Friday, September 6, 2013

The man with the shopping bags

A Google search for “the man with the shopping bags” throws up the famous photo of the young Chinese fellow stopped in front of a column of tanks in Peking in 1989 on their way to Tiananmen Square. It’s a very moving photo and story. Bravery is always moving, isn’t it?

We should spare some praise for the tank-commander and his crew. They could have just squashed him like a cockroach, as the Israeli bulldozer did to Rachel Corrie in Gaza in 2003. An Egyptian man tried the same thing with a Police armoured car in 2011, and was shot dead on the spot.

When the US government was faced with its lone protestor, it chose the Israeli-Egyptian option. Bradley Manning was an Army soldier who blew the whistle on the “collateral murder” incident in 2007 in Baghdad, when an Army helicopter shot up a group of civilians including children. He was the only soldier in the entire Army with the courage to report the murders. For his courage, he was immediately jailed for twelve months in a bare isolation cell, in conditions amounting to torture (by international standards, if not US ones).

Manning’s defiance of the juggernaut of the US Army and its brutish prison guards is equal to the bravery of those other three examples. A comparison of the public-relations effects of all the incidents leaves the Chinese one looking good. How can that be? Whatever happened to Madison Avenue’s expertise in public relations?

My blog-post on Julian Assange in September 2012 marvelled at the British Government’s refusal to allow Assange free passage to Ecuador. I contrasted it with China’s generosity in a similar dilemma. Just recently, the world has been reminded of Britain’s cruelty. The contemptuous treatment by the London Police of Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian boyfriend was stunning.

Ah well, as someone wrote about the interrogation of the boyfriend – he was lucky: the last Brazilian the UK Police had in their clutches ended up with eight bullets in his head.

Greenwald is an investigative journalist employed by an English newspaper. The paper's computers (some of them) were gratuitously destroyed by the Police in the newspaper’s offices - in broad daylight, in the Editor's presence. I kid you not. It really happened.

What on earth is wrong with these people? Don’t they care what the world thinks of them? If their nation goes National Socialist like Germany did in the 1930s, they won’t be held accountable. Is that what they think, or hope? The killing of Dr Kelly, the war crimes in Iraq and Libya – are they all to be shrugged off without credible explanation? Will all future dissidents and their associates be in line for similar treatment, at the whim of a Big Brother official called O’Brien?

A picture is worth a thousand words; an iconic picture is worth a book. The man with the shopping bags... Rachel Corrie in her yellow plastic overcoat in front of the bulldozer... the Iraqi hotel clerk’s dead face, beaten to a pulp by British soldiers ... each incident is worth a book.

The POW in the orange jump-suit shackled to a trolley, being wheeled by six huge stormtroopers to the torture-chambers of Guantanamo... the hooded prisoner standing on a stool wired for electrocution in Abu Ghraib... each of those photos illustrates America’s contempt for the Geneva Conventions more than a whole shelf of books could.

Again – why do they do it? Is it to frighten us into accepting the idea that we might be next? Could that conceivably be true? Have our rulers genuinely abandoned the moral values the rest of us still cleave to? Interesting times.Gosh!