While pilots of strike aircraft of Britain’s Royal Air Force were firing missiles at Syria on 14 April their Prime Minister, Theresa May, proudly declared that “At this time, my thoughts are with our brave British servicemen and women... who are carrying out their duty with the greatest professionalism.”
Just tell us where’s the bravery in loading an aircraft with missiles? Or fuelling it before it takes off on a strike mission against a country with which Britain is not at war? It can hardly be brave to fly that aircraft to a point well outside the range at which the attacked country could mount any sort of defence and then press a button to shoot off Storm Shadow missiles that zoom over the next 400 miles (700 km) without the slightest danger to the button-presser.
What’s brave about all that? It’s no more hazardous than playing a video game.
Not one member of the British armed forces placed their lives at risk in any way during the attacks on Syria. There was not the remotest possibility of bravery being displayed by anyone. They were all certainly professional. Why shouldn’t they be? It would be pretty grim if they weren’t. And there is no reason to doubt that these button-pressing pilots would be brave if faced in combat by an enemy — but they were not faced by any enemy.
The whizzing rocket foray against Syria by the US and Britain and France was a charade. This mini-blitz in a futile quasi-macho display of military bangity-bang was designed to show the world that Trump Washington was determined to prove its superiority over everyone. But it turned into farce. It was what we in the Australian forces during the Vietnam War used to call a ‘Yippee Shoot’ — a gesture of frustration defined as “an unauthorised, illegal discharge of multiple weapons into the bush.”
Theresa May’s reference to “our brave British servicemen and women” was a cynical ploy designed to appeal to the pretentious patriotism that pervades the United Kingdom. In her recourse to flag-waving ultra-nationalism she was enthusiastically joined by most news media which leap on the patriotism bandwagon and imply that anyone who objects to this useless fandango of missile technology must be a non-patriot.
Mrs May’s public justification for her illegal discharge of Stormy Shadows against a country that poses no threat whatever to the United Kingdom was similarly righteous. She declared that Britain had to act quickly and fire its eight missiles “to alleviate further humanitarian suffering and to maintain the vital security of our operations.”
The hundred missiles fired at Syria by the US, UK and France have not had the slightest impact on “humanitarian suffering” and it was intriguing that the UK government’s official justification for the attack was that “The UK is permitted under international law, on an exceptional basis, to take measures in order to alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering. The legal basis for the use of force is humanitarian intervention” which is justified when there is “extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief.”
So “overwhelming humanitarian suffering” demands military operations, and presumably this is not confined to Syria. Obviously the UK considers that such democratic action must be taken against any country that causes misery, pain and death among its citizenry.
And it so happened that at the same time as the missile blitzing threesome were posturing on the world stage with moral indignation, there was news about Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, where there has been overwhelming humanitarian suffering inflicted on large numbers of the population by its autocratic government. As recorded by Human Rights Watch, Burma’s military had “launched a large-scale ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya Muslim population in Rakhine State. More than 650,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape mass killings, sexual violence, arson, and other abuses amounting to crimes against humanity by the security forces.”
Surveys conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) “estimate that at least 9,000 Rohingya died in Myanmar, in Rakhine state, between 25 August and 24 September . As 71.7% of the reported deaths were caused by violence, at least 6,700 Rohingya, in the most conservative estimations, are estimated to have been killed, including at least 730 children below the age of five years.”
So what has been done by Theresa May concerning the slaughter of 730 little children in Burma? What action has she taken, in her moral righteousness in order to deter the Burmese government and its barbaric army from butchery and “large scale ethnic cleansing”?
Well, in a speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in the City of London she actually did declare that the massacres in Myanmar were “a major humanitarian crisis which looks like ethnic cleansing” and that the UK must now “step up our efforts to respond to the desperate plight of Rohingyas.”
But missiles came there none.
There was action, to be sure. In an important display of disapproval of ethnic cleansing and rabid barbarity the UK’s Ministry of Defence announced it would suspend its training programme for the Burmese military “until there is an acceptable resolution to the current situation”. My goodness, that’ll really make Burmese killer soldiers tremble in their boots. How many lives were saved by that urgent action?
Then it was announced in the UK Parliament that “Last November it was the UK that was instrumental in securing the first UNSC Presidential Statement on Burma for a decade, which delivered a clear message that the Burmese authorities should protect all civilians in Burma; create the conditions for refugees to return; and allow full humanitarian access in Rakhine State.” Forget the Stormy missiles! When there’s a “major humanitarian crisis that looks like ethnic cleansing”, as Mrs May described the slaughter in Burma, there’s nothing that will solve it more effectively than a “clear message” that the criminals responsible should beware of the British government’s displeasure.
There seems to be inconsistency in the British government’s actions when its prime minister and her representatives indulge in moral indignation about human suffering.
There is selectivity in the UK’s response to humanitarian crises, as is evidenced by the response of Prime Minister May to the situation in Yemen.
In its 2018 World Report, Human Rights Watch records that “The Saudi-led coalition involved in the conflict in Yemen repeatedly attacked populated areas and deepened Yemen’s humanitarian crisis through its blockade in 2017.” This is yet another humanitarian crisis, in which the Saudis and their allies have used “cluster munitions and carried out scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes that have killed thousands of civilians in violation of the laws of war.” Yet the response by Mrs May has been strangely muted.
In December 2017 the UK’s House of Commons discussed the situation in Yemen. The debate was called by an individual member of parliament, not Mrs May, on the grounds that “There is rapidly rising concern in Britain about what is happening in Yemen and the part that Britain is playing in this crisis. There is deep concern that an almighty catastrophe of biblical proportions is unfolding in Yemen before our eyes, and a considerable fear that Britain is dangerously complicit in it.” But of Britain’s 650 legislators, only fifty turned up to hear what the government had to say. But the government said nothing, and Mrs May was not among the people concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
In March 2018 Mrs May replied to questions about Yemen by telling Parliament that “we have encouraged the Saudi Arabia Government to ensure that when there are allegations of activity taking place that is not in line with international humanitarian law, they investigate them and learn the lessons.”
It is doubtful if her strictures will ensure that the Saudis will stop using cluster bombs and refrain from killing civilians.
It’s not just random inconsistency and absent-minded selectivity on the part of the UK government that results in it rocketing Syria to alleviate what it describes as a humanitarian crisis, yet takes no action whatever concerning appalling humanitarian crises in Burma and Yemen.
They are just a bunch of pathetic hypocrites.