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Illustrated torture

When we first saw photos of alleged torture scenes involving American military personnel against prisoners in Iraq we were highly sceptical. We have always asked ourselves the same question concerning pictures of purported 'atrocities' across the years: just supposing that there are people disposed to commit such acts, why on earth would they have cameras present to record the scenes in all their ghastly detail? Surely they would wish to cover up their deeds by all means possible. This simple commonsense question applies to scenes of alleged atrocities in World War II, and it would apply equally to alleged atrocities in Iraq today.

Such a question was not asked by Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan when, a few days later, he was supplied with photos claimed to show Iraq prisoners being roughed up by British forces personnel. Or maybe he did ask himself the question but preferred not to bother with the answer. Photos of people being tortured, real or imagined, make good copy: they help to sell papers, so Mr. Morgan published them. That is his job. He is paid to boost the Mirror's circulation, not to publish he truth. Mr. Morgan is a man of his time. That he was making himself a party to unproven slurs against the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, the unit allegedly involved, was a minor detail.

It then transpired that the photos of the American torture chamber seemed to be authentic. There were admissions that some disgusting acts against Iraqis had taken place, and one US female soldier, Lynndie England (yes, that name apparently is real!) achieved overnight worldwide renown as one of those involved.

Some will aver that in times of extreme emergency, such as war or terrorist threats, the torture of prisoners is a legitimate, albeit extremely disagreeable, practice in the course of extracting information. We don't wish to get ourselves bogged down here in the moral quagmire that this question opens up. We regard the war against Iraq and the subsequent occupation of that country by US and British forces as moral outrages, and it follows that everything done in support of that war and occupation is immoral ipso facto. In a different situation, in which vital American or British security or interests were at stake, the question of methods used to get information out of enemies would take on another dimension and call for different judgements. But in this instance the use of failure by the Americans (in the British case the jury is still out) just stresses the monumental hypocrisy underlying the whole Coalition cause. The operation was defended on the grounds that it was to get rid of a brutal régime, yet here the 'good guys' are showing themselves capable of equal brutality.

But in addition to the brutality, the responsible parties also seem to have been almost unbelievably stupid. Why advertise the torture by recording it on camera for the world to see? It is difficult to imagine those involved in World War II being quite so irresponsible, whether they actually committed atrocities or not. But of course, today we live in much stupider times, with much stupider people in charge.

Indiscipline: so who's to blame?

"Parents are too willing to abdicate responsibility for disciplining their children to teachers. Parents must recognise their part in improving discipline in the classroom." Who said that? Tony Blair, that's who!

Was this some kind of joke? No, the Prime Minister was serious! He delivered this sermon to Britain's Mums and Dads last month. By failing to be sufficiently strict with their kids at home, they were making it all the more difficult for their teachers to control them at school; and some parents were making things worse by failing to support teachers' disciplinary action when it was taken, complaining that their offspring were being unfairly treated.

The mind doth truly boggle. Here is the head of a government and a political party which have done more than anyone else to undermine discipline, order and good behaviour on a national scale. Tony's Ministers today include many who were in the vanguard of the permissive revolution of the 1960s, when as shaggy-haired student agitators they railed against all the traditional rules and sanctions that hold society together. In Scotland, the Labour-controlled Assembly has already outlawed the smacking of children by parents, and there is strong pressure for the law to be extended to England and Wales also. In state schools throughout the whole United Kingdom smacking is forbidden. There is no chance of this Government ever reversing this ruling.

The Daily Mail leader of the 4th May put it in a nutshell:-

'Doesn't real responsibility lie with a Government that has encouraged the collapse in respect for traditional family values and shamefully failed to keep its promise to improve educational standards?

'Surely nothing has done more to undermine order than the enthusiasm - supported by many teachers - for the progressive liberal belief that structure and discipline in the classroom are oppressive.

'Will we see the Government tackle these real issues? Don't hold your breath.'

We shan't.

Votes for kindergarten next?

