Friday, January 13, 2006

We're in a field of mushrooms?

Here's a commercial which really was banned in the US. It's what you might call "hard hitting". (Thanks to michael the tubthumper in the comments to the previous post).

The commercial wasn't actually banned at such. The "liberal" media just decided not to air it on their stations. Self-censorship you see. The US public don't want to see that sort of thing when they're relaxing in front of their TVs. It might upset them.

Of course people who live in heavily landmined countries cannot use self-censorship to protect themselves from the harsh realities of their daily lives. Self-censorship is fairly difficult to apply to a missing limb.

There seems to have been a collective conservative misunderstanding of the point the video was trying to make (more on that below). For the record, the US military have used landmines but they have certainly not been the worst culprits. Nevertheless, there is one country which is conspicuous by its absence on this list. If you're interested to know why one NATO country has not signed the treaty but the other 43 have, this might help.

Conservative reaction in the US
While looking up links, I read a blog post (and about 80 comments) on this on a conservative US website.* The most common reaction was that the UN was blaming the US for planting all these landmines all over the world, a classic case of prejudice leading to a misinterpretation of what the video actually says. The UN is attacking the US again, this is disgusting UN propaganda, the UN continues to blame everything on us, etc etc. It appears that anything done by the UN automatically generates what can only be described as hatred from people of a certain political persuasion in the US. The commercial clearly does nothing of the sort, of course. It is designed to encourage support for a worldwide ban on landmines, and, yes, to raise money for de-mining.

One comment for your consideration (a mild one):
Landmines just don't exist in the US. The ad just doesn't work. The place. The people. The situation... Of course, we know they are really wanting American dollars. Otherwise, the ad would have been played in areas where landmines are common.
Misses the point to such a degree that you've got to wonder whether the author is even on the same planet. Utterly bizarre. There's also talk of the despicable shock tactics of the UN. On the same post, a commentor uses close-up photos of the September 11th attacks to criticise the UN with the caption "what happens when we have too much UN and too many leftwingers and sand-nazis". So using actors to simulate an explosion in a campaign to rid the world of landmines is a bullying UN shock tactic. Using photos of real people jumping to their deaths to support of your own political beliefs on an unrelated matter is quite alright though. And the fact that the post itself is headlined "UN 'explodes' American kids" (with a bracketed explanation) isn't in any way an attempt to shock.

It's actually quite chilling. Opposition to their own opinions are simply unacceptable; any such opposition is automatically assumed to indicate either sympathy for or collaboration with "the evildoers". Their own opinions cannot be questioned because they have an absolute, unquestioning conviction that they are right in all senses of the word, and right all the time. In the real world, people who believe they are fundamentally incapable of doing wrong can be very dangerous people indeed. (A philosopher probably said that, or something like it, but I've no idea who it might have been.)

The other notable feature is the extraordinary rage expressed by many commentors. Part of it is this hatred of the UN, a feeling which leading neo-conservatives have gone out of their way to encourage. This is, of itself, a worrying state of affairs. The United States government was instramental in establishing the UN in an attempt to provide a peaceful framework for relations between nation-states. The institution has many flaws, there's no denying it. To discard it, however, is to plunge the international community back into an effective state of anarchy. This is likely to make the world a more dangerous place for most people in most countries.

The strongest member of any community, however, will always have a motivation to promote a system where power is the sole arbiter of right and wrong. This, I'm afraid, is certainly the motivation behind the neo-conservative atttacks on the UN. The PNAC has been reasonably open about this. In effect, their goal is to retain and expand the position of the US as "the world's pre-eminent power". Whether the rest of the world is happy for that to be the case is irrelevant - they're either with us or against us - because they're going to do it anyway. Complain and you must be a supporter of terrorism, a "bad guy". So it is with the UN. It has become a bad guy. As one commentor put it "after Saddam and there any other evil such as the UN?" An extreme comparison by all accounts.

Another part of the rage directed towards this video was, I think, related to the randomness of the violence it portrays. In neo-conservativeland, everything is black and white. People are killed either because they are bad guys, or because they are fighting against the bad guys. Only the bad guys ever kill innocent people. As such, the indescriminate violence of an old but still active landmine is an affront to their belief system. It hints at the existence of shades of grey beyond their black and white world. Something is obviously wrong because their view is right, it's always right - this suggestion of greyness must be an evil plot by the bad guys. The result is comments like the Saddam/UN comparison above.

The UN
The UN needs to be reformed. The member states must do this; indeed the UN does not have the authority to restructure its own affairs. The UN is an institution which exists to serve its members and has no powers but those its members give it. The irony of criticising the UN is that it actually criticising its most powerful members (ie. the US and UK along with France, China, and Russia) who, more than any other actor, have the ability to reform the organisation.

It must be remembered that the UN is, first and foremost, a forum where disputes between members should be settled peacefully and where international norms of behaviour are agreed. It has a long way to go to be effective in that task. What does not help is to be ridiculed and marginalised by the government and supporters of the self-proclaimed leaders of the free world.

* No link, no trolls. You should be able to find it by googling un landmine video, it was on the first page, which is how I found it earlier this evening, except it seems to have stopped showing up since then. I've got the link saved so email me if you want to read it.

Tags: , , ,

No comments: