Category Archives: politics

The ugly truth about critics of “the ugly truth” in science

It’s an interesting issue. Do we sometimes get too defensive about established science? In our efforts to counter the propaganda of the naysayers do we paint an over-optimistic picture of scientific knowledge? Do we sometimes neglect to make a critical analysis of accepted science while at the same time demanding this of the claims made by anti-science critics?


Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

Important questions – and don’t tell me they haven’t sometimes caused you to have some uncertainty when defending scientific knowledge from detractors. Of course, you are not alone in this. Tracey Brown, Director of Sense in Science, tackled the subject head on in the annual Sense About Science lecture last week.

The ugly truth

This was the title of her lecture. Perhaps it is a timely warning. We should not be defensive about scientific knowledge – or the policy decisions that rely on that knowledge. We should always be open-minded and critical. And we should always be realistic about the evidence. We should be ready to present and argue for the science – warts and all. Not hiding limitations and uncertainties.

She made these points – and claimed that some of our social policies are based on insufficient information. Or that we sometimes exaggerate the amount and quality of information we have to support these policies. That is the “ugly truth” she highlighted in her lecture.

Unfortunately though, her lecture was a practical example of another “ugly truth” – simple declarations are not enough. One’s criticisms of accepted knowledge are not necessarily correct or justified just because one is being critical. There is still the responsibility to base one’s criticism on facts – and to properly research the area before making critical claims. She based her criticism of at least one social health policy, community water fluoridation, on inadequate knowledge – claims from anti-fluoride campaigners she uncritically accepted.

Falling victim to fluoridation misinformation

Readers can download a podcast of Tracey Brown’s lecture here. I will update this post with a video link when it is available. She discussed fluoridation from 15 – 19 minutes.

Tracey claimed that community water fluoridation (CWF) has very little empirical justification. She gave two reasons:

  1. The social health policy is based only on the original research which is over 70 years old and does not measure up to current scientific standards.
  2. Data shows that the oral health of both fluoridated and unfluoridated countries has improved over recent decades and this has more to do with the use fluoridated toothpaste and improved health care than CWF.

These are, of course, two claims made again and again by anti-fluoride propagandists and campaigners. She could have taken her critique directly from one of Paul Connett’s political submissions to councils considering fluoridation. If she did so, she was irresponsible as there are plenty of experts who could have provided information of far better quality.

I contacted Sense About Science and found out that Tracey used the following papers to “formulate” her comment on fluoride.

Peckham, S. (2012). Slaying sacred cows: is it time to pull the plug on water fluoridation? Critical Public Health, 22(2), 159–177.

Cheng, K. K., Chalmers, I., & Sheldon, T. a. (2007). Adding fluoride to water supplies. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 335(7622), 699–702.

So, let’s consider Tracey’s claims about CWF

  1. The first claim is just silly. Of course, decision makers use the information available at the time – 70 years ago they used the information that was available then. But fluoridation decisions have been made again and again  over the years and it is perfectly natural that decision makers will use the current information for those decisions.The efficacy and safety of CWF have been investigated many times since it was first introduced. Science does not stop after a single study. If Brown had made a simple literature search she would have realised that (see Water fluoridation effective – new study for just one recent example – there are many others).  Or, given that none of us have the time and expertise to be well informed about a wide variety of subjects, she could have consulted somebody with up-to-date knowledge and expertise on the subject. She certainly should not have relied solely on the very one-sided papers by Peckham (a well-known UK anti-fluoride activist) and Cheng et al.
  2. From the audio Brown appeared to use this graphic (below – left image) from Cheng et al., (2007) which is very similar to the one promoted by the anti-fluoride propagandist organisation Fluoride Action  Network. I have discussed this graphic in several articles and in my debate with Paul Connett (download the pdf) It is based on extremely limited WHO data (hence the straight lines), makes comparisons which ignore the multiple factors influencing oral health, and ignores the within-country data which show the efficacy of CWF (such as  for Ireland in my second figure).

Left: Graphic used by Cheng et al (2007). Right: Same WHO data for Ireland with fluoridated and unfluoridated areas represented

The ugly truth about Brown’s lecture

Unfortunately, the “ugly truth” Tracey Brown demonstrated was that even scientists, and supporters of science, can be fooled by the claims of anti-science campaigners if they are too lazy to do their own checking. Perhaps she also demonstrated that even scientists, and pro-science people, can suffer from confirmation bias – just like anyone else. They can sometimes adopt a partisan position which restricts them to considering only the misinformation and distortions peddled by anti-science campaigners.

But it does highlight a dilemma for people like Tracey Brown who might feel they have a “whistle-blower” mission to insist that science, or its practitioners, pull up their collective socks. (I hasten to add it is a “mission” I  support – as I support “whistle-blowers” in general).

The dilemma is that we, as individuals, can not be experts in everything. We are not capable, individually, of making a well-informed critical and objective judgement on all the issues we may have to face in  preparing a lecture like Tracey’s. We have to be careful about relying on our own biases or poorly informed memories. We have to recognise our limitations and not be afraid to consult experts for clarification, updating knowledge or even just getting one’s head around complex issues.

The debunking of many of the claims made by scientific naysayers is often like shooting fish in a barrel. It may not require much checking or even serious engagement with the subject. But it is irresponsible to transfer that lazy approach to serious consideration of real science or the social policies informed by that science.

It is especially irresponsible when speaking as the head of a respected organisation and where listeners may feel justified in seeing the claims as expert and to be trusted. Again we face the fact that as listeners none of us can critically judge a speaker’s claims on all the subjects covered.

Destroying credibility

In this example, I have sufficient knowledge about the science behind CWF to judge this aspect of Tracey’s lecture and see she was mistaken. But what about the other subjects she covered? For example, she claimed that current health advice on cholesterol relies on inadequate research and could be wrong. Do I take her word for it? I certainly don’t feel I should – if she is wrong about CWF she may be just as mistaken about cholesterol.

That also makes me wonder if the Sense About Science organisation is as credible in its pronouncements as I used to think it was.

See also:
Annual Lecture 2015 · Sense about Science
Can you handle the truth? Some ugly facts in science and sensibility – an article by Tracey brown introducing her lecture.

Similar articles

Putin’s UN address: “Do you realise what you’ve done?”

These two posts of speeches from the current UN General Assembly might provoke some discussion ( and I sincerely hope they do). They are the major speeches presented by US President Barak Obama and Russian federation President Vladimir Putin.

I have posted them in the alphabetic order of their names – and, in fact, the order in which they were presented on Monday.

My motive in making these full texts available, together with videos of the presentations, is to encourage people to find out what these leaders are actually saying. Particularly to encourage readers not to rely on soundbites and scraps of news filtered and garbled through the inevitable ideologies of the current geopolitical struggles. I think this is extremely important at this time of heightened international conflict.

Source: The Washington Post

PUTIN (THROUGH INTERPRETER): Your excellency Mr. President, your excellency Mr. Secretary General, distinguished heads of state and government, ladies and gentlemen, the 70th anniversary of the United Nations is a good occasion to both take stock of history and talk about our common future.

In 1945, the countries that defeated Nazism joined their efforts to lay solid foundations for the postwar world order.

