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Tony Benn, who said there is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber

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The British politician Tony Benn led such a worthy life at the forefront of progressive causes that he is being remembered over here too on the occasion of his death at 88 three days ago.

“Tony was in the forefront of opposing wars, apartheid, racism and sexism,” states one Guardian writer. Another recalls Benn’s words:

“It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.”

Above, watch a wonderful confrontation on BBC during the Gaza onslaught of ’08-’09, when the BBC had refused to air the address of a humanitarian organization folks could send money to. Benn twice read the address on air, defying the anchor and the Israeli government.

“I’m sorry, I’m a human being… The Israelis have killed 1330 people… We are human beings. I know you work for the BBC and I’m a pensioner. We’re people. If you saw people children dying as they are today in Gaza, because there’s no food, wouldn’t you want to send it?”

Then: “People will die as a result of the BBC decision… It has capitulated to Israeli pressure.”

And thanks to Teddy Sayeed, here is Benn destroying John Bolton during the Iraq war. At 4:00, he takes Bolton apart by describing his own service in World War II and then noting that Bolton refused to serve in Vietnam. The RAF veteran notes that the London blitz killed his brother, and that as he was flying home from the war, he heard the United Nations charter read.

“That was the pledge my generation gave to the younger generation, and [the U.S.] tore it up. And it’s a war crime that’s been committed in Iraq. Because there’s no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons…. You’re a declining empire, as we were, and you’ll learn the truth…. You were beaten in Vietnam… That’s why you didn’t want to serve there. And you’ll be beaten in Iraq.'”

And here is Tony Benn completely deflecting the wit of Sacha Baron Cohen playing Ali G. “Possibly the only celebrity who managed to get the better of the master troll,” Sayeed says. Benn wrote about how he did it here.

Thanks to Terry Weber for the BBC clip.

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39 Responses

  1. American
    March 17, 2014, 10:57 am

    ”Tony Benn, who said there is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber”

    With one or two conditions added……I would agree there is no difference.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      March 17, 2014, 1:07 pm

      What conditions?

      • American
        March 17, 2014, 2:57 pm

        The conditions would depend on the circumstances.
        For instance if some country was opening its nuke silos about to use one I would condone bombing their nuke site even though it would kill the people there.
        On the other hand I would not condone someone in France bombing a French children’s school to kill some Jewish children because of Israel.
        I can ‘understand’ if not condone, Palestines using suicide bombs within Israel since they have no other weapons, to speak of, to terrorize Israelis with as the IDF terrorizes ‘all ‘ civilian Palestines.
        Nothing is perfect or 100%.

      • Citizen
        March 18, 2014, 5:55 pm

        @ American
        If U have (free) F-16s and Apache predator helicopters (& white phosphorus), you don’t need to use bottle rockets to stand up for yourself. If all U have is bottle rockets, and stones off the streets, and these weapons don’t pose any really threat to your occupiers and land-grabbers, is suicide bombing all that’s left? If not, what else is left to fight with? Well, U have peaceful protest, BDS, which is heavily attacked by the enabling nation, USA. Even the rabid Zionist Phil Maher said the 9/11 hijackers were brave.

      • American
        March 21, 2014, 10:27 am

        @ Citizen

        I agree.
        The thing about Israelis is despite their chest beating about what ‘warriors’ they are, they are at core cowards and bullies. Put them up against real warriors and they will fold and run.
        As for suicide bombers—-nothing more illustrative of using suicide against an enemy than the D-Day invasion….that was a flip a coin suicide mission and everyone knew it.

      • W.Jones
        March 18, 2014, 1:19 am

        The former does not sacrifice, the latter does. One of the Pal. militants made a video of one and the person was smiling, but actually he was crying. You could notice how the smile was breaking down and shaking. They are mistaken, but they act like trapped animals.

      • Citizen
        March 21, 2014, 11:00 am

        @ American

        OP Overlord as suicide mission:
        Poor bastards. I was a grunt teen-ager; sure glad it was not in that time.

  2. Susie Kneedler
    Susie Kneedler
    March 17, 2014, 11:36 am

    Thanks, Phil, for honoring the integrity of Tony Benn, the free-thinker of conscience we miss and need more than ever today. All your links inspire.

  3. Citizen
    March 17, 2014, 12:17 pm

    Glad you covered Benn, Phil. I totally agree with his take on the issues he covered you discuss and link to.

