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Gutman: still guilty

Roy Gutman (letters, July) defends his decision to run his first story about a Serbian 'death camp' at Omarska, despite the fact that he had not visited the camp in question and despite the fact that the story was based on hearsay, because he felt it was important 'to warn that something terrible seemed to be going on'.

He defends Newsday's decision to headline his second 'death camps' story, despite the fact that he still had not visited the camps and had managed to obtain just two first-hand accounts from former prisoners, because 'I was convinced that the lives of thousands of people were at stake and we should take the journalistic risk on their behalf'.

OK, sometimes journalists have to take risks. But was this really the time or the place or the story with which to take a risk? After all, it wasn't as if Gutman was accusing the Serbs of carrying out any old offence. He was accusing them of running 'death camps' - Nazi-style extermination camps.

Gutman had no hard evidence to substantiate that claim when he wrote his first two stories. Gutman says he was surprised that his press colleagues 'did not take the trouble to dig out the stories' to support his claims. Yet, as Gutman himself points out, more than 350 journalists headed into Bosnia to find the 'death camps' in the weeks after his first reports. They didn't find them, nor did they find any evidence that they had existed. Even the testimony of 20 former prisoners, whom Gutman spoke to later, do not a 'death camp' make.

It is not so easy to hide the existence of 'death camps'. If the Serbs really had been running mass extermination camps you would have thought that somebody, somewhere, out of all those 350 journalists might have found some proof. Yet one year on from when the story first broke, we are still waiting for the evidence.

The issue is not whether or not people were killed at Omarska. I have no doubt they were. But the ill-treatment, beating and arbitrary execution of prisoners, no matter how abhorrent, does not add up to a 'death camp'. And that is the issue. On the evidence available at the time, an extremely tendentious claim was made. On the evidence that has been gathered since, that claim is still extremely tendentious.

When journalists use emotive terms like 'death camp' they should be absolutely sure of their evidence. Gutman has admitted that he had no hard evidence when he first used that term. One year later he is using the term 'genocide' to describe what is happening in Bosnia. As with the term 'death camp', to talk about 'genocide' in this way is to render the term meaningless.

Joan Phillips London

Pilger's position

John Pilger (letters, July) objects to Mike Freeman lumping him together with Ken Livingstone in a 'consensus' supporting Western intervention ('Left, right, left, right', June). Why? Because Livingstone supports bombing Serbia whereas Pilger supports ending the arms embargo against the Bosnian government; in practice, this means the West arming the Muslims.

Freeman did not argue that there is a radi-cal consensus behind bombing Serbia or the Vance-Owen plan or any particular policy, he argued that the consensus is behind the idea that Western intervention of some sort is needed in Bosnia. The fact of the matter is that 'the range of radical thought and argument distinguished by striking differences of analysis and opinion', that Pilger accuses Living Marxism of denying, is all agreed on one thing: that the West has the solution to the problems of the former Yugoslavia not to mention Cambodia or Somalia.

It is this pro-Western consensus among liberals and radicals, which Pilger seems to have half-joined, that provides our modern-day imperialists with the moral authority to do their worst, the outraged complaints of liberal consciences over the disastrous results notwithstanding. For me the real irony is finding that someone with as distinguished a record of exposing Western barbarism as John Pilger is writing to complain about Living Marxism pointing out these facts.

Andrew Dennison Amsterdam

How does John Pilger come to the conclusion that Living Marxism supports the Western arms embargo on Yugoslavia? Opposing Western political and military interference abroad must mean opposing the West's right to determine who can and who cannot have weapons.

The West has embargoed Yugoslavia and bombed Somali and Iraqi arms dumps in order to pose itself as the moral superior of these countries. The argument goes that Western nations are responsible with their weapons, while the savage peoples of the third world and Eastern Europe turn into 'warlords' and start taking potshots at anyone, if given access to guns. The notion of Western moral superiority is clearly ludicrous. Which is the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons against civilians?

This idea becomes even more ridiculous if we look at the disparity between Western military capability and the forces available to the third world. The US air force recently deployed attack helicopters and AC130 gunships against Somali forces consisting of a few men in battered Toyota Landcruisers. The tactic used by gunships is to circle low and slow around the target shooting at anything that moves. Such tactics are suicidal if the target can shoot back, which is why gunships have only ever been used against Vietnamese villages and other such defenceless targets.

Ironically, AC130 gunships are based on the same Hercules aircraft that dropped food aid to the starving Ethiopians and the embattled Kurds. This should not be too surprising, however, as there is no difference between Western humanitarian aid and military attacks. Both are aspects of Western militarism and are to be opposed.

Paul Boydell Liverpool

Do something

A recent letter in the Manchester Evening News begins 'my son is in the [military] out in Bosnia, and I've just had a letter from him saying how bad things are out there. There is nothing for the lads to do and their TV is so old it won't always work'. If only the suffering 'out there' extended to poor TV viewing!

Clearly, the suffering is immeasurable; clearly, somebody needs to do something. The level of your rhetoric, like Lord Owen's et al, is deafening. Your idea of doing something is to do nothing.

The Spanish people went to the polls recently for only their fourth real general election since 1939--a set of circumstances brought about because too many people in the West chose to do nothing, therefore giving the fascists a free hand. Perhaps I'm being unfair, but I feel that the issues of Living Marxism in 1936 would have read 'Western intervention will only make things worse'.

