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It’s a full-time job, keeping track of the US/NATO campaign to start a fire somewhere on China’s borders. It’s like tracking an inept arsonist by satellite image: “Oh, there he goes again…the idiot started a trash fire next to a concrete wall.”

Of course, no one who matters in the defense business wants total war with China. They just want to keep those trash fires burning, hoping one of them will blaze up big, like a gender-reveal wildfire. And even if none of them do, it’s good for business, because most war scares are about funding. The US Navy always, always wants more ships. What’s scarce is plausible reasons to buy them.

So when you read US analyses of the Taiwan situation, you have to remind yourself that this isn’t necessarily about a real war. That’s a lesson you learned the hard way if, like me, you’re old enough to remember the NATO/Warsaw Pact war that was always just about to happen. Looking back, it was never going to happen. The whole idea was absurd, because that war would have gone nuclear in a half hour, and nobody in power wanted that.

So when you read some hyperventilating wonk enthusing over a 21st c. Anaconda Plan to blockade China, remember that it’s budget season (because it’s always budget season at the Pentagon), and nobody who matters could really imagine that reviving the Anaconda Plan, which didn’t even work very well against the Confederacy, is gonna work against the PRC and its long-range anti-ship missiles.

There’s a catch, though. The US/NATO command may be woofing just to get more ships and planes funded, but woofing can go badly wrong. The people you’re woofing at may think you really mean it. That’s what came very close to happening in the 1983 Able Archer NATO exercises. The woofing by Reagan and Thatcher in the leadup to those exercises was so convincing to the Soviet woof-ees that even the moribund USSR came close to responding in real—like nuclear—ways.

That’s how contingency plans, domestic political theatrics, and funding scams can feed into each other and lead to real wars.

Military forces develop contingency plans. That’s part of their job. Some of the plans to fight China are crazy, but some are just plausible enough to be worrying, because somebody might start thinking they could work. Case in point, this plan to defeat a PRC invasion of Taiwan:

“The only method of preventing China from successfully annexing Taiwan is to reject calls for a cease-fire, contain Chinese bridgeheads and airheads into as small a perimeter as possible, and then drive the invaders into the sea. Contrary to the limited Army supporting role envisioned in the Pacific, an Army corps will be indispensable and must be fully incorporated into U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) Taiwan contingency plans.”

Taiwan is the most promising theater for US military planners for pretty simple, obvious reasons: it’s an island in an area where the US has massive bases. Since US military power is mostly sea- and air-based, the US can imagine (and has imagined) it could win in Taiwan. Other regions that get the most media attention, above all Xinjiang, are hopeless from a US military planner’s perspective. Xinjiang is in the middle of the world’s largest land mass, and the countries surrounding it have their own problems. A conventional US military attack there isn’t just implausible, like the other China-war scenarios; it’s flat-out impossible.

What you do with a place like Xinjiang, if you’re a CIA/DoD planner, is file it under “promote insurgency” — meaning “start as many small fires as possible,” rather than “invade and begin a conventional war.”

And in the meantime, you keep working on the real complaints of the Uyghur and other non-Han ethnic groups, so that if you do need to start a conventional war in the Formosa Straits, you can use the Uyghur as a diversion, a sacrifice, by getting them to rise up and be massacred. Since there’s a big Han-Chinese population in Xinjiang, as the map shows, you can hope to stir up the sort of massacre/counter-massacre whipsaw that leaves evil memories for centuries, leading to a permanent weakening of the Chinese state.

This is a nasty strategy, but it’s a standard imperial practice, low-cost — for the empire, not the local population, of course. It costs those people everything, but empires are not sentimental about such things.

This strategy worked well during the US attack on the Iraqi Army in Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. US intel used the legitimate complaints of the Iraqi Kurds and Shia, and convinced them to revolt by dropping leaflets promising US military support.

That was a lie, of course. The Iraqi Kurds were, like the Uyghur, a landlocked, stateless population spilling over into the territory of US/NATO allies, meaning it would’ve been logistically difficult and politically unwise to give them any real military support. The Iraqi Shia were more accessible, since Basra is very close to Kuwait — but the US was acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia in that war, and KSA can’t even tolerate its own Shia population. Offering effective help to Iraq’s Shia majority would have infuriated KSA, Israel, and the UAE, the only states the US worried about.

So once the Kurds and Shia had served their purpose, diverting Iraqi troops from the real front lines in Kuwait, both insurgent groups were left to the tender mercies of Saddam’s army.

BTW, if it seems I’m being too cynical here, let me add that I knew someone who was friends with a DIA agent who had the job of dropping leaflets in Iraqi Kurdistan urging the Kurds to revolt in the leadup to Operation Desert Storm. She asked him if he felt bad about stirring up a doomed insurgency. He said, “They’re all animals anyway.”

The woman who told me that story was no bleeding-heart liberal — far from it. But even she was shocked a bit. So “too cynical” is not a valid objection here.

The Uyghur in Xinjiang would serve the same purpose as the Iraqi Kurds: “straw dogs destined for sacrifice.” If you want to get really cynical, consider that the reprisals they’d face from an enraged Chinese military would be even more useful to the US/NATO side than their doomed insurgency itself.

Atrocity propaganda is very important in 21st c warfare. At the moment, there’s no evidence of real, mass slaughter in Xinjiang, yet we’re already getting propaganda claims about it. Imagine what US/NATO could make out of the bloody aftermath of a doomed insurgency. Well, assuming that US/NATO survived a war with China, a pretty dicey assumption. More likely, CNN, BBC, and NYT would be the first to welcome our new overlords, Kent Brockman style. Those mainstream-media whores aren’t too bright but Lord, they’re agile.

Hong Kong, one other widely publicized dissident region, is as hopeless as Xinjiang in terms of a beachhead for conventional war with China.

Just look at the map. Hong Kong is a great harbor but an indefensible peninsula on a heavily populated part of the Chinese coastline. Hell, the British couldn’t even hold it in WW 2 against an outnumbered Japanese invasion force. There is no way on earth it could be held against the PLA for even a day.

It’d be easier to defend Berkeley against the rest of America (a cool scenario, BTW — I wonder if anybody’s made it into a video game). Constantinople in 1453 would look like victory compared to any attempt to defend Hong Kong. Ever see Bambi vs. Godzilla? Like that.

Even as propaganda, Hong Kong won’t work very well. We know this, because it’s been tried, and didn’t pan out.

You may have noticed that a couple of years ago, stories on Hong Kong dissidents were constant in Anglo media. They’ve all but vanished now, in favor of Xinjiang stories. There are two reasons for this, and the difference in these two reasons illustrates something important about the weird double-vision of 21st c. conflict.

First, Hong Kong is an open society, stuffed full of good reporters. That means that it’s hard to reduce the problems there to a simple morality play. You can do that in Xinjiang because facts on the ground are very scarce (and nobody in the media wants to go there and spoil the dream, either) — but you can’t in Hong Kong. It’s a purely urban, argumentative, hyperliterate, online place, and ten minutes googling disabuses you of any notion that it’s a simple story of bad PRC vs. good dissidents. Families are deeply split, people are talking and acting messily on every side, and it’s just too much like real life to make a good sermon.

Xinjiang, by contrast, can easily be imagined as One Giant Concentration Camp. After all, our leading “expert” on the province has never been there, and neither have his readers.

So, if you’re a US/NATO planner, you file Xinjiang under “diversionary doomed insurgency, with PR benefits,” and Hong Kong under “agent recruitment/sleeper cells,” and consign both to small, side bets. That’s all you need to do, and given the godawful military record of US/NATO forces in recent warfare, that’s all you really want to do. You don’t want war. You may get it, but you don’t want it.

You’re running out of places to confront China at this point. Where else, Tibet? That’s been tried.

From the moment the PLA launched its uncharacteristically gentle takeover of Tibet in 1950, right up to the time Nixon and Kissinger started cozying up to Mao, US intelligence tried to create a Tibetan insurgency. You can guess how that went. It’s downright amazing the way US intel refused to concede that one of the few things Marxist-Leninist regimes were really good at was espionage and (especially) counter-espionage. A lot of trusting Tibetans died in those campaigns. A lot of Agency men got promoted. It’s a grim story.

So what’s left? Not much. China is just a hard target, as the past 70 years have shown. The Han-Chinese majority is becoming more nationalistic every year. The economy is booming, on the verge of knocking the US off the number one spot it’s held for 150 years. China has played this century smart, staying out of the black hole of Middle Eastern wars, picking up friends quietly, letting the US state make enemies.