  4. seafoid
    March 17, 2014, 12:24 pm

    Tony Benn’s 5 questions- imagine asking them at the AIPAC conf or in the Knesset

    “The House will forgive me for quoting five democratic questions that I have developed during my life. If one meets a powerful person–Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler–one can ask five questions:

    what power do you have;
    where did you get it;
    in whose interests do you exercise it;
    to whom are you accountable; and,
    how can we get rid of you?

    Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.”

    • American
      March 17, 2014, 2:04 pm

      ”Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.”

      Brilliant .
      And we don’t live in a democratic system any more due to our politicians and media.
      Only thing we have left is free speech and they are working on quelling that too.

  5. Citizen
    March 17, 2014, 12:29 pm

    As a tribute to Benn, here he is full blossom, kicking the crap out of Fox New’s favorite foreign policy expert and JINSA man, John Bolton:

    Oops, sorry, I didn’t realize Phil had already referenced this video clip. I sure enjoyed it though. I’m sick of Bolton on Fox News constantly, drumming up more war in behalf the military industrial complex and Israel, the fu***** draft dodger!

  6. Bumblebye
    March 17, 2014, 12:33 pm

    That was brilliant when it happened, and I’m glad it’s popped up here too.

    When I watched the Benn/Bolton link, i found afterwards that it linked to a full program (37.50) with Benn on Gaza 2012!

    And then I watched the AliG clip and followed thru’ to a really “excellent bonus interview” with Michael Moore (9.57) on democracy:

  7. Taxi
    March 17, 2014, 12:46 pm

    Tony Benn, the quintessential Englishman. Righteous, intelligent, honest gentleman.

    He’s worth a gazillion McCains.

    R.I.P. Mister Benn. I’ll never forget your Cambridge/UK lecture on South Africa’s Apartheid back in 1978. Will never forget how, at the Uni bar, you raised your pint glass at everyone there and said:”There’s more of us than there is of them, so we’ll win in the end!”

    (Thanks, Phil, for bringing good old Tony Benn to MW – though posthumously, it’s still very kind of you).

    • philweiss
      March 17, 2014, 12:56 pm

      Not kind. Duty. All credit to Terry Weber and Teddy Sayeed for pushing me. Teddy might have more to say in days to come.

      • bintbiba
        March 17, 2014, 1:19 pm

        To use an overused cliche’…. he is a National Treasure.
        To think that his own party shunned him, That is how much he wasn’t a typical politician….. more the quintessential humanitarian, whose integrity never allowed him to play the games politicians often play.

      • Antidote
        March 18, 2014, 11:16 am

        “National treasure”? “Integrity”? “Righteous, intelligent…”?

        “Quintessential Englishman”???

        Whitewashing hogwash, imo.

        For starters, read Sean Thomas:

        “Tony Benn ‘admired’ Chairman Mao, responsible for the deaths of millions. Why is this ignored?”

