Posts Tagged ‘Josef Stalin’

Hitchens and Grayling debate ‘Among The Dead Cities’

29/12/2013

FORA TV link

I recently placed this debate in “The Good” section of my three-part post of all of Hitchens’ formal television and radio debates, but now after a recent third viewing, I am wondering whether it should have gone in “The Great” section.  The late Christopher Hitchens, journalist, author, public intellectual and polemist, debates British philosopher and author A C Grayling on the latter’s book on the morality of deliberately aiming bombs at civilians during wartime within the context of World War II, Among The Dead Cities: Is The Targeting Of Civilians In War Ever Justified? [London: Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2007] at the Goethe Institute, Washington on 20 April 2006.

Grayling’s argument

Tellingly, the title of Grayling’s book is derived from an Allied report at the war’s end regarding a suitable venue to hold the trials of Nazi war criminals.  While acknowledging that the Second World War was a “just war” against a truly evil enemy and the greatest mistake the Allies could possibly have made would have been to lose it, Grayling brushes aside the atrocities of the Axis that have attracted the most attention since the War’s conclusion and focuses on whether the Allies’ area bombing campaign against German and Japanese cities constituted a war crime under the guidelines set out at the post-war Nuremburg Trials.

Grayling even dismisses the argument that the Allies were justified in taking such action as a means of retaliation as it was the Germans who bombed the Allies’ civilians first.  Although he does not use the school yard retort in so many words, it is a rather apt summary of his position: two wrongs don’t make a right.  Just because the Nazis carried out a campaign of sterilisation, eugenics and genocide against peoples who were unfortunate enough not to be in their favour, the Allies would scarcely have been vindicated in taking such action against the Germans at the end of the war.

Grayling concludes that the Allies’ deliberate targeting of civilians on the enemy side by area bombing of Germany and Japan and the dropping of the atomic bombs by America on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not only a crime against humanity in moral terms, but that it did not even have the desired strategic effect of hindering the enemy war effort by destroying their workforce, supplies, munitions and lines of communication and shattering the moral of their civilian population so as to make their governments sue for peace or surrender  unconditionally.

Hitchens’ response

While Hitchens’ speech is not the kind of soaring and swirling grandstanding that we were used to from his debates on religion; repeated viewings reveal it to be among his very best.  His exposition of the Jewish-born/Protestant-convert Victor Klemperer’s diary of the Third Reich, I Shall Bear Witness, among other obscure tracts, reminds me of revealing the real joys of being a public intellectual, when commenting on the death of Susan Sontag, showing how committed, well-read and intelligent he was with his in-depth knowledge of texts that 99.9% of the population have never even heard of, much less have the time, energy or motivation to read:

Between the word “public” and the word “intellectual” there falls, or ought to fall, a shadow.  The life of the cultivated mind should be private, reticent, discreet: Most of its celebrations will occur with no audience, because there can be no applause for that moment when the solitary reader gets up and paces round the room, having just noticed the hidden image in the sonnet, or the profane joke in the devotional text, or the secret message in the prison diaries.  Individual pleasure of this kind is only rivalled when the same reader turns into a writer, and after a long wrestle until daybreak hits on his or her own version of the mot juste, or the unmasking of pretension, or the apt, latent literary connection, or the satire upon tyranny.

Although Hitchens broadly agrees with Grayling that the actions of the Allies were awful, as were some of their motives – they bombed the German cities firstly, because they could and secondly, to impress Josef Stalin whose Red Army was fast advancing on the Third Reich from the East and who could well have been the Allies’ enemy in a third world war once the second was out of the way – he stops short of calling the bombing campaign an atrocity or a war crime.  The Second World War was a truly exceptional example and Germany’s defeat had to be final, total, utter and annihilating.  There could be no repeat of what happened after 1918 with speculation about what might have happened if Germany had hung on a little longer and the Jews had not conspired against them.

Drawing on Klemperer’s diaries, Hitchens paints an astonishing image of the morning after the night of the bombing of Dresden (which, thanks to unusually favourable climate conditions “worked too well”), when Klemperer and his wife who were about to be shipped off to the death camps that very day, emerged from their shelters, saw that not one brick was piled on top of another, and so tore off the yellow stars from their clothing.

