SciBlogs

Posts Tagged politics

Don’t put all the blame on the Germans – a lesson from World War II Ken Perrott May 14

No Comments
800px-Khatyn_Memorial,_Belarus

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.

Similar articles

What a nice idea Ken Perrott May 12

No Comments

pc-150509-immortal-regiment-jsw-03_4dd6a50cf7f3448b58856367221051d8.nbcnews-ux-1440-900

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.

Similar articles

We always seem to ignore the causes Ken Perrott May 04

No Comments

I thought this cartoon was very relevant – not only to the Baltimore situation but to many areas of conflict throughout the world.

Take the situation in Ukraine. The media seems to only concentrate on problems of the ceasefire – violations and non-compliance with withdrawal of heavy arms.

But the Minsk agreement covering the current ceasefire has far more content than just the ceasefire arrangements. It has political and social requirements such as constitutional reform, language rights, local autonomy and new elections.

Of course these are dependent on maintaining a ceasefire – but the ceasefire itself cannot be maintained without progress on the political agreements. Unfortunately the media concentration on  the ceasefire and it’s almost complete silence on the political requirements is just not helpful to a proper solution.

The current ceasefire is crumbling and most observers are predicting outbreak of full-scale fighting in the near future. But the cause of this is not just the itchy trigger-fingers of the combatants. It is the refusal of at least some parties in the conflict to allow any progress on the political solutions.

We should stop concentrating on, and moralising about, the riots and shooting which are manifestations of the underlying problems and instead work on solving those underlying problems.

Similar articles

Commercial and ideological support of anti-fluoride activity Ken Perrott Apr 19

No Comments

Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ) promotes a list of “NZ Health Professionals who are calling for an end to fluoridation.” I am generally cynical about such endorsement lists, but the details in this list do give a picture of the commercial and ideological alignment of the FFNZ supporters and activists. So I did my own analysis, dividing the list into those described as “Science and Environmental PhD Professionals”, “NZ Dentists, “NZ Doctors” and Alternative health professionals (Chiropractors, naturopaths, Homeopaths, etc.). Of course, this is approximate as, for example, some listed as doctors may have specialised in one or another alternative fields. The pie chart below shows the distribution of FFNZ supporters among these groups. Clearly with such a large proportion of supporters coming from alternative health fields this above distribution is not representative of professionals in general, let alone health professionals. However, anyone who has looked at the anti-fluoride movement or debated with anti-fluoride activists would not be surprised as “natural”/alternative health arguments and sources are frequently used. I wonder, though, to what extent local body councillors are aware of this commercial and ideological orientation when considering submissions they get on the fluoridation issue. I suspect they aren’t. Yet groups like FFNZ engineer these submissions from their supporters – often providing templates for individuals to sign – and usually dominate the submission process. Personally I think this is a defect in our system of representative democracy – councils should actually insist on declarations of conflict of interest, details of employment and commercial interests from submitters. Their failure to do this explains how some local bodies, like the Hamilton City Council, have unwittingly been captured by ideological and commercial interests from the “natural”/alternative health industry during such submission processes.

Financial links

Declaration of conflicts of interest and details of employment, etc., may to some extent help identify big business interests financing this sort of submission in future. At the moment, we are largely left to speculate. However, there are financial data available showing the money trail involved in at least one anti-fluoride campaign – the High Court case against  the South Taranaki District Council aiming for a judicial review of a decision to fluoridate water supplies in Patea and Waverley (see Who is funding anti-fluoridation High Court action? and Corporate backers of anti-fluoride movement lose in NZ High Court). This action was taken by New Health NZ – an incorporated body set up by the NZ Health Trust – In November 2013. Statements of financial performance of these two organisations are available online and show the following movements of large amounts of money during the year to March 2014. NZHT As the NZ health Trust is a lobby group for the “natural”/alternative health industry the grants it receives must come out of the profits of this industry which is actually a big business in New Zealand. Although the financial statements do not identify sources and recipients the $100,00 grant to New Health NZ clearly came from its parent body and is included in their declared $125,ooo grants and donations. The $95,156 paid out by New Health NZ in professional and consulting fees would have covered the costs involved in their High Court action. So this is a clear example of pretty direct funding of anti-fluoride activity (the High Court action) by corporate interests – the “natural”/alternative health industry. But none of the reporting of this High Court action identified the commercial interests involved. Readers were given the impression that New Health NZ was just another one of these anti-fluoride activist groups and possibly assumed funds for the legal action came from donations. Again, this is a flaw in our representative democratic system. There should be more transparency of financial links. Corporate interests should be able to hide behind astroturf organisations and the dishonesty that their actions are the result of concerned citizens and not the ideological and commercial interests of big business. Similar articles