Only Taiwan offers any hope to US military planners. And even that hope isn’t much. Back in the 1950s, US intel had high hopes that the remnants of the Kuomintang in Taiwan could be used to stage a Pacific D-Day, storming the beaches of Fujian and overthrowing the Communists. US rightists even had a slogan, “Unleash Chiang Kai-Shek,” which was kind of like threatening to unleash your Papillon-Shih-Tzu cross on the Lion Safari Park next door.

Truman listened to his saner generals and announced in 1950 that the US wouldn’t intervene in China/Taiwan disputes over the Formosa Straits. But the US elite was deeply factionalized even then, at the height of American power, and powerful elements of the DoD weren’t willing to let China alone.

MacArthur’s open 1951 revolt in Korea showed that elite commanders were willing to use nukes (34 of them, to be exact) to get rid of the CCP.

A real war with China was off the table, once the US military lost its 1950s infatuation with nukes, for the simple reason that nukes were the only possible way the US could win a war with China. The USSR came to the same conclusion during its 1969 border war with China, and may even have sounded out the US for permission to use these taboo weapons against Mao.

The only real scenario which offers US forces a chance to accomplish anything in military terms depends on China invading Taiwan. That’s the only reason you see so many articles in the Anglo media asking hopefully, “Will China Invade Taiwan?” I swear, they’re like kids on Christmas Eve, dreaming that Chinese fleets will swarm the Formosa Straits, making the Americans’ obsolete naval and air assets meaningful again.

You’ll notice that it’s a USN admiral leading the PR campaign boosting a PRC invasion of Taiwan. It’s downright embarrassing, how transparently this guy Aquilino is drooling over the prospect of a good ol’ fashioned 20th c. naval war in the Formosa Straits. He might as well order up some commercials with the slogan, in Mandarin and English, “Puhleeeze, China! Invade Taiwan! Make the US Navy relevant again!”

It reminds me of those sad commercials that California almond farmers ran when I was young, begging you to gobble “A can a week, that’s all we ask.”

It won’t happen, of course. No one really thinks it will, including Aquilino and his planning staff. The era of naval war based on carrier groups is over. They know that, even if they won’t say it.

If there’s a real war with China, the carriers will wait it out in San Diego harbor. I don’t say Honolulu, because even that wouldn’t be safe enough.

I’m not denigrating the courage or dedication of the crews and officers of USN vessels. At any level below JCOS, most of them are believers. But their belief is increasingly besieged and difficult to sustain, like an Episcopalian at Easter. You just can’t think too long about how cheap and effective antiship missiles are and still be a believer in aircraft carriers. As platforms of gunboat diplomacy against weak powers, they’re OK. No better than OK, as the USN showed in Lebanon in 1983, when it managed to lose two A-6s in one day, after the IDF’s air force had demolished the Syrian AF, knocking down 82 SAA aircraft and gutting their air defenses without losing a single plane.

The moral of that Lebanon story, not that anybody in DC wants to learn it, is that if you’re gonna do gunboat diplomacy, it’d be safer and about a thousand times cheaper to do it with actual gunboats than with carriers.

And that’s not even considering what would happen to those unbelievably expensive carriers in an all-out conventional war with China. The Pacific would gain some overpriced artificial reefs, and a lot of decent, trusting sailors would die without inflicting any damage on the “enemy.”

But the scenario is useful, useful for funding, which is the real purpose of the DoD. You all know the F-35 story by now, so I don’t need to go over it again, but keep the moral of that story in mind: defense appropriations have nothing to do with defending and everything to do with business. 

At the moment, the eager scenarios promising that “we” could defeat a PRC invasion of China are so deeply stuck in 1940s strategic thinking that you might as well get your military news from the reenactors who show up at the park on weekends to bang each other up with homemade swords. That’s over too, but at least it doesn’t cost as much money or as many lives as a carrier-based attempt to defend Taiwan would.

Very few of these articles bother much with what’s going on in China itself. China is just The Enemy, the red force in some Fort-Irwin scenario that gives aspiring officers a chance to shine. The thing is, and it’s weird you even have to say this: China is a big strong country coming out of an era of deep national humiliation and suffering, proud of its new prosperity. China’s success in lifting a desperately poor population into something like prosperity will likely be the biggest story from this era, when the canonical histories get distilled.

A nation hitting this stage is likely to include a lot of people, especially young men, who are itching to show what their country can do. Their patriotic eagerness is no doubt as gullible as most, but it’s real, and if you pay any attention in the online world, you can’t help seeing it.

People who mouth off about China never seem to imagine that anyone in China might hear, because as we are told over and over again, China-is-an-authoritarian-state. The implication is that nobody in China has any of the nationalistic fervor that we take for granted in our own Anglo states.

The only time you see anything about Chinese nationalism is when it’s used as one element of the war-fever talk: “Look! China’s gnashing its teeth! Buy us more carriers!” This is how most sources interpret the “Wolf Warrior” meme.

Wolf Warrior is a nationalistic Chinese war movie. That’s where the term “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy” comes from. The existence of such movies is deeply alarming…to the people who’ve watched Rambo II and III every night for decades, cheering every time Stallone shoots an NVA man with a arrow. (I say “*a* arrow” advisedly. “*An* arrow” gives far too much credit.) This stuff is so transparently stupid. It’s odd that life-long jingoists might be alarmed to discover that another great power has its own patriotic feelings, its own demographic eager for tales of martial glory.

If you know any recent Chinese history, any at all, then the PRC’s desire to reintegrate Taiwan doesn’t seem a very aggressive or frightening development, for the simple reason that the US used to be the most fierce advocate of Taiwan/Mainland China unity, to the point of madness. Until Nixon and Kissinger abandoned Taiwan for Beijing, the US was, to use a newspaper word, “adamant” that there was only one China.

And even after the big visit, years passed before the US acknowledged publicly that the PRC existed. Until 1979 — 1979! — the US insisted with a straight face that Chiang Kai-Shek’s exiled elite in Taiwan were the only legitimate government of China, all China, from Xinjiang to Taipei. The PRC did not exist. There was no US diplomatic representation in Beijing, no official contact. Everything had to be done by a farcical go-between, usually some European country willing to concede that Taiwan did not actually rule in Beijing.

At this point, the US/NATO elite believed more strongly than the PRC elite does now that there is only one China — that the mainland and Taiwan were part of the same country. That was the whole basis for ignoring the PRC.

Given the history of US/China relations, from the pogroms against Chinese immigrants to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, through the demonization of Chinese mainlanders in the Cold War (which I remember distinctly from elementary school scare movies), the endless attempts to start insurgencies in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Fujian, to the nonstop violence and abuse of Asians in America, you don’t need to find reasons for Chinese people to want a war.

The odd thing is that most of them don’t seem to. That’s a remarkable testimony to the discipline and good sense of the Chinese public…so far. And it’s also, if you’re thinking clearly, a good reason not to keep provoking China in such gross, pointless ways. A population with that level of discipline and unity, matched with zooming prosperity, technical expertise, and pride on emerging from a long nightmare, is not one to woof at.

Of course the plan in the Pentagon is not real war. The plan is to slow China down, trip it up, “wrong-foot it” as they say in the Commonwealth.

Along the way, all of the populations Western media consumers are exhorted to care about can be sacrificed. They’ll vanish as quickly as the Tibetans vanished when their usefulness was exhausted. (Adrian Zenz started as a Tibetan specialist, BTW. He switched to Xinjiang when the bottom fell out of the Tibetan-provocation market in the 1990s.)

So what will China do about Taiwan? China could take it right now, if it wanted to pay the price. Everyone knows that, though many fake-news sites have responded with childish, ridiculous gung-ho stories about how “Taiwan Could Win.”

But will China invade? No. Not right now anyway. It doesn’t need to. The Chinese elite has its own constituencies, like all other polities (including “totalitarian” ones), and has to answer to them as circumstances change.

So far China has been extraordinarily patient, a lot more patient than we’d be if China was promising to fight to the death for, say, Long Island. But that can change. Because, as I never tire of repeating, the enemy of the moment has constituencies too. And has to answer to them.

So what happens if the US succeeds in hamstringing China’s economy? Welp, what’s the most reliable distraction a gov’t can find when it wants to unite a hard-pressed population against some distant enemy?

That’s when China might actually do something about Taiwan. Oh, not the silly 20th c. style invasion the USN dreams about. That’s nonsense. The PLA has contingency planners too, and they won’t want to play those retro games. There’s a whole new military technology and an evolving strategy to optimize it, and it includes dozens of ways to neutralize carrier battle groups. Planning that campaign is probably the most requested assignment among ambitious PLA planners.

