BBC Radio The Christmas Truce 1914 & Syria 2014:

2 mini-masterstrokes of BBC propaganda this morning (9 Dec. 2014) on the BBC Radio 4 flagship programme “Today”connecting Syria and the 1914 Christmas Truce!

The context was a recent UN call for rich countries to take more Syrian refugees (Britain has taken 90 so far – after 3 years of the conflict; Germany has undertaken to receive 30,000. But there are 3 million already outside the country, mostly in camps in neighbouring countries) First, they had on the programme “a Syrian woman, a 30 year-old single mother whom we are not naming, as she still fears for her family still in Syria” (who knows who she was then, in fact? She could have been a actor.) who was one of the 90 to come here. She told  – in Arabic, translated  – a harrowing story of how she’d been arrested and tortured by “the regime” and how she’d been released due to a deal with Hezbollah and had made it to Lebanon where she and her children had nearly starved to death (she gave the impression nothing was being done for refugees in Lebanon, which is not the case; Lebanon is groaning under the pressure of trying to cope with the influx of the refugees) and then – wonder of wonders! – she was accepted by the British relief programme because she “met the criteria” and so she came here. Then came the leading questions: how did she feel here in Britain? She felt “secure”. Where did she think the UK government’s focus should be in the Syrian question? The answer: “I hope the UK govt take as many refugees as possible so that they can enjoy all the rights, security and aid that I have.”  Do you dream of returning to Syria? I’d like to return to Syria …I hope this regime will fall soon and then I will go back.”

A nice piece of propaganda for  MI6 and the Foreign Office. For 3 years now the BBC have been shovelling this kind of thing into our ears with hardly a word about whose money and supplies have been keeping the anti-Assad forces going all this time.

This was followed by an interview with M.P. and former (until last year) British government Minister responsible for the Middle East Alistair Burt. He is a former officer of the Conservative Friends of Israel group in Parliament and a member of the Political Council of the Henry Jackson Society (a very hawkish Transatlanticist group on foreign affairs). He insisted that despite the mere 90 refugees taken in here in 3 years, “no country was doing more than us and the USA”, “we’ve accepted 3000 asylum seekers” (i.e. from other countries except Syria), “we’ve got an excellent programme helping refugees in the region” (in the camps in Jordan et al) and other such back-slapping, self-glorifying stuff. When Germany’s offer to take another 30,000 was raised (a touchy point here), his response was: “in any case 10,000 out of 3 million is still a relatively small number. We’re dancing on the head of a pin.” Basically his attitude was: “we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. We’re doing just fine and can be proud of …..” blah blah

After him, the subject was changed to the Christmas Truce 1914; the scene was set, a recording was played of an old British veteran, now long since deceased, recalling the Germans singing “Heilige Nacht, Stille Nacht” and how the British sang The First Noel” in response, and then  – like a rabbit pulled out of a hat by a conjuror – on came Prince Philip Kiril of Prussia, a Lutheran minister and great-great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhem II (!); the Kaiser was described as “the man who signed the declaration of war”, though it was not mentioned against whom. Ignorant listeners might have assumed he’d signed the declaration of war against Britain! The interview with the Prince (you can hear it here: was mostly concerned not with the Christmas Truce but with the question of German war guilt!  But this was mostly the fault of Prince Philip. Asked for his views on the Truce, he began rather modestly with a couple of shy references to Christopher Clark and his point in “The Sleepwalkers” that “there is guilt on all sides” but the Prince quickly went on to say that Germany had much to feel guilty about and especially his great-great grandfather for signing the declaration of war and that he (Prince Philip Kiril) wanted “to ask for forgiveness”. John Humphreys asks: “Do you believe Germany needs forgiveness still?”  The Prince replies that in the 10 Commandments [so, the Old Testament] it’s said that the Bible says that God pursues sins to “the 3rd and 4th generation” and so “on a spiritual level it’s still necessary” [for Germany to ask for forgiveness] and that no-one in his family ever did this so far and so it’s good to do”  – despite his initial comments about Clark and his point that all are guilty! Humphreys then asks him how he’d like to see the German people react to this anniversary. The Prince responds that the Germans lost so they don’t like to commemorate it much, but that they’re quite successful at accerting their guilt, especially for WW2, but for WW1 it’s another story. But nobody could argue that there’s much guilt on our side of course.”  This kind of tosh from the great-great-grandson of the Kaiser was a godsend for the BBC. Yes, there was German guilt, but there was just as much if not more on the other side, but he ignored that and spoke only about German guilt, which is what Humphreys and the BBC want to hear.

