Schnee Schni Schnappy

The title is a reference to the German song. This post is not about that. This is just a local copy of a comment I wrote on someone elses blog, discussing the Iraq war and the behaviour of soldiers.

In reply to a comment on apostrophers post about becoming monsters:

This whole ‘snapping’ thing doesn’t give me a lot of solace. Wife beaters claim that they ‘just snapped’, and we still judge them harshly. Whether or not someones snapping reduces the guilt on them depends on how we feel about their reasons for snapping. In the case of wife beaters, we don’t care that they commited the act in a fit of rage, when she didn’t bring him a beer, because we don’t think that’s a very good reason for ‘snapping’. If someone can ‘snap’ over something they shouldn’t ‘snap’ over, then most people think of them as just as guilty.

For most of us, having your friend killed next to you seems like a good reason to snap, but I think that it is very different when you’re in a war situation and your friend is standing there with a machine gun. In that situation, you should expect him to be killed, and if you can’t handle that without committing atrocities than you really really really should not be in the army.

When you work with wife beaters and get them to analyse their thought processes, you discover that ‘snapping’ is not so thoughtless a process as they and it appears you believe. Even in a fit of rage, people plan and have the ability to reason [it is a suspension of morality, not rationality]. ‘Snapping’ is a choice, and you can be trained to make it a less appealing choice (one way is through harsh punishments, other ways include self-talk, etc). This is something that should be one of the main concerns in training anyone who is going to be given a gun.

As an aside to an earlier point, historically speaking, battles in the past weren’t always brute attempts at domination. There were rules to war even before the Geneva convention, to the extent that when Henry gave the order to kill the prisoners at Agincourt because they didn’t have enough men to keep them all under control (they were outnumbered 6 to 1) his orders were ignored. There have always been people who broke the rules of war, and in the past there was little that could be done, except not to invite them to parties, but there has been the notion of morality in the way you treat prisoners and enemy noncombatants for a long time.

Posted by: kyb at May 23, 2006 07:54 AM

Genocide Round Trip

In April, I went to see Hotel Rwanda, one of the few true stories of good triumphing that came out of the Rwandan genocide where Hutu militias supported by the Rwandan army, and quietly encouraged by the French army massacred nearly a million Tutsis, including women and children over the course of 100 days.

It showed how disturbingly helpless the UN force were in the face of murder and genocide, but it was good that it followed the story of a man who managed to save others rather than the many who tried and were killed. Reading into the events and background afterwards, it became more and more obvious that the rest of the world hadn’t just turned a blind eye to the problem, but at least France and the US had set back attempts to stop the killings. The UN general on the ground knew exactly what was going on in advance and had asked for reinforcements and a greater mandate but it was refused by the UN, who reduced his man power and insisted that his men used their weapons only for self defence despite the atrocities they were witnessing. I think it’s appropriate to feel angry about what happened in Rwanda, and Hotel Rwanda is an excellent way to learn about it and form a response. How many times are we going to watch massacres that make us say “never again”, before we start to do something about it? The word genocide was coined specifically to ensure that the world would act if it happened again. There’s a lot of good information about what happened in Rwanda on PBS’s site The triumph of evil.

One of the things that came out of it for me was the positive role Helsinki Watch had played there in publicising what was going on, when other agencies were quiet. When I went to their website the day after seeing Hotel Rwanda, I discovered that the UK was one of the countries believed to be circumventing anti torture rules by sending prisoners to countries where they could be tortured.

Fired up by the memory of Hotel Rwanda, I decided to take my own small stand and immediately went to FaxYourMP.com (which since then has become WriteToThem.com) to let my MP know what I thought. It was at that stage that I realised that I didn’t know who my MP was. I’ve moved a couple of times in England in the last year that I was there, and for a year since then I’ve lived in Switzerland. I decided to phone the electoral commission to find out where I was registered. Strangely, they couldn’t tell me where or even if I was registered, apparently the electoral roll isn’t computerised or something, so the best they could do was give me the phone numbers of electoral departments in every council area that I’d lived in over the last few years. Armed with a bundle of phone numbers I started ringing. At each one, I had to give a specific address, and they would tell me if I was registered to vote at that address. In the end, after phoning them all, I still had no idea. This was getting irritating, since the elections were coming up, and I actually wanted to vote.

Strange as it might seem, 192.com know substantially more about the electoral roll than the electoral commission. I discovered though that if you don’t do the free sign up, you can get some historical electoral roll information for free that otherwise you have to pay for. It’s scary what they know about you and the people you live/lived with. Various searches (and cookie deletions) later, I discovered that I had been on the electoral roll, but had been removed. AboutMyVote.co.uk gave me all the forms I needed to register to vote, but informed me that I was too late. In order to vote in the UK 2005 elections on the 5th May, I would have had to register before the 5th March, a whole month before Tony Blair even asked the Queen for permission to have the election.

Eventually resigned to my voicelessness I turned to The Power Inquiry in the hope of at least making my voice heard somewhere. You can read the ramblings about the problem with politics that I sent to them here.

One of the issues I wanted to talk about as I filled in the Power Inquiry form was the goverments obsession with ID cards. In theory, I like the idea of ID cards if done correctly, but in practice, I do not trust a government to issue them. One of the things that annoyed me about the governments handling of them was that their report had ignored a massive amount of feedback received over the internet. No2ID has a lot of information on the debate as it unfolds (including a nice idea, called ‘The Public Whip’, and a link to pledgebank, from the same people who are doing writeToThem.com and TheyWorkForYou.com).

Trawling google for more information about the UK ID card, brought me across this article from preventgenocide.org on ID cards as factors in genocide. It seems that there have been very few genocides that didn’t start with issuing standard ids with information on the holders ethnicity. If you didn’t find the fact that the UK governments website on id cards is listed as under the “Community & Race” section a little chilling (or at least in poor taste) when you visited the site, perhaps you do now. On the preventgenocide.org page, I found a link to the images. This one is the id card of a Rwandan Tutsi, a document that would have been the death sentence at any of the militia road blocks.

Interested in genocide happening at the moment? Read about what is happening in Dafur. You could fax your mp, or support charities working there.