And that’s how this looks, when you stare coldly: If our military and media elites are very lucky, China will zoom ahead and ignore the endless woofing. But if US/NATO somehow succeed in crippling China’s economy, then, as Mao might put it, the flabby Golden Retriever woofing behind its picket fence at the pit bull might find that the yard gate is open.

Or, to come down out of the metaphors: Taiwan is a permanent, legitimate casus belli for China. It can be ignored when things are going well domestically, but is always available for use if the economy goes badly and the PRC elite needs a distraction.

It will be interesting to see how the Anglo media, now doing its Sidney Ferocious routine, reacts when and if that happens. My money is on a light-speed Kent Brockman flip.

Gary Brecher is the nom de guerre-nerd of John Dolan. Buy his book The War Nerd Iliad. Hear him read his comic memoir Pleasant Hell in audiobook format.

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Posted: April 12th, 2021

Republished from the Radio War Nerd subscriber newsletter. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd co-hosted with Mark Ames for podcasts, newsletters and more!

There’s a gigantic, well-organized, extremely violent fascist group with tens of thousands of active members in Germany right now.

And nobody notices.

You’d think all the fascist-hunters would have sniffed it out by now, but it goes right by them as if these guys were invisible.

Which is odd, because this group is not trying to hide, or pretending to be harmless. They’re not shy about it, and it’s not just talk. They have quite a record. They’ve been rampaging for decades, and if anything they’re stronger now than they used to be. They’re closely linked to CIA and Nazi groups; they’re very busy beating, burning, and murdering minorities of all kinds, and boast quite openly about hating literally everyone who’s not a member of their own ethnic group and sect, even suggesting that members go on “hunting expeditions” against minorities which they’d already almost wiped out back in the 20th century. (more…)

Posted: November 14th, 2020

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What, you thought you were safe? You’d get through the big “Cancel Culture” war without me popping off?

No such luck.

Public morality should be pretty simple. When an oppressed group gets enough power to make its oppressors behave, they will do so — and they should.

The real problem, the kind of thing that would make De Niro in Casino groan, “Amateur night!”, starts when people imagine that they can stop immoral behavior by policing immoral characters, phrases, or scenes in literature.

They’re looking for the wrong thing. They’re sniffing for depictions of immorality, when they should be scanning the silences, the evasions.

There’s a very naïve theory of language at work here, roughly: “if people speak nicely, they’ll act nicely” — with the fatuous corollary, “If people mention bad things, they must like bad things.”

The simplest refutation of that is two words: Victorian Britain.

Victorian Britain carried out several of the biggest genocides in human history. It was also a high point of virtuous literature.

Because they were smart about language. They didn’t rant about the evil of their victims or gloat about massacring them, at least not in their public writings. They wrote virtuous novels, virtuous poems. And left a body count which may well end up the biggest in world history.

Open genocidal ranting is small-time stuff compared to the rhetorical nuke perfected by Victoria’s genocidaires: silence. The Victorian Empire was the high point of this technology, which is why it still gets a pass most of the time. Even when someone takes it on and scores a direct hit, as Mike Davis did in his book Late Victorian Holocausts, the cone of Anglosphere silence contains and muffles the explosion. Which is why Late Victorian Holocausts is Davis’s only book that didn’t become a best-seller.

Davis was among the first historians with the guts and originality to look hard at some of the Victorian creeps who killed tens of millions — yes, tens of millions — of people from the conquered tropics:

“The total human toll of these three waves of drought, famine, and disease could not have been less than 30 million victims. Fifty million dead might not be unrealistic.”

An English radical of the Victorian Era, William Digby, saw the scope of the horror: “When the part played by the British Empire in the nineteenth century is regarded by the historian fifty years hence, the unnecessary deaths of millions of Indians would be its principal and most notorious monument.”

But that didn’t happen. There was no wave of conscience among historians of the British Empire in the 1920s (or 30s or 40s or, to end the suspense, ever.)

Davis puts it bluntly: “[T]he famine children of 1876 and 1899 have disappeared.”

How did this happen? Why is it still happening? What are the lessons for those studying literature, propaganda, and ideology?

They’re very grim lessons, as it happens. While grad students comb texts for improper remarks, they miss the real point: the vast silence, and the paint-job of virtue that helps distract us.

Ideology doesn’t seem to do any good at clearing away the bigotry of Imperial history. Charles Kingsley, prominent novelist of mid-nineteenth-century Britain, was honored as promoter of socialist causes — while he wrote in letters to his wife about his loathing for the “white chimpanzees” whose corpses were littering the roadside when he visited Sligo during the Famine in the 1840s.

We go to his Wiki for a quick bio of Kingsley, and the first thing we find is “working men’s socialism.” Sounds good, right? Not if you’ve steeped yourself in the vile culture of mid-19th c. Britain. It sounds like boasting maybe, but it’s the simple truth: as soon as I saw that subhead, I KNEW, for certain, that Kingsley must have hated the Irish. And sure enough, there’s a whole subhead on his “Virulent Dislike of the Irish”:

Virulent dislike of the Irish

Kingsley was accused of racism towards the Roman Catholic Irish poor and described Irish people in rabid and virulent terms.

Visiting County Sligo, Ireland, he wrote a letter to his wife from Markree Castle in 1860: “I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country [Ireland] … to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black one would not see it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours.”


Kingsley statue in Devon. Never to be kissed by sledgehammer, because the only historical conscience the UK has is imported from the US, where no one’s even heard of Kingsley.

Someday (not in my lifetime), the UK Left will have to deal with this stuff. Your movement comes straight out of Cromwell, the Gordon Street rioters, and the Baptists, all steeped in ethnic/sectarian hate. I’m not telling you what to do, but noticing that fact would be a start.

Kingsley wrote several best-sellers after the Great Famine. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that none of them have anything to do with the Famine. These people were cunning, if mediocre; they saved the bile for private letters about “white chimpanzees.”

But it’s easy to dismiss Kingsley as a middlebrow entertainer.

Let’s take a far more serious case: Eric Hobsbawm, still revered as canonical Marxist historian of the UK. As Davis notes, Hobsbawm does “mention” the Irish Famine, but — and if any phrase ever deserves to be written in all-caps, this phrase from Late Victorian Holocausts does: “Hobsbawm…makes no allusion in his famous trilogy on nineteenth-century history to the worst famines in perhaps 500 years in India and China.”

There are no excuses for this. There are reasons, but as the song says, “It doesn’t make it all right.” Still, once the rage passes and you stop clenching your jaw ’til it aches, there are reasons. Most of all, there’s a deep Imperial skill in the trope of silence. The stupid Nazis ranted and raved and lasted 13 years, then got completely destroyed. The Empire kept its rants for private letters, passed on to a guild of coopted historians, pundits, and publishers—and has never been called to account.

Maybe it never will be. That poor optimist radical Davis mentions thought the exposé would be big news by 1925. Well, it’s 2020, and the Empire is still remembered fondly. Victoria herself is a beloved figure all over again.

Silence is the only really effective PR for a genocide, and the nature of artificial famines, as opposed to mass executions, makes silence particularly effective. Famines, most people still believe, are acts of God, or matters of chance, or perhaps (under their breath) the result of the sheer fecklessness of the victims, for being Papists as in Ireland, or Hindus as in India, or Muslims as in contemporary Somalia. After all, the Empire wasn’t standing people up against a wall and shooting them (except sometimes, as in Kenya, and the Empire handled that by putting the records on ships and dropping them into the Indian Ocean.)

Silence, not Nazi-style boasting. That’s the key. We should be looking for omissions, not gaffes. Gaffes are for hicks like Hitler. Silence is the grown-up way to hide vast genocides.

The key to effective silence is to coopt, not alienate, your intelligentsia. The hick Nazis drove out or killed their intellectuals; the Empire suborned and coddled its writers and poets, often promoting those of little talent (whose works are still vaguely canonical), adding intellectual insecurity as another motive for collusion.

Tennyson makes a good start here. Anybody associate Tennyson with genocide? Didn’t think so. He never mentioned it — in his canonical writings. He and Victoria were neighbors, chums, and he won every honor the Empire could bestow, despite being by general consent the stupidest “major” poet in the canon.