Then, to top it all, when asked again at the end directly about the Truce: “And just a final quick thought about what happened in No-Man’s Land 100 years ago…”  So the Prince had supposedly been brought on to talk about the Truce but had ended up talking and being asked mostly about German war guilt: “Do the German people still remember that [the Christmas Truce] Is it anywhere in their consciousness?” “Not much actually.” He then said that for him it’s more important aboput Christmas means – about the fact that Christmas was the time when “the Prince of Peace” (an unconscious piece of self-reference perhaps?) came to enter into all our hearts and that therefore this was not just about 1914 but also about today; he said: “You just had the interview with Alistair Burt and he said the refugee crisis would stop right away if the regime would stop killing its own people. There’s this one person and if he had peace in his heart, then everything could change. That would have been the same in 1914 as it is today, so there is a much bigger story than this Christmas Truce.”

I could hardly believe my ears! Another propaganda godsend. He was actually  – perhaps even without quite realising it -  connecting his own great-grandfather (the man who’d “signed the declaration of war”) with Assad! One bad bogeyman! So beloved of the Brits!  Britain against the Kaiser’s regime and now Britain against Assad’s regime. The Kaiser’s regime brought down by violence and now Assad too must be brought down by violence – this was the Syrian woman’s message and Birt’s message, helped out by this bleeding heart “Prussian Prince of Peace” who only wanted to ask for forgiveness. The Prince’s comments also served to undermine the German position on Syrian refugees in that the BBC have clearly been embarrassed recently about the fact that Germany appears to be doing far more than Britain for the Syrian refugees (I’ve heard other BBC items about this contrast); that Germany appears to be in a better moral position than Britain cannot be allowed, so this was ‘balanced’ by the (perennial) reassertion on the BBC of German guilt – even in the context of the Christmas Truce  – and by a German, and the great-grandson of the Kaiser as well! Perfect. [And by the way, I note that the interview ended exactly at 2 hours and 30 mins into the programme!!!]

After the 8.30 news headlines, an item at 8:43 was an interview with American anthropologist Alan Page Fiske is an anthropologist and author of who’d just published a book “Virtuous Violence” (so, a book plug for him) asserting that exhaustive research from around the world has shown that when most people commit violence they are convinced they are doing it for “moral reasons” and that they are “morally justified”. The book questions that there is an absence of morality in the use of violence: as the interviewee put it in anthropology-speak: “most violence is intended to regulate relationships” or (subtext): it is OK to use violence for moral reasons. The other interviewee, a British prof. of forensic psychiatry at Oxford University thought this was “a valuable contribution” (!) but it might be “difficult to test this theory in a lean way [with] lean scalable interventions”. The American insisted the theory HAD been tested and said we need to change our culture to exclude violence-related regulation of relationships and then violence would decline. The interviewer, smelling a possible problem perhaps regarding responsibility for WW1 (?) then asks: “the fear might be [Nb that vague phrase!!!] that if we go too far trying to see how the perpetrator saw their actions (e.g. Berlin in 1914 perhaps???) we might start to excuse what they’ve done?” The Oxford prof. ducked that and agreed with the American prof on the usefulness of his contribution and said we need to try various interventions such as teaching gang members about morality and also “simple interventions” such as improving health and social services provision etc. in order to reduce violence. End of interview.

This on the day of the US Senate report about the extensive use of torture by the CIA against Guantanamo detainees which was the top news story on the BBC this morning, and a few days after the heavily reported (in Britain) US policemen’s violence against black males. Although the American prof. here was saying we can reduce violence by changing the culture to make violence a less socially acceptable form of “regulating relationships”, that’s very much for the future; he had nevertheless argued that in the past and still now, people do see violence as a socially acceptable way of dealing with problems and “regulating relationships”. That applies to wars as well as to individuals.

So, after remembering the Christmas Truce – a drop of peace in an ocean of violence -  the subtextual logic being presented here on the BBC would seem to be: “let’s bomb Assad and use our ‘virtuous violence’ to bring this awful Syrian war to an end just as that Syrian woman and her friends in the opposition sought to overthrow Assad by violence, and just as we brought the Kaiser’s Empire to an end by violence in 1914-18″ and let’s not show too much interest in the perpetrator and his motives otherwise our explanations of WW1 and WW2″ might come unstuck. Such was the subliminal message being very effectively delivered by the editorial skills of the BBC Propaganda Office this morning – part of a steady drip-drip approach. You might say: “but how were they to know the Prince would talk about Syria?” I think a better question would be: “who in the BBC invited this would-be “Prince of Peace” onto the show? Who knew what kind of man he is and what he’d be likely to say?” Or was it the Prince himself or even the cultural department at the German Embassy who contacted the BBC in order to appear on the programme? Either way, the BBC could hardly have hoped for a better supporter of their own lines of argument on both Syria and WW1.