Monday 16 February 2015

From our foreign correspondent

It is not often that local papers cover foreign affairs, but when they do the results can be bizarre and even disturbing. A couple of weeks ago the Carmarthen Journal ran a piece about the Greek elections, quoting the new Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who had cited a line from Dylan Thomas in support of his government's plans to overturn austerity measures.

According to the Journal, Mr Varoufakis's party Syriza had "seized power", when Syriza had actually won a free and fair democratic election.

The original article seems to have disappeared from the online version of the newspaper, but you can still find it here.

It is unlikely that the Journal spends much time monitoring the world's media to pick up references to Dylan Thomas, and the most probable explanation for this bizarre piece is that it emanated from the press office in County Hall down the road which has enough staff with time on their hands and a long track record of churning out sub-standard rubbish.

A rather more disturbing hate-filled rant which definitely did not emanate from the council's press office last night appeared on the South Wales Guardian website

This piece deals with the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden in which it is estimated that at least 25,000 people, overwhelmingly women, children and civilians, were incinerated in the notorious bombing raid.

The raid and the British Government's policy of targeting civilian populations were controversial even at the time, with George Bell, the Bishop of Chichester, taking a brave and principled stand against the practice. Bell argued that bombing of unarmed civilians was barbaric and would undermine the case for a just war. A few Labour MPs took the same line.

The controversy over the bombing of Dresden has continued to flicker every since, and there can be little doubt that such an act now would constitute a crime against humanity as defined by the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal:

To fall under the Rome Statute, a crime against humanity which is defined in Article 7.1 must be "part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population".

In some of its reports on the anniversary, the BBC sought to justify the raid by claiming that Dresden was a "Nazi stronghold" and a major industrial centre, although this line was dropped in later bulletins.

In the last free elections of the Weimar Republic in November 1932 the Nazis took 37% of the popular vote, compared with 47% for the Social Democrats and Communists in Saxony, of which Dresden is the capital. The Nazis' share of the vote in the city itself would have been somewhat lower. Across the whole of Germany, the Nazis took 33% of the vote in that election, which was in any case marked by violence and intimidation.

It is true that there was industry around Dresden supplying arms and components to what in 1945 was left of the Nazi war machine, but the bombing raid took place on the city centre and not the industrial areas.

Waldo Williams' great poem Y Tangnefeddwyr ("The Peacemakers") was written against the backdrop of the bombing of Swansea in 1941. Referring to his parents, he wrote:

Cenedl dda a chenedl ddrwg -
Dysgent hwy mai rhith yw hyn

Which means, loosely translated, that they taught him that the idea of good and bad nations was a mirage.

Whether or not you believe the bombing of Dresden so close to the end of the war was justified, surely 70 years on it is time for reconciliation, forgiveness and regret at what happened, and to concentrate instead on ensuring that future generations learn the lessons for all humanity handed down by the Second World War.

This was not the South Wales Guardian's finest hour.


Tessa said...

Thank you for your careful and considered post in response to the piece by SWG. Anyone sufficiently interested and open-minded might like to read "Rifleman" by Victor Gregg - a robust and charismatic and still living 95 year old who doesn't get the coverage that such a character and veteran would ordinarily get because of his account and opinion of the allied's actions in Dresden during WW2.

Jac o' the North, said...

An interesting piece over on Radnorian with a photo of the unbombed Ford plant in Cologne. An easy and obvious target, and much nearer than Dresden. Oh! silly me, it was American-owned!

Anonymous said...

That Guardian article is a disgrace