You’d never link Tennyson to genocide, until you look at his private letters and his friends’ memoirs. Then you see the perfect melding of silence and violent hatred, as in Kingsley, as in case after case after case that you never hear about — and if you do dare to mention one of the cases, will get you a grumpy, “Oh yes, we know about all that, they held some pretty objectionable opinions, as was common at the time…” (I wish I could do the inflection on “pretty objectionable.” It’s one you hear often among Commonweath academics, especially after the second drink.)

I once read Tennyson’s letters and found to my shock that he had visited Famine Ireland. Even in his letters there is not one mention of the dead. What you do get is a set of rules he laid down, as a celebrity, to his hosts as he made his way from one vampire castle to the next (never mind Mark Fisher, these guys were the real thing): he was not to be spoken to about “Irish distress,” and the window shades of the carriages in which he rode from one Ascendancy manse to another were to be kept completely shut, lest he see the bodies.

You can see why Bram Stoker, a minor Ascendancy Igor, did his best to move Nosferatu as far to the east and south as he could. As poor Byron, the one real hero of British literature, pointed out, the “moral North” always preferred to place evil as far to the east and south of Britain as it could.

So I read these letters in New Zealand and wrote to the leading Tennyson biographer, asking, “Can you explain to me why you’ve never written on Tennyson’s visit to Ireland?” He replied, “I suppose (!) because Tennyson never mentioned it.”

That, folks, is how you cover up a genocide. It’s leaked a little in the 170 years since it was successfully carried out. But it lasted longer than any other cursed tomb in history. Nowhere — not in Dublin, not in London — was there any commemoration of the Famine on its 50th anniversary in 1897, or its hundredth in 1947. In 1998 Blair gave a very carefully-worded quasi-apology, and I still remember Jeremy Clarkson’s response: “I see Blair has apologized to the Irish for poisoning their potatoes.”

In short, this method works. We are its products; we live in the delusion it created, and like it or not, Hobsbawm and a host of other Igors have that blood on their hands along with the outright vampires. Sometimes you end up angrier at the Igors than the Nosferatus.

So the key to radio silence over a genocide is cooption — very, very literal, straightforward cooption. The best candidates are novelists and poets, especially mediocre ones.

Many imperial officials moonlighted in both the active (killing) part of the genocides, and the passive PR side. Many were very popular writers, and all their doorstop books were virtuous, virtuous, oh so virtuous.

The vilest of the lot, perhaps, was Robert Bulwer-Lytton, First Earl of Lytton, the Famine Queen’s fave poet, whom she pushed for the post of Viceroy to India. After getting the post in 1876, Lytton presided over artificial famines that killed tens of millions of Asians.

No one outside India seems to mind, or even remember, that side of his life. He is remembered only as the son of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the cuddly old silly who wrote “It was a dark and stormy night,” the inspiration of those “Worst Opening Sentence” competitions.

Lytton’s novelist father was a monster too, but he could only terrorize his family and servants. As Viceroy to India, his poet son was able to inflict, and then cover up, misery on a much more vast scale. As Mike Davis says:

“The Central Government [of British India] under the leadership of Queen Victoria’s leading poet, Lord Lytton, vehemently opposed efforts…to stockpile grain or otherwise interfere with market forces. All through the Autumn of 1876, while the kharif crop was withering in the fields… Lytton had been absorbed in organizing the immense Imperial Assemblage in Delhi to proclaim Victoria Empress of India (Kaiser-e-Hind). As The Times [of London]’s special correspondent described it, ‘The Viceroy seemed to have made the tales of Arabian fiction come true…nothing was too rich, nothing too costly.’ [This feast] ‘achieved the two criteria [set for Lytton], of being ‘gaudy enough to impress the orientals’ and…a pageant which hid the nakedness of the sword on which we really rely.’ An English journalist later estimated that 100,000 of the Queen-Empress’s subjects starved to death…in the course of Lytton’s spectacular durbar.”

But don’t expect to find anything in Lytton’s poems about these artificial famines. He wasn’t that dumb.

The poems are astoundingly dull, and the most surprising thing about the repeated charges of plagiarism that were made against them is that Lytton could steal so much decent poetry and make such complete crap out of it.

Well, he was an Earl, Victoria swooned for him, and above all, he had no more conscience than a weasel. In short, he was the man for his time and place. He fit right in there — because the Victorian elite were unquestionably the worst human beings who ever lived.

“Including the Nazis?” Yes. No contest, once the Indian and Chinese intelligentsia give us what we’ve never had: an accurate body count for Victoria’s Empire. Or, if you prefer, consider the timelines: Nazis, 13 years in power; Britain’s tropical genocides, a century at least.

What do you find, then, when you look for literary “clues to the horror” in Lytton’s poetry? Nothing. English-Department products will never admit that, if only because it precludes all sorts of Blackadder-level cunning that find all sorts of secret guilt in unlikely places like Wuthering fucking Heights. (Sorry Terry Eagleton, you probably meant well.)

These people had no conscience. Don’t waste time looking for one.

Here’s a sample of the endless “novel in verse” Lytton wrote (under the pseudonym “Owen Meredith” — not to be confused with George Meredith, a talented poet and radical who doesn’t deserve the shame of being taken for Lytton).

You really don’t need more than a sample of Lytton’s vaporous drone. Read it and sleep:

But scarce had the nomad unfurl’d
His wandering tent at Mysore, in the smile
Of a Rajah (whose court he controll’d for a while,
And whose council he prompted and govern’d by stealth);
Scarce, indeed, had he wedded an Indian of wealth,
Who died giving birth to this daughter, before
He was borne to the tomb of his wife at Mysore.
His fortune, which fell to his orphan, perchance
Had secured her a home with his sister in France,
A lone woman, the last of the race left.  Lucile
Neither felt, nor affected, the wish to conceal
The half-Eastern blood, which appear’d to bequeath
(Reveal’d now and then, though but rarely, beneath
That outward repose that concealed it in her)
A something half wild to her strange character.
The nurse with the orphan, awhile broken-hearted,
At the door of a convent in Paris had parted.
But later, once more, with her mistress she tarried,
When the girl, by that grim maiden aunt, had been married
To a dreary old Count, who had sullenly died,
With no claim on her tears—she had wept as a bride.
Said Lord Alfred, “Your mistress expects me.”

The crone

Oped the drawing-room door, and there left him alone.

There was a time when I could have spun a cunning hermeneutic web here, revealing the scandalous insight that in this passage, the “Indian of wealth” has only one purpose: to die, leaving her wealth to that white guy.

But that’s grad-school crap, deserving no more than a Butthead “Well DUH, dumbass!” Orientalism has made a lot of careers and missed the big point.

That’s not the real work of poems like this. Their real point is to exist. It’s to be long, to be maudlin, and to be inoffensive to the original audience.

You won’t find gloating, you won’t see death’s heads on every officer’s cap. That stuff was for the Nazis, who were hicks themselves. The pro’s, like Lord Lytton, wrote virtuous, vapory blather like this. Reams of it. Best smoke-screen a genocidaire could want.

Lytton let 6 or 7 million peasants starve, in what had been the rice bowl of the world, for reasons which will sound familiar to readers familiar with the work of Amartya Sen — ideological, “free-market” decisions that somehow always managed to wipe out populations which had been annoying the Empire.

BTW, you can see classic port-sipping Donnish rage in sites reacting to Sen’s work, like this one.

Lytton’s callousness has been ascribed, when it gets mentioned at all, to the fact that he was a lunatic, an opium addict, a lifelong jerk, etc. He was all those things, but you’re playing into the hands of the Imperial rear guard (HQ Oxbridge and London) if you start pondering individual psychology.

As Davis says,

“[I]n adopting a strict laissez-faire approach to famine, Lytton, demented or not…[was] only repeating orthodox catechism…He issued strict, ‘semi-theological’ orders that ‘there is to be no interference of any kind on the part of the Government with the object of reducing the price of food,’ and in his letters home to the India Office and to politicians of both parties, he denounced ‘humanitarian hysterics.’…By official dictate, India like Ireland before it had become a Utilitarian laboratory…Grain merchants, in fact, preferred to export a record 6.4 cwt of wheat to Europe in 1877-78 rather than relieve starvation in India.”

“As in Ireland” indeed. The parallels between India after the 1857 “Mutiny” and Ireland after repeated rebellions are obvious, and have been pointed out many times.

In both cases it was not simply free enterprise dogma that doomed the victims: both populations were seen, bluntly put, as vermin, and many officials were not shy about saying God Himself was taking a hand to rid the Empire of them.

Indian intellectuals, from Sen onward, have been much braver than most victims in dealing with Imperial hatred of their ancestors.

