Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Benefits of Not Understanding

In response to my plea to certain journalists of the liberal left to "wake up" and reconsider their position on the war against Yugoslavia in 1999, Guardian commenter Arabella Mayer writes:

Neil, so-called liberal-left journos will never wake up because, as Upton Sinclair noted:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."


I always try to be optimistic, but I fear both Arabella and Upton Sinclair are right. I remember being at a party in London on the weekend before the Iraq war. Also at the party was Boris Johnson. I asked him if he honestly believed the guff about the 'Iraqi threat' and Saddam's 'WMD'. He looked me in the eye, hesitated for a few seconds and replied "You've got to admit Saddam's not a particularly nice chap".

Roughly translated: Of course I don't believe all the guff, but I've got to somehow justify this war to myself so I can support it and keep my job as editor of a publication owned by the arch neo-con Conrad Black.

Now that his previous, pro-war boss is well out of the picture, Boris has come out and attacked President Bush and his handling of Iraq. But at the time, he felt obliged to support the illegal invasion. Because for Boris, his career came before opposing a war, which he knew in his heart of hearts was wrong. He's not alone: in any country at any given time, there is a set of 'approved opinions' you need to hold- and espouse- to enhance your career. In Britain today it means supporting the 'special relationship' with the U.S., the operation of a 'free market' economy, where even renationalising the railways is ruled out, despite public support- and extolling the 'merits' of globalisation.
Of course dissent is allowed, but only within certain parameters. It is considered acceptable to express disapproval of the way the Iraq war has been executed (but not of the basic idea behind it). And it is not acceptable to criticise the 1999 war against Yugoslavia, which still, officially, is classified as a 'humanitarian intervention' and a 'great success'.

It's acknowledging this which explains why, despite the non-existent genocide, and non-existent mass graves, so few journalists and politicians have actually come out and said they got Kosovo horribly wrong. School and university fees, and no doubt the odd new kitchen extension, have been paid because journalists in Britain and the US did not print the truth back in 1999. Had they "understood" what was really going on, and exposed it in print, they and their families would not be as well-off as they are today.

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