A prominent pacifist

Oliver Kamm

We publish today a letter from Canon Paul Oestreicher criticising a leading article on the Falklands War. Oestreicher insists that, in the political controversy about the Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s, the clerics who criticised Margaret Thatcher were motivated not by pacifism but by a wish for an “expression of compassion for the victims on both sides”.

In fact, we didn’t accuse the Church leadership of pacifism, though we did cite the judgment of Reinhold Niebuhr, the Protestant ethicist, on that issue. We observed that the politicians had a surer sense than the bishops of what the nation was giving thanks for: victory in a just war against aggression. But Oestreicher’s intervention gives me an opportunity to relate the background of this prominent clerical campaigner.

Oestreicher is a pacifist. His position illustrates Niebuhr’s point that pacifism ends up either making no judgments at all or having an undue preference for tyranny. Some years ago he wrote a letter to The Guardian comparing the US/UK occupation of Iraq, mandated under UN Security Council Resolution 1483, to the Nazi occupation of France.

In the 1960s Oestreicher was a leading figure in a bizarre exercise of Christian-Marxist dialogue. In the Catholic Herald he recounted the contributions of the “intellectual giant” and French Communist ideologue Roger Garaudy, who later became an indefatigable Holocaust denier, and a “charming and pretty young sociologist from Prague”, who predictably urged Christians to combat “blind and irrational anti-Communism”.

The Marxism in this “dialogue” was unlike the contemporary and creative New Left. It was rank Stalinism. A volume of essays by the participants was co-edited by Oestreicher and James Klugmann, a leading British Communist who had worked clandestinely for Soviet intelligence in the 1930s and tailored his own convictions to whatever happened to be the Soviet line of the time. In his own essay, Oestreicher made the pitiful claim that it took as much courage to be a Communist in the US as it did to be a Christian in the USSR.

Oestreicher’s longstanding politics, in short, appear to be not anti-war so much as anti-American and anti-British. 

Remember the Israelis living under a barrage of Hamas rockets

An Israeli policeman holds the remains of a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip towards Sderot, southern Israel, on November 11

Oliver Kamm

The Israeli town of Sderot, near the Gaza border, has a squat, reinforced police station. If you walk into the backyard, you see rows of spent rockets. Thousands of missiles have been launched at Sderot in the past decade, including 800 this year till last week.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama visited the police station. I saw the same scene on a visit to the town last year. To understand why Israeli jets are attacking targets in Gaza, it’s necessary to know that Israeli civilians face a continuous threat that makes normal life impossible. Obama surely recalled Sderot’s fate when he said yesterday: “Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.”

Five days into the conflict, increasing numbers of civilians on both sides are dying. Our correspondent in Gaza City says that ten members of a single family were killed when a house was bombed in error. The fog of war obscures such horrors. It is unlikely that Israel can permanently stop missile attacks from Gaza. But Israel’s Government may be calculating that it can reinforce deterrence. Hezbollah has been reluctant to attack Israel across its northern border since the Israeli attack of 2006.

Will Israel’s tactics have that effect? Don’t ask me. I’m just a pundit. As a profession, we tend to strike positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict regardless of familiarity with it. Many say that the problem is Israeli occupation, but Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. For my part, I acknowledge the force of the comment made by Tony Blair during that Second Lebanon War. For this to stop, he said (meaning Israeli military action), that has to stop (meaning missile attacks on Israeli civilians).

The Jewish national movement historically has sought pluralism and faced down its own extremists. When there is eventually a Palestinian State alongside a secure Israel, that will accord with the highest Zionist ideals. But it wouldn’t satisfy Hamas, which seeks Israel’s annihilation. There are things that Israel can negotiate, but not that, and it’s frivolous for outsiders to expect otherwise.


Read our editorial, The Gaza Trap

The truth about Radovan Karadzic and the Bosnian War

Oliver Kamm

Radovan Karadzic, the well-known quack doctor, began his defence today at The Hague. He is on trial, before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It is already clear that he has particular hostility to Western journalists who exposed his crimes. Penny Marshall of ITN was among them, and she writes here that Karadzic still blames the messenger.

At a press conference in London in July 1992, Karadzic, as Bosnian Serb leader, had brazenly denied the allegations of atrocities and challenged journalists to go and see for themselves. Unfortunately for him, Penny Marshall and her colleague Ian Williams, and Ed Vulliamy of The Guardian, did so. Karadzic mistakenly assumed that he would be able to dispose of the evidence before the journalists arrived. These British journalists exposed inhuman conditions in which emaciated prisoners were incarcerated at Omarska and Trnopolje in Northern Bosnia.

Ms Marshall remarks that, while Karadzic was in hiding, “some of his apologists and supporters launched an attack on my journalistic integrity in an attempt to destroy my reputation and damage ITN”. They did indeed. A publication called LM Magazine claimed that the film footage was faked. It was a fantastic libel that poisoned public debate far beyond the political fringe where LM resided. I’ve written here about these lies, which you still find ventilated in the ideological netherworld where the Stalinist Left and the xenophobic Right meet.

The truth about Trnopolje, Sarajevo and Srebrenica is as it was reported by these and other brave journalists (including my colleague Richard Beeston, our Foreign Editor). Their revelations matter for conciliation in Bosnia.

My friend Rolf Ekéus, a Swedish diplomat who served as the first head of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, is a Commissioner for the International Commission on Missing Persons, whose scientists have done harrowing work in Bosnia uncovering mass graves and identifying the victims. He told me last year, in an interview for The Times: “If they can know what happened to their sons or fathers, the relatives of the dead can make peace in their souls.”


Read more: “I should have been rewarded for all the good things that I’ve done" says Karadzic as war crimes trial opens

Each iteration of the “War on Terror” has depended on secrecy for success. As long as the strategy remained under wraps, the politicians were able to pretend that they were “doing something” about terrorism. Thus it will be with drones. The US advertises that it is the most effective of weapons against terrorism. Perhaps, instead, we will learn that it provokes far more extremism than it eliminates.

Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, is setting out on an expedition to discover how drone strikes are affecting the 800,000-strong population of Waziristan, Pakistan

For the first time the US Air Force is training more drone pilots than actual pilots. As The Times reported yesterday, the US will retire 123 manned fighters next year but add more than twice as many drones to its fleet. The plan is to introduce thousands more over the next four decades until pilotless planes do everything piloted ones do now.

The Times's Giles Whittell chronicles the demise of Top Gun

As the Games roll on, a colourful reminder that people are still dying in Syria.

Times cartoonist Peter Brookes brings us President Assad of Syria and President Ahmadinejad of Iran in part four of his Rules of the Game series

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