Murder in Allepo


[Update: There is a now a gruesome video showing Syrian rebels executing prisoners.]

The media are no longer the first draft of history. They are the first layer of distortion and disinformation one has to scrape off to get to the truth.

My experience of Yugoslavia and Kosovo has taught me to avoid hasty judgements and to ignore the media. The cultural and commercial forces that shape the media optimise them for entertainment not reporting reality.

In Syria, as with Libya, it is hard to know what’s really going on and even harder to work out who to support.

The media narrative is familiar: the goodies are the rebel “freedom fighters”, the baddies are the Syrian “regime”.

Assad and his supporters – Iran and Hizbollah – are pretty loathsome. There is no doubt that they have killed tens of thousands of civilians.

But I am also disgusted by many of the rebel elements. The Free Syrian Army seem to be a decent lot, but the Islamist flooding in for Jihad are brutes.

The picture above shocked me. The execution of Prisoners of War is SS style, behaviour, really not something I expected from the rebels or can support under any circumstances.

Hala Jaber’s report in today’s Sunday Times, from which the picture above comes, is a fascinatingly (and rare) example of a media piece that reveals the far more complicated situation in Syria.

I wanted the air strike to kill the men who murdered those Syrian army POWs yet I was also pleased to ear that Hizbollah are taking casualties in the fight.

This situation is extremely dangerous.

Syria links Turkey, Israel, Lebanon and Iran. Turkey, a NATO member is shelling Syria, also a Russian ally.

My hopes lie with the Turks. They are a powerful and responsible force in the region. This situation might even reunite Israel and Turkey as allies.

If it were not for the Islamist element in the ranks of the rebels, it would be a no-brainer to support them unequivocally.

As it is, it’s an ugly fight with brutal combatants that threatens to spill over into the stands. And we all know in those melees it’s impossible to work out who to shout for.

The postwar European holocaust

where the streets have no name
Creative Commons License Gisela Giardino

Brilliant article at The Chronicle of Higher Education on one of the most disgraceful periods in European history: the mass explosion and mass murder of ethnic Germans after World War 2.

16,000,000 innocent civilians ethnically cleansed, 500,000 died – in peacetime!

Between 1945 and 1950, Europe witnessed the largest episode of forced migration, and perhaps the single greatest movement of population, in human history. Between 12 million and 14 million German-speaking civilians—the overwhelming majority of whom were women, old people, and children under 16—were forcibly ejected from their places of birth in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and what are today the western districts of Poland. As The New York Times noted in December 1945, the number of people the Allies proposed to transfer in just a few months was about the same as the total number of all the immigrants admitted to the United States since the beginning of the 20th century. They were deposited among the ruins of Allied-occupied Germany to fend for themselves as best they could. The number who died as a result of starvation, disease, beatings, or outright execution is unknown, but conservative estimates suggest that at least 500,000 people lost their lives in the course of the operation.

Most disturbingly of all, tens of thousands perished as a result of ill treatment while being used as slave labor (or, in the Allies’ cynical formulation, “reparations in kind”) in a vast network of camps extending across central and southeastern Europe—many of which, like Auschwitz I and Theresienstadt, were former German concentration camps kept in operation for years after the war. As Sir John Colville, formerly Winston Churchill’s private secretary, told his colleagues in the British Foreign Office in 1946, it was clear that “concentration camps and all they stand for did not come to an end with the defeat of Germany.” Ironically, no more than 100 or so miles away from the camps being put to this new use, the surviving Nazi leaders were being tried by the Allies in the courtroom at Nuremberg on a bill of indictment that listed “deportation and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population” under the heading of “crimes against humanity.”

By any measure, the postwar expulsions were a manmade disaster and one of the most significant examples of the mass violation of human rights in recent history. Yet although they occurred within living memory, in time of peace, and in the middle of the world’s most densely populated continent, they remain all but unknown outside Germany itself. On the rare occasions that they rate more than a footnote in European-history textbooks, they are commonly depicted as justified retribution for Nazi Germany’s wartime atrocities or a painful but necessary expedient to ensure the future peace of Europe. As the historian Richard J. Evans asserted in In Hitler’s Shadow (1989) the decision to purge the continent of its German-speaking minorities remains “defensible” in light of the Holocaust and has shown itself to be a successful experiment in “defusing ethnic antagonisms through the mass transfer of populations.”

Even at the time, not everyone agreed. George Orwell, an outspoken opponent of the expulsions, pointed out in his essay “Politics and the English Language” that the expression “transfer of population” was one of a number of euphemisms whose purpose was “largely the defense of the indefensible.” The philosopher Bertrand Russell acidly inquired: “Are mass deportations crimes when committed by our enemies during war and justifiable measures of social adjustment when carried out by our allies in time of peace?” A still more uncomfortable observation was made by the left-wing publisher Victor Gollancz, who reasoned that “if every German was indeed responsible for what happened at Belsen, then we, as members of a democratic country and not a fascist one with no free press or parliament, were responsible individually as well as collectively” for what was being done to noncombatants in the Allies’ name.

As usual, Orwell was one of the few voices of sanity.

See other posts on this theme here:

The Horror of Germany’s war –

Remembering Dresden –

Light Amongst the Ruins – 

The Mongol devastations –