Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Woolwich: Notions of 'Necessary Murder'

LAST week, the gruesome murder of the soldier Drummer Lee Rigby from Middleton in Greater Manchester took place on a street in Woolwich in South-East London, meanwhile Laurie Penny in the New Statesman pondered a question below that appeared on an exam paper for Eton boys: 
'(c)  The year is 2040.  There have been riots in the streets of London after Britain has run out of petrol because of an oil crisis in the Middle East.  Protestors have attacked public buildings.  Several policemen have died.  Consequently, the Government has deployed the army to curb protests.  After two days the protests have been stopped but twenty-five protestors have been killed by the Army.  You are the Prime Minister.  Write the script for a speech to be broadcast to the nation in which you explain why employing the army against violent protesters was the only option available to you and one which was necessary and moral.'

Commenting on the above question, Laurie Penny, in the current New Statesman, says: 
'The headmaster of Eton, responding to the furore on Twitter, claimed that this was an intellectual exercise, based on Machiavelli’s The Prince, and was taken out of context. It was nothing of the kind. In fact, questions like this - topics for debate designed to reward pupils for defending the morally indefensible in the name of maintaining "order" - crop up throughout the British elite education system, from prep schools to public schools like Eton to public speaking competitions right up to debating societies like the Oxford and Cambridge Unions, which are modelled on parliament for a reason.' 

Ms. Penny concludes her New Statesman article last week, thus:
'Eton trains rich young men for power. The all-boys school has produced nineteen Prime Ministers, including the current one. The Mayor of London and a significant chunk of the cabinet also attended the school. Nearly all of our most powerful politicians, in short, went to Eton, and were trained in its values. Values that include responding to a question about shooting protesters dead with clever rhetoric rather than a long, hard look at your own conscience, as well as reading Machiavelli as an instruction manual rather than a satire. Whoever set this exam question, one that obliges thirteen-year-old boys to defend the murder of protesters as Prime Minister, knew of the likelihood that one of those boys might well actually be Prime Minister one day, and be in the position to order protesters killed for real.'

The poet W.H. Auden, who didn't go to Eton but grew up in a professional middle-class family and read English literature at Christ Church, Oxford, before becoming a Communist Party fellow-traveller and writing a poem in 1937 entitled 'Spain' on the Spanish Civil War in which he invoked the notion of the 'necessary murder':
'To-morrow for young poets exploding like bombs,
the walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;
       To-morrow the bicycle races
Through the suburbs on summer evenings.  But to-day the struggle.

To-day the deliberate increase in the chances of death,
The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder;
        To-day the expending of powers
On the flat ephemeral pamphlet and the boring meeting.'

George Orwell, in his essay 'Inside the Whale' (1940), criticised this second stanza saying that it 'is intended as a sort of thumbnail sketch of a day in the life of a "good party man".'  As Orwell cruely put it:  'In the morning a couple of political murders, a ten-minutes' interlude to stifle "bourgeois" remorse, and then a hurried luncheon and busy afternoon and evening chalking walls and distributiong leaflets.'   That's what happens when you get exam questions like the one above by folk who will never be around when the trigger is pulled, and as Orwell concludes:  'But notice the phrase "necessary murder"... [i]t could only have been written by a person to whom murder is at most a word.' 

The fact is that people doing things like attacking Mosques and chalking on war memorials, or even justifying murder is not new because politics is made up of people who believe in double-crossing each other.  This is demonstrated in the background to the current crime in Woolwich.  Evidently both of the men now accused of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, from Middleton in Greater Manchester, believed what they did was 'necessary', and perhaps even 'moral' in terms of their interpretaion of Islam.  Yet yesterday's Daily Telegraph reports: 
'Both of the men accused of hacking the soldier to death had been monitored by the security services for years, and one of them was allegedly approached with a view to acting as an informant.' 

The realm of Machiavelli and his concept of power politics, as expressed in his book The Prince, places us in a strange world indeed: with MI5 allegedly trying to seduce the murder suspect Michael Adebolajo, and asking him if he wanted to work for them about six months before the killing of Drummer Rigby.  That at least is the claim of a childhood friend Abu Nusaybah, who was arrested at the BBC shortly after giving an interview on Newsnight last Friday, and hasn't been denied by MI5.  Machiavelli is perhaps more relevant than Marx in contemporary politics, although I doubt that anyone will admit as much.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Only 7% of the public in the UK attend public schools. Yet many politicians, judges, higher civil servants in England, were all drawn from a small select number of schools and the Oxbridge universities. It makes the Hindu caste system look positively egalitarian.

The point behind this kind of education is to produce an elite whose attachment is not to family but to institutions such as government service, armed forces, and their caste and culture. These elites, tend to identify with other ruling cliques rather than nations or people. In the Paris Commune, Adolphe Thiers, connived with the Prussians and Bismark to suppress the Commune which led to the deaths of 35,000 Parisians in 1871. Any difference between these two elites was put on hold while they put the workers down.