After the 1857 rebellion in India was crushed, the whole culture of the Raj changed. Many early 19th c. British occupiers had dabbled in local cultures, but after 1857, this was derided as “going native.” Instead of pre-Victorian eccentrics, often brilliant and downright weird, the Raj snapped into line hard and demanded laconic, effectual mediocrity — men of few words and fewer thoughts, “men of action” whose echoes you can still hear in Wodehouse characters (always bad guys) who are archly described as “Empire-builders” or “the kind of man who made Britain what it is.”

After the 1857 “Mutiny”, the Raj repented of its brief flirtation with the cultures of the Indian center and began recruiting “frontier tribes,” especially Pashtun, who had no loyalty to pre-Conquest India. Once the Suez Canal was finished, Raj officials were able to live in a virtual Britain, dealing with Indians as little as possible:

“British contacts with Indian society diminished in every respect (fewer British men, for example, openly consorted with Indian women), and British sympathy for and understanding of Indian life and culture were, for the most part, replaced by suspicion, indifference, and fear.”

I’m going to deal with literary responses to the Irish Famine of the 1840s rather than the Indian famine of the 1870s, for two reasons —one lame, and one a little more plausible. The lame one first: I know the literature of the 1840s and 50s better than that of the 1870s. Now the reasonable one: the UK literary/intellectual world could claim ignorance of what was happening far away in India, but no one who could read a newspaper in London could claim not to know that a million people, fellow citizens of the UK, were dying in huge numbers just a few miles away.

So let’s look at the best-sellers of that era — not like poor Eagleton, desperate to find some saving grace, but coldly, seeing, as Stevens would say, “Nothing that is not there/And the nothing that is.”

A little context, for those lucky enough not to have wasted years on this very Schopenhauerian story: there were bad crops in much of Europe in 1845-50, but in most of the Continent, local organizations were able to provide some bare minimum of relief. As Amartya Sen said, lethal famines happen when shortages strike populations with no power, either financial or political. These are populations already hated by their rulers, and to put it bluntly, their rulers welcome the famines.

The tater, which had been imported from Peru by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, were the perfect slave-food. European peasants relied on the potato all across the northern tier, not just in Ireland. Ever see that Van Gogh painting, “The Potato-Eaters”?

The painting is from 1885, almost 40 years after the Potato “famine.” Europe’s poorest returned to eating potatoes, the cuisine of no-choice.

What did their potato-eating ancestors in Flanders do when the 1840s blight came? They survived thanks to local organizations that were able to limit the harm caused by crop failures:

“Flanders is a typical case where local communities carried the heaviest burden in organising and financing relief, control and repression activities. In the crisis years about two-fifths of the people in the most affected areas received some form of communal aid. In the Netherlands in 1847 18% of the people were supported by local relief boards, against 13% in 1840-1844. In some regions the numbers supported doubled. In France expenditures of the local relief boards doubled between 1843 and 1847, often financed by an extra ‘poor tax’. The same pattern is seen in South Germany.”

In Flanders, in France, in Germany, those at risk were hated only in the relatively mild way that the rich always hated the poor — a hatred tempered by the fact that the elites saw these wretches as belonging to their own group.

Not so in Ireland, in the Highlands of Scotland (which shared a history of stubborn Papism, a different language, and chronic rebellion) — or India in the 1870s.

The British elite began to nourish a particular hatred of India, especially Hindu regions of India, after the 1857 Rebellion. The uprising by supposedly loyal local auxiliaries drove the occupiers insane, in a way that would have been very familiar to any survivors of the Irish Famine of the 1840s.

In both cases, clever Imperial officials said nothing incriminating, but in the 1847 crisis, some high officials had not learned their lesson properly and said bluntly that any famine that wiped out a troublesome population was a good famine — sent by God, in fact.

Trevelyan, the official in charge of dealing with the crisis, said, “The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated.”

They talked a lot about the “moral evil of the people” as the real cause of mass starvation, and said outright that,

“We must not complain of what we really want to obtain. If small farmers go, and their landlords are reduced to sell portions of their estates to persons who will invest capital we shall at last arrive at something like a satisfactory settlement of the country.”

What you see here is free-market ideology, yes — but you can’t make the mistake of dismissing ethnic hatred as unreal, therefore not a factor. If free-market ideology had been as cold and rational as it claimed (and still claims) to be, poor people all over Britain would have been left to rot by the roads.

Ethnic hatred is real, and it exercises a real power over ruling elites’ decisions. There’s a strain of Leftist intellectual inclined to deny this at all costs, in the way that abuse victims who get religion blame their rape memories and whip scars on “Satan” rather than their stepfather.

The “socialist” polemics of Charles Kingsley are an almost ridiculously clear example of the way ideology did NOT help any Imperial writers to see what was in front of their eyes.

What did Charles Kingsley offer to the British public in 1848, when the Famine was wiping out the Irish-speaking peasantry? Ladies and Gentlemen, I offer you…drum roll…YEAST!

“Motivated by his strong convictions as a Christian Socialist Kingsley wrote Yeast as an attack on Roman Catholicism and the Oxford Movement, on celibacy, the game laws, bad landlords and bad sanitation, and on the whole social system insofar as it kept England’s agricultural labourer class in poverty. The title was intended to suggest the ‘ferment of new ideas’.”

You have to admire, or flinch, at the sheer proto-Trumpian reversal here: It’s not that our Empire is wiping out a long-hated Papist peasantry via artificial famine; it’s the Papists who are ruining our agriculture back home in England!

Kingsley’s novels contain no mention of “white chimpanzees.” He had the Imperial method: save that stuff for letters to your wife.

His real work, and I wish to God people would see this, was to write sentimental, virtuous porridge. Right through the Famine years, Kingsley wrote about every kind of maudlin nonsense he could find, the more meaningless the better. He did NOT attempt to justify the genocide. He dangled baubles in front of the popular audience instead.

How did Dickens deal with the Famine? Take a guess. Yup: “What is truly remarkable is that in the sixteen novels of Dickens, there is not a single Irish character.” That quote is from a book written long ago, unknown now.

I’m telling you — probably annoying you with my shrill insistence — that this method works.

No matter what that mush-headed crypto-Christian Terry Eagleton says, there is no trace of conscience in this list of popular novels from the Famine years or its aftermath. The nun who wrote a summary of this literature back in 1939 was more honest and correct when she said: “In the fiction of the nineteenth century by English novelists the Irishman is not a significant figure.”

There. That’s the truth.

As opposed to, oh I don’t know, yelping “She said ‘IrishMAN,’ not ‘person!” or sweating your guts out to find conscience in one of the Brontes’ novels, rather than saying simply, as this dead nun did long ago, “The works of the Bronte sisters are of imagination rather than life…” and looking for historical conscience in those sequestered imaginations — often quite viciously xenophobic, as in the caricature of the Frenchwomen in Jane Eyre — is fatuous and frankly servile.

Let’s go through a list — not my list, one I found online — of popular or ‘important’ novels from the Famine years and their aftermath:

1847

Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre

______

Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights

______

Captain Frederick Marryat

Children of the New Forest

______

 

1848

E. Bulwer Lytton

Harold

______

W. H. Ainsworth

James the Second

serialised

Charles Dickens

The Haunted Man

______

W. M.Thackeray

Vanity Fair

serialised

Elizabeth Gaskell

Mary Barton

______

Charles Kingsley

Yeast

serialised

Charles Kingsley

The Saint’s Tragedy

______

1849

E. Bulwer Lyttonh

The Caxtons: A Family Picture

serialised

W. H. Ainsworth

The Lancashire Witches

serialised

Charles Dickens

Dombey and Son

serialised

Charlotte Brontë

Shirley

______

1850

Charles Dickens

David Copperfield

serialised

Charles Kingsley

Cheap Clothes and Nasty

______

Charles Kingsley

Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet

______

W. M.Thackeray

Pendennis

serialised

1851

Wilkie Collins

Mr. Wray’s Cash-Box; or, the Mask and the Mystery

______

Charles Kingsley

Yeast: A Problem

______

Eliza Lynn [Linton]

Realities

______

1852

Wilkie Collins

Basil: A Story of Modern Life

______

Charles Kingsley

Phaeton; or Loose Thoughts for Loose Thinkers

______

1853

Charles Dickens

Bleak House

serialised

W. M.Thackeray

Henry Esmond

serialised

Elizabeth Gaskell

Ruth

______

Charles Reade

Peg Wuffington

______

Charles Kingsley

Hypatia; or The Old Face in the Mirror

serialised

W. H. Ainsworth

The Star Chamber

serialised

E. Bulwer Lytton

My Novel, by Pisistratus Caxton; or, Varieties in English Life

serialised

1854

W. H. Ainsworth

The Flitch of Bacon

serialised

Wilkie Collins

Hide and Seek; or, The Mystery of Mary Grice

______

Charles Dickens

Hard Times

serialised

1855

Charles Kingsley

Westward Ho!

