Sunday, 10 July 2016

Apportioning Sympathy.

John Prescott was Deputy Prime Minister at the time of the Iraq War in 2003. In the wake of the Chilcot report he has now gone public with the statement that ‘the Iraq War was illegal.’ (The two concepts of warfare and legality seem strangely odd bedfellows to me, to the point that they are supremely incompatible, but let’s leave that one lie for now. It’s a moot point and I suppose the practical meaning is that the Iraq War had neither UN sanction nor the support of the wider international community.) He has also offered his sympathy to the bereaved, especially to the families of British military personnel who were killed in the war.

Why especially? The figure given for military casualties in the report was 200. The figure given for Iraqi civilian deaths was ‘150,000, probably more.’ (Prescott quotes 175,000 for some reason.) I remember at the time that there was much dispute over the number of civilian deaths, with aid agencies at the scene claiming that the real figure was at least twice the official American one. The fact is that we shall never know the real figure; what we do know is that it was big. So let’s state a simple fact:

Anybody who voluntarily signs up for military service does so in full knowledge of the fact that when the men in expensive suits sitting comfortably at home order them to place their lives on the line, that’s what they must do. That’s what they volunteered for. And I’m not being in any way cynical or uncaring in saying this. Their families and loved ones are as deserving of sympathy as any other bereaved person. It’s the word ‘especially’ that causes me unease because it implies that the families of Iraqi civilians are somehow less deserving of sympathy. So why is that?

Is it because they’re a long way away and therefore less visible? Is it because they live in a different kind of culture and are therefore perceived as being less civilised, so bereavement is of lower consequence to them? Is it because they’re a different colour and therefore not as highly evolved as us whites? Is it simply because they’re foreigners and therefore matter less?

This is not an extreme or inversely prejudiced view. On the contrary, it’s a question of honest and broad minded balance which I feel needs to be given a hearing.

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