        There was a strange political coincidence last week, which went unnoticed. First, Britain’s favourite tea drinker, Tony Benn, died at the venerable age of 88. The passing of this “political giant” invoked sobbing eulogies, from papers and politicians alike.
        Perhaps the most ridiculous memorial came from the normally-sensible Louise Mensch, ex Tory MP. I advise you not to read the entire essay, unless you enjoy nausea, but here’s a taster: “There was that rumpled, brilliant look about the man that is so endearing to our clever, messy nation. Like JRR Tolkien, whom he resembled, he loved to smoke a pipe; a particularly English vice. He drank tea, and was well-read.”
        There it is again, the tea drinking. And of course the pipe smoking. And the rumpled cardigans. It’s as if these people (and Mensch was far from alone in her gushing prose) are describing a beloved old uncle, who could barely bring himself to whack a bluebottle.
        The trouble is, Tony Benn wasn’t quite like that, was he? Not in his politics. The second part of my political coincidence underscores this: last week saw developments in the Khmer Rouge trials, now ongoing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
        A few years ago I personally attended one of these trials, when the defendant was Comrade Duch: the diligent, unassuming mass murderer who oversaw the violent deaths of 15,000 people, in the Khmer Rouge torture garden of Tuol Sleng. I will never forget the moment when Duch leaned near to the courtroom microphone, and murmured this: “I am particularly sorry for the many children we smashed against trees.”
        After Duch said these appalling words, there was a strange humming in the vast and crowded auditorium; for a moment I thought the air con was malfunctioning, then I realised I was listening to the sound of hundreds of elderly people quietly sobbing. These were the parents of all those babies that the Khmer Rouge casually “smashed against trees”.
        What has this got to do with Tony Benn? A lot. Because Tony Benn was a fervent admirer of Chairman Mao, the ultimate leader of East Asian communists like the Khmer Rouge. In 1976, Britain’s best-loved pipe smoker wrote this in one of his hundreds of self-obsessed diaries: “In my opinion, [Chairman Mao] will undoubtedly be regarded as one of the greatest – if not the greatest – figures of the 20th century.”
        Check that date again, because it’s important. Benn wrote this in 1976. That’s years after Chairman Mao, Tony Benn’s great hero, procured the deaths of 1.5 million Chinese citizens in the Cultural Revolution. That’s many years after Mao engineered 45 million deaths in the Great Famine. That’s four decades after Chairman Mao envisaged that 50 million Chinese peasants “would have to be destroyed” to facilitate agrarian reform.
        More painfully still, 1976 is a year after those fervent Maoists, the Khmer Rouge, seized power in Phnom Penh (an advent greeted with words of celebration from Mao himself). By the year 1976, Cambodia was 12 months into a communist campaign of death, which would eventually annihilate 20-30 per cent of the entire Cambodian population.
        And by 1976 we knew this: The Guardian, surely Tony Benn’s favourite newspaper, had already published many articles about the new Cambodia, describing “a systematic process of mass elimination”, of “executions used as a tool of social control”. That is to say, in 1976, when Tony Benn happily praised Chairman Mao as the greatest man of the 20th century, he knew Mao’s acolytes were “exterminating class enemies”.
        But that’s alright, because we all make mistakes – at least according to rumpled, brilliant Tony Benn and his adorable mugs of tea. Twenty years later, an even wiser Benn – perhaps reflecting on the Maoist baby-killing – said this to the Chinese ambassador: “I am a great admirer of Mao. He made mistakes, because everybody does, but it seems to me that the development of the countryside and so on was very sensible.”
        And it’s true, Benn was right: we all make mistakes. And I’d say one of the biggest mistakes is our easy forgiveness of far left, quasi-Marxist, Chairman-Mao-loving politicians like Tony Benn, when, in contrast, we would revile and abhor a politician who expressed similar “admiration” for Hitler, 40 years after the Holocaust.
        So let’s correct that mistake. Let’s be clear. Tony Benn was a fine husband and a passionate feminist and a great speaker who wore rumpled woollens. But he also admired evil men who slaughtered tens of millions. And I’m not sure all the tea drinking in the world can quite make up for that.

        It certainly can’t. Mao, of course, was not the only mass murderer Benn admired. He was also an apologist for Stalin and, needless to say, enthralled by Churchill whom he called a “Liberal Imperialist” (an oxymoron). As Benn recalls in a 2004 publication (Winston Churchill in the Twenty First Centuy, ed. David Canndine et al):

        “I think I am right that Churchill described [Gandhi] as ‘the naked fakir loping up the steps of the viceregal lodge to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor’. And I have a video of Winston from the 1930s, in which he talks about 600 million poor benighted Indians, who depended on the empire to preserve their society. That was his position and although it is wasy now to dismiss imperialism, it was part of the whole philosophy that illuminated the thinking not just of Conservatives but of many Liberals as well.”

        Then comes the “I was in the Blitz” passage, and the usual decontextualized nonsense one also hears from American Conservatives and Liberals re 9/11 or its WW II precedent, Pearl Harbor.

        There are, to be sure, different views of British Imperialism in general, and Churchill in particular. Gideon Polya, in his review of “Churchill’s Secret War”, may be cited as the strongest indictment:

        “Madhusree Mukerjee’s book commences with a key quotation from Churchill that addresses “from the horse’s mouth” the fundamental holocaust commission, holocaust ignoring and holocaust denial behaviour of this mass murdering, racist imperialist. Thus Churchill makes no reference in the text of his 6-volume “The Second World War” (for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature) to the Bengal Famine (holocaust ignoring, holocaust denial) in which he deliberately murdered 6-7 million Indians (holocaust commission). Instead Churchill offers in his fraudulent history the following appalling holocaust lie: “No great portion of the world population was so effectively protected from the horrors and perils of the World War as were the peoples of Hindustan . They were carried through the struggle on the shoulders of our small Island” (“The Second World War”, volume 4, p181, Cassell, London, 1954; “Churchill’s Secret War”, Prologue: our title to India, pix; “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History”, Chapter 14, The Bengal Famine of 1943-1944, p133).