Hitler’s Willing Executioners?

Hitchens begins his speech by applauding Germany’s courage for facing up to its record during World War II and refers to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s controversial Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which argued that the Germans were genetically predisposed to carry out the Holocaust, as a “defamation” to the character of the German people.   He reviewed the book in conjunction with reporting on what sounded like an intellectual public raping of Goldhagen by a pair of older and wiser historians of the period shortly after the book’s publication:

Having immersed myself in this volume for a weekend, I am eager to ask one big question that cries to heaven for an answer.  It is this: Who on earth does Goldhagen think he is arguing with?  He comes to tell us there was a good deal of state- and church-sponsored anti-Semitism in German culture.  He adds that the Nazis made great use of Jew hatred in their propaganda.  He goes on to say that many Germans took part in beatings, killings, and roundups not because they were coerced but because they liked the idea.  He announces that not many Germans resisted the persecution of their Jewish countrymen.

Excuse me, but I knew this and so did you.  Moreover, the sarcastic phrase about “obeying orders” is not even a well-known explanation, only a well-known excuse.  All the way through Goldhagen’s presentation, which is one tautology piled on another, I wait to make my point.  And then the two big scholars present come to the podium with their comments, and I realize I have been wasting my time.

Sophomoric, meretricious, unoriginal, unhistorical, a product of media hype by Knopf (the book’s publisher), contradictory, repetitive, callow…  I’m just giving you the gist of what they said about Hitler’s Willing Executioners. It must have been quite an ordeal for Goldhagen, who looks about 12, to sit through this kind of thing from revered seniors.

Ouch.

Interestingly, Grayling too commented on the “questionable character of scholarship” that was Hitler’s Willing Executioners in Among The Dead Cities [p. 166].  He mentions he reviewed the book for the Financial Times when it was first published, although I have been unable to find it online.  However, I have found that of Richard John Neuhaus, which Grayling cites in the endnotes:

After Hitler and because of Hitler, six million fewer Jews remained. In the fifty years since, many Christians and some Jews have come to understand much more deeply the sources of what Rosenzweig terms the enmity and the bond between us.  The Jewish question remains because, thank God, Jews remain. In America, too, there are anti-Semites who propose solutions, if not a “final solution,” to the Jewish question.  They are and, please God, will continue to be a fringe phenomenon.  Much more important, we in America, Jews and Christians, have the singular responsibility and opportunity to work out a way of remaining together in mutual respect and unquestioned security.  For that common task we receive no help whatever from the incoherent, hateful, and dishonest tract that is Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

Terrorism by another means?

What really makes Hitchens’ blood boil – to the extent that it “disfigures” the book – is Grayling’s comparison of the Allied bombing and the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda; having spent the preceding four and a half years quarrelling with former friends on the Left that Osama Bin Laden lead a group of people who had a legitimate grievance against the United States for their misadventures abroad.  This is the “offending passage” from Among The Dead Cities in full (Hitchens quoted the first paragraph at the end of his opening speech):

A surprise attack on a civilian population aimed at causing maximum hurt, shock, disruption, and terror: there comes to seem very little difference in principle between the RAF’s Operation Gomorrah, or the USAAF’s atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York by terrorists on 11 September 2001.  And this latter, prescinding from differences in scale and drama of the target, is no different in turn from terrorist bombings carried out in Madrid by Basque separatists or in London by the IRA.  All these terrorist attacks are atrocities, consisting of deliberate mass murder of civilians to hurt and coerce the society in which they belong to.  To say that the principle underlying ‘9/11’, Hamburg and Hiroshima is the same is to say that the same moral judgement applies to all three.

No doubt these will be unduly provocative comparisons.  It can be pointed out that the Allied bombings were carried out in time of declared war, in which offensive comparisons are in effect a form of defensive operation, given that the enemy will seek to do the same if given an opportunity; whereas Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were perfidious attacks on unprepared targets, the first military, the second civilian.