Why is Vladimir Putin so popular in the USA? Ken Perrott Apr 16

No Comments

putin

Photo credit: REUTERS

Most readers are aware that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a very high popularity rating in his own country – a rating that most politicians  would die for. But it turns out he is also popular in the USA.

Putin came in at the number one spot in this year’s TIME 100 reader’s poll with 6.95% of the votes. According to TIME:

“Putin edged out rapper-singer CL (of the South Korean girl-group 2NE1) to claim the number one spot with 6.95% of the votes in the final tally. Pop stars Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Taylor Swift rounded out the top five with 2.6%, 1.9% and 1.8% of the votes, respectively.”

Putin was the only political leader in the top ten:

“Barack and Michelle Obama sat just outside the top 10 with 1.4% and 1.2% of the votes, respectively. Besides Putin, the only non-entertainers to crack the top 10 were the Dalai Lama (1.7%), Malala Yousafzai (1.6%) and Pope Francis. (1.5%).”

TIME-poll

I guess Putin is happy with the result – perhaps he is doing something right.

But here’s the interesting thing:

“More than half of the votes — 57.38% — were cast within the United States. Canada and the United Kingdom followed with 5.54% and 4.55% respectively.”

IMG_0633

One of the tamer cartoons demonising Putin

Despite continuous demonisation of Putin (and the Russian Federation) by the mass media in the US, UK and Canada in recent years he seems to be more popular than any other political leader – including the leaders of the countries where the readers live!

I wonder why that is? Is the naive demonisation counter-productive?

Do readers here have any suggestions?


Note: The TIME 100 readers’ poll closed April 10. It is not the same as the annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, spanning politics, entertainment, business, technology, science, religion and other fields. That is actually chosen by the editors of TIME – this year’s list will be unveiled April 16.

Similar articles

“Fair-weather” scepticism Ken Perrott Mar 31

No Comments

IMG_0732

My old man used to label us kids as “fair-weather sailors” when we bitched about working outside during bad weather.

That phrase comes to my mind sometimes when I come across people who claim to be “sceptics ” (“Skeptics”) behaving very unsceptically when confronted with a claim outside their area of interest. For example, someone who can be quite objective about scientific claims but reacts quite unobjectively to political claims.

Perhaps politics is a bit like religion to some people – they line up instinctively on one side or another. However, I think a true sceptic should still be able to consider political claims according to the facts available and not just rely on instincts.

So, I am all for this image. Yes it is hard. But when you think about it what use are one’s ingrained prejudices if they do not stand up to sceptical consideration.

Similar articles

 

Ukrainian “suicides?” Ken Perrott Mar 15

No Comments

Several days ago Ukraine Today reported the death of a former politician in the Yanukovych government which was overthrown in a coup last year. He was Oleksandr Peklushenko, the ex-head of a regional council in central Ukraine. Authorities are claiming he committed suicide – but he appears to be the 7th, 8th or 9th such Ukrainian opposition politician to “commit suicide” in the past month or so.

I can’t help wondering if the methods used to purge opposition figures in Ukraine have moved well beyond the well-reported process of throwing them into dumpsters.

dumpster

The head of the Chernovtsy municipal hospital for war veterans was “lustrated” in October. Dr. Manolya Migaychuk was accused of not fulfilling his responsibilities and was forced to resign, according to local media.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported  5 officials died in a suspicious way in a single 34-day period between January 28 and February 28 (see Suicide Or Homicide? In Ukraine, Old-Guard Officials Dying Mysteriously).