______

Charles Kingsley

Glaucus; or, The Wonders of the Shore

______

Charles Kingsley

Brave Words for Brave Soldiers and Sailors

______

Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South

serialised

George Meredith

The Shaving of Shagpat

______

W. M.Thackeray

The Newcomes

serialised

W. M.Thackeray

The Rose and the Ring

______

Anthony Trollope

The Warden

______

 

…For 1847, we have good ol’ Wuthering Heights, an S&M classic but please, nothing whatsoever to do with the Famine; Jane Eyre, another bondage classic with zip to say about all those dead peasants you could smell when the wind blew east from [that place we don’t mention].

1848: Yeast, ’nuff said.

For 1849, when every literature person knew about mass starvation in Ireland, we get two by Dickens, who as we know was so reform-minded that he never even mentioned the Irish; and The Caxtons: A Family Picture by…Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the father of Robert, Lord Lytton. Small world, Vampiria (and not by accident). Like dad, like son; Edward was a monster like his son — but in prose. The book is apparently light, comic, and utterly virtuous: “Never before had Bulwer written with so light a touch and so gentle a humor, and this novel has been called the most brilliant and attractive of productions. His gentle satire of certain phrases of political life was founded, doubtless, on actual experience.”

1850, when one might expect the genocide to be bruising tender hearts, gives us Kingsley in reformist mode with his expose of the clothing business, Cheap Clothes and Nasty. I’ve read this one; it mentions the Irish briefly, listing their presence in England, takin’ our jobs, as a result of sharp practices by merchants — not, of course, because of the suffering of the “white chimpanzees” he saw littering the roadside in Sligo.

1851. The Yeast keeps rising, which was clearly the Papists’ fault, along with other things that need not be mentioned.

1852: Kingsley again, and Wilkie Collins with Basil: A Story of Modern Life. Basil is a good book to finish on. You’re welcome to consider the other novels for 1853-55, but like the man said about the turtles, it’s Kingsleys and Dickenses all the way down.

Basil is interesting because it, alone in this decade of virtuous silence, was not a virtuous novel. Indeed, it had crimes in it, “domestic horrors” which so seared the minds of virtuous critics that they scolded Collins in his obituary, decades later, for writing it:

“The Athenaeum…called Basil ‘a tale of criminality, almost revolting from its domestic horrors’ and the Westminster Review described it as ‘absolutely disgusting’. Mrs Oliphant later called the novel ‘a revolting Story’ and the critics harked back to it even in their obituaries of Collins.”

Remember Basil, then. Remember poor Basil, lone dinghy of evil in a sea of literary virtue. Lone hint that there might be something not entirely virtuous in Britain. And hated for its lack of virtue, while the masses of virtuous pose being emptied by the carriage-load over a mass grave were, and are still, found innocent.

My hope is in the South Asian intellectuals, who alone seem to grasp how this successful model of genocide works. The Irish intelligentsia got gaslit, unfortunately, in the mid-Twentieth century and has not yet recovered. Glory to Amartya Sen and those who follow him, and my sincere apologies for dwelling on the Irish version of hushed-up artificial famine. The truth is, that’s the literary-PR story I happen to know best. You, in India, will write the true Black Book of the British Empire.

To the rest of us: stop looking for bad words. Stop taking the Nazi hicks as your example of evil. Remember Yemen. It’s virtuous silence and distraction we should fear.

Gary Brecher is the nom de guerre-nerd of John Dolan. Buy his book The War Nerd Iliad.

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Posted: July 25th, 2020

Republished from the Radio War Nerd subscriber newsletter. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd for podcasts, newsletters and more!

The headline here is not a joke, unfortunately. It’s a question you can’t help asking if you’ve followed the war in Yemen.

You probably noticed that on Radio War Nerd we’ve pointed out over and over that some wartime deaths get a whole lot of attention, others very little — or none. But it’s not easy to get a real-life scientific-type test of the relative weight of a WaPo writer’s death and the deaths of “enemy” civilians.

Well, we’ve got such a test now. I just found it at the BBC News site. This thing is going to be the gold standard of pixels-per-death calculations from now on. It’s Nobel Prize in Media Physics stuff. What’s the molecular weight of a dead Yemeni civilian? It’s an amount so tiny that mere laypeople using crude stone tools could never guess it. But thanks to this BBC story, we can use our advanced math skills to figure it out.

Here’s the story, our Eureka moment, our Rosetta Stone, our electron media microscope: a BBC article headlined “Saudi Arabia: Just how deep are its troubles?”, published on May 13 2020, under the byline of Frank Gardner, “BBC Security Correspondent.”

Gardner identifies many problems for the Kingdom, most of them purely financial: the COVID-19 pandemic, the oil glut and falling prices. He briefly mentions the PR problem suffered by de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS):

“Meanwhile the crown prince, while still largely popular at home, remains something of a pariah in the West due to lingering suspicions over his alleged role in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

That’s Gardner’s sixth paragraph, so the PR problem rates below the purely financial problems, but still pretty high.

Paragraph placement in a news story is very important. And like the NFL draft, it’s not so much whether you get drafted or not but where you’re placed. The earlier the better, the more value you have, whether you’re a cornerback or a dead civilian. So being mentioned in the sixth paragraph of a long (50-paragraph) story like this, as Khashoggi is, makes you something like a third-round choice. Khashoggi must be proud, wherever he is now.

The point is that killing Khashoggi is MbS’s ONLY PR problem, as far as the BBC is concerned.

There’s no doubt the killing of Khashoggi, an elite Saudi who’d gone rogue, was not a triumph of professional assassinations. Forget Jean Reno, this was more like hiring the boys from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to do the cleanup operation. MbS’s agents brought their hacksaws to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, killed Khashoggi on the premises, were too stupid to realize Turkish intel had the place bugged up worse than an Ontario cabin in July, and had no cover story ready when the tapes showed up online.

And the Saudis’ attempt at damage management was the most inept of all. The Saudis’ first response was that Khashoggi had left the consulate intact, his limbs a virgin forest untouched by the saw, and only admitted under pressure that he’d been killed and dismembered inside their consulate. No one’s disputing that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi was a bloody mess in every sense.

But the thing is, that wasn’t the bloodiest mess MbS and the Kingdom were involved in. And Khashoggi wasn’t the only maimed body left in the wake of MbS’s “reform” policies.

Not by a loooooong shot. There was this other thing going on: The Saudi-led invasion and blockade of NW Yemen, the mostly Shia highland provinces of Yemen. That bloody massacre started in March 2015, and it’s been killing untold (and I do mean “untold”) hundreds of thousands since then.

How many people have died horrible deaths in Yemen since 2015? The official sources like WaPo and NYT and BBC used to fix on a static figure: 10,000 dead.

Everyone laughed at that one. Every knew it had to be much, much higher, but that just annoyed our news sources of record. So they tried fudging the numbers with the face-saving formula “at least” 10,000, but even buzzards sometimes gag, and people got sick of hearing such an obvious callous lie.

So by now, how many Yemeni Shia nobodies are dead? How many inconvenient corpses, disproportionately children (because they’re always the first to die in a famine) are buried, untold, in that rocky ground?

Nobody even tries very hard to guess anymore, because nobody in the Western media is interested. Especially not the crusaders at the Washington Post. As far as they and their buddies in the NYT and BBC are concerned, those deaths don’t matter. No, that’s wrong: those deaths are actually an annoyance, a distraction. It’s not that the news sites of record can’t be bothered to cover the hundreds of thousands who’ve died in Yemen after years of blockade, air strikes, and artificial famine. It’s not that at all. They care, all right; they’re annoyed.

Because those who died were nobodies, and the wrong-est kind of nobodies. They were Shia, and Shia are all our enemies, as far as Riyadh, D.C., London and Jerusalem are concerned. When a Shia Yemeni child dies gasping of an easily curable disease like cholera, it’s not just unimportant, it’s enemy propaganda — because the Houthi, or Ansarullah if you prefer — the main Shia militia in Yemen — are officially “Iranian proxies.”

They’re not, of course. The Shia of NW Yemen have been fighting against the Najd, home of the Sauds in Central Arabia, for centuries.

