After the indescribable horror of the fourth mass shooting this year in the US, the world’s media and commentators have been pretty much united in their sympathy for victims and urging of the American government to push for change.
United, that is, aside from one UK protest movement.
Yesterday a friend pointed out Stop the War Coalition’s response (I have copied it as a screenshot, just in case it should later be taken down at any point):
It is difficult to know where to start in explaining what is wrong with these few words, but I will try.
First, the casual implication that America – the nation, we presume, not its government – “slaughters children”. As a matter of preference. I cannot imagine how any ordinary American could fail to be insulted by this claim. If we take it they are talking about Americans as a group, it’s merely xenophobia; had they been talking about the French or the Germans we would be the first to complain.
Second, alternatively, let us generously suppose that StWC means the US government, and explicitly exonerates ordinary Americans from the charge: its current Democratic administration is therefore, to the Stoppers, guilty of the crimes committed in Newtown. Not a lone madman, they are saying; the American government, as if they had pulled the trigger themselves.
Now, you might argue that President Obama and his party might have pushed harder to reform gun laws, but let’s state the blindingly obvious: even were he not a politician as far away as it is possible to get from being pro-gun, he is clearly not responsible for these deaths any more than you or I, and no court would ever find him so. And if at any moment he were to be found responsible for the murder of American children, it goes without saying, he would be impeached, at the very least. And, if it’s not America’s politicians and not its citizens the Stoppers mean, then who are they talking about?
Third, the idea that there is some connection between children dying in a domestic attack by a lone gunman and those dying as the unintended consequence of foreign military action is clearly ridiculous. It is as if somehow Americans were just naturally evil and violent, and like nothing better than to murder a few children.
It is true that children have died in Afghanistan, like in many other wars in human history. The loss of a child’s life in war (or, for that matter, an adult’s life) is a tragedy. We can – and should – question the reasons for each and every war a country is involved in. It is surely true that American politicians should rethink the idea of gun control and its citizens should remember that at election time. All these things are true. But the idea that Americans, or their politicians, somehow want children to die is just breathtakingly stupid. No-one ever wants a child to die, except a psychopath.
Fourth, the tweet says that America is the “world’s most violent nation”. While the US certainly has worryingly high levels of gun murder among the civilian population (highest in the developed world apart from Mexico, as this fascinating piece in the Washington Post points out), no definition of “violent” is given in the StWC article that spawned the tweet. It is, as usual in such emotive pieces, a wholly subjective factoid that sounds good, but leaves its terms deliberately undefined. And there are clearly much more violent societies than the US, by any measure (a lot of war zones, for example).
Fifth, just exactly how it is acceptable for a grown-up political movement to be making public statements, where parents have lost children in the previous couple of days, about how it was just typical of their awful country that they “slaughter children” there, including those of their own fellow citizens, is beyond me.
But anyway, why bother writing about StWC at LabourList: it’s just another wing-nut, far-left organisation like the SWP, or Respect, right? Nothing to do with us.
Wrong. StWC is not a political party. It is, as it says on the tin, a coalition. It deliberately does not require exclusive membership, unlike political parties, which field candidates at elections. Because of this, you cannot be expelled for the Labour Party for being a member. Indeed, some of our MPs and ex-MPs are involved in organising it, and more speak at their rallies. We do not really know who many of its members are, because its members, especially within our party, do not always shout about their membership.
Recently, it has been fascinating to see how, although the group can find time to protest about things which are ostensibly nothing to do with “war” – like government cuts – they cannot seem to find the time to protest about the civil war which is going on in Syria, where tens of thousands are dying. Because, unlike most sane and rational people, Arabs killing other Arabs doesn’t seem to be the kind of war they care about stopping.
Indeed, its stance on Syria seemed so obviously hypocritical, that its convenor, Lindsey German, was forced to write a Guardian Comment Is Free piece entitled “There is no hypocrisy in our stance on Syria”. Just in case you should, you know, get the wrong idea.
And German herself is no stranger to the using of attacks against schoolchildren to justify her obnoxious views: after the shootings in a Toulouse school, she wrote, lest we forget:
“No one can justify such attacks, which have seen the killing of Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi, and of French soldiers of North African and Caribbean descent.
and then went on, remarkably, to do precisely that. All the fault of Sarkozy, racism, war and so on.
No, in the end we should thank the StWC’s social media person, because they have summed up beautifully in 140 characters what its founding ideology is based on: a pathological hatred of America.
There is no rhyme nor reason about that hatred. America is bad. Its politicians are bad. America likes war. We are the good guys, because we oppose America and war. It is this level of playground politics at which StWC operates.
We may dislike America’s gun laws. We may dislike some or many things that American governments do. As a democracy it ain’t perfect, that’s for sure. But we do not need to make common cause with people who say things like this about America and Americans.
In fact, whatever America’s faults, no country which elects its own leaders by free, universal suffrage deserves to be spoken about in those terms, much less its inhabitants. And least of all in an aftermath of an attack where parents have just lost children.
It’s not right. The Stoppers are fellow-travellers, not our friends. We should stop tolerating them.
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left