“And you lynch blacks”

When in my misspent Moscow youth I freelanced as interpreter-guide, mainly to American student groups, I was instructed how to parry critical comments about the Soviet Union.

Yes, but we buy oil from Saudi Arabia

The instruction period was short: the title above emerged as the main mandated reply to any criticism.

“Your shop shelves are empty.” “And you lynch blacks.”

“You have no real elections.” “And you lynch blacks.”

“No foreign newspapers are sold.” “And you lynch blacks.”

“You keep millions in concentration camps.” “And you lynch blacks.”

“You sent tanks into Hungary and Czechoslovakia.” “And you lynch blacks.”

“Russia is much poorer than any Western country.” “And you lynch blacks.”

And so on, ad infinitum. Not wishing to come across as more stupid than God originally made me, I couldn’t bring myself to mouth such obvious inanities. And anyway, I already knew the expression “two wrongs don’t make a right”.

Even assuming that every tree in America was indeed decorated with dangling blacks, that didn’t make Lenin’s and Stalin’s crimes any less objectionable. Hence the requisite reply was a non sequitur, a rhetorical fallacy.

A few years later my toxic presence could no longer be tolerated in the Soviet Union, and the investigating KGB officer magnanimously gave me the choice of going either West or East, meaning a Siberian prison camp. A tough one, that.

When I found myself in the US, I didn’t see any dangling blacks. However, I did see, read and hear countless journalists, academics and casual acquaintances who responded to criticism of the Soviet Union with more sophisticated versions of the same argument I had been loath to use as a 20-year-old.

By then I had already started reading National Review and so knew that such shoddy reasoning was called ‘moral equivalence’. This is how it worked:

“The Soviets have concentration camps.” “We kept Nisei Americans in internment camps. What’s the difference?”

“They have the KGB.” “We have the CIA.”

“The KGB spies on its own citizens.” “So does our FBI.”

“The Soviets killed millions.” “We killed four at Kent State.” “Four million?” “No, just four. But numbers don’t affect morality.”

“The Soviet population is thoroughly pauperised.” “We have poor people too.”

“Soviet medicine is antediluvian.” “But it’s free.”

“They are taught nothing but lies about the West.” “We tell lies about the Soviet Union.”

The preponderance of ‘moral equivalence’ was so universal and uniform that I wondered if the wielders of that argument were beneficiaries of the same instruction I had received way back then, and from the same source.

Most, I’m sure, weren’t. But some, I’m equally sure, were. Otherwise it’s hard to explain why they were all singing the same tune from the same hymn sheet, in unison.

This brings me to Peter Hitchens, who unfailingly provides topics for me on “any given Sunday”, to borrow the title of the American film. Yesterday he was appalled by what he tends to call our hysteria about Putin’s beastliness, which is hypocritical and Russophobic. After all, we continue to trade with the ghastly Saudi Arabia.

And didn’t we invade Iraq in 2003 exactly the same way Putin invaded the Ukraine in 2022? Thus we have no moral right to protest against indiscriminate bombings of civilians, something of which, Hitchens hastens to disclaim, he wholeheartedly disapproves.

This coincides, almost verbatim, with the line peddled in Putin’s speeches (including the two most recent ones) and those of his mouthpieces. Except that they tend to go further back, all the way to the Second World War, the mainstay of Putin’s militarist ideology.

Suddenly echoes of my unlamented youth begin to reverberate through both RT and, courtesy of Hitchens, The Mail on Sunday:

We bombed Dresden, they bomb Mariupol, what’s the moral difference?

We invaded Iraq, they invaded the Ukraine. Same thing.

We trade with Saudi Arabia and China, so how come we refuse to trade with Russia?

One such exchange is doubtless being kept for future use: We nuclear-bombed Hiroshima, they nuclear-bombed [whatever the target will be]. Where’s the moral distinction? 

Variations differ, but the theme never changes, and neither does the implicit upshot. Let’s abandon the Ukraine to her fate, stop this hysteria and go back to treating Putin as if nothing happened.

That’s where the non sequiturs come in. We can discuss the West’s immorality to our hearts’ content, inevitably agreeing in the end that Western countries have been known to sin both individually and collectively.

Yet there are degrees and nuances. A boy telling his mother to shut up is a sinner, and so is a boy who cuts his mother’s throat. I don’t know whether God will judge both equally, but anyone insisting on such parity in this world is either dishonest or certifiably mad.

Now, I detested the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and I agree it was immoral. Even worse, it was geopolitically illiterate.