        Madhusree Mukerjee systematically successively analyzes the background to the Bengali Holocaust in a prologue that deals with British India and the massive recurrent man-made famines, commencing with the 1769-1770 Bengal Famine in which 10 million people died due to British greed. Not quoted is Amaresh Misra’s book “War of Civilizations: India AD 1857” that estimates that 10 million people died in British reprisals for the 1857 Indian rebellion. While the appalling famine history of British India is outlined the genocidal aspect is downplayed. Thus it can be estimated from British census and comparative mortality data that 1.8 billion Indians died prematurely under 2 centuries of British rule. While Mukerjee makes clear the British economic exploitation of India , she downplays the reality that endemic poverty and hunger in India made it possible for a distant island of scores of millions to rule hundreds of millions of disempowered Indian subjects with the help of well-fed sepoys and other collaborators.. ”

        Much like Benn, Tony Judd uncritically cites Churchill’s view in his History of Europe, according to which Britain used its own resources to fight WW II whereas Germany shamelessly plundered and starved the occupied territories. Germany, of course, had lost its few colonies after WW I, and had no India to plunder and starve. Both Liberals and Conservatives insist on remaining ignorant on what effect Allied policies (in both WWs), such as the economic and food blockade, had on the actual course of the war, and the extent of German atrocities in occupied territories (which were entirely predictable and no doubt in the strategic interest of claiming Allied moral superiority)

        Could Benn have known better about Churchill and British Imperialism? Orwell certainly did.

        So while I would fully agree that there is no moral difference between stealth and suicide bombers, there is also no moral difference between Liberal, Conservative, Socialist or Racist Imperialists and mass murderers. Unless you insist on doublethinking murder

  8. Woody Tanaka
    Woody Tanaka
    March 17, 2014, 1:39 pm

    RIP, Mr. Benn. (And he should have received the Nobel Peace Prize for appearing with that awful Ali G show. Sasha Baron Cohen is supremely unfunny.)

    • bintbiba
      March 17, 2014, 3:27 pm

      Ditto Woody —– I also find Sasha Baron Cohen ‘supremely unfunny’.

      • Taxi
        March 17, 2014, 3:48 pm

        I can’t stand the bugger myself either. Am totally against humiliation-humor.

      • seafoid
        March 18, 2014, 2:37 am

        He supports Greater Israel as well. I can’t remember where I saw it.

  9. amigo
    March 17, 2014, 2:17 pm

    Actually I would disagree with the Late great Tony Benn!!.

    It takes a coward to murder people flying a stealth bomber.

    • just
      March 17, 2014, 7:29 pm

      Agreed, amigo.

      If Heaven exists, I know where the great Benn is. RIP to a great human. Many thanks, Phil.

      My condolences to Mr. Benn’s family, his friends, and his many admirers.

    • Stephen Shenfield
      Stephen Shenfield
      March 18, 2014, 5:26 am

      Perhaps what he meant was that the difference doesn’t matter to the victims.

      • amigo
        March 18, 2014, 9:07 am

        “Perhaps what he meant was that the difference doesn’t matter to the victims.”Stephen

        Stephen, your point is well taken and serves to focus the discussion on the victims.

  10. adele
    March 17, 2014, 2:33 pm

    Try I as might, I can’t think of anyone contemporaneously comparable to Tony Benn amongst our political class who serve(d) in Congress or the Senate. Can anyone?

    If there isn’t, that speaks volumes about our politicians.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      March 17, 2014, 4:23 pm

      I wonder if it is systemic. In the party-list system of electing legislators (especially closed list situations), it seems to me that actual competence would be a value prized in those that hold the office, as those choosing the list would have an incentive not to appoint dolts and blowhards for fear of lessening the party’s chances in future elections.

      In the US, by contrast, you just have to have the ability to attract votes, which often translates into looking pretty or being able to spout ideological nonsense without laughing or poll-tested quotes devoid of substance.

