after their first use of the war at Ypres, by the Germans, in the summer of 1915. By the autumn of 1915 at the disastrous Battle of Loos, the British had somehow put aside their moral qualms about this foul and beastly weapon. They were willing to use chlorine gas at Loos. And they did. The British propagandists decried Germany’s resorting to unrestricted submarine warfare. No longer were submarines required to stick to sinking only warships and clearly-identifiable arms, munitions and supply ships. They were now free to target and sink any ship delivering military material to the British even if it also had civilian passengers. The British propagandised this as being a terrible thing. According to them it was indiscriminate targeting of civilians, making civilians suffer in a war supposedly between armies.
Yes, so was the British naval blockade causing mass starvation and famine in Germany during the First World War, which also quite likely resulted in larger civilian casualties and certainly caused considerably more suffering.
And let’s not forget a few other chart-busters while we’re here. Napoleon, dreaded imperialist and ‘The great thief of Europe’ who, given the chance, would spread his foul empire-building whenever and wherever he got the chance. Yes, obviously this would be a more credible criticism if it weren’t for the simple fact that much of the world’s population would probably choke on their morning coffee to hear us Brits lecturing the rest of the world on the evils of Empire. We don’t like dictators and the overturning if democracy either, unless you consider that we spent years arming a certain Saddam Hussein and our idea of not intervening in the Spanish Civil War was to allow the Spanish Army mutineers under General Franco to co-ordinate their rebellion and the initial coup attempt using radio facilities at the BRITISH naval base on Gibraltar. Yes, one of the essential parts of the coup that put a Fascist dictator in charge of a Western European nation (sound familiar?) was provided by our very own Royal Navy.
So, my fellow British folk, let’s summarise. Hypocrisy lies at the heart of propaganda and realpolitik. It always has, it always will. It isn’t anything new, we shouldn’t be thinking of it as though it is and the idea we don’t indulge in it ourselves whenever we think we won’t be found out is, frankly, bullshit.