Najran was a Yemeni city before the 1930s, when the nouveaux riches Saudis “rented” it from the dirt-poor Yemenis and simply refused to return it when the lease was up. The Saudi response was simply “Oh, you want us to return Najran? Meet our new friends, the US and UK militaries. We’re paying them for protection now, so if you take one step across the new border, they’ll blow you to bits.”

Since then the alliance between Riyadh, Washington, and London has only deepened. Arab leftists have been wiped out in Yemen, Oman, and Saudi itself. It’s corrupt Islamists/Royalists all the way down these days.

And this is just fine with the staff at WaPo/NYT/BBC. They have never had ANY problem with all that. They had no problem at all backing the Saudi “coalition’s” blockade of medicines and food directed against NW Yemen; no problem with the videos of kids dying of medieval diseases; no problem with Saudi bombing of Hodeidah, the one port serving NW Yemen, and no problem with the US Navy doing patrols to enforce the Saudi blockade on food and medicine reaching the Shia provinces.

Remember, when Jamal Khashoggi was killed in 2018, this artificial blockade and famine had been going on for almost three years. No one knows exactly how many Shia Yemeni died in those years, because no one who matters wants to know. I’m using “not want to know” as a transitive verb here; it’s not that they “failed” to find out but that their policy was outright boycott on Yemen horror stories, even as they were hyping mostly BS horror stories from Syria, which happened to align with the interests of the DC/Riyadh/London cartel (and, annoyingly but not very importantly, a lot of woke-left idiots who never noticed that they were doing fine PR work for the cartel).

So we’re ready to set our experiment in motion. Jamal Khashoggi is mentioned in Paragraph Six of this story. How about the hundreds of thousands of dead nobodies in Yemen?

They are mentioned a total of three times in this 50-paragraph story. Always very briefly, “in passing” as suave reporters like to say, and using terms like “a spat” to describe the kerfuffle, as if it was a snarly moment on a cooking show.

Here’s the first of the three mentions. This one — the first one, remember! — is in the eighth paragraph, two paragraphs after Jamal Khashoggi’s death — in NFL draft terms, a fourth- or fifth-round choice. Note also the phrasing here:

“Then the war in neighbouring Yemen has bled Saudi coffers for more than five years now with no tangible gains, and a spat with Qatar has wrecked the surface unity of the six-nation Gulf Arab Cooperation Council (GCC).”

There is nothing on how many have died, or how many of the dead were civilians, or how many (MANY) of the famine dead were children. Nothing at all about that. Ah, but there is something about blood! “…[T]he war in neighboring Yemen has bled Saudi coffers for five years now…” Huh, there’s a medical novelty. Some hippie said “Only women bleed,” but it turns out here that only “coffers” bleed. “Only money bleeds,” as it were. Yemenis, no; “coffers,” yes.

And you know the worst about that fiscal bloodletting? It was all for “no tangible gains.” A bad investment, a far worse sin, apparently, than several hundred thousand dead.

Now here’s the second mention of Yemen. This one comes far down, about the 32nd paragraph (out of 50 paragraphs, remember) — which makes it like an eighth-round draft choice in NFL terms.

This one is very brief, very dodgy in every sense:

“The Yemen War, prosecuted in part from the air by Saudi warplanes supplied by the US and Britain, has seen alleged war crimes committed by all sides.”

This one kind of makes me sick (and I once did a survey of British journalism during the Great Famine of the late 1840s, so I have a tough gut.) You’ll note that it was “prosecuted” by the Saudis, a nice way of saying “They invaded Yemen.” Furthermore, they were only responsible “in part” for this prosecution (though their “Coalition of the Willing” was even more reluctant and useless than ours in Iraq). And just to put an extra coat of whitewash on this squeamish, quick allusion to a genocide, Gardner tops off the paragraph with “war crimes committed by all sides.” Yeah Frank, one’s as bad as the other, right? Even if one side, the ones with the money, have all the weapons, all the offensive firepower, and all the lapdog media on their side. It’s an old trick, this “one’s as bad as the other,” but it works all too often.

Ah, but Gardner does go on to admit there have been problems due to the genocide in Yemen. What kind of problems? PR problems, of course! He says in the next paragraph that KSA”s “prosecution” of a war has led, for reasons which seem to be wholly incomprehensible to our friends at the BBC, to some bad press.

“But the civilian death toll caused by those air strikes has led to mounting criticism in Washington and elsewhere.”

It’s that first word, “But…” that gets me. “But”? Why “but”? Read it aloud with the “but” and then without. You’ll see that with the “but” in the beginning the sentence implies that the air strikes, the artificial famine, all of it, is not a problem in itself; the problem is “But…” these perfectly valid policies have, alas, led to “mounting criticism in Washington and elsewhere.”

We’d better move on, to the third and final mention of Yemen, before I spew on the monitor. So here it is, in a mere photo caption just below the 39th paragraph of the story (in NFL terms, a UDFA):

“Five years of war in Yemen have cost Saudi Arabia dearly” [photo caption]

Or rather, here it was — because, in the time since I first read the article, the BBC has changed the caption so that it now reads “Five years of war in Yemen have achieved little.”

Ah, those sly dogs at the BBC copy desk! They think they’ve thwarted our rhetorical analysis but they are mistaken. Because now we can compare the original caption and the revision as if they were lines from a poem.

Here they are, Exhibits A (the original) and B (the new version):

A: “Five years of war have cost Saudi Arabia dearly”

B: “Five years of war in Yemen have achieved little”

This is a very revealing change. Exhibit A made the emphasis on money a little too clear when it said that the war has “cost Saudi Arabia dearly.” That’s the author’s real priority, of course, but somebody — a reader or an editor, a paid empath or something — flinched at it, decided to blur the raw indifference to those who’ve suffered by talking about what’s been “achieved” rather than what the war cost Riyadh. So now we get the nice, bland predicate “…have achieved little.”

So now, the article isn’t saying outright that the war was too expensive for KSA, but that it was wasted carnage, carnage that doesn’t “achieve” anything. It’s dizzying to try to find a meaning in that; what would a successful “achievement” be? The annihilation of NW Yemen? The crushing of all Shia resistance in Yemen? Saudi hegemony over the whole country?

But I’m quibbling. Readers won’t ask questions like that. They’ll glean something vague and well-meaning on the lines of “War, what is it good for?” and let the BBC off the hook. See? The Beeb isn’t totally obsessed with Saudi finances!

But the new caption is balanced, in that winsome NYT/WaPo/BBC manner, because it doesn’t go too far by mentioning dead Yemenis. It’s still looking solely at the Saudi perspective.

From the Yemeni perspective, this war has “achieved” quite a bit, in a grim sense: killing hundreds of thousands, crippling the next generation (because no child ever really recovers from protracted starvation in childhood, as studies have shown).

In fact, you could argue, if you were Satan, that this was an “achievement” for the KSA: by stunting the mental and physical development on a generation of Yemeni Shia, KSA has hit, in military jargon, the “second echelon,” the upcoming generation of potential enemies.

Now, thinking rhetorically, guess what the next photograph gracing the story might be. Remember, this is a news-site of record from the Anglo/Saudi consensus. So what would remind readers that after all, MbS is a reformer, a maker of omelettes, despite all the broken and bloody eggs he splattered over the landscape. What would show his progressive side?

Yup, a shot of a rich elite Saudi woman driving a car. And that is indeed the next photograph.

So see, folks, there’s good coming out of MbS’s tough love after all.

And really, the story tells us, his only real mistake was killing Khashoggi, a real human being, a Made Man in the global mafia. That death mattered. The dead Yemenis? They were Shia; they were “pro-Iranian”; they were, above all, dirt poor.

But us, we’re scientists here. We have to figure out the ratio: how many dead Shia poor people does it take to equal one Khashoggi?

Which means we have to come up with some estimate of how many untold deaths have happened in Yemen. Keep in mind, very few of the dead were killed in the air strikes that get the publicity, brutal as those no doubt were.

The real killer in Yemen has been famine and a blockade on essential medicines. That technique kills or cripples a whole population, starting with young children (as the BBC should know better than anyone).

But “untold” means “untold, right? How can we even guess? It’s not easy, because people-of-record don’t want you to think about it. But we have had a few brave people willing to name some sums. The representative for one NGO trying to work in Yemen estimated that,

“…an estimated 1,000 children are dying every week from preventable killers like diarrhoea, malnutrition and respiratory tract infections.”

That was back in 2016. So if you do the math: 52 weeks a year for five years, that’s roughly a quarter of a million dead children.