  11. DaveS
    March 17, 2014, 3:49 pm

    Phil, loved the tribute, loved the clips, loved the man. Thanks

  12. Keith
    March 17, 2014, 6:04 pm

    Tony Benn quote: “You’re a declining empire, as we were, and you’ll learn the truth…. You were beaten in Vietnam…”

    I disagree with Benn and agree with Chomsky on this. The US didn’t lose in Vietnam, rather it achieved its minimum objective of essentially destroying the country to prevent it from succeeding. Following the war, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Vietnam until Vietnam capitulated. “Vietnam was therefore compelled to pay to the US the huge debt incurred by the Saigon government that the US had installed as its local agent for its wars in Indochina….” (p101, “Hegemony or Survival,” Noam Chomsky).

    He is wrong about the empire in decline as well. While it is somewhat obvious that the US nation-state is in decline, perhaps intentionally, the transnational corporate/financial empire appears to me to be growing in power. The ability of the global financial system to force compliance is unprecedented. Witness the Ukrainian oligarchs who changed sides when their western investments were threatened. Future sanctions will likely target Russian oligarchs who may abandon Putin when push comes to shove. At the least, the Ukrainian coup prevented any warming of relations between Europe and Russia that could conceivably have led to an informal European alliance without the US. I conclude with a quote and a link to an excellent article by Jack Rasmus.

    “There has been growing concern within the ranks of this element that western Europe—and especially Germany—have forged too deep and too close economic ties with Russia. They want to break those ties and replace them with greater European dependency on the USA economically….The long term objective is to have Germany and Europe dependent on US natural gas, at the expense of Russian gas.”

    • American
      March 18, 2014, 10:58 am

      ”The long term objective is to have Germany and Europe dependent on US natural gas, at the expense of Russian gas.”

      Nope, It is Israel that eventually wants to replace the Russian 34% share of European gas import with their own gas export.
      They believe if they can achieve this it will replace European dependence on Russia with dependence on Israel and guarantee Israel more political protection and a ‘hands off Israel’ policy from Europe.
      There is a reason Israel concentrates on ‘handling “critical resources” for other nations, like their push to insert their companies into other nations water systems, security systems and walls like the US border, the gas plan is another extension of that.

      • American
        March 18, 2014, 11:18 am

        I would in this instance agree with the Chomsky meme about the elite capitalist—–because the ‘fracking industry’ is among those pushing the US-Ukraine crisis—-they are trying to protect their fracking practice (which environmentalist oppose) and their potential profits by peddling it as critical to producing more gas/oil for US geo-political purposes as in the Ukraine example.

      • Citizen
        March 18, 2014, 6:20 pm

        Yes, see my other comment I just posted.

      • Citizen
        March 18, 2014, 6:19 pm

        @ American
        US oil/gas “fracking” interests combine with the usual Israel First crowd
        to make Ukraine and regular Joe Ukrainians expendables in their combined interest. It’s just another example of what’s now the SOP bipartisan USA foreign policy. Dick and Jane are just as expendable as Joe Ukraine. US/Israel also want to detach EU from any dependence on Russian energy; they want to make them dependent on US/Israel. Germany is blinking—I think they will bow down. This could lead to the Germans being (partially) responsible for WW3, not just WW1 & WW2. The Germans never learn; they see things in black and white, ultimately.

  13. Eva Smagacz
    Eva Smagacz
    March 18, 2014, 6:49 am

    One of the greatest achievements of hasbara is to make it a given or a “truth universally acknowledged” that the suicide bombers are a moral abomination, rather than people willing to give their lives for the cause they believe in.

    I always try to make the similar point to that of Tony Benn, but instead of stealth bombers, I consider the case of young Jewish-Israeli ladies on the outskirts of Sderot, killing Palestinian civilians in a macabre computer game in between making their nails, and fixing their hair in anticipation of a night out in Tel Aviv.

    • seafoid
      March 18, 2014, 8:44 am

      Hasbara may be “a given” but the memes are not truth and they are very threadbare at the moment.

      Suicide bombing as pure evil didn’t last the distance, not after the US failed in Iraq. Any kind of murderous political violence is the same. Spears or ICBM, same result.

      Israel is still running those 2003 memes and the world has moved on. Ya salaam.

  14. eljay
    March 18, 2014, 7:34 am

    >> One of the greatest achievements of hasbara is to make it a given or a “truth universally acknowledged” that the suicide bombers are a moral abomination, rather than people willing to give their lives for the cause they believe in.

    I can appreciate (for lack of a better word) the actions of suicide bombers who rebel against oppressive or otherwise unjust regimes by directing their attacks at military and political targets. I cannot appreciate the actions of those who direct their attacks at civilian targets.

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