This point is a good one, for there is indeed a difference here, though some will attempt to make it a debating point whether those who carry out terrorist attacks believe that they are at war and that their offence is in the same way a form of pre-emptive defence.  Very well: grant the difference; yet focus on the net effect.  In all these cases the centre-piece is an attack on a civilian population aimed at causing maximum hurt, shock, disruption and terror.  This is what these events have in common, whether in the midst of declared war or not, and so far as this core point is concerned, adjustments of fine moral calibration are at best irrelevant.  All such attacks are moral atrocities [pp. 278 – 279].

Grayling gave a lengthy account of his elaborative reply to Hitchens in the postscript to my paperback edition:

The 9/11 point is a different matter.  Those who have most belligerently opposed the comparison, such as Christopher Hitchens, are right to point out that whereas World War II area bombing occurred in the middle of a declared war between states whose military forces were engaged in combat to the death, the 9/11 attacks were acts of terrorism carried out not by one state against another but an egregiously nasty private organisation with no interest in anything other than the unrestrained furtherance of its agenda.  I grant this, and indeed all other differences, and acknowledge that there is no moral equivalence between Allied military endeavours against the Nazi and Japanese regimes, and the 9/11 attacks, both taken on their own inclusive terms.  Instead I argued that in one crucial respect – one respect only – there is a dismaying similarity between area bombing and terrorist bombings: namely, that they both seek to coerce a people by blowing up as many of them as possible and thereby terrorising and demoralising the rest.  In this single respect, all acts of mass murder are indeed morally equivalent: and their equivalence lies in their being great wrongs.  That was my point; and I adhere to it, because it is surely a profoundly educative one, since it allows one to make a simple but profound emotional connection between one’s horror at the 9/11 attacks in which 3000 people died in a single atrocity, to one’s horror at the deaths of ten and perhaps sometimes twenty times as many in each of the bombings of such places as Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  This way of grasping the purport of what area bombing meant, really meant, is vital to making a difference to how we behave and what we accept today in the conduct of conflicts.  There is nothing abstract or theoretical about the mass murder in which bombing consists: it is real and terrible, and anything that drives the point home has its place in the debate, for in the end the effect on victims, and the atrocity of the act, are indeed one and the same in all cases – in this one crucial, central respect [pp. 292 – 293].

I find it very difficult to take a side in this argument between Hitchens and Grayling; I can well understand both men’s point of view.  Ultimately, I am more sympathetic to Hitchens’ stance by the breadth of a cigarette paper and I am glad that Grayling ruled out the drawing of moral equivalences.  Yes, it was a truly awful thing that the Allies did to the Axis countries in World War II and I would be loathed to defend it for one moment.  However, we were fighting a truly awful enemy who would have visited the same devastation on us a thousand-fold given the opportunity and – as Hitchens pointed out in the debate – the only thing more awful than an Axis defeat would have been an Axis victory.

“Perfect weapons”

I am reminded of Sam Harris’ discussion of the philosophy of “perfect weapons” and the morality of collateral damage in The End Of Faith.  I have posted an edited version of the relevant passage in my previous post (before this post spirals even more out of control!), but in summary, Harris answers those on the Left like Noam Chomsky who compared the America to its enemies in moral terms with the philosophical device of a “perfect weapon”.  If there existed a “perfect weapon” that killed/impaired/destroyed only its intended military targets and did not cause any “collateral damage” by killing or injuring innocent civilians and destroying their homes, would America make use of such a weapon in waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq in the 21st Century?  Most certainly, it would.  Would America’s enemies in the Middle East use such a weapon?  Most certainly, they would not.  This is as clear and concise a distinction between moral intentions and sheer “body count” as I have ever found.

As Harris himself said in his 2007 debate against left-leaning journalist, commentator and author, Chris Hedges, when pressed by moderator Robert Scheer as to whether there was a “fundamental moral difference” between Islamist suicide bombing and the Allies’ tactics during World War II, that we could not fight war like we did in World War II.  We have learned the terrible lessons of such actions before “going casually onto the battlefield”.

Most certainly the Allied commanders in World War II (not to mention Nixon and Kissinger in the Vietnam War) would not have made use of “perfect weapons” to wage war against the enemy.  Neither would America’s and Israel Islamic foes in the 21st Century.  However, Bush and Obama most certainly would.

