Advanced warning: There will obviously obviously be no jokes or comedic stuff of any sort this week.
I’d like to talk about polls, if I may.
Cast back your mind to 2011, when the summer riots were at their peak. Town centres were beset with appalling yobs bellowing unpleasantries at one another, smashing up shop windows and pillaging the expensive trainers contained therein. It was a grim time.
YouGov conducted a poll that sought to find out what corrective course of action the British public would support, and its findings were quite enlightening. In fact, of all the Things We Learned during that period, it’s the answers to this particular question that have endured the clearest in my memory.
90% of people thought they should be able to use water cannon, 84% mounted police, 82% curfews, 78% tear gas, 72% tasers, 65% plastic bullets, 33% live ammunition. 77% thought that the army should be brought in.
A third of all people questioned supported shooting rioters. With bullets. I remember being bamboozled with this at the time, and so conducted my own informal survey on the people that came into my petrol station. “Just fucking shoot them,” was not a fringe view. How mental is that?
Well, not very. People, it turns out, tend to grow rather hawkish when their safety is placed under the remotest threat. Remember – terrifying and apocalyptic as it doubtless was at the time – we’re only talking about disorganised crime wave, here. We’re mostly talking shoplifting and vandalism, committed spontaneously. The few incidents of murder and arson that did occur, though tragic, were isolated. No-one could really be said to have deserved a bullet in the head – it certainly would not have been worth the innocent deaths which would inevitably resulted as a by-product of such a policy.
A third of everyone polled, therefore, seems like a lot. But Lord only knows what the figure would be if someone had tried to build a network of tunnels with which to carry out terror attacks on a major city, or shot a rocket or two at a British settlement. You would probably see support for the use of lethal force rise to 100% fairly rapidly. You would probably see support for the use of VX gas.
With that in mind, let’s consider Israel. Regardless of what anyone else might think, Israel will continue its outrageous shelling campaign, so long as such a campaign retains the support of Israeli voters. Netanyahu currently enjoys an 82% approval rating. 82%!!! I find the idea of such popularity to be utterly bizarre.
Let’s look at some other measures of opinion. How many Israelis believe that this war is justified? 95%, according to this poll. 86%, according to this one. How many Israelis believe, as I and most of the people reading this do, that the offensive is disproportionate? 3-4%. That’s a close to nil as you are likely to get.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that Israelis do not care when innocent children are being blown to pieces. They just largely blame Hamas, rather than Israeli policy. Netanyahu is not some maniacal despot, driving his reticent nation to war to sate his lust for Palestinian blood. He is a democratically elected head of state, carrying out the will of his people. No amount of international finger-wagging, however well-intentioned, is going to ever topple that level of consensus. If 95% of the public support war, then war there shall be. This is democracy in action, folks.*
Thus, there is a huge democratic incentive for the IDF to continue to bomb the shit out of Gaza. To overcome this incentive would require contrasting disincentive. You need some sort of Hobbesian force with the power to hold nations to account. An international criminal court, if your will.
But war crimes, as I understand them, are things which western-backed regimes do not have to worry about. Tony Blair is often labelled a war criminal, but no-one seriously expects him to ever be held to account for any of the things he’s done. Why is that? I don’t know.
Last night marked the centenary of the start of the First World War. Tomorrow marks another grim anniversary: that of the first atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, killing eighty-thousand people. Later that year, Fortune magazine conducted a poll which asked Americans whether they approved of the use of nuclear force against Japan.
53.5% approved of what had been done.
22.7% wished more atomic bombs had been dropped before Japan had an opportunity to surrender.
13.5% believed that there should have been a demonstration of the weapon’s power at an isolated site before it was used against a city.
4.5% believed that the atomic bomb should not have been used at all.
One woman reported: “I have no feeling of guilt whatever in the use of atomic bombs on Japan. I only regret that atomic bombs were not used to blast the four Jap islands into oblivion. There may be innocent women and children, but they only, in my opinion, breed more of the same kind of soldiers to make us trouble in the future.”
We have all been distressed by the images and reports coming from Gaza. But the most distressing thing about it, to my mind, is that if we or any other country were in the same position, then we’d probably react in the same way: with barbarism.
Until next week.