January 26 — Mykola Serhiyenko, the former first deputy chief of the state-run Ukrainian Railways, died in his Kyiv home after apparently shooting himself with a registered hunting rifle.

January 29 — Oleksiy Kolesnyk, the former head of the Kharkiv regional government, died after apparently hanging himself.

February 25 — The former mayor of the southeastern city of Melitopol, 57-year-old Serhiy Walter, reportedly hanged himself. . . Walter had been dismissed from his post in 2013 and put on trial for abuse of power and ties to organized crime.

February 26 — One day after Walter’s death, the body of the 47-year-old deputy chief of the Melitopol police, Oleksandr Bordyuh, was found in a garage. According to news reports, Bordyuh’s former boss was a lawyer involved in Walter’s trial. Media reported that the cause of Bordyuh’s death was ruled a “hypertensive crisis,” or stroke — a term that police frequently use in instances of suicide.”

February 28 — Mykhaylo Chechetov, the ex-deputy chairman of the Party of Regions faction in Ukraine’s parliament, died after jumping or falling out of the window of his 17th-story apartment. Chechetov was a former head of the State Property Fund. At the end of August 2014 another former head of the State Property Fund, Valentyna Valentina Semenyuk-Samsonenko was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head, with a gun lying nearby. She led the agency from April 2005 to December 2008. Her family told reporters they dismissed the possibility of suicide, saying that she had spoken fearfully of someone taking out a contract on her life.”

In recent months, a number of other former and current officials were reported as having “committed suicide” in Ukraine – the former deputy head of “Ukrzaliznytsia”, Nicholai Sergienko, former head of Kharkov regional council, Nikolai Kolesnik, ex-mayor of Melitopol and former MP, Stanislav Melnik.

Who is responsible?

An epidemic of suicides by opposition politicians is of course possible – after all the regime in Kiev is hounding and jailing their old opponents and that must be stressful for the victims. But it is hardly credible.

IMG_0699

Perhaps we could just blindly line up with the current political “wisdom” and blame Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. After all, our news media seems to think “Putin did it!” is a sufficiently sophisticated explanation for all things ranging from the shooting down of commercial airliners to the recent Moscow assassination of Boris Nemtsov (a deputy prime minister in a previous government under Boris Yeltsin).

Or are our media at least intelligent enough to realise that would be asking too much of its readers?

It seems that our news media has instead decided just to keep quiet about this rash of “assassination/suicides” in Ukraine. Maybe they cannot see any political advantage in reporting them – unlike the Nemtsov assassination.

Similar articles

 

 

 

A couple of “oldies” inject some sense into international politics Ken Perrott Mar 05

No Comments

Politicking: Stephen Cohen on the Ukraine crisis and his ‘unpatriotic’ views

At last – something sensible from an American perspective on the Ukrainian crisis and the new cold war.

The trouble is – it’s a minority viewpoint and no-one in power seems to be listening.

Similar articles

Social health policies, freedom of choice and responsibility Ken Perrott Feb 05

No Comments

Social health policies inevitably raise the issue of the individual’s freedom of choice. While debates around these policies often concentrate on questions of fact, scientific consensus and reliability of evidence, these tend to be surrogates for the underlying values issues. To what extent should I sacrifice my freedom of choice, or my freedom of choice to decide for my children, for the good health of the community? And what if my freedom of choice violates the freedom of choice for others?

hall-offit-fullPaul Offit discussed these issues in a recent Point of Inquiry podcast – Paul Offit, MD, on Measles in the Magic Kingdom and the Anti-Vaccine Movement. He is a Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit is the author of the book Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.

He basically talks about the spread of measles throughout California and neighboring states because of a source of infection at Disneyland. Although measles were eliminated in the U.S. by 2000, the misinformation of the anti-vaccine movement has caused a return of a full-fledged outbreak.

Levels of responsibility and consequences

Paul makes the comparison of opposition to vaccination with opposition to blood transfusion.