And that is a good thing.

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Sam Harris on ‘Perfect Weapons’ and the morality of ‘Collateral Damage’

29/12/2013

EndOfFaithCoverMy next post will be an analysis of Christopher Hitchens and A C Grayling’s 2006 debate on Among The Dead Cities: Is The Targeting Of Civilians In War Ever Justified?.  The closing paragraphs of that post cite Sam Harris’ discussion of the philosophy of “perfect weapons” and collateral damage in The End Of Faith.   So that my post on the Hitchens/Grayling debate does not spiral out of control any more than it already has, I have posted an edited version of the passage below.  (H/T: Otto Spijkers and Nick Li on Invisible College Blog for typing out and publishing most of it, so I didn’t have to!)

The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror And The Future Of Reason [London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2006] pp. 142 – 147:

Perfect Weapons and the Ethics of “Collateral Damage”

What we euphemistically describe as “collateral damage” in times of war is the direct result of limitations in the power and precision of our technology.  To see that this is so, we need only imagine how any of our recent conflicts would have looked if we had possessed perfect weapons – weapons that allowed us either to temporarily impair or to kill a particular person, or group, at any distance, without harming others or their property.  What would we do with such technology?  Pacifists would refuse to use it, despite the variety of monsters currently loose in the world: the killers and torturers of children, the genocidal sadists, the men who, for want of the right genes, the right upbringing, or the right ideas, cannot possibly be expected to live peacefully with the rest of us.  I will say a few things about pacifism in a later chapter – for it seems to me to be a deeply immoral position that comes to us swaddled in the dogma of highest moralism – but most of us are not pacifists.  Most of us would elect to use weapons of this sort.  A moment’s thought reveals that a person’s use of such a weapon would offer a perfect window onto the soul of his ethics.

Consider the all too facile comparisons that have recently been made between George Bush and Saddam Hussein (or Osama bin Laden, or Hitler, etc.) – in the pages of writers like [Arundhati] Roy and [Noam] Chomsky, in the Arab press, and in classrooms throughout the free world.  How would George Bush have prosecuted the recent war in Iraq with perfect weapons?  Would he have targeted the thousands of Iraqi civilians who were maimed or killed by our bombs?  Would he have put out the eyes of little girls or torn the arms from their mothers?  Whether or not you admire the man’s politics – or the man – there is no reason to think that he would have sanctioned the injury or death of even a single innocent person.  What would Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden do with perfect weapons?  What would Hitler have done?  They would have used them rather differently.

It is time for us to admit that not all cultures are at the same stage of moral development. . .

Consider the horrors that Americans perpetrated as recently as 1968 [during the Vietnam War], at My Lai: . . .

(…)

This is about as bad as human beings are capable of behaving.  But what distinguishes us from many of our enemies is that this indiscriminate violence appalls us.  The massacre at My Lai is remembered as a signature moment of shame for the American military.  Even at the time, US soldiers were dumbstruck with horror by the behaviour of their comrades.  One helicopter pilot who arrived on the scene ordered his subordinates to use their machine guns against their own troops if they did not stop killing villagers.  As a culture we have clearly outgrown our tolerance for the deliberate torture and murder of innocents.  We would do well to realize that much of the world has not.

(…)

Any systematic approach to ethics, or to understanding the necessary underpinnings of a civil society, will find many Muslims are standing eye deep in the red barbarity of the fourteenth century.  There are undoubtedly historical and cultural reasons for this, and enough blame to go around, but we should not ignore the fact that we must now confront whole societies whose moral and political development – in their treatment of women and children, in their prosecution of war, in their approach to criminal justice, and in their very intuitions about what constitutes cruelty – lags behind our own.  This may seem like an unscientific and potentially racist thing to say, but it is neither.  It is not in the least racist, since it is not at likely that there are biological reasons for the disparities here, and it is unscientific only because science has not yet addressed the moral sphere in a systematic way.  Come back in a hundred years, and if we haven’t returned to living in caves and killing each other with clubs, we will have some scientifically astute things to say about ethics.  Any honest witness to current events will realize that there is no moral equivalence between the kind of force civilized democracies project in the world, warts and all, and the internecine violence that is perpetrated by Muslim militants, or indeed by Muslim governments.  Chomsky seems to think that the disparity either does not exist or runs the other way.

