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“POWER STUPEFIES”? April 1, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Democracy, Israel-Palestine, Modern History.

Veteran journalist, Uri Avnery at Counterpoint, attributes idiocy specifically to the behavior of the Israeli Government in the case of the Mavi Marmara and makes the wider case.

He argues that mostly otherwise intelligent people get the power of national decision making behave as idiots. That may be the observable fact, but it is not an explanation. He cites the case of the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish vessel that attempted to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza resulting in the deaths of Turkish citizens and thus ending the otherwise cordial and mutually beneficial relationship between Turkey and Israel. The recent visit of President Obama was the occasion for Israel to make up and pay compensation to the victims – but perhaps not return or compensate the personal effects, such as cameras, it purloined from other passengers.

Uri Avnery describes the events:

The entire affair was an act of pure idiocy, from beginning to end. Right from its inception.

It is easy to say so with hindsight. But my friends and I pointed to the stupidity of the action publicly, before it all started.

As we said at the time, the damage inherent in stopping the Turkish ship was much more serious than the damage – if any – that would have been caused by letting it sail to its destination.

After all, what is the worst that could have happened? The ship would have anchored opposite the shore of Gaza, the international activists on board would have received a tumultuous welcome, Hamas would have celebrated a small victory, and that’s that. A week later, nobody would have cared or remembered.

Officially, the blockade was imposed by the Israeli navy for the sole purpose of preventing arms reaching the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip. If this had been a serious concern, the Mavi Marmara could have been stopped on the high seas, searched for arms and released. This was not even considered.

From then on, it became solely a matter of prestige. Of childish political or personal ego. In short, of idiocy.

In a military action, one never knows what can happen. Things never proceed as planned. Casualties must be expected. And, as has been said, the plan itself is the first casualty in any war.

So the plan went awry. Instead of meekly submitting to the attack in international waters, the Turks had the incredible impudence of attacking the soldiers with sticks and such. The poor soldiers had no choice but to shoot them dead.

The reasonable thing would have been to apologize immediately to the victims’ families, pay generous compensation and let the whole affair simmer down.

But no, not we Israelis. Because We Were In The Right. We always are. It’s in our nature. We can’t help it.

The course of events can be seen as inherently foolish, but I suspect that if you believe as violence as the arbiter of international affairs and national security – and who doesn’t – that it makes a kind of sense. The alternative might be to set up international rules arbitrated by an independent and impartial court in which legal arguments could be made about the legitimacy of the Gaza Blockade and the acceptability of militarily attacking what turned out to be a civilian vessel carrying a aid. The United States in particular, and perhaps other nations, would not recognize any legal authority that impeded their freedom of action, and they have the UN Security Council and their puppet allies, to guarantee the reign of violence and murder (witness the drone missile attacks).

The wider picture, beyond poor, beleagued Israel is moire interesting. Uri Avnery writes:

I am afraid that in most countries, large and small, that’s how crucial affairs of state are managed. And not only nowadays.

It is a frightening thought, and therefore unacceptable to most people. They like to believe that their fate rests in the hands of responsible leaders endowed with superior intelligence. Much as they refuse to believe that the sky is empty, and no almighty Super-Father with unlimited compassion is waiting there to answer their prayers.

The first historical example of utter incompetence that springs to my mind is the outbreak of World War I. A group of nationalist Serbs killed the Austrian heir to the throne. A deplorable incident, but certainly no reason for a war in which several million human beings perish miserably.

But the nincompoops surrounding the 84-year old emperor in Vienna thought that this was an opportunity to win an easy victory, and delivered an ultimatum to the Serbs. The Russian Czar, surrounded by dukes and archdukes, wanted to help his fellow Slavs and mobilized his army. They probably did not know that according to a military plan prepared long in advance, in this case the German army had to attack and conquer France, before the cumbersome Russian army could complete its mobilization and reach the German border. The German Kaiser, a disturbed child who never grew up, acted accordingly. The British, who never liked to be governed by people who were too clever, rushed to the aid of poor France. And so it went.

Could all these leaders have been complete fools? Was Europe governed by an all-pervading idiocracy? Perhaps. But perhaps there were reasonably intelligent people among them. Is it just that power not only corrupts, as Lord Acton famously pronounced, but also stupefies (in the sense of making people stupid)?

In any case, I have known in my life so many normal people who, upon assuming power, did so many utterly stupid things, that the latter must be the case.

After the carnage of the First World War, some said “never again”, others sought to remember the sacrifice of our brave soldiers, and the clever public relations experts set about making another war possible, to the point of perpetual war. The problem of executive prerogative, not a democratic idea, seems to have reached a critical point in the US, to the extent it is difficult to distinguish the claims of the President from those claimed by, for example, James I of England. Democratic leaders are not immune from the desire, if they are permitted, to bury their mistakes.

So I suppose that political innovation is necessary, and whatever other faults it has, the Australian political system allows innovation, at least in the formation of new political parties. “Accountability and transparency” are the only sure antidote to the maladies of political power. Although perhaps the Julian Assange inspired Wikileaks Party might remain on the margins, with influence on the idiocy that often passes for political decision making.

Cassie Findlay addresses the audience prior to the screening of the film, Undeground:


With reference to Uri Averny’s thesis, Chris Hedges, “The Treason of the Intellectuals” (originally at Truthdig) is relevant , but I suppose the question is equally, What is the responsibility of the democratic citizens?

Then there are the great and the good, among whom stands Winston Churchill, who by this accounts is at once both nincompoop and mountebank.

More of the same, in Patrick Foy’s, The Collapse of the Anglo-Saxon Imperium at CounterPunch, from which the above reference is found.



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