Meanwhile, it has been disclosed that the Labour Government plans to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. The idea had been put to the Electoral Commission, which after some study rejected it. Nevertheless, the Government is apparently resolved to ignore the Commission's advice and go ahead. Labour will be putting the proposal to its conference in the autumn and it will be incorporated into the party's manifesto in the next general election.

The purported reason for the move is the necessity to do something to combat the growing indifference to politics among great numbers of young people. By giving them the vote, so the reasoning goes, it will increase their interest and their willingness to participate.

But the real motive is, of course, wholly different. Everyone knows that young people tend to be more left-wing than their elders, and then tend gradually to move rightwards as they grow up. The granting of the vote to 16-17 year-olds is quite cynically calculated to increase Labour's support at the polling stations. Quite apart from the general inclination of many young folk to embrace leftish ideas, it is also quite obviously believed that the young will feel a debt to Labour long after they have passed 18, and continue voting accordingly.

This editor, when 16, took a higher-than-average interest in politics for one of his age. Yet, in terms of real understanding of the ways of the world he knew next to nothing. To grant 16-17 year-olds the vote is a criminal exploitation of their naivety and ignorance. Responsible national leaders would never stoop to such contemptible politicking, but these days this kind of thing seems par for the course.

It will probably not be very long before some politically correct crackpot comes up with the idea of lowering the voting age even further. Will we live to see the day when teddy bears are carried into the polling booth by the arbiters of our future?

Chunnel hits the skids

We forecast it when it was first opened. Now, ten years later, they're admitting it. The much-vaunted Channel Tunnel is turning out to be a huge white elephant.

Shares in Eurotunnel, the company managing the project, last month hit 23p each, the lowest ever. The banks which funded it are owed £6.4 billion, which everyone knows will never be repaid; the company cannot, at the moment, even manage the interest payments. People are simply not using the tunnel in anything like the numbers needed to make it viable.

As an engineering achievement, the Channel Tunnel must stand as one of the most brilliant works of all time - a masterpiece of British and French technology, which in the British case is so sadly wanting in other sectors. But as an economic proposition the Chunnel was doomed to failure from the word go.

The Thatcher Government committed Britain to it for essentially political reasons - strange indeed for a government which allowed so many British manufacturing firms to go to the wall on the grounds that it was 'uneconomic' to keep them going. It was always the French who were keenest on the Chunnel, and Maggie thought it prudent to go along with it to keep them sweet. The principal idea was to make this underwater continental link a propaganda symbol of Britain's ties with Europe. "See, we're no longer an island," and similar nonsense. As with the Concorde, conceived equally as a 'Euro' symbol, it made no economic sense at all but simply consumed vast resources that would have been far better directed elsewhere.

But this is the kind of thing politicians habitually do. They never seriously think anything through, but are always lavish in their dispensation of other people's money.

German-bashing time again!

Mark Almond, writing in The Mail on Sunday on May 9th, delivered an insult to his readers' intelligence remarkable even for a journalist of his type. Or perhaps it was just a wind-up?

The reason why the Americans are acting as they are in Iraq, said Mr. Almond, can be found in the 'German' element in the US population. It is the Teutonic gene, he argued, that produces the tendency for the Americans to be militaristic, aggressive and warlike. This, he explained, is because...

'Staffed by key personnel from German and Central European backgrounds, the US Defence Department is filled with insiders whose mindset seems as rigid and ruthless as the German war planners a century ago.'

Mr. Almond presumably hopes we will take his word for all this and not trouble to enquire further into the matter. The real warmongers in Washington, the people who prodded President Bush into attacking Iraq, and are the most intransigent in insisting that America should stay there, are indeed largely of Central European background, but they are not 'German', as he would have us suppose; they are almost to last man Jewish, including Paul Wolfowitz, whom he quite correctly names as one of the sabre-rattlers.

Mr. Almond's tribe have a word for this kind of thing. They call it chutzpah. Could there ever be a more insolent example?

Better in the old days!

Well, what do you know! Helen Suzman, one of the major figures in the Anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa back in the 1960s and 1970s, is now having second thoughts about her handiwork. She says that things in Black-ruled SA are so bad that life under the old 'racist' régime was preferable. Why didn't she ask us at the time?

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