Consider the recent conflict in Iraq: If the situation had been reversed, what are the chances that the Iraqi Republican Guard, attempting to execute a regime change on the Potomac, would have taken the same degree of care to minimize civilian casualties?  What are the chances that Iraqi forces would have been deterred by our use of human shields?  (What are the chances we would have used human shields?)  What are the chances that a routed American government would have called for its citizens to volunteer to be suicide bombers?  What are the chances that Iraqi soldiers would have wept upon killing a carload of American civilians at a checkpoint unnecessarily?  You should have, in the ledger of your imagination, a mounting column of zeros.

Nothing in Chomsky’s account acknowledges the difference between intending to kill a child, because of the effect you hope to produce on its parents (we call this “terrorism”), and inadvertently killing a child in an attempt to capture or kill an avowed child murderer (we call this “collateral damage”).  In both cases a child has died, and in both cases it is a tragedy.  But the ethical status of the perpetrators, be they individuals or states, could hardly be more distinct.  Chomsky might object that to knowingly place the life of a child in jeopardy is unacceptable in any case, but clearly this is not a principle we can follow.  The makers of roller coasters know, for instance, that despite rigorous safety precautions, sometime, somewhere, a child will be killed by one of their contraptions.  Makers of automobiles know this as well.  So do makers of hockey sticks, baseball bats, plastic bags, swimming pools, chain-link fences, or nearly anything else that could conceivably contribute to the death of a child.  There is a reason we do not refer to the inevitable deaths of children on our ski slopes as “skiing atrocities.”  But you would not know this from reading Chomsky.  For him, intentions do not seem to matter.  Body count is all.

We are now living in a world that can no longer tolerate well-armed, malevolent regimes.  Without perfect weapons, collateral damage – the maiming and killing of innocent people – is unavoidable.  Similar suffering will be imposed on still more innocent people because of our lack of perfect automobiles, airplanes, antibiotics, surgical procedures, and window glass.  If we want to draw conclusions about ethics – as well as make predictions about what a given person or society will do in the future – we cannot ignore human intentions.  Where ethics are concerned, intentions are everything.

Hitler the Atheist

14/11/2010

You have probably have already seen it on other blogs, but I want to give my applause to Aussie YouTube auteur NonStampCollector’s latest Paint Brush masterpiece debunking the idea that the 20th Century’s most notorious mass-murderer was in any way motivated by his alleged lack of belief in the Christian God, as opposed to Zeus, Thor or Dionysius.

Watch out for the fabulous rundown of the various offences for which the Catholic Church has and has not excommunicated its members.

The video’s link contains the footnotes.

Richard Dawkins on David Berlinski

09/04/2010

DawkinsBerlinski

manicstreetpreacher presents the damning verdict on a pseudo-intellectual by a genuine one.

Further to my recent series of posts on the Intelligent Design creationist propaganda piece Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Mike Godfrey over at God3’s Blog quotes one of the film’s participants, David Berlinski.  In his response to the New Atheism, The Devil’s Delusion, Berlinski, a supposedly secular Jew, writes on the crimes of so-called atheist totalitarianisms in the 20th century:

Dawkins is prepared to acknowledge the facts while denying their significance.  Neither the Nazis nor the Communists, he affirms, acted because of their atheism. They were simply keen to kill a great many people. Atheism had nothing to do with it.  They might well have been Christian Scientists.

In the early days of the German advance into Eastern Europe, before the possibility of Soviet retribution even entered their untroubled imagination, Nazi extermination squads would sweep into villages, and after forcing the villagers to dig their own graves, murder their victims with machine guns.  On one such occasion somewhere in Eastern Europe, an SS officer watched languidly, his machine gun cradled, as an elderly and bearded Hasidic Jew laboriously dug what he knew to be his grave.

Standing up straight, he addressed his executioner.  “God is watching what you are doing,” he said.

And then he was shot dead.

What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing.

And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either.

That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.