And yes, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and China both run abhorrent regimes, with the latter capable of presenting an existential threat to us in the future.

And yes, I’d be happier if we didn’t allow evil regimes to hold our economies to ransom, something that both Saudi Arabia and, many times over, China are doing.

By all means, we should discuss this in a different context. But in this context, tying that to Putin’s mass murder is simply regurgitating enemy propaganda.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor China is waging vicious war in the middle of Europe, and they aren’t threatening us with nuclear annihilation. Neither Saudi Arabia nor China is trying to blow collective security sky high, not yet at any rate. Russia is, and Putin’s fascist regime is a factor of what Oliver Wendell Holmes called “a clear and present danger”.

Hence Putin’s and Hitchens’s pathetic attempts to invoke equally black pots and kettles must be dismissed with contempt. China definitely and Saudi Arabia probably are the bridges we’ll have to cross sooner or later. But the bridge separating us from a nuclear exchange with Putin’s Russia has already been mined, and his finger is already on the button.

One has to admire the steadfast consistency with which Hitchens peddles Putin’s lies and lines. Vlad rages about Ukrainian Nazis; Peter refers to the Ukraine gaining independence as a “putsch”. Vlad explains the war is necessary to stop Nato’s eastward expansion; Peter repeats the lie with canine fidelity. Vlad talks moral equivalence; so does Peter.

One could be forgiven for thinking there exists an osmotic link between the two. At least I hope the link is merely osmotic.

6 thoughts on ““And you lynch blacks””

  1. I think that the invasion of Iraq was wrong.
    I do believe that Blair and Bush really did believe however, “that all religions are equal. In Panama we got rid of Noriega after the invasion and now everything is fine – it will be the same in Iraq.”
    However Mo did once say “If anyone changes his religion kill him”. Which is one reason why the results were very very different!

    BTW comparing the attack on Maripol to Dresden is so stupid – they are Russian speakers the alleged aim of the war is to PROTECT them. If Portsmouth were occupied by Nazis who wanted to kill all Brits would we reduce it to rubble to protect them!

  2. Putin’s rhetorical mistake was rebranding his Federation as the Third Rome. He ought to have reinstated some variation of Marxist verbiage, this would have retained the sympathies of Western leftists. Many Western right-wingers admire his politics, but fail to see how his interests align with their own. Also, their influence on Western culture is negligible, making them poor allies. There are of course some on the far-left (‘Tankies’ in youth-speak) who, detecting the Soviet genes still present in the Russian organism, continue to show support. The extremist wing which up until the Corbyn era, the Labour Party was so good at sublimating. But after the disastrous 2019 election, I cannot imagine this type being allowed behind the wheel for a very long time.

  3. Alex was with Intourist? Wasn’t that a Soviet secret service spotter group to list persons they thought suitable for possible recruitment?

    1. Actually not with Intourist. I was with Sputnik, the your tourism bureau. Fingering people for recruitment wasn’t part of the job — although each office had a KGB man or two., and most staffers (not student guides though) had links with that organisation.

  4. Alex, I agree with your point: “two wrongs don’t make a right”. The fact that USA lied in order to justify their invasion of Iraq leading to the deaths of tens of thousands is irrelevant when examining the unjust invasion of Ukraine.

    However, what conclusions can we draw from this turn of events? The only thing I can see is another reminder of “might makes right”. Because the US has economic, cultural, and military power they went forward with their 2003 invasion despite national protests and criticism from allies. Nobody placed sanctions of any worth on the US and most criticism of US over Iraq in the media cycled out very quickly the moment Obama came into office.

    Now compare this with the Russian that does not have economic power, or cultural reach, and its military power is largely held in their store of ICBMs. The West also criticizes a country leading an unjust invasion, but this time they go forward with sanctions and cultural isolation because Russia is weak. The West would have done none of those things if Russia was comparable to USA or even China in strength and reach.

    In other words we have two sets of rules: one for USA/Europe and another for everyone else (who doesn’t have nukes, at least). Why should anyone take the West seriously when they are such hypocrites? There are more ways to rule a country or enjoy life than Western-style democracy.

    In summary: Ukraine invasion is bad, but the West has no moral legs to stand on and the only reason they are sanctioning/isolating Russia is because they have that power. The real test of Western ideals will be when/if China attempts to reclaim Taiwan. I would love to see America try to sanction China for such a terrible act.

  5. The Saudi Arabia “argument” is the new mantra of Zemmour, in France. I guess this meme is going to please his (future he’d like to be) friend, Vlad…

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