But I remind you that the key decisions on the principles guiding the cooperation among states, as well as on the establishment of the United Nations, were made in our country, in Yalta, at the meeting of the anti-Hitler coalition leaders.

The Yalta system was actually born in travail. It was won at the cost of tens of millions of lives and two world wars.

This swept through the planet in the 20th century.

Let us be fair. It helped humanity through turbulent, at times dramatic, events of the last seven decades. It saved the world from large-scale upheavals.

The United Nations is unique in its legitimacy, representation and universality. It is true that lately the U.N. has been widely criticized for supposedly not being efficient enough, and for the fact that the decision-making on fundamental issues stalls due to insurmountable differences, first of all, among the members of the Security Council.

However, I’d like to point out there have always been differences in the U.N. throughout all these 70 years of existence. The veto right has always been exercised by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, the Soviet Union and Russia later, alike. It is absolutely natural for so diverse and representative an organization.

When the U.N. was established, its founders did not in the least think that there would always be unanimity. The mission of the organization is to seek and reach compromises, and its strength comes from taking different views and opinions into consideration. Decisions debated within the U.N. are either taken as resolutions or not. As diplomats say, they either pass or do not pass.

Whatever actions any state might take bypassing this procedure are illegitimate. They run counter to the charter and defy international law. We all know that after the end of the Cold War — everyone is aware of that — a single center of domination emerged in the world, and then those who found themselves at the top of the pyramid were tempted to think that if they were strong and exceptional, they knew better and they did not have to reckon with the U.N., which, instead of [acting to] automatically authorize and legitimize the necessary decisions, often creates obstacles or, in other words, stands in the way.

It has now become commonplace to see that in its original form, it has become obsolete and completed its historical mission. Of course, the world is changing and the U.N. must be consistent with this natural transformation. Russia stands ready to work together with its partners on the basis of full consensus, but we consider the attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the United Nations as extremely dangerous. They could lead to a collapse of the entire architecture of international organizations, and then indeed there would be no other rules left but the rule of force.

We would get a world dominated by selfishness rather than collective work, a world increasingly characterized by dictate rather than equality. There would be less of a chain of democracy and freedom, and that would be a world where true independent states would be replaced by an ever-growing number of de facto protectorates and externally controlled territories.

What is the state sovereignty, after all, that has been mentioned by our colleagues here? It is basically about freedom and the right to choose freely one’s own future for every person, nation and state. By the way, dear colleagues, the same holds true of the question of the so-called legitimacy of state authority. One should not play with or manipulate words.

Every term in international law and international affairs should be clear, transparent and have uniformly understood criteria. We are all different, and we should respect that. No one has to conform to a single development model that someone has once and for all recognized as the only right one. We should all remember what our past has taught us.

We also remember certain episodes from the history of the Soviet Union. Social experiments for export, attempts to push for changes within other countries based on ideological preferences, often led to tragic consequences and to degradation rather than progress.

It seemed, however, that far from learning from others’ mistakes, everyone just keeps repeating them, and so the export of revolutions, this time of so-called democratic ones, continues. It would suffice to look at the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, as has been mentioned by previous speakers. Certainly political and social problems in this region have been piling up for a long time, and people there wish for changes naturally.

But how did it actually turn out? Rather than bringing about reforms, an aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster. Nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.

I cannot help asking those who have caused the situation, do you realize now what you’ve done? But I am afraid no one is going to answer that. Indeed, policies based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity have never been abandoned.

It is now obvious that the power vacuum created in some countries of the Middle East and North Africa through the emergence of anarchy areas, which immediately started to be filled with extremists and terrorists.

Tens of thousands of militants are fighting under the banners of the so-called Islamic State. Its ranks include former Iraqi servicemen who were thrown out into the street after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many recruits also come from Libya, a country whose statehood was destroyed as a result of a gross violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. And now, the ranks of radicals are being joined by the members of the so-called moderate Syrian opposition supported by the Western countries.

First, they are armed and trained and then they defect to the so-called Islamic State. Besides, the Islamic State itself did not just come from nowhere. It was also initially forged as a tool against undesirable secular regimes.

Having established a foothold in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has begun actively expanding to other regions. It is seeking dominance in the Islamic world. And not only there, and its plans go further than that. The situation is more than dangerous.

In these circumstances, it is hypocritical and irresponsible to make loud declarations about the threat of international terrorism while turning a blind eye to the channels of financing and supporting terrorists, including the process of trafficking and illicit trade in oil and arms. It would be equally irresponsible to try to manipulate extremist groups and place them at one’s service in order to achieve one’s own political goals in the hope of later dealing with them or, in other words, liquidating them.

To those who do so, I would like to say — dear sirs, no doubt you are dealing with rough and cruel people, but they’re in no way primitive or silly. They are just as clever as you are, and you never know who is manipulating whom. And the recent data on arms transferred to this most moderate opposition is the best proof of it.

We believe that any attempts to play games with terrorists, let alone to arm them, are not just short-sighted, but fire hazardous (ph). This may result in the global terrorist threat increasing dramatically and engulfing new regions, especially given that Islamic State camps train militants from many countries, including the European countries.

Unfortunately, dear colleagues, I have to put it frankly: Russia is not an exception. We cannot allow these criminals who already tasted blood to return back home and continue their evil doings. No one wants this to happen, does he?

Russia has always been consistently fighting against terrorism in all its forms. Today, we provide military and technical assistance both to Iraq and Syria and many other countries of the region who are fighting terrorist groups.

We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face. We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad’s armed forces and Kurds (ph) militias are truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria.

We know about all the problems and contradictions in the region, but which were (ph) based on the reality.

Dear colleagues, I must note that such an honest and frank approach of Russia has been recently used as a pretext to accuse it of its growing ambitions, as if those who say it have no ambitions at all.

However, it’s not about Russia’s ambitions, dear colleagues, but about the recognition of the fact that we can no longer tolerate the current state of affairs in the world. What we actually propose is to be guided by common values and common interests, rather than ambitions.

On the basis of international law, we must join efforts to address the problems that all of us are facing and create a genuinely broad international coalition against terrorism.

Similar to the anti-Hitler coalition, it could unite a broad range of forces that are resolutely resisting those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind. And, naturally, the Muslim countries are to play a key role in the coalition, even more so because the Islamic State does not only pose a direct threat to them, but also desecrates one of the greatest world religions by its bloody crimes.

The ideologists (ph) of militants make a mockery of Islam and pervert its true humanistic (ph) values. I would like to address Muslim spiritual leaders, as well. Your authority and your guidance are of great importance right now.

It is essential to prevent people recruited by militants from making hasty decisions and those who have already been deceived, and who, due to various circumstances found themselves among terrorists, need help in finding a way back to normal life, laying down arms, and putting an end to fratricide.

Russia will shortly convene, as the (ph) current president of the Security Council, a ministerial meeting to carry out a comprehensive analysis of threats in the Middle East.

First of all, we propose discussing whether it is possible to agree on a resolution aimed at coordinating the actions of all the forces that confront the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. Once again, this coordination should be based on the principles of the U.N. Charter.

We hope that the international community will be able to develop a comprehensive strategy of political stabilization, as well as social and economic recovery, of the Middle East.

