The Laws of War are Enveloped in Hypocrisy

The “moral outrage” of the US, France and the UK against the alleged use of chlorine gas by the Assad regime against civilians fails to mask the double standards displayed by the allies. Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, says the deaths of civilians in Syria cannot be tolerated. Donald Trump, the US president states that military action must be taken against mass murderers of men, women and children, and nations should be judged by the friends or global company they keep.

Yet both the UK and the US are supporters of Saudi Arabia who is currently committing genocide in Yemen. Nothing is said by Trump or May about the Israeli army shooting unarmed civilians; a country that used white phosphorus in its assaults on Gaza.

There is some degree of reality about war outside socialist circles; and that is acknowledgement of the hypocrisy of those taking part.

If there is hypocrisy and double standards from the governments of the US and UK, at least there is realism from some journalists.

First there is Robert Fisk who wrote in the INDEPENDENT:

... in our desire to concentrate minds on Syria, we’re not mentioning the Iran gassings...[F]or the precursors for the Iraqi gas came largely from the United States – one from New Jersey – ...Yet not a soul today is mentioning this terrible war (Iran versus Iraq), which was fought with our total acquiescence. It’s almost an “exclusive” to mention the conflict at all, so religiously have we forgotten it.

(As Theresa May gears up for war in Syria, we should remember what hypocrites we are about chemical warfare in the Middle East
, INDEPENDENT, 12th April 2018)

Socialists do not forget capitalism’s wars. The protracted war between Iran and Iraq resulted in at least half a million casualties and several billion dollars’ worth of damages, but no real gains by other side. Started by Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein in September 1980, the war was marked by indiscriminate ballistic-missile attacks, extensive use of chemical weapons and attacks on third-country oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. The war lasted eight years until 1988 when the UN brokered a cease fire. The Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was supported by the US.

Second there is Simon Jenkins, no socialist, who wrote in the Guardian:

The 1997 world chemical weapons convention was an advance in defining “acceptable” forms of killing in war. Its defect was that small, poor countries had larger stockpiles. Nor could they see much distinction between their chlorine and sarin and NATO’s horrific cluster bombs and white phosphorous. Photographs of choking children make graphic television, but at least they might survive. We never see the body parts of those blasted to pieces by high-explosive missiles”.

And he went on to say:

Inhumanity lies in the killing of any civilians in war. There is something peculiarly abhorrent in the targeting of civilian areas of suburban Damascus. But for all its denials the west does it too. Last summer, the monitor Airwars estimated that more than 8,000 civilians died in the fall of Mosul, mostly from inevitably indiscriminate Iraqi, American and British missiles. Even the Pentagon accepts that it has killed hundreds of civilians in Iraq and Syria. As the British commander Maj Gen Rupert Jones says, civilian deaths are “the price you pay” for fighting in cities. Assad would agree”.

And he concluded:

The laws of war are enveloped in hypocrisy, largely because they are written by the winners. The US has still not signed the convention against delayed-action cluster bombs, one of the most immoral weapons ever devised. They went out of production only last year. Such weapons are still being used by the West’s Saudi allies in Yemen. This whole argument is not over morality, merely degrees of obscenity”.

(Only Assad’s Victory will End Syria’s Civil War. The West can do nothing. GUARDIAN 10th April 2018)

War is indeed an obscenity. In war there are no 'Queensberry Rules' – for example, in World War One use of nerve agents and poison gas; in World War Two the actual use of atom bombs against civilian targets; Churchill considered using anthrax against German cities; the dam-busters - bombed a major dam causing massive flooding and loss of civilian life; Britain used incendiary bombs against civilian cities like Dresden which killed 25,000 people. But in Syria as in Iraq, the US long since stopped counting corpses: as Bob Dylan wrote in a 1963 protest song. “You don’t count the dead when god’s on your side

”. It is somewhat ironic that we are fast approaching the end of the centenary of the First World War which was supposed to be the “war that will end war”. Wars are inextricably bound up with capitalism and the interests of nation states. It is no good looking at the United Nations. The UN is disunited around conflicting interests of its members. The UN can no more stop wars occurring than it can stop the tides. With respect to war, the United Nations has been a complete failure. This was predictable: as the SPGB pointed out, the League of Nations had also tried but failed to put a stop to wars.

And what of nuclear weapons? Apart from their explosive destructive power, are they not the ultimate chemical weapon that would kill vast number of people through radiation sickness and poison both land and sea for generations? None of the countries with nuclear weapons want to sign the UN draft treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In fact, Trump’s administration wants to strengthen and modernize the U.S. nuclear capabilities. And note during the Iraq war, the US forces used DU - Depleted Uranium -i.e. radioactive materials which led to huge health problems, as the dust of the desert became radioactive. Oh, and the Vietnam War is largely remembered for the US forces' use of napalm and Agent Orange (dioxin) i.e. chemical warfare. There, too, the long-term after-effects have been horrific, as generations of Vietnamese children continue to be born with birth defects caused by dioxin.

When Trump expressed his shock, horror is either incredibly ignorant/naive or the ultimate in hypocrisy - both utterly contemptible. Whatever the 'rules' laid down in treaties or by the UN to end wars, charter these are always circumvented by states, whenever their 'national interest' calls for war.

The US, France and the UK argued that they had to act against Syria because Russia had repeatedly exercised its right to veto thereby preventing them to act against Syria in the name of the UN. Russia has exercised its veto over Syria 14 times. This compares with the 42 times that the US has exercised its veto to protect Israel’s interests in the area. So long as states compete over markets, raw materials and trade routes, capitalism will continue to be a danger to humanity! And as with this latest incident, military force can even be triggered cynically by self-serving politicians simply to divert media and public attention away from their domestic trials and tribulations or just to enhance their prestige and popularity.

Now, just as in the 1950s, these words by Leonid Andreyev, a Russian science fiction writer, still seem true, a sad commentary on capitalism as a system:

The crazy world, submissively bearing the burden of endless existence, now reddened with bloods, now bathed in tears, was marking its course through space with the groans of the sick, the hungry and the injured.

At time of war and conflict socialists reassert the 1914 Manifesto published at the outbreak of the First World War by the Socialist Party of Great Britain:

Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.