On WP and Legitimate Forms of Killing
1. The original Iraq War of 1991
2. The lack of support for Iraqi democratic movements
3. The use of depleted uranium, accepted by all and sundry and the biggest issue of all because this one will hang in there until the human race itself ceases to exist.
4. The whole area of sanctions against Iraq
5. Infant mortality in Iraq
6. Health services in Iraq
7. WMD farce
8. The Dr Kelly farce
10. War plans made in 2002 or 2001, whatever
And on and on and on ad nauseum, nobody who reads this will be able to do so without thinking of at least a few things that they would have included.
Just as these thought were spinning around in my head, I was reading through a selection of articles that I had downloaded on peer2peer and one of them was called ‘Liberating the Mind from Orthodoxies’. This is an interview with Noam Chomsky that was done by David Barsamian and it can be read in its entirety at
The question that really stood out for me was the following:
“Let’s talk about what individuals can do in overcoming orthodoxies. Steve Biko, the South African activist who was murdered by the apartheid regime while he was in custody, once said, “The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
To which Chomsky responded, with typical insightfulness
“He’s quite accurate. Most oppression succeeds because its legitimacy is internalized. That’s true of the most extreme cases. Take, say, slavery. It wasn’t easy to revolt if you were a slave, by any means. But if you look over the history of slavery, it was in some sense recognized as just the way things are. We’ll do the best we can under this regime. Another example, also contemporary (it’s estimated that there are some 26 million slaves in the world), is women’s rights. There the oppression is extensively internalized and accepted as legitimate and proper. It’s still true today, but it’s been true throughout history. Take working people. At one time in the U.S., in the mid-19th century, working for wage labor was considered not very different from chattel slavery. That was the slogan of the Republican Party, the banner under which northern workers went to fight in the Civil War. We’re against chattel slavery and wage slavery. Free people do not rent themselves to others. Maybe you’re forced to do it temporarily, but that’s only on the way to becoming a free person, a free man, to put it in the rhetoric of the day. You become a free man when you’re not compelled to take orders from others. That’s an Enlightenment ideal. Incidentally, this was not coming from European radicalism. There were workers in Lowell, Massachusetts, a couple of miles from where we are. You could even read editorials in the New York Times saying this around that time. It took a long time to drive into people’s heads the idea that it is legitimate to rent yourself. Now that’s unfortunately pretty much accepted. So that’s internalizing oppression. Anyone who thinks it’s legitimate to be a wage laborer is internalizing oppression in a way which would have seemed intolerable to people in the mills 150 years ago.
Take the Seattle and Washington anti-WTO demonstrations, which were good ones, about canceling the debt. Yes, they should cancel the debt. But it’s also worth recognizing that—a lot of people know this—the form of the protests and the objections on the part of the poor countries are internalizing a form of oppression. They are saying that the debt exists. You can’t cancel it unless it exists. Does it exist? Well, it doesn’t exist as an economic fact. It exists as an ideological construction. That’s internalizing oppression. To liberate yourselves from those preconceptions and perspectives is to take a long step towards overcoming oppression”
So what is going on with the current debate about WP? I am not an authority on any of this but for what its worth, here is what I think.
I find it really difficult to debate the rights and wrongs of the use of WP in Iraq in the current context. If an international convention tells me that the use of a chemical to kill a human being is inhumane and therefore wrong I say ‘fine’, but where the sense of all of this falls down is that the same convention accepts that bullets are a legitimate means of killing while conducting war. I am happy to admit that I would prefer to die by way of a bullet through my skull than by excruciatingly painful burns to my body but the end result would be just the same. My position is that more bullets have been fired than WP shells been used so they are the bigger issue. My problem is that we are now debating the ‘how’ of killing and in doing this we internalize the ‘right’ of killing and discuss the fact that killing with WP is somehow so terrible that it demands special attention. Yes, it might be a way to catch the establishment out but ultimately the game is still being played by their rules, in their court and with their ball and they can choose to take it home any time they wish and that is exactly what they will do next week when this story disappears.