Then, dear friends, there would be no need for new refugee camps. Today, the flow of people who were forced to leave their homeland has literally engulfed first neighboring countries and then Europe itself. There were hundreds of thousands of them now, and there might be millions before long. In fact, it is a new great and tragic migration of peoples, and it is a harsh lesson for all of us, including Europe.

I would like to stress refugees undoubtedly need our compassion and support. However, the — on the way to solve this problem at a fundamental level is to restore their statehood where it has been destroyed, to strengthen the government institutions where they still exist or are being reestablished, to provide comprehensive assistance of military, economic and material nature to countries in a difficult situation. And certainly, to those people who, despite all the ordeals, will not abandon their homes. Literally, any assistance to sovereign states can and must be offered rather than imposed exclusively and solely in accordance with the U.N. Charter.

In other words, everything in this field that has been done or will be done pursuant to the norms of international law must be supported by our organization. Everything that contravenes the U.N. Charter must be rejected. Above all, I believe it is of the utmost importance to help restore government’s institutions in Libya, support the new government of Iraq and provide comprehensive assistance to the legitimate government of Syria.

Dear colleagues, ensuring peace and regional and global stability remains the key objective of the international community with the U.N. at its helm. We believe this means creating a space of equal and indivisible security, which is not for the select few but for everyone. Yet, it is a challenge and complicated and time-consuming task, but there is simply no other alternative. However, the bloc thinking of the times of the Cold War and the desire to explore new geopolitical areas is still present among some of our colleagues.

First, they continue their policy of expanding NATO. What for? If the Warsaw Bloc stopped its existence, the Soviet Union have collapsed (ph) and, nevertheless, the NATO continues expanding as well as its military infrastructure. Then they offered the poor Soviet countries a false choice: either to be with the West or with the East. Sooner or later, this logic of confrontation was bound to spark off a grave geopolitical crisis. This is exactly what happened in Ukraine, where the discontent of population with the current authorities was used and the military coup was orchestrated from outside — that triggered a civil war as a result.

We’re confident that only through full and faithful implementation of the Minsk agreements of February 12th, 2015, can we put an end to the bloodshed and find a way out of the deadlock. Ukraine’s territorial integrity cannot be ensured by threat of force and force of arms. What is needed is a genuine consideration for the interests and rights of the people in the Donbas region and respect for their choice. There is a need to coordinate with them as provided for by the Minsk agreements, the key elements of the country’s political structure. These steps will guarantee that Ukraine will develop as a civilized society, as an essential link and building a common space of security and economic cooperation, both in Europe and in Eurasia.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have mentioned these common space of economic cooperation on purpose. Not long ago, it seemed that in the economic sphere, with its objective market loss, we would launch a leaf (ph) without dividing lines. We would build on transparent and jointly formulated rules, including the WTO principles, stipulating the freedom of trade, and investment and open competition.

Nevertheless, today, unilateral sanctions circumventing the U.N. Charter have become commonplace, in addition to pursuing political objectives. The sanctions serve as a means of eliminating competitors.

I would like to point out another sign of a growing economic selfishness. Some countries [have] chosen to create closed economic associations, with the establishment being negotiated behind the scenes, in secret from those countries’ own citizens, the general public, business community and from other countries.

Other states whose interests may be affected are not informed of anything, either. It seems that we are about to be faced with an accomplished fact that the rules of the game have been changed in favor of a narrow group of the privileged, with the WTO having no say. This could unbalance the trade system completely and disintegrate the global economic space.

These issues affect the interest of all states and influence the future of the world economy as a whole. That is why we propose discussing them within the U.N. WTO NGO (ph) ’20.

Contrary to the policy of exclusiveness, Russia proposes harmonizing original economic projects. I refer to the so-called integration of integrations based on universal and transparent rules of international trade. As an example, I would like to cite our plans to interconnect the Eurasian economic union, and China’s initiative of the Silk Road economic belt.

We still believe that harmonizing the integration processes within the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union is highly promising.

Ladies and gentlemen, the issues that affect the future of all people include the challenge of global climate change. It is in our interest to make the U.N. Climate Change Conference to be held in December in Paris a success.

As part of our national contribution, we plan to reduce by 2030 the greenhouse emissions to 70, 75 percent of the 1990 level.

I suggest, however, we should take a wider view on this issue. Yes, we might defuse the problem for a while, by setting quotas on harmful emissions or by taking other measures that are nothing but tactical. But we will not solve it that way. We need a completely different approach.

We have to focus on introducing fundamental and new technologies inspired by nature, which would not damage the environment, but would be in harmony with it. Also, that would allow us to restore the balance upset by biosphere and technosphere (ph) upset by human activities.

It is indeed a challenge of planetary scope, but I’m confident that humankind has intellectual potential to address it. We need to join our efforts. I refer, first of all, to the states that have a solid research basis and have made significant advances in fundamental science.

We propose convening a special forum under the U.N. auspices for a comprehensive consideration of the issues related to the depletion of natural resources, destruction of habitat and climate change.

Russia would be ready to co-sponsor such a forum.

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, it was on the 10th of January, 1946, in London that the U.N. General Assembly gathered for its first session.

Mr. Suleta (ph) (inaudible), a Colombian diplomat and the chairman of the Preparatory Commission, opened the session by giving, I believe, a concise definition of the basic principles that the U.N. should follow in its activities, which are free will, defiance of scheming and trickery and spirit of cooperation.

Today, his words sound as a guidance for all of us. Russia believes in the huge potential of the United Nations, which should help us avoid a new global confrontation and engage in strategic cooperation. Together with other countries, we will consistently work towards strengthening the central coordinating role of the U.N. I’m confident that by working together, we will make the world stable and safe, as well as provide conditions for the development of all states and nations.

Thank you.




Obama’s United Nations address: “We Must Stamp Out ‘Apocalyptic Cult’ ISIS”

These two posts of speeches from the current UN General Assembly might provoke some discussion ( and I sincerely hope they do). They are the major speeches presented by US President Barak Obama and Russian federation President Vladimir Putin.

I have posted them in the alphabetic order of their names – and, in fact, the order in which they were presented on Monday.

My motive in making these full texts available, together with videos of the presentations, is to encourage people to find out what these leaders are actually saying. Particularly to encourage readers not to rely on soundbites and scraps of news filtered and garbled through the inevitable ideologies of the current geopolitical struggles. I think this is extremely important at this time of heightened international conflict.

Source: President Obama’s impassioned United Nations address: read the full speech – Vox

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, it is worth reflecting on what, together, the members of this body have helped to achieve.

Out of the ashes of the Second World War, having witnessed the unthinkable power of the atomic age, the United States has worked with many nations in this Assembly to prevent a third world war — by forging alliances with old adversaries; by supporting the steady emergence of strong democracies accountable to their people instead of any foreign power; and by building an international system that imposes a cost on those who choose conflict over cooperation, an order that recognizes the dignity and equal worth of all people.

That is the work of seven decades. That is the ideal that this body, at its best, has pursued. Of course, there have been too many times when, collectively, we have fallen short of these ideals. Over seven decades, terrible conflicts have claimed untold victims. But we have pressed forward, slowly, steadily, to make a system of international rules and norms that are better and stronger and more consistent.

