Sunday, March 05, 2006

Whose judgement?

Here is a good example of manipulation leading to confusion. The Independent, looking for reaction to Tony Blair's words about who would be the judge of his decision to go to war in Iraq, went to ask Military Families Against the War in the person of its founder, Reg Keys.

Blair had said, and it's just a statement of fact, that "judgement is made by other people." He then added, "If you believe in God, it's made by God as well."Pretty innocuous. Hardly taking a stand. He's not even saying, as many have before him, that God is on his side. The stakes in a decision such as this are enormous. They come down to a pseudo-mathematical question: will the consequences of 'yes' be worse or less worse than the consequences of 'no'? I say 'pseudo' because the equation can never be worked out, nor a final judgement delivered without speculation. But it involves the lives of millions of people over tens of years, at least. Personally, I find it very difficult to imagine myself making such a decision in part because it necessarily involves the shutting down of the imagination. How could you act at all if you took on yourself in even the smallest way the suffering that will result from your actions? You would be neutralised, rendered useless.

One of the most memorable moments of Schindler's Ark (and List) was the scene at the train station where Schindler was picking, literally at random, those to save. Out of all the thousands of people shut up in the cattle trucks, he could choose a handful. The amazing thing is that he did. He wasn't numbed by the choice. Mathematically, it was simple. Save twenty or none. But to make that choice in the consciousness that those you don't choose will certainly die is another matter. He would have had to shut down his imagination to do that and go forward with the certainty that he was doing something.In the case of the Iraq war, the decision was to condemn some people so that others might live. Or, according to the anaylsis he was acting on, fighting now rather than later; losing a few instead of many.

So, to judge Blair's decision to go to war from the perspective of the families that have lost someone, though it certainly counts, is so particular a viewpoint that it bears almost no relation to the greater question. The emotions fired by loss are so strong that the victims do not even hear right. Mr Keys said "Are we seeing over 100 coffins coming back because God told him to go to war? The first judgement should be from the bereaved families, not God." Blair said nothing about God telling him to go to war. Why should the first judgement be from bereaved families? And the implication of what Blair said is that God's would be the final judgement, not the first.

But it is churlish to criticise the words of someone in Mr Keys' position. More pertinent is the way the Independent uses such suffering in its righteous cause. As a reader, I resent it because it tempts me into dismissing someone's loss because of the way it is channelled. Against the magnitude of issue, expressions of grief like these sound hysterical.


Ian said...

No, Tony didn't say God told him to invade Iraq. But he did imply that the opinion of his imaginary friend was at least as important as what the people he serves think. Personally I don't want my country to be run by a man whose decision making process involves any time worrying what Mr. Flibble will say.

NoolaBeulah said...

I don't know Blair better than any one else does, but I would expect that his calculations in matters like this are purely pragmatic. Nothing he said leads me to think otherwise - he merely reported facts. "If you believe in God" - conditional. If you do, then it follows that you will expect to be judged in some way. But that can mean anything from 'I'd better stay sharp' to 'I won't move until I get a message'. Blair has nothing of the mystic about him. I don't think you need worry about the influence of Mr Flibble (new one on me, that) on government policy.