I can only assume that Berlinski had forgotten about the events of September 11, 2001 when he was writing this passage.  This was an outrage carried out by people who were thinking only too much of what heaven would think of them.  Hopefully, the more recent events on the Moscow tube will jog his memory.

Appealing to authority and credential inflation are common tactics of creationists and Intelligent Design proponents.  Expelled’s host, Ben Stein, went to great lengths to hold out Berlinski as an example of a smart guy who believed in Intelligent Design in order to give it some credibility.  However, all Berlinski succeeded in doing was to be a particularly obnoxious and unlikeable character, saying that Richard Dawkins is “a crummy philosopher” and “a little bit of a reptile”.

In an article reminiscing on an infamous book review for The New York Times in 1989 where he wrote, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that),” Dawkins had this to say about Berlinski:

Are there, then, any examples of anti-evolution poseurs who are not ignorant, stupid or insane, and who might be genuine candidates for the wicked category?  I once shared a platform with someone called David Berlinski, who is certainly not ignorant, stupid or insane.  He denies that he is a creationist, but claims strong scientific arguments against evolution (which disappointingly turn out to be the same old creationist arguments).  Together with the great John Maynard Smith and others, he and I were guest speakers at a debate organized by a prominent Oxford rabbi.  Maynard Smith spoke after Berlinski and, not surprisingly, he soon had the audience roaring with laughter as he lampooned Berlinski’s bad arguments.  But what amused me was Berlinski’s tactic for dealing with this mocking laughter.  He sprang to his feet, held up a reproachful open palm towards the audience, and said (approximately of course, I can’t remember the exact words): “No no!  Don’t laugh.  Let Maynard Smith have his say!  It’s only fair!”  Happily, the Oxford audience saw through this tactic of pretending to think the audience were laughing at Maynard Smith rather than with him.  And the rabbi, himself a devout creationist, afterwards told me he had been shocked at Berlinski’s duplicity.  By itself, this is too trivial an example to deserve the name wicked.  But it did make me wonder about Berlinski’s motives.  As I said, he is certainly not ignorant, stupid or insane.

After witnessing his performance in Expelled, Dawkins’ assessment of Berlinski is borne out all too well.

A dark face to Rage Against The Machine’s Christmas Number One?

22/12/2009

manicstreetpreacher takes a brief respite from all things theocratic and gives his take on how the cunning stunt of getting RATM to Christmas Number One has a less amusing side to it.

I just couldn’t believe it.  Returning from the gym on Sunday evening checking out my RSS feeds, I saw the news that Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name” had beaten X Factor winner, Joe McElderry, to UK Christmas Number One.  The shock chart result follows a widely publicised Facebook campaign to get the US-based rap punk group to the top of the charts in order to prevent Simon Cowell from ruining the best chart of the year with yet another insult-to-housewives-choice-idenikit-sugar-manufactured-pop-dreck-famous-for-five-seconds-forgotton-just-as-quickly-waste-of-plastic.

My initial reaction was joy.  Although I never got round to downloading the track, I morally supported Rage in beating X Factor.  It was joyful slap in the face to Cowell, regardless of the fact that he is a part owner of Sony, the record company of both McElderry and Rage and therefore a share of the profits will find their way into his high trouser pocket eventually.  However, that is missing the point.  As Charlie Brooker in The Guardian put it writing mid-week before the chart was announced:

But profit isn’t the point – or at least it’s not the reason I downloaded it.  For one thing, I happen to think Killing in the Name is an excellent song, so I’ve already got something out of it.  Most importantly, it contains genuine emotion.  Even if the climactic repeated howls of “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” put you in mind of a teenager loudly refusing to tidy his bedroom – as opposed to a masked anarchist hurling petrol bombs at the riot squad – there is at least an authentic human sentiment being expressed.  Zack de la Rocha is audibly pissed off.

Compare this to the pissweak vocal doodle that is Joe McElderry’s X Factor single.  For a song whose lyrics ostensibly document an attempt to gather the spiritual strength to overcome adversity and thereby attain enlightenment, The Climb is about as inspiring as a Lion bar.  It’s a listless announcement on a service station Tannoy; an advert for buttons; a fart in a clinic; a dot on a spreadsheet.  Listening to it from beginning to end is like watching a bored cleaner methodically wiping a smudge from a Formica worksurface.