1: Blood transfusions. A person my refuse to accept treatment involving blood transfusion because of their personal religious beliefs. More questionably they may refuse on behalf of their children. However, the consequences are limited to the person or her child. The decision does not harm the community at large.

2: Vaccinations. A person may refuse a measles vaccination for themselves or their children. But in this case the consequences are not personal – they affect the whole of society. By lowering the degree of immunisation in the community they threaten the lives of others – particularly the most vulnerable, children.

In these two cases the person has refused an intervention, a medical treatment or vaccination, which could be seen to violate their freedom of choice – or even to violate their body. In the first case the consequences are personal, limited to the person who made the wrong decision. But in the second case the consequences are social. An personal wrong decision has taken away the freedom of choice, the health and in some cases the lives, of others in society.

A bit like the personal decision to drive on the wrong side of the road. Society has taken away a small personal freedom of choice in our road rules to protect the lives of all of us.

3: Fluoridation. Social health policies like community fluoridation of water, salt, milk, etc., are recognised as being safe, beneficial and cost-effective. But they are opposed by a vocal minority. Activists will passionately promote the freedom of choice argument and, considering they don’t have the scientific evidence on their side this is often seen as their strongest argument. After all, it is values-based and therefore can’t be tested and rejected by evidence.

But, this third case is different to the other 2.

  • The act of fluoridation or not is social, taken by society as a whole or their representatives. An person may contribute to the decision but cannot decide the issue by a personal action as they can with vaccinations or blood transfusions. Although individual political action, or dissemination of information or misinformation, may influence that social decision – and hence the social consequences.
  • Fluoridation does not involve an intervention or treatment, medical or otherwise. No one is forced to drink fluoridated water or milk, or to consume fluoridated salt. The freedom of choice argument is invalid here because there are always alternatives.

Despite actively promoting the freedom of choice argument even the NZ anti-fluoride activist Fluoride Free NZ provides information on these atlernatives. They list alternative water sources, distillation, ion exchange filters and reverse osmosis. Most of these choices are cheap and available.

So what is driving anti-fluoridation propagandists?

Unlike opponents to blood transfusion they cannot argue freedom of choice to refuse an intervention on religious grounds. There is no intervention. The only personal imposition is that they may wish to buy a water filter (many already have these) or buy water from a different source.

Again, unlike opponents of vaccination they cannot argue freedom of choice to refuse an intervention even on grounds of personal belief – because there is no personal intervention.

Given the lack of any forced or personal intervention I am forced to conclude the freedom of choice issue that concerns the anti-fluoride activists is their freedom of choice to decide the oral health quality of other members of their community. And given the health and scientific expert consensus on the issue they are really arguing for their freedom of choice to decide the oral health of others on the grounds of their own minority personal beliefs or convictions.

In last year’s High Court judgement on the question of fluoridation in South Tarinaki, Justice Hansen wrote:

“Provided it does not have consequences for public health a person has the right to make even the poorest decisions in respect of their own health. But where the state, either directly or through local government, employs public health interventions, the right is not engaged. Were it otherwise, the individual’s right to refuse would become the individual’s right to decide outcomes for others. It would give any person a right of veto over public health measures which it is not only the right but often the responsibility of local authorities to deliver.”

The freedom of choice the anti-fluoride activists are promoting is their freedom of choice to decide health outcomes for others – not themselves.

Similar articles

Reality of war for civilians Ken Perrott Feb 04

No Comments

The civil war in Ukraine is almost forgotten by our news media but it is only getting worse. Poroshenko’s announcement that the US is to supply lethal weapons to the Kiev government means things are going to get much worse before they get better.

But this is what it is like for civilians being evacuated by Donetsk forces from the current battle area near Debaltseve.

[eng subs] Uglegorsk residents evacuated by the militias from the town destroyed by UAF “Grads”.

As one of the refugees demands – Poroshenko should negotiate. A political solution is necessary and it is the only way to end this war. It is what the suffering civilians need.

Update

For balance here is some footage on the evacuations from the side of the Kiev troops.

Similar articles

Network-wide options by YD - Freelance Wordpress Developer