For too long, the left has been merely in some sense fending off the agenda of the right. Is it too much to expect an agenda set by the left, which is analytical, brave, and inspiring? Instead of flaccid ideas advanced as negatives of the elite's activities (mental and physical), what about something different and alive?

John Howard Longsight, Manchester

Cinderella curfew

A few months ago, Living Marxism reported that Glasgow council, with a bit of help from the police, had decided it was time to get troublemakers off the streets ('Blade runners', May). And so the 'bin the knife, save a life' campaign was founded in which people with knives were supposed to go and 'bin' them in a local police station so that the council could then melt them down and make a sculpture to remind us all of the dangers of knives. Some people recognised this campaign as police propaganda, some didn't, but many went along with it complaining that there is 'a hard core' which we all have to watch out for.

Trouble is, the council have now told us the next step in their campaign against violence, and it seems they have a very broad definition of 'troublemaker'. They've decided that nobody should be allowed in a club after midnight and that everything will close down at 2am - the only exemptions are for clubs which cater for the over-30s. The message behind the new law is that young working class people are scum and should get out of the city centre.

With a police helicopter with hi-tech surveillance equipment permanently buzzing overhead, extra officers in the city centre, surveillance cameras soon to be going up, hotlines from clubs to police stations, some clubs equipped with metal detectors and police-friendly licensed bouncers, and a new armoury of stop and search powers, Glasgow police are certainly equipped to enforce the curfew as many young people have already experienced.

David Cummings Glasgow

The media and police murder

Christian Parenti ('Police torture, press silence', June) was right in asserting that the role of the American police is to maintain the status quo: they are the front line of social control when more consensual means are ineffective in an increasingly unstable society. Why then, after identifying those who control the media as members of the establishment, does he look to the national media to confront police brutality?

The media reflects and encourages the general consensus in society that crime has reached epidemic proportions and an all-out assault is required to bring it under control. In such a climate, police brutality is seen as an unfortunate side effect of the war on crime, but a price well worth paying to win that war.

While Parenti may be correct in asserting that cases of jailhouse torture get little publicity, reports of suspects who are shot and killed during apprehension are commonplace. Last summer, the deaths of two men at the hands of the police sparked rioting in a mainly black and Latino community in New York City. While the initial reaction was in defence of the victims, by the next day they had been painted - by the media - as gun-toting drug dealers and most people outside the community came to accept that the victims were criminals and the police were justified.

As long as the crime panic continues in America, police brutality and murder will go unchecked. Expecting that the national media would conduct a campaign against police brutality is wishful thinking. The only way to stop police brutality is to get rid of the police and the system they serve.

Daniel Bryan New York

Cromwell: no revolutionary

Penny Robson's article ('Off with their heads of state', July) may have been timely, but was derailed by citing a Roundheads and Cavaliers analogy in its conclusion.

Oliver Cromwell's campaign against the supremacy of the crown cannot be given any real historical approval by Marxists because it was conducted within the confines of the ruling establishment of that period. Indeed, it was while holding the title of chairman of the council of the (English) state that Robson's curious choice of 'radical' carried out massacres in Wales (1648), Ireland (1649) and Scotland (1650).

Any debate about Cromwell's dubious 'anti-establishment' credentials is likely to be indecisive, sterile and largely irrelevant to republicanism today. Robson should not cite historical analogies but instead remember that the actions of the living have the real potential to sweep away the establishment - figureheads and all.

Megan Ap Gruffydd Erewash, Derbyshire

More Larkin about

It's a shame Robert Fletcher's claim that 'to be a quintessential English poet was to be revolutionary' (letters, July) relies so heavily on that quote from Wordsworth. Unfortunately for Fletcher, 'Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, to be young was very heaven', later became 'O Friend! It was a lamentable time for man', as Wordsworth rewrote screeds of 'The Prelude' lamenting how far people power had gone in pursuit of democracy in France. Before he died, he buried himself in a quintessential Englishness not at all at odds with Larkin, Eliot or Lawrence, becoming Poet Laureate in 1843.

He was nonetheless a better poet than Larkin, but Eliot was the best of Fletcher's batch. In spite of his description of himself as 'classical in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion', his poem 'The Waste Land' (1922) spoke clearly of a ruling class which had lost its sense of direction, and admitted to a bankrupt society which had little to offer anyone.

For me, bound up with the enjoyment of how words are put together in poetry is the opportunity to glimpse the changing society we live in through the prism of culture. Right-wing poets have often been grappling with society as it really was, rather than how they would like it to be, and are therefore better able to offer such insights through their work.

I've got to hand it to Fletcher, though. He has a hard neck to write a letter on Larkin which finishes by saying that he's never read him nor does he ever intend to. Did he say he knew a dodgy analysis when he sees one? Did he read his letter before he sent it in?

Bernadette Whelan London N4

What's sex got to do with it?

I have noted recent comments in your readers' columns referring to the subject of so-called homosexuality, which has prompted me to ask the question: what has sex to do with politics? Also why is support for homosexuality so often included in the policy platform of left-wing political movements?

If some people are motivated to behave in a peculiar manner, provided they do not impinge on or offend against what other people regard as the norm, my inclination is to leave them alone, notwithstanding the fact that I find such activities totally incomprehensible. On the other hand, such behaviour ought not to be publicised or given support by political parties since it does not come within the province of politics.

I therefore suggest that the entire subject be removed from the political agenda, and that socialism be seen as the establishing of direction and control of economic factors in the interests of the people within that society.

John Everett Frecheville, Sheffield
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 58, August 1993

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