But then nobody’s buying The Climb in order to actually listen to it. They’re buying it out of sedated confusion, pushing a button they’ve been told will make them feel better.  It’s the sound of the assisted suicide clinic, and it doesn’t deserve to be No 1 this Christmas.

Hear, hear.

However, the my joy had cold water thrown on it rather quickly with this post from prolific secular, pro-Israel and anti-fascist blogger Edmund Standing who pointed out that far from being mere rebels without a cause, RATM are:

[T]he musical equivalent of the Socialist Workers Party – i.e. they’re ‘revolutionary’ loons who hate the West and wish we were all living in some Soviet hellhole.

Let’s have a look at some of their views.

Starting with the band’s official website, we immediately find images of books including Che Guevara’s ‘Guerrilla Warfare’, ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’, ‘The Black Panthers Speak’, and ‘Malcolm X Speaks’. So, that’s a book on Communist revolution by a vile totalitarian, a terrorist manual, and race baiting material.

Che Guevara is of course the icon of choice for every rebellious teenager, lefty idiot, and pretentious pseudo-leftist celebrity going. The real Che was a walking nightmare…

The Che worship of people like RATM is particularly ironic, given he wanted to ban rock music.

Other influences on RATM include the far-left pseudo-scholar Noam Chomsky and the bloated fake left-winger and propagandist-for-profit Michael Moore.

In an interview with Chomsky, RATM member Tom Morello proudly stated: ‘I want you to know… Noam Chomsky books are the ones most prominently featured on the rage tour bus’.

Zack de la Rocha of RATM considers Chomsky a ‘good friend’ and cited him in an ‘anti-war’ rant at the 2007 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival…

500,000 Britons have ‘rebelled’ against Simon Cowell’s chart dominance by buying the records of an extreme left-wing band of wannabe terrorists.  The only thing that gives me hope in this situation is that the majority of those people probably haven’t got a clue about the politics of RATM, which, of course, really makes the whole ‘campaign’ all the more pathetic.

The words, “down”, “Earth” and “bump” spring to mind.  Perhaps if Standing had blogged on RATM sooner he may have stopped the campaign and McElderry would have given us the ninth Simon Cowell/ Louis Walsh manufactured for a TV audience Christmas Number One in a row…

Many of the commenters on Standing’s post have concurred with him.  However, many have begged to differ, calling him “po-faced” and that the stunt was “just a bit fun”.  Who cares about Rage’s politics?  They are a rock group who have some dodgy, hypocritical and inconsistent views.  What punk rock group does not?  Does Standing begrudge The Sex Pistols very nearly successful attempt to hijack the Jubilee Number One in 1977 for their ridiculous cut n paste ethos?

This reminds me of the occasion in 2001 when my favourite band of all time and whose moniker I have purloined for blogging purposes (so far without being slapped with a copyright action, touch wood!), Manic Street Preachers played a live gig in front of 5,000 fans at the Karl Marx theatre in Havana, Cuba in front of Fidel Castro himself.  The album they were promoting was Know Your Enemy (overall rather tepid, still containing some of their best work, quite a few guilty pleasures!) was chocked full of references to Cuba, not least of which was “Baby Elian”, regarding the fiasco in the courts over custody of a little Cuban boy called Elian Gonzalez who was found washed up in Florida following a boat disaster his mother did not survive while she was attempting to escape to America.

Everyone at the time knew that Cuba has an appalling record on human rights (although they have a cracking healthcare system if Michael Moore is to be believed, erm…), but it was the principle of the band speaking out against the relentless Americanisation of the planet in spite of the fact that everyone would much prefer to live in a McUSA rather than a Red Cuba!  The Manics have always been the biggest load of self-contradictory, ill-thought-out, slogan-ripping-off-without-actually-reading-any-deeper-into-their-heroes tools, but that’s partly why I love them so much.