It is this international order that has underwritten unparalleled advances in human liberty and prosperity. It is this collective endeavor that’s brought about diplomatic cooperation between the world’s major powers, and buttressed a global economy that has lifted more than a billion people from poverty. It is these international principles that helped constrain bigger countries from imposing our will on smaller ones, and advanced the emergence of democracy and development and individual liberty on every continent.

This progress is real. It can be documented in lives saved, and agreements forged, and diseases conquered, and in mouths fed. And yet, we come together today knowing that the march of human progress never travels in a straight line, that our work is far from complete; that dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world.

Today, we see the collapse of strongmen and fragile states breeding conflict, and driving innocent men, women and children across borders on an epoch scale. Brutal networks of terror have stepped into the vacuum. Technologies that empower individuals are now also exploited by those who spread disinformation, or suppress dissent, or radicalize our youth. Global capital flows have powered growth and investment, but also increased risk of contagion, weakened the bargaining power of workers, and accelerated inequality.

How should we respond to these trends? There are those who argue that the ideals enshrined in the UN charter are unachievable or out of date — a legacy of a postwar era not suited to our own. Effectively, they argue for a return to the rules that applied for most of human history and that predate this institution: the belief that power is a zero-sum game; that might makes right; that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones; that the rights of individuals don’t matter; and that in a time of rapid change, order must be imposed by force.

On this basis, we see some major powers assert themselves in ways that contravene international law. We see an erosion of the democratic principles and human rights that are fundamental to this institution’s mission; information is strictly controlled, the space for civil society restricted. We’re told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder; that it’s the only way to stamp out terrorism, or prevent foreign meddling. In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse.

The increasing skepticism of our international order can also be found in the most advanced democracies. We see greater polarization, more frequent gridlock; movements on the far right, and sometimes the left, that insist on stopping the trade that binds our fates to other nations, calling for the building of walls to keep out immigrants. Most ominously, we see the fears of ordinary people being exploited through appeals to sectarianism, or tribalism, or racism, or anti-Semitism; appeals to a glorious past before the body politic was infected by those who look different, or worship God differently; a politics of us versus them.

The United States is not immune from this. Even as our economy is growing and our troops have largely returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, we see in our debates about America’s role in the world a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China, or a resurgent Russia; a revolutionary Iran, or an Islam that is incompatible with peace. We see an argument made that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force; that cooperation and diplomacy will not work.

As president of the United States, I am mindful of the dangers that we face; they cross my desk every morning. I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.

But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion. We cannot look backwards. We live in an integrated world — one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success. We cannot turn those forces of integration. No nation in this assembly can insulate itself from the threat of terrorism, or the risk of financial contagion; the flow of migrants, or the danger of a warming planet. The disorder we see is not driven solely by competition between nations or any single ideology. And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences. That is true for the United States, as well.

No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone. In Iraq, the United States learned the hard lesson that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops, trillions of dollars from our Treasury, cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land. Unless we work with other nations under the mantle of international norms and principles and law that offer legitimacy to our efforts, we will not succeed. And unless we work together to defeat the ideas that drive different communities in a country like Iraq into conflict, any order that our militaries can impose will be temporary.

Just as force alone cannot impose order internationally, I believe in my core that repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed. The history of the last two decades proves that in today’s world, dictatorships are unstable. The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow. You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas. You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth. It is not a conspiracy of US-backed NGOs that expose corruption and raise the expectations of people around the globe; it’s technology, social media, and the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed.

Indeed, I believe that in today’s world, the measure of strength is no longer defined by the control of territory. Lasting prosperity does not come solely from the ability to access and extract raw materials. The strength of nations depends on the success of their people — their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive, their opportunity — and that, in turn, depends upon individual rights and good governance and personal security. Internal repression and foreign aggression are both symptoms of the failure to provide this foundation.

A politics and solidarity that depend on demonizing others, that draws on religious sectarianism or narrow tribalism or jingoism may at times look like strength in the moment, but over time its weakness will be exposed. And history tells us that the dark forces unleashed by this type of politics surely makes all of us less secure. Our world has been there before. We gain nothing from going back.

Instead, I believe that we must go forward in pursuit of our ideals, not abandon them at this critical time. We must give expression to our best hopes, not our deepest fears. This institution was founded because men and women who came before us had the foresight to know that our nations are more secure when we uphold basic laws and basic norms, and pursue a path of cooperation over conflict. And strong nations, above all, have a responsibility to uphold this international order.

Let me give you a concrete example. After I took office, I made clear that one of the principal achievements of this body — the nuclear nonproliferation regime — was endangered by Iran’s violation of the NPT. On that basis, the Security Council tightened sanctions on the Iranian government, and many nations joined us to enforce them. Together, we showed that laws and agreements mean something.

But we also understood that the goal of sanctions was not simply to punish Iran. Our objective was to test whether Iran could change course, accept constraints, and allow the world to verify that its nuclear program will be peaceful. For two years, the United States and our partners — including Russia, including China — stuck together in complex negotiations. The result is a lasting, comprehensive deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while allowing it to access peaceful energy. And if this deal is fully implemented, the prohibition on nuclear weapons is strengthened, a potential war is averted, our world is safer. That is the strength of the international system when it works the way it should.

That same fidelity to international order guides our responses to other challenges around the world. Consider Russia’s annexation of Crimea and further aggression in eastern Ukraine. America has few economic interests in Ukraine. We recognize the deep and complex history between Russia and Ukraine. But we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated. If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today. That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia. It’s not a desire to return to a Cold War.

Now, within Russia, state-controlled media may describe these events as an example of a resurgent Russia — a view shared, by the way, by a number of US politicians and commentators who have always been deeply skeptical of Russia, and seem to be convinced a new Cold War is, in fact, upon us. And yet, look at the results. The Ukrainian people are more interested than ever in aligning with Europe instead of Russia. Sanctions have led to capital flight, a contracting economy, a fallen ruble, and the emigration of more educated Russians.

Imagine if, instead, Russia had engaged in true diplomacy, and worked with Ukraine and the international community to ensure its interests were protected. That would be better for Ukraine, but also better for Russia, and better for the world — which is why we continue to press for this crisis to be resolved in a way that allows a sovereign and democratic Ukraine to determine its future and control its territory. Not because we want to isolate Russia — we don’t — but because we want a strong Russia that’s invested in working with us to strengthen the international system as a whole.

Similarly, in the South China Sea, the United States makes no claim on territory there. We don’t adjudicate claims. But like every nation gathered here, we have an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, and in resolving disputes through international law, not the law of force. So we will defend these principles, while encouraging China and other claimants to resolve their differences peacefully.

I say this, recognizing that diplomacy is hard; that the outcomes are sometimes unsatisfying; that it’s rarely politically popular. But I believe that leaders of large nations, in particular, have an obligation to take these risks — precisely because we are strong enough to protect our interests if, and when, diplomacy fails.

I also believe that to move forward in this new era, we have to be strong enough to acknowledge when what you’re doing is not working. For 50 years, the United States pursued a Cuba policy that failed to improve the lives of the Cuban people. We changed that. We continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to stand up for human rights. But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties. As these contacts yield progress, I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore. (Applause.) Change won’t come overnight to Cuba, but I’m confident that openness, not coercion, will support the reforms and better the life the Cuban people deserve, just as I believe that Cuba will find its success if it pursues cooperation with other nations.

