The High Moral Ground


There’s an automatic assumption that whenever the West is attacked, or involved in a war, we (i.e. the West, or the ‘Free World’) are on the ‘right’ side. We are morally correct; God is with us. Such an attitude finds its expression in such phrases as ‘our way of life’, ‘making the world safe for democracy’, ‘saving civilisation’ and so on.

An example might be the Great War, 1914-18. Only now – some ninety years later – is it being admitted that the Allies of the time did not have some kind of premium on morality. The Central Powers, Germany and Austria, may not have been the villains they were made out to be. The Great War could have been some cataclysmic mistake, for which England and France might take some of the blame. (They were certainly morally culpable for the consequences of the Versailles Peace Settlement of 1919.)

Thanks to Sharyn Raggett

Thanks to Sharyn Raggett

The day after the bomb attacks on central London, Tony Blair delivered a stirring speech at the G8 meeting at Gleneagles. Using the rhetoric of Lloyd George or Winston Churchill, Blair declared: ‘…we will hold true to the British way of life.’ Inevitably, Howard and Downer uttered the usual clichés about not bowing to terrorism, and Beazley waved his palsied hands and declared the bombers as ‘subhuman filth who must be captured and eliminated.’ (Beazley, it seems, is in favour of ‘eliminating’ people. He sounds more like Stalin every day.) The Queen then added her bit and said: ‘They will not change our way of life.’

The London press had a field day. ‘BASTARDS’, thundered the Daily Star; ‘Bloodied but unbowed’, declared the Daily Mirror; ‘We Britons will never be defeated’, said the Daily Express. Such chauvinistic defiance was typical of the British media in the last two world wars.

The Australian press also had a field day. The Age ran a ten page special which, in words and photographs, detailed the ‘horror’. And John Howard warned Australia was not immune from a terrorist attack. In its editorial, the Melbourne Age said, ‘These [bombings]are acts of pure barbarism that find no favour with people of faith or with a belief in human decency.’

But there was one dissenting voice. In the House of Commons, Labour MP, George Galloway, said that Londoners had paid the price for Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. To this, the Armed Forces Minister replied that Galloway had ‘dipped his poisonous tongue in a pool of blood.’

There was not, of course, a similar burst of moral outrage over the destruction of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, when tens of thousands of innocent civilians were killed by invading coalition troops. Were the American bomb-aimers who plastered Baghdad when the US-led invasion commenced, ‘subhuman filth’, as Beazley put it?

In these tragic and blood-ridden times, I can see no difference between the destruction of Dresden in 1945, the bombing of Cambodia and Vietnam, 9/11, Bali, the destruction of Baghdad and the bombing of Madrid and London. I don’t think there is any reason for ‘us’ to occupy the moral high ground. Such a view, it seems, is distinctly unfashionable – if not traitorous.

One of the reasons for the ‘horror’ of 9/11, Bali, Madrid and now London was that it is ‘us’. We were being treated like Cambodians, Vietnamese – or Iraqis. It was our turn to be blown up. It was our turn to lose limbs and loved-ones.

There is no doubt that the media and the government (and I include the so-called Opposition, for we are now living in a one-party state) are polarising society. It is now ‘them’ or ‘us’. As George W. Bush said, after the bombing of the World Trade Center, ‘You are either with us, or against us.’ One consequence of the invasion of Iraq, the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and the brutal American mismanagement of the country has been to harden attitudes on both ‘sides’. In the eyes of many, all Moslems are now ‘the enemy within’.

The occupation of the moral high ground is, of course, nothing new. It is an ancient ploy of churchmen, generals, politicians and media-owners. We like to think that ‘our way of life’ is ‘special’ – it is not. More than anything else, we are just lucky.

On a purely strategic level, Tony Blair has blood on his hands. George Galloway was right: Londoners are now paying the price for the British involvement in Iraq, and for slavishly following American foreign/military policy.

And what of Australia? Thank God, for our isolation; but will it be enough?

The arse-licking relationship between Bush and Howard will prove to be a disaster; and we continue to occupy the moral high ground. We have always done so – in the Boer War, the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and now against terrorists, or ‘Moslem extremists’. The Australian Defence Force is ever-ready to defend the ‘Free World’.

However, the simplistic ‘Good versus Evil’ notion, espoused by Bush, Blair and Howard, in this instance may not be sufficient. In the world of Realpolitik, there are many fish to fry, apart from ideology – oil, imperial power and the military and economic hegemony of the West.

In any event, the West can no longer afford the luxury – and the delusion – of occupying the moral high ground.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.