I have a biography of the band R.E.M. called Fiction, first published in 2002.  Guitarist Peter Buck replied rather well to the apparent contradiction of cash-raking, corporate-cock-sucking rock stars speaking out against globalisation and capitalism.  I didn’t have my copy to hand at the time of writing, but he said something along the lines of all of us being guilty of it to an extent.  Most music magazines have adverts in their back pages that are essentially selling prostitution. What are the chances that the clothes we are wearing now were stitched together in some Taiwanese sweat-shop by an eight-year child being paid $1 a day? (Although on a balance of probabilities Mr Standing is exempt from this piece of rhetoric…)  Al Gore obviously hasn’t given up his 4X4 and jet travel as he is shown using them in An Inconvenient Truth!

The realities rendering us all hypocrites shouldn’t prevent people from rebelling against the system on the odd occasion.  If Rage Against The Machine’s politics were more influential, I think the joke would turn sour and people would know where to draw the line.

But this episode graphically demonstrates the inexplicable paradox at the heart of the public’s perception of the left-right divide.  As Boris Johnson pointed out in a piece first published in The Daily Telegraph in 2005:

Cycling through London, I check out the words on people’s T-shirts, and I was amused the other day to see the letters CCCP on someone’s chest.  Yup, folks, that’s what the fashion-conscious British youth is wearing, a celebration of the great doomed Soviet experiment of 1917 – 90.

Remind me: who was the greater mass murderer, Stalin or Hitler?  Well, Stalin is thought to have been responsible for about 50 million deaths, and Hitler for a mere 25 million.  What Hitler did in his concentration camps was equalled if not exceeded in foulness by the Soviet gulags, forced starvation and pogroms.  What makes the achievements of communist Russia so special and different, that you can simper around in a CCCP T-shirt, while anyone demented enough to wear anything commemorating the Third Reich would be speedily banged away under the 1986 Public Order Act?

On that occasion, Johnson was commenting on the death of Melita Norwood, a former Soviet spy whose crimes against the British state were only discovered in 1999 when she was aged 87.  As a result of her advanced years, the Labour government decided she was too old to prosecute.  Compare that to the way that former Auschwitz guards are (quite rightly) hunted down and thrown in the dock when they have to feed through a tube.

I disagree with my father on many political, philosophical, scientific and above all religious matters.  However, the one gem of political insight he imparted to me in my teenage years which I have retained ever since is that that you can quite literally get away with mass murder as long as you are left wing.

Why is it that the figures of the far left are deified while those at the opposite end of the political spectrum like Hitler are remembered as history’s monsters?  Instead of all those students wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “CCCP” a few years back, why didn’t they try wearing a garment displaying a swastika?  Instead of the monochrome profile of Che Guevara hanging from a million student dorm windows, what about the corpulent features of Herman Goering or his rather more gaunt counterpart in the Wehrmacht Joseph Goebbels?

It’s disgusting how Stalin is being made into a hero now.  Earlier this year, a renegade Orthodox priest displayed icons of him alongside Russian saints outside his church in St Petersburg (or Leningrad as it seems to be called again), which the Communist Party rushed to imitate en masse and distribute.  The Communist Party in Russia are petitioning the Russian Orthodox Church to have him made a saint.  The man was voted third greatest Russian of all time in a poll at the end of 2008.  At this year’s worldwide May Protests, Communists were out in force displaying icons of Stalin.

What on Earth were these people protesting against; too much freedom and democracy and a shortage of gulags and slave labour?

I read an article in The Times a few weeks ago that a school history text book has been produced under the loathsome shadow of the Putin administration which airbrushes (literally) Stalin’s crimes against humanity.  In some European countries it is a crime to deny or trivialise the Holocaust.  Why aren’t there laws against doing the same in respect of all the millions communism has killed?

But then again, aren’t we in the West slaves to commercialisation?  Isn’t that the point of Rage Against The Machine and their ilk?  Hasn’t our consumer culture left as emotional emaciated as a gulag prisoner?  For all the paradoxes, the latent contradictions, the childish political posturing, the ghastly nightmare that would ensue if they had their way, I can’t help feeling some affection for people who want to prevent society degenerating into this:

But I still know which I would prefer.  We need hypocrites like Rage Against The Machine and Manic Street Preachers to remind us how lucky we are and how much worse things could be if we had to live under the heel of Stalin, Castro or Mao.