Now, if it’s in the interest of major powers to uphold international standards, it is even more true for the rest of the community of nations. Look around the world. From Singapore to Colombia to Senegal, the facts shows that nations succeed when they pursue an inclusive peace and prosperity within their borders, and work cooperatively with countries beyond their borders.

That path is now available to a nation like Iran, which, as of this moment, continues to deploy violent proxies to advance its interests. These efforts may appear to give Iran leverage in disputes with neighbors, but they fuel sectarian conflict that endangers the entire region, and isolates Iran from the promise of trade and commerce. The Iranian people have a proud history, and are filled with extraordinary potential. But chanting “Death to America” does not create jobs, or make Iran more secure. If Iran chose a different path, that would be good for the security of the region, good for the Iranian people, and good for the world.

Of course, around the globe, we will continue to be confronted with nations who reject these lessons of history, places where civil strife, border disputes, and sectarian wars bring about terrorist enclaves and humanitarian disasters. Where order has completely broken down, we must act, but we will be stronger when we act together.

In such efforts, the United States will always do our part. We will do so mindful of the lessons of the past — not just the lessons of Iraq, but also the example of Libya, where we joined an international coalition under a UN mandate to prevent a slaughter. Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind. We’re grateful to the United Nations for its efforts to forge a unity government. We will help any legitimate Libyan government as it works to bring the country together. But we also have to recognize that we must work more effectively in the future, as an international community, to build capacity for states that are in distress, before they collapse.

And that’s why we should celebrate the fact that later today the United States will join with more than 50 countries to enlist new capabilities — infantry, intelligence, helicopters, hospitals, and tens of thousands of troops — to strengthen United Nations peacekeeping. (Applause.) These new capabilities can prevent mass killing, and ensure that peace agreements are more than words on paper. But we have to do it together. Together, we must strengthen our collective capacity to establish security where order has broken down, and to support those who seek a just and lasting peace.

Nowhere is our commitment to international order more tested than in Syria. When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs — it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all. Likewise, when a terrorist group beheads captives, slaughters the innocent, and enslaves women, that’s not a single nation’s national security problem — that is an assault on all humanity.

I’ve said before, and I will repeat: There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL, and the United States makes no apologies for using our military, as part of a broad coalition, to go after them. We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes. And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al-Qaeda, we will not be outlasted by extremists.

But while military power is necessary, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria. Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully. The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo.

Let’s remember how this started. Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife. And so Assad and his allies cannot simply pacify the broad majority of a population who have been brutalized by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing. Yes, realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and ultimately stamp out ISIL. But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild.

We know that ISIL — which emerged out of the chaos of Iraq and Syria — depends on perpetual war to survive. But we also know that they gain adherents because of a poisonous ideology. So part of our job, together, is to work to reject such extremism that infects too many of our young people. Part of that effort must be a continued rejection by Muslims of those who distort Islam to preach intolerance and promote violence, and it must also a rejection by non-Muslims of the ignorance that equates Islam with terror. (Applause.)

This work will take time. There are no easy answers to Syria. And there are no simple answers to the changes that are taking place in much of the Middle East and North Africa. But so many families need help right now; they don’t have time. And that’s why the United States is increasing the number of refugees who we welcome within our borders. That’s why we will continue to be the largest donor of assistance to support those refugees. And today we are launching new efforts to ensure that our people and our businesses, our universities and our NGOs can help as well — because in the faces of suffering families, our nation of immigrants sees ourselves.

Of course, in the old ways of thinking, the plight of the powerless, the plight of refugees, the plight of the marginalized did not matter. They were on the periphery of the world’s concerns. Today, our concern for them is driven not just by conscience, but should also be drive by self-interest. For helping people who have been pushed to the margins of our world is not mere charity, it is a matter of collective security. And the purpose of this institution is not merely to avoid conflict, it is to galvanize the collective action that makes life better on this planet.

The commitments we’ve made to the Sustainable Development Goals speak to this truth. I believe that capitalism has been the greatest creator of wealth and opportunity that the world has ever known. But from big cities to rural villages around the world, we also know that prosperity is still cruelly out of reach for too many. As His Holiness Pope Francis reminds us, we are stronger when we value the least among these, and see them as equal in dignity to ourselves and our sons and our daughters.

We can roll back preventable disease and end the scourge of HIV/AIDS. We can stamp out pandemics that recognize no borders. That work may not be on television right now, but as we demonstrated in reversing the spread of Ebola, it can save more lives than anything else we can do.

Together, we can eradicate extreme poverty and erase barriers to opportunity. But this requires a sustained commitment to our people — so farmers can feed more people; so entrepreneurs can start a business without paying a bribe; so young people have the skills they need to succeed in this modern, knowledge-based economy.

We can promote growth through trade that meets a higher standard. And that’s what we’re doing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade agreement that encompasses nearly 40 percent of the global economy; an agreement that will open markets, while protecting the rights of workers and protecting the environment that enables development to be sustained.

We can roll back the pollution that we put in our skies, and help economies lift people out of poverty without condemning our children to the ravages of an ever-warming climate. The same ingenuity that produced the industrial age and the computer age allows us to harness the potential of clean energy. No country can escape the ravages of climate change. And there is no stronger sign of leadership than putting future generations first. The United States will work with every nation that is willing to do its part so that we can come together in Paris to decisively confront this challenge.

And finally, our vision for the future of this assembly, my belief in moving forward rather than backward, requires us to defend the democratic principles that allow societies to succeed. Let me start from a simple premise: Catastrophes, like what we are seeing in Syria, do not take place in countries where there is genuine democracy and respect for the universal values this institution is supposed to defend. (Applause.)

I recognize that democracy is going to take different forms in different parts of the world. The very idea of a people governing themselves depends upon government giving expression to their unique culture, their unique history, their unique experiences. But some universal truths are self-evident. No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship. No woman should ever be abused with impunity, or a girl barred from going to school. The freedom to peacefully petition those in power without fear of arbitrary laws — these are not ideas of one country or one culture. They are fundamental to human progress. They are a cornerstone of this institution.

I realize that in many parts of the world there is a different view — a belief that strong leadership must tolerate no dissent. I hear it not only from America’s adversaries, but privately at least I also hear it from some of our friends. I disagree. I believe a government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear. (Applause.) History shows that regimes who fear their own people will eventually crumble, but strong institutions built on the consent of the governed endure long after any one individual is gone.

That’s why our strongest leaders — from George Washington to Nelson Mandela — have elevated the importance of building strong, democratic institutions over a thirst for perpetual power. Leaders who amend constitutions to stay in office only acknowledge that they failed to build a successful country for their people — because none of us last forever. It tells us that power is something they cling to for its own sake, rather than for the betterment of those they purport to serve.

I understand democracy is frustrating. Democracy in the United States is certainly imperfect. At times, it can even be dysfunctional. But democracy — the constant struggle to extend rights to more of our people, to give more people a voice — is what allowed us to become the most powerful nation in the world. (Applause.)

It’s not simply a matter of principle; it’s not an abstraction. Democracy — inclusive democracy — makes countries stronger. When opposition parties can seek power peacefully through the ballot, a country draws upon new ideas. When a free media can inform the public, corruption and abuse are exposed and can be rooted out. When civil society thrives, communities can solve problems that governments cannot necessarily solve alone. When immigrants are welcomed, countries are more productive and more vibrant. When girls can go to school, and get a job, and pursue unlimited opportunity, that’s when a country realizes its full potential. (Applause.)

