1990s >> 1999 >> no-1143-november-1999

Voice from the Back

Blood money
The international arms bazaar has always been a dirty if highly lucrative trade. And Britain, despite the hypocritical stance currently adopted by the Foreign Office, has never been slow to sell lethal hardware to warring foreigners if the price was right . . . To that end, the Ministry of Defence’s commercial offshoot, Defence Export Services Organisation, produced a global survey in 1998—the year after Labour came to power—identifying existing and potential customers and their future requirements. While paying lip-service to New Labour’s stated aim of “ethical arms exports”, the strategic survey rules out few of the world’s rogue states as possible clients. Libya, Syria and Iraq are still not welcome. For the moment at least. Chile, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, all of which have appalling human rights records, are well quoted . . . Malaysia is another client. It has cash aplenty and it serves as a counterbalance to Indonesia. The arms race allows the UK to quite literally make a killing and keep some kind of bloody order in its perceived spheres of influence. The Herald, 9 September.

A plague on both your houses
The truth is, both superpowers have decided to embark on a biological weapons arms race with incalculable consequences. The Russians, accomplished cheats on biological warfare disarmament, have been pursuing offensive research on smallpox for years. The Americans, who know only too well of this Russian deception, feel obliged to pursue defensive measures. But compounding the mutual suspicions is one essential truth in the grim world of plague wars research—the line between defensive and offensive is invisible. Western Australian, 19 June.

A fair day’s cop-out
This year, the Bunbury [Australia] RSL is proud to honour the men of the Merchant Marines who served their countries so well during the world wars. It is sadly true to say that they have not received the recognition and thanks that has accrued to the members of the military forces that relied so much on their efforts. The men of the British Merchant Navy (30,000 of whom fell victim to the U-boats between 1939 and 1945, the majority drowned or killed by exposure in the cruel northern oceans) were quite as certainly front-line warriors as the guardsmen and fighter pilots to whom they ferried the necessities of combat. Neither they nor their Australian, American, Dutch, Norwegian or Greek fellow mariners wore uniform and few have any memorial . . . under British law, when a ship was sunk, the obligation of the shipowner to pay the crew’s wages went with it. Bunbury Herald, 20 April 1998.

Counting our blessings
In Britain, the richest 10 percent enjoy, on average, seven times the income of the poorest 10 percent; in Russia the difference is 40-fold, with devastating effects on people’s health. Guardian, 18 August.

Divide and rule
One of communism’s greatest paradoxes was its attitude towards the workers. The official doctrine held them as the ruling class. However, in daily life they were treated with contempt and were the victims of numerous abuses. It took the events of August 1980 to shatter the false image of the workers and show their true nature as people willing to fight for the freedoms and rights of workers and of the whole of society. Following that experience, the bond of co-operation between the intelligentsia and the working class was born. It was exactly that bond that gave great power to the Solidarity movement . . . The death knell of this bond came in the form of the collapse of the communist system and more specifically the extremely liberal method of reforming the economy. Very quickly these reforms brought on great financial disparities. To some extent this stratification could not have been avoided in a market economy, but in Poland these changes became so extreme that they ruined the former social cohesion. Over 90 percent of society living quite modestly will continue to pay taxes at an unchanged level. Meanwhile, the tiny group of the most affluent will see their taxes fall by 4 percent from 40 to 36 percent. The effects of the decrease in budgetary intake will be felt by those earning the least . . . Solidarity’s great drama is that 10 years after its triumph it takes care of the wealthiest few and has truncheons and rubber bullets for those who demand bread and work. Wprost Weekly (Polish language paper), 4 July.

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