Most Western news sources of the respectable sort won’t do the math. They’ll stick to that comically absurd “10 thousand dead” figure. I swear I’ll never understand those people. They’re so very moral — except when it doesn’t suit them. They take me back to the respectable press in 1847 Britain, and that’s the last place I want to be.

They even retain the habit of not counting those who die in an artificial famine, as if blockading a country that was always heavily dependent on food imports and medical supply flights was an Act of God. They sometimes count Yemeni civilians dead in direct “Coalition” air strikes on markets and funerals, but even then there are dark hints that those might have been “pro-Iranian” weddings, “pro-Iranian” funerals, “pro-Iranian” food markets. You know, the suspect kind where they sell pro-Iranian onions.

The Iranian link to the Shia of Yemen is, let me repeat, BS. There’s a very, very powerful link between Iran and Hezbollah, as both sides will tell you with pride; there’s a somewhat more fraught link between Iran and Syria; but Yemen has always fought the push from Saudi Arabia, and would do so if Iran ceased to exist tomorrow. The people telling that lie must know better, but…well, who knows how a weasel thinks? Proud to say I don’t.

And Lord knows that’s a depressing topic.

But let’s go back to the original question up top and do the math as best we can. Drum roll, while we reveal the answer to the big q:

“How many dirt-poor, wrong-sect, non-English-speaking nobodies does it take to equal one made man in the Cartel’s media elite like Jamal Khasoggi?”

Answer (after the necessary wonk-ish qualifiers, e.g. “We can’t set an exact figure here…”) The answer is roughly…

A quarter of a million. And that’s a conservative estimate, not (by any means) a neoliberal one.

Yup, that’s the ratio: One dead WaPo contributor weighs as much, news-wise, as a quarter-million nobodies from the wrong side of the sectarian tracks.

That’s how these virtuous people think. Makes me gladder than ever I’m not virtuous.

Gary Brecher is the nom de guerre-nerd of John Dolan. Buy his book The War Nerd Iliad.

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Posted: May 24th, 2020

Limonov & Marignac, early 1980s Paris

Again, damnit! I’ve been doing this forever. Most of my friends kicked the bucket before I reached the ripe old age of 30. Addicts don’t live that long, heroin isn’t a nurturing mother, no matter what you think when you use it. Since then, I had very few genuine friends. Well, Edward Limonov, whom I’ve consorted with for forty odd years, was one of them. He just died before the onset of apocalypse, as we know it with this cybernetic virus of a very dubious origin. Sly old bastard, he even figured when to leave the world scene.

I knew he was gonna die, all flags were red the last times I saw him, in Paris in May 2019, to march with the Yellow Vests, and in Moscow, October 2019, when we had that last meal. He greeted me with a joke, parted with me joking. Motherfucker had class. Knew it was likely to be our last reunion and I did too.

Although, damnit, not so soon!… Since you don’t want it to happen, you always think, it’s gonna last a little longer. In Paris in May, when I saw him drinking like a fish, I thought: all right, he knows, decided to have some fun before sunset. In Moscow in October, I confronted him with that shit: why are you drinking, when you’re not supposed to? He came up with a dubious theory according to which vodka was better than wine (one glass a day, as he had previously determined since his brain tumor was removed four years ago) for his ailment. So it was obvious, he was preparing to die. He knew that I knew, and just smiled. Between old friends, some things stay unsaid, but not unbeknownst, particularly when it’s time to go. I always knew when my friends were going to die. Call it junkie intuition.

Now, motherfucking Limonov had a tremendous influence on my life, I wouldn’t even be writing an eXile column without him. I met Mark Ames in his Moscow flat, twenty odd years ago. Because Edward had this gift as well, he just knew what was going to be fruitful, and he had the generosity.

When I first met Edward, in March 1981 in Paris, he was a freaking living god to us, coming from New York, the punk-rock Mecca, and from Moscow, essential to the punk-rock esthetics. We just hated the bleeding heart liberal baby boomers, he was the living-proof that some people from that generation, coming from the cold, could be worth our while. In freaking France, they had published his scandalous first novel, It’s me Eddie, and, wannabe journalists, we interviewed him. Not knowing to whom sell the interview. We eventually did. Edward did not know any genuine Parisians at the time, save for his publisher and the PR woman. He and my crew (most of them dead now) made fast friends. He even bought pot to my long gone friend Fabrice, a burglar fresh out of jail. He talked about it in his first Book of the Dead, published in 2000.

He and I had a special bond, for a very simple reason, I was the only one, in that crew, gifted with foreign languages, English at first, then Russian when, again thanks to him, I met Nina, a Russian immigrant who forced me to learn Russian, when I fell in love with her, as he had foreseen. She was the drinking buddy of Limonov’s new wife Medvedeva, so in a way, however strange it may sound, we had a family. This bond strengthened when I married Medvedeva so she could get a French Green Card and stay with Edward in Paris. Nina was jealous. And so was Medvedeva, her drinking buddy had tried the French guy, who was her husband?… Limonov laughed when I recounted the women’s intrigues…

Then, as years went by, it was my turn to exert a tremendous influence on Edward, when I wrote my first novel, Fasciste, in 1988. Nobody, much less him, was expecting it from me, rather an account of my street junkie days, which I wrote thirty years later. When I got drunk with him and our pal Danila Doubshin in 2015, eating gigantic pork chops, he recognized, against all odds, that my first book was a revelation to him. I never thought he would admit it, although I knew it since I have a long-ass memory. But this motherfucker was, on top of it all, also generous with his friends. And I was lucky enough to be one of them, as the New York Russian journalist Oleg Soulkin once said to me: You’re one of the few he never trashed. So Edward said, yes Thierry, I remember your first book to this day! Much to my amazement.

Then there are numerous stories, how we lost one another in JFK airport in 1982, my first trip to New York, then met again in a art opening in a art gallery in SoHo, after I put an ad in the Village Voice — “Limonov Call Me” —and when the Puerto Rican girl said we don’t put family names on ads, I answered it’s a Russian name, she didn’t know better at the time. Edward and I ended up at Chemiakin’s place, and when Chemiakin threatened me — he was gonna kill me because I was staying at some Russian woman’s place and the Russian painter was sweet on her — Edward punched him in the face.

Marignac & Limonov, Moscow

Then in February 2001, I’m detained by the FSB at Sheremetyevo airport, since I’m carrying Limonov’s letter to the infamous old mercenary Bob Denard. It’s all bullshit, since he’s inviting him to a “Congress of hot spots” on the Earth, and the Russian Embassy has to grant him a visa, and they know Denard since the Cold War days, he’s fought them in Africa, not to say Denard is fresh out of jail at the time and already Alzheimer’s. Yet, the agents dance the macho menuet to freaking make me wet my pants. Well, I’m a veteran of the junkie wars, I remember how it was in the old days in France, I don’t particularly freak, knowing they don’t have much on me.

As soon as I land in Paris I call Limonov to let him know what happened. He says: Well, that happened. Now his apartment was bugged all over, and a few weeks down the line, when I call Nina, passion of my life to this day, she says, don’t ever come back, yesterday on TV they posted conversations between you and Edward talking about coup d’État !… But I’m back there two months later, invited by the French Embassy to write a novel, and Edward is already in jail. I walk the straight and narrow. Mark Ames and I have paranoid meetings on the Red Square, away from the bugs, to determine what we’re gonna do, since our names were brought up in Limonov’s trial. We wouldn’t even utter a word in the eXile headquarters where we both worked together. And the lawyer is trying to pull us in way deeper, since it could be useful in Edward’s trial. Damn!… I don’t even remember how we survived. Nina, Edward’s original gift from Paris 1983, supported me wholeheartedly, and wisely. Mark had worked out his own immunity already 8 years living in Russia. We managed to escape any dire consequence and Edward got out of jail in 2003.

How the fuck can I forget a friend like that, with whom I’ve gone through so much, who always supported me through thick and thin?… Damn, the world doesn’t seem right without this motherfucker, something’s missing!…

—Thierry Marignac, April 9th, 2020.

Posted: April 10th, 2020

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Posted: August 12th, 2019

If you haven’t already, you should check out and subscribe to Filmsuck, a biweekly podcast about film. It’s hosted by Eileen Jones, the eXiled’s infamous film critic who now writes Jacobin, and Evgenia Kovda, a Russian filmmaker sent to America to undermine western democracy.

The spirit of the eXiled lives on…in podcast form! 

In their latest episode, they discuss Quentin Tarantino and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. 

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Posted: August 12th, 2019