That is what I believe is America’s greatest strength. Not everybody in America agrees with me. That’s part of democracy. I believe that the fact that you can walk the streets of this city right now and pass churches and synagogues and temples and mosques, where people worship freely; the fact that our nation of immigrants mirrors the diversity of the world — you can find everybody from everywhere here in New York City — (applause); the fact that, in this country, everybody can contribute, everybody can participate no matter who they are, or what they look like, or who they love — that’s what makes us strong.

And I believe that what is true for America is true for virtually all mature democracies. And that is no accident. We can be proud of our nations without defining ourselves in opposition to some other group. We can be patriotic without demonizing someone else. We can cherish our own identities — our religion, our ethnicity, our traditions — without putting others down. Our systems are premised on the notion that absolute power will corrupt, but that people — ordinary people — are fundamentally good; that they value family and friendship, faith and the dignity of hard work; and that with appropriate checks and balances, governments can reflect this goodness.

I believe that’s the future we must seek together. To believe in the dignity of every individual, to believe we can bridge our differences, and choose cooperation over conflict — that is not weakness, that is strength. (Applause.) It is a practical necessity in this interconnected world.

And our people understand this. Think of the Liberian doctor who went door to door to search for Ebola cases, and to tell families what to do if they show symptoms. Think of the Iranian shopkeeper who said, after the nuclear deal, “God willing, now we’ll be able to offer many more goods at better prices.” Think of the Americans who lowered the flag over our embassy in Havana in 1961 — the year I was born — and returned this summer to raise that flag back up. (Applause.) One of these men said of the Cuban people, “We could do things for them, and they could do things for us. We loved them.” For 50 years, we ignored that fact.

Think of the families leaving everything they’ve known behind, risking barren deserts and stormy waters just to find shelter; just to save their children. One Syrian refugee who was greeted in Hamburg with warm greetings and shelter, said, “We feel there are still some people who love other people.”

The people of our United Nations are not as different as they are told. They can be made to fear; they can be taught to hate — but they can also respond to hope. History is littered with the failure of false prophets and fallen empires who believed that might always makes right, and that will continue to be the case. You can count on that. But we are called upon to offer a different type of leadership — leadership strong enough to recognize that nations share common interests and people share a common humanity, and, yes, there are certain ideas and principles that are universal.

That’s what those who shaped the United Nations 70 years ago understood. Let us carry forward that faith into the future — for it is the only way we can assure that future will be brighter for my children, and for yours.

Thank you very much.

Humanitarian intervention – but when & how?


People are demanding politicians do something about the current refugee crisis. They are demanding humanitarian intervention, a change in the normal rules and so that refugees can be settled safely.

Politicians are dragging their feet – which is inhumane, considering the gravity of the situation. But I do have sympathy for the view, expressed by some politicians, that this sort of action does not solve the basic problem. I especially sympathise with those politicians who are starting to acknowledge that this crisis is a logical result of drastic mistakes they  made in the past.

Refugees are justifiably fleeing from horrible situations in their own countries – situations actually caused, or made worse, by the actions of the USA and NATO. The invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Libya and the support for anti-government forces in Syria, created chaotic regimes and devastating wars  – and hence the refugee crisis.

Military intervention justified as “humanitarian”

The problem is that these invasions and bombings were, themselves, justified as humanitarian interventions. The George W. Bush government launched the invasion of Iraq with the admitted aim of regime change – the ousting of Saddam Hussein. Similarly, the USA and NAQTO justified their bombing of Libya by the aim of removing Gaddafi. And even now the USA refuses to take part in an anti-Islamic State coalition including Syria – because they wish to get rid of the elected Syrian leader Assad.

The USA and NATO countries justify these aims by claiming they are humanitarian. They want to remove dictators who have repressed their people. They want to deliver democracy to the people in those countries.

Well, you can tell when a politician is lying – their mouths are moving. And that is the case here. NATO and the USA intervened in these countries for their own geopolitical interests – and for oil – not democracy. How hypocritical are people like UK Prime Minister Cameron who welcomed the victory of rebels in Libya (and the violent lynching of the Libyan leader) by declaring how wonderful it was that the Libyan people now have democracy – and then being absolutely silent about the suffering of the Libyan people as their country descending into the ruin of violent factionalism

David N. Gibbs reveals the hypocrisy of such US and NATO “humanitarian intervention” in his book First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. His book is a detailed description of the history of intervention in Yugoslavia and its consequent break-up. But the lessons are wider. “Humanitarian” military intervention became a way of justifying NATO. After the collapse of the USSR and dissolution of the Warsaw military alliance, NATO was searching for a justification for its own existence – instead of logically following the Warsaw Pact example. The USA wanted NATO as an instrument of their new-found power as the sole remaining superpower. NATO became a way of asserting US power in their competition with the European Union which was starting to exert independence, and of providing a legitimacy to is intervention in foreign countries. NATO provided an umbrella when the UN Security Council wouldn’t.

USA avoids chickens coming home to roost

Ironically, this US leadership has disappeared when the chickens are coming home to roost. Europe now has to deal with a refugee crisis largely caused by US intervention in Middle Eastern countries. Effectively Europe is now having to bear the fruits of their lack of opposition to US intervention, and, in the case of several European countries, involvement as active parties in that intervention.

People do have to intervene to demand that politicians deal humanely with the current refugee crisis. But let’s not forget its causes. We also have to demand that military intervention of the sort we have seen in recent years has to stop. The people of these targeted countries must be left to sort out their own political problems in their own culturally and historically appropriate and realistic ways.

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70th anniversary of first use of atomic weapon against civilians

Image credit: The Human Survival Project

Today is the 70th anniversary of the first ever use of an atomic weapon against humans – civilians at that.  The US dropped the bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Two days later they dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

There will be a lot of information circulating about this incident and its military and political significance. However, the Russian Historical Society has published an historical document which could be of interest. It is the just declassified report from Soviet ambassador to Japan on the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is from the Archive of Foreign Policy of Russia. The report was recorded a month after the attacks.

