Sunday, January 22, 2006

Herald publishes holocaust denier's call for war

The other day I discussed Len Richards' Marxist critique of an opinion piece the leader of the Engineers' Union, Andrew do-Little, had managed to get published in the New Zealand Herald. On his own blog Len has revealed that he tried unsuccessfully to get his reply to Little into the Herald:

I have just got off the phone with John Gardiner, the person who puts those pages together. He told me my piece would not be used because it "did not fit in". He said it was not of "general enough interest" to be published. He claimed to have more than enough submissions and my one "did not make the cut". It is funny that over the last period the "Perspectives" pages have found room for overseas articles, reprinted from the Independent for example, along with a typically incoherent ramble from Mike Moore, which suggests to me a shortage rather than a surfeit of material.

One man who has made the Herald's cut is Niall Ferguson, the British historian and right-wing gun-for-hire. Ferguson's article 'The Origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented' was republished under the less cumbersome headline 'Tomorrow, when the war began' on the back page of the Weekend Herald's World section. The piece is an imagined history of a war between a nuclear-armed Iran and Israel - a war which leads to the mutual ruin of Europe and the Muslim world. Ferguson's article has already been ripped apart on the British blog Lenin's Tomb, which cuts to the chase:

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the counterfactual: if we don't smack those dirty brown people about, they will get some of our nuclear material and use it, and undermine our civilisation.

The Tomb does its readers another service by relating Ferguson's little literary adventure to his day job as a revisionist historian of imperialism, and in particular of the British Empire:

[Ferguson's article] mimics exactly Ferguson's strategy for normalising and rendering acceptable British crimes during its Empire. If Britain had not subjugated the savages, they would have continued to live in shitpiles and kill one another. They would never have known the Holy Profit or the sanctity of Supply and Demand. Without slavery, they might never have seen the fruits of the Protestant work ethic. The Enlightenment ideals of the Empire enjoined it to the betterment of man, even if it was itself a racist, hierarchical and violently coercive affair.

Put simply, Niall Ferguson is a holocaust denier. Taking advantage of the violent swing to the right in British politics and the British academy in the 1980s and 90s, he has worked with remarkable industry to rehabilitate the British Empire as a model of Western civilisation and progress, rather than the vast oppressive apparatus that once weighed like a nightmare on the shoulders of a fifth of the peoples of the globe. His magnum opus is Empire, a book that buries trivialities like the Indian Mutiny and the slave trade under an epic paean to British imperialism.

Like the equally loathsome David Irving, Ferguson is a technically competent historian, at ease in an archive, whose expertise is restricted to a narrow field of enquiry. Unlike Irving, Ferguson has succeeded in his efforts to erect the most absurd generalisations on a pinprick of actual research. The relative fortunes of Irving and Ferguson say a great deal about the hypocrisy of the ruling classes of the West. While Irving languishes in an Austrian prison, Ferguson is riding high, as one of the prophets of the twenty-first century imperialism that is the raison d'etre of neo-conservatism. If Ferguson has a criticism of Bush's foreign policy, it is that Bush is insufficiently imperialist. Jay Tolson glosses the argument of Ferguson's 'Colossus: The Price of America's Empire':

As he sees it, the real problem with Bush's strategy is that it is "imperialism lite." Underfunded, undermanned, and carelessly managed, it falls tragically short of providing the kind of benign empire that he believes the world needs.

In a 2004 article called 'The Last Iraqi Insurgency', Ferguson managed to give his support to both ye olde and shiny new imperialisms, by whitewashing the ongoing US war on Iraq as well as the brutal British occupation of the country in the 1920s. Writing in Dissident Voice, Paul Street exposed the corruption - a corruption of methodology as much as ethics - of Ferguson's arguments:

Ferguson takes his cue from the glorious (for him) example of Britain’s invasion and occupation of Iraq after World War One. That occupation also sparked rebellion. The great British accomplishment in that action was to recognize and act upon the need to repress resistance to colonial rule with a properly savage degree of imperial force. “In 1920,” Ferguson gushes, “the British ended the rebellion through a combination of aerial bombardment and punitive village-burning expeditions. It was not pretty. Even Winston Churchill, then the minister responsible for the air force, was shocked by the actions of some trigger-happy pilots and vengeful ground troops.”

Without any sense of shock or disapproval, Ferguson notes that the British general in charge of Iraq “appealed to London not only for reinforcement but also for chemical weapons (mustard gas bombs or shells).” Ferguson deletes Churchill’s response, which expressed confidence that gas could be used profitably against what he called “recalcitrant Arabs” and included the following lovely statement: “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes.” Consistent with that fine sentiment, Churchill gassed the Kurds as “an experiment,” applauding the “lively terror” that mustard gas shells caused among them. There followed 35 years of British occupation, “an outcome” that is “precisely what Washington should be aiming at today,” Ferguson thinks, since “American troops will have to keep order well after the nominal turnover of power.”

Any paper that maintains a page labelled 'Opinions' or 'Perspectives' is in danger of giving the impression that the rest of its pages are devoted to opinion-free, hardboiled reportage and analysis. Such an impression can never be less than wholly false, whether the paper in question is the New Zealand Herald or one of the scruffy publications of the far left. Billed by the Herald's subeditor as a 'historian's eye' view of 'the next phase of events in the Middle East', Ferguson's article is no more than a flight of fantasy designed to advance a very unsavoury political agenda. Give me Len Richards any day.


Blogger historymike said...

More on Dr. Jacques Pluss with an interview on on my blog.

11:41 am  

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