Anti Fascism

Response and responsibility

When asked why she launched a rifle attack on her high school back in 1979, Brenda Spencer replied:

“I don’t like Mondays.”

This comment (as well as spawning one of the most annoying songs in the history of pop….sorry, ‘punk’ music) ignited a fierce debate in the US about whether to strike Mondays from the official calendar, given they were, as per Spencer, quite obviously responsible for the deaths of two innocent people.

Oh no…wait a minute…that’s not quite right. What in fact happened was every sane person on planet pointed at her and said: there goes a looney tune. Cause and effect didn’t apply, for some reason.

Some examples are in order: If you apply sufficient pressure to a grape, it will eventually explode in your hand. If you water a plant, it will grow. If we intervene in Iraq, we can expect a bomb on the westbound Piccadilly line…?

The invasion of Iraq ’caused’ the London bombings alright, but only in the sense that pictures of scantily clad pre-teens might cause a paedophile to become aroused. There is no law of physics at work here, and if you share responsibility, you necessarily dilute it. (The point of this admittedly crude analogy is that even where causality can be demonstrated, this in itself is meaningless. Half-naked 10 year olds do not share responsibility for the actions of paedophiles, however causal their appearance.)

The case for war in Iraq stands and falls on its own merit. For the last 2 years, stoppers have argued that the war cannot enjoy retrospective justification as a result of any unintended (as they see them), favourable consequences. So the establishment of a stable, democratic Iraq, if that comes to pass, cannot provide ex post facto justification given the war was about WMD, etc, etc..

If this is true, then the reverse applies. The same war to unearth Saddam’s WMD does not lose justification because the response of those who object is to engage in acts of pitiless violence against innocent non-combatants.

So, Blair’s responsibility extends to those killed in the service of this country and those killed in the prosecution of the war he sanctioned. It does not extend to the 20-odd children murdered last week while collecting sweets from GIs, or the more than 50 people slaughtered on a metropolitan transport system thousands of miles from the theatre of war.

Notwithstanding the above, whether one regards the Iraq war as causal is mostly unimportant. What should mark people out is whether they believe this causality, assuming it exists at all, can be used to dilute the responsibility of the bombers who acted with full agency, exemplifying the very essence of free will.

Which is not to argue that a course of action is unavailable to the government that would make such atrocities less likely. Likewise, any parent could reduce the risk of their children being abducted by keeping them locked up in the house 24 hours a day. There is an undeniable logic that means this has to be true. But in the event they don’t and a child is abducted, does this mean the parent shares responsibility at any level, by dint of failing to take the necessary steps to minimize/eradicate the risk?

I can envisage certain foreign policy initiatives to which I would object, but I’m quite certain that I would never use the fact that somebody might choose to suicide murder tube travellers in response to such an initiative as an argument against pursuing it. When it comes to decisions as important as whether to take the country to war, threats from fanatical terrorists ought not to figure anywhere in the equation. At least, I’d prefer they didn’t in any country that I live in. The UK government, run by whomever, cannot legitimately sub-contract our foreign policy to people who are unaccountable to me.

So whilst I can concede that there are some good, honourable and principled arguments why we ought not to have gone to war with Iraq, that we might one day witness carnage on the streets on London at the hands of irrational, brainwashed idealogues, is not one of them.

Those who think it is, should get off their knees.