The original report is available on-line at Report of the Soviet ambassador to Japan about the state of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb. For those who do not read Russian here are the highlights (thanks to Fort Russ – Russia declassifies the report on the aftermath of the US nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki):


The train terminal and the city of Hiroshima were destroyed so much that there was no shelter to hide from the rain.
The city was a scorched plain with 15-20 cement buildings left standing.
Several dozen thousand people huddled in the dugouts on the outskirts of the city.
People who came to help the victims during the first 5-10 days died.
A month after the bombing grass began to grow and new leaves appeared on the burned trees.
Glass windows in the cement building of police department, which was left standing, blew out inward. The ceiling was bulging upwards.
The zone of impact was 6-8 kilometers, where all the buildings were damaged.
At 5-6 kilometers mostly roofs were damaged.
Some areas were not affected by the rays, suggesting that the energy was expelled unequally by bursts. Some people who were close to the injured did not receive any burns. This pertains to sections significantly removed from the impact.
Everything alive was destroyed in the radius of one kilometer.
The sound and the flash were heard and seen 50 kilometers away.
On person reported seeing a flash and feeling a touch of a warm stream on his cheek and a needle pinch.
Many people only had injuries from shattered glass.
Burns were mainly on the face, arms and legs.
A doctor reported seeing three bombs dropped on parachutes, two of which did not explode and were collected by the military. The doctor experienced diarrhea after drinking the water. Other rescuers got sick after 36 hours. The doctor said that in those affected the white blood cell count reduced from 8000 per cubic centimeter to 3,000, 1,000 and even 300, which causes bleeding from nose, throat, eyes, and from the uterus in females. The injured die after 3-4 days.
The injured, who are evacuated heal faster. Those who drank or rinsed with water in the impact area died thereafter.
After a month it was considered safe to stay in the impact zone, however it was still not conclusive.
According to the doctor, rubber clothing offered protection against uranium, as well as any material which is a conductor of electricity.
A girl who visited the area a few days after the blast got sick in 1-2 weeks and died 3 days after.
Nagasaki is divided into two sections by a mountain. The section sheltered from the blast by a mountain had much less destruction.
Japanese driver in Nagasaki said no rescue work was done on the day of the bombing, because the city was engulfed in fire.
Nagasaki bomb was dropped over a university hospital in Urakami district (near a Mitsubishi plant), all the patients and the staff of the hospital died.
The driver said, some children who were up on the trees [playing?] survived, but those on the ground died.Most people in Hiroshima said the bomb was dropped on a parachute and detonated 500-600 feet above the ground.
The head of the sanitary service of the 5th American fleet, commander Willkatts said that no parachutes were used in the dropping of the bombs. He also said no bomb could fall without detonating.
He said after the bombing the zone of impact is safe and the Japanese are exaggerating the effects of a nuclear bomb.

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MH17 tragedy: 1 year on

Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. The Malaysian airliner Flight MH-17 was brought down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard and sharply raising the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels in which Russia and the West back opposing sides.    REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev (UKRAINE - Tags: TRANSPORT DISASTER POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3Z3QS

Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Credit: REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

At the first anniversary of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 the international community is none the wiser about who shot it down and the weapon used. But the one thing we do know is the blame game continues.

The only official report we have from investigators to date was released last September (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact). The final report will probably be released in October (see Investigations into MH17 crash expected to go on until year-end, says Najib).

But a draft of this final report is now in the hands of interested governments. This has resulted in speculation about its contents and stories which claim to be based on leaks. However, the Dutch investigators, have denied – or at least refused to confirm – the circulating stories.

As expected in the current geopolitical climate, the “blame Putin” propagandists are very active, although the stories seem to blame the “separatists” in eastern Ukraine, rather than the Russian Federation itself. For example, this from CNN:

“Dutch accident investigators say that evidence points to pro-Russian rebels as being responsible for shooting down MH-17, according to a source who has seen the report.

“According to the source”, the report says it was a Buk missile — a Russian surface-to-air missile — that was used, launched from a village in Russian rebel controlled territory.”

I am always suspicious of “according to a source” stories – they have so often proved to be no more than the reporter’s imagination.

Other reports do not point the finger but say the investigators now have a clear idea of what missile was used. A recent presentation from technical experts in the firm Almaz-Antey which manufactures missiles of the sort which may have been used shows what can be gleaned from the shrapnel fragments in the wreckage and the pattern of damage on the fuselage. Both in identifying the specific missile used (and, therefore, its possible owners) and its trajectory and launch site. This presentation is very technical and quite long but very interesting.

Although this presentation was aimed mainly at getting European sanctions on the company lifted by legal action, the material was also supplied to the Dutch Safety Board which is the official investigator of the causes of this tragedy.

Almaz-Antey’s conclusion is that, if a BUK missile was used, it was an older model no longer manufactured in the Russian Federation. The Ukrainian armed forces does have these  missile systems (see MH17 crash: ‘Old Buk missile used’ – Russian firm). Mind you, that does not prove who fired the missile because the armed forces in the Donbass region may have possessed one or more such systems captured from the Ukrainian armed forces. And may have trained Ukrainian operators who had defected to the rebels.

So, at this stage the real causes of this tragedy are still unknown. It looks like we will know something more definite in October. But the geopolitical propaganda struggle continues.

I suspect the rumours and unconfirmed stories attributing blame to the eastern Ukrainian rebels are nothing more than propaganda – precipitated by the fact of the anniversary of the tragedy.

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News media – telling us how to think

OK – this is satire and as with all satire the parallels are not completely equal. But it does illustrate what I feel about the widespread pathetic reporting of the Ukrainian events. It’s as if we are bing told how to think – without any exposure to real facts. And it disrespects the innocent victims of such events by effectively covering up their tragic situation.
Thanks to Fort Russ: Edward R. Murrow, reporting from London, has no idea who’s dropping the bombs.


Child with doll after V-2 explosion. Uncertain which side launched the V-2

Satire written — or compiled (!) by Tom Winter

London has been suffering bombs and incendiaries now for over a year. CNN finally published a newsreel of the shelling in London, but put a crawling text across it saying “Uncertain the source of the bombardments.” NPR sent Corey Flintoff to London, who confirmed that London was under the bombs, but could not tell us who was dropping them. Later he telephoned from Kiev, and spoke with a woman in London who didn’t know where the bombardment was coming from either.

Amnesty International said over the weekend that both British and German forces have been responsible for war crimes, and also accused Britain of “fuelling” the crimes.

As for the continuing blasts, it was unclear who had opened fire, though the explosions happened well inside territory controlled by British army and its home forces. “Over the last 24 hours, there was also shelling – the shelling of a cultural center in London. We condemn that shelling that cost at least six lives, and we express our condolences to the families of the victims. It’s, again, too early to determine responsibility for the shelling, but we call for a full and transparent investigation.”  said Cordell Hull’s spokeswoman.

A war correspondent Sasha Upchuk has been hospitalized with a wound from one of the explosions. When asked which side he thought the bombs came from, he said it was impossible to tell.

The Wall Street Journal reported some of the carnage in London “But they told us they wouldn’t bomb London, they told us!” one woman said, in reference to Germany’s pledge to avoid using heavy weaponry on residential areas. “It’s a total nightmare,” said another neighbor as she emerged from the mangled entryway to the apartment blocks. Many of its windows had been shattered in the blast.

The whistling of shells around noon local time pierced the summer silence that has descended on the city, which tens of thousands of people have fled in recent weeks.

There was no immediate confirmation of who had fired the shells, but neighbors and other Londoners blamed German forces, speculating that their intended target was the regional airbase right next door.

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Something to consider


Don’t put all the blame on the Germans – a lesson from World War II


Sculpture of the “Unbowed man” at the Khatyn Memorial site. The sculpture depicts Yuzif Kaminsky, the only adult to survive the massacre, holding his dead son Adam. Credit: John Oldale.Click to enlarge

The recent commemorations of Victory Day in Europe – the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe – got me thinking about how we refer to Germany as the perpetrator of the horrors in that war. Often we more correctly use the term “Nazi Germany” – but still it must place a burden of guilt on many Germans who were, and are innocent.

On the other hand, it seems to me, it almost ignores the very real responsibility of people from other nations for these atrocities. (Although, granted some speakers will also refer to involvement of collaborators).

The Khatyn Massacre

Many years ago I visited the war memorial at Khatyn, in Belarus. This was a very moving experience because it symbolised how that nation had lost a quarter of its population during the war. All the residents of this village had been herded into barns which were then set alight – anyone attempting to escape was shot. The photo above shows part of the memorial depicting the man who was thought to be the sole survivor.

Very moving.

I certainly got the impression that this horror was perpetrated by German soldiers. But my reading in recent days convinces me I was wrong, and had been wrongly informed. The perpetrators were a nazi battalion – but one established in Kiev and made up mainly of Ukrainian nationalists. Here are some details from the Wikipedia entry on the Khatyn massacre:

Khatyn or Chatyń (Belarusian and Russian: Хаты́нь, pronounced [xɐˈtɨnʲ]) was a village of 26 houses and 156 inhabitants in Belarus, in Lahoysk Raion, Minsk Region, 50 km away from Minsk. On 22 March 1943, the entire population of the village was massacred by the 118th Schutzmannschaft Nazi battalion. The battalion was formed in July 1942 in Kiev and was made up mostly of Ukrainian nationalist collaborators from Western Ukraine, Hiwis[1][2][3] and the DirlewangerWaffen-SS special battalion.

The massacre was not an unusual incident in Belarus during World War II. At least 5,295 Belarusian settlements were burned and destroyed by the Nazis, and often all their inhabitants were killed (some amounting up to 1,500 victims) as a punishment for collaboration with partisans. Khatyn became a symbol of all those villages. In the Vitebsk region, 243 villages were burned down twice, 83 villages three times, and 22 villages were burned down four or more times. In the Minsk region, 92 villages were burned down twice, 40 villages three times, nine villages four times, and six villages five or more times.[4] Altogether, over 2,000,000 people were killed in Belarus during the three years of Nazi occupation, almost a quarter of the country’s population.[5][6]

It’s worth following up some of the links for more details.

The Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, which included the Schutzmannschaft Nazis involved in this and many other massacres, carried out anti-Jewish and anti-partisan operations in most areas of Ukraine. While these units were formed directly after the German invasion of the USSR in 1941 Ukrainian nationalist organisations existed before that invasion. These extremist organisations were not just “nationalist,” but were racist – expressing hatred for Poles, Jews and above all, Russians. And these three groups became their victims during the war.

Misinforming tourists

I had happily accepted the story that the Khatyn Massacre was perpetrated by “Nazis” – assuming they were German Nazis. So this information came as a bit of a shock to me. Worse – the role of such nationalist forces was not talked about much during Soviet times in fear of encouraging antagonism between the different republics. So innocent tourists were left in the dark about the true origins of the perpetrators – despite the fact that the leaders of the battalion involved had been brought to justice. As Wikipedia says:

“The commander of one of the platoons of 118th Schutzmannschaft Battalion, Ukrainian Vasyl Meleshko, was tried in a Soviet court and executed in 1975. The Chief of Staff of 118th Schutzmannschaft Battalion, Ukrainian Grigory Vassiura, was tried in Minsk in 1986 and found guilty of all his crimes. He was sentenced to death by the verdict of the military tribunal of the Belorussian military district.

The case and the trial of the main executioner of Khatyn was not given much publicity in the media; the leaders of the Soviet republics worried about the inviolability of unity between the Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples.”

A lesson for today

So the message is – when your hear about Nazi atrocities the perpetrators were not necessarily German. We should not forget the role played by collaborators and non-German nationalists in the Holocaust and other atrocities.

epa04318197 New soldiers of Ukrainian army battalion 'Azov' attend their oath of allegiance ceremony before departing to eastern Ukraine in Kiev, Ukraine, 16 July 2014. The government in Kiev does not recognize the declared independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and pro-Russian militants refuse to cooperate with the pro-European leadership in Kiev. Ukraine insisted that there would be no ceasefire or negotiations before the pro-Russian separatists in the country's east give up their arms.  EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY

New soldiers of Ukrainian army battalion ‘Azov’ attend their oath of allegiance ceremony before departing to eastern Ukraine in Kiev, Ukraine, 16 July 2014.Image Credit: EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY

And this is not an abstract appeal. Today the inheritors of the Ukrainian nationalist organisations which committed these atrocities are alive and very active in Ukraine. They even have military battalions fighting in the current civil war. Worse, the US has now sent their own troops into Ukraine to train National Guard battalions which include units like the Azov Batallion which is based on extreme National Socialist ideology.

Talk about a slippery slope.

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What a nice idea


Click to enlarge – Moscow Celebration of Victory day.
Image Credit:
 NBC News

The recent commemorations of ANZAC Day (in New Zealand), Victory day (Internationally) and Mothers’ day got me thinking about how we mark these events. Thinking spurred on by a family discussion precipitated by a difference of opinion about the Victory day Celebrations (or the reporting of them) in Moscow.

Firstly – Mothers’ day. I was struck by Facebook entries some of my relatives made dedicated to their mothers. The sincere expression of love and respect for, and thanks to, their Mothers. Quite moving but really lovely to see the expressions of gratitude to parents.

ANZAC Day is a notable day in New Zealand. In my youth, many people felt bad about it because of its glorification of war and support of a bad war in Indo-China. Being of “call-up” age at the time my pacifist tendencies (and support for the Vietnamese) meant I rejected what ANZAC Day seemed to stand for then.

But more recently ANZAC Day celebrations in New Zealand have come to recognise the horrors of war, to oppose militarism and to be a time when we remember the sacrifices of our relatives who died in wars. It has come to be more concentrated on the losses at Gallipoli in the First World war (the event which initially launched ANZAC day).

There was very little here marking the Victory Day Celebrations commemorating the end of the war in Europe on 8/9 May, 1945. And local reporting of overseas commemoration events was no better. A pity, as many New Zealanders did fight and die in Europe – and for a much better reason than some other wars we have fought in.

Personalising the commemorations

The media sometimes makes a big thing of the Military Parade in Moscow’s celebration of Victory Day – and I must admit military parades don’t appeal to me. But, unfortunately, our media often ignores the mass participation in Victory Day Celebrations. The photograph at the head of this post is a shot from this year’s mass commemoration in Moscow (click to enlarge – it is worth it).

It is the nature of this mass participation which interested me.  It is sometimes called the parade of The immortal regiment. Here is how the US Rusky Mir Foundation, which reported on an immortal regiment march in New York, describes this mass participation:

“The Immortal Regiment (or Besmertny Polk) dates from 2012, when people in the Siberian city of Tomsk were debating how to keep the memory of World War II heroes alive even as the veterans themselves passed on. They asked people to create large posters with photos of their relatives who had served in the war, and carry them in Victory Day parades. This year, more than 800 cities will have a “Besmertny Polk” parade.”

That is the idea that appeals to me – the use of portraits of lost relatives in these commemorations. It personalises the celebration and expression of gratitude – in much the same way that Facebook posts on Mothers’ day do. And it figuratively enables our lost relatives to be seen participating in the events.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see more people bring along and display photos of their relatives in New Zealand’s ANZAC celebrations? That would help improve the personal and family aspects of the celebration and the display would surely be moving.

Here is some video footage of the Moscow parade – but there is a lot more around, much of it from other countries.

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