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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 1, No. 4 March 30, 1938

A Critical View of Atrocities

A Critical View of Atrocities

Reports and propaganda about atrocities are intriguing. It is a common occurrence in every war rebellion, or political campaign for each faction to hold the other responsible for appalling murders and amazing indecencies. Whether it be a war of peace or martial aggression, all seem to breed these ubiquitous hosts of brutal attacks and accusations. An incident occurs—it passes to the first hand—magnified—to the second, the third—ad infinitum until it becomes a colossal crime against a party, against a nation, a world, humanity I Then after the flurry it bursts and collapses like a pricked balloon, to sink into oblivion—when the truth leaks out. But this is only one aspect.

Another peculiar and vital point is found on closer examination of atrocity news, and that is in the majority of cases the accuser stands on equal footing with the accused. Too few men and women are capable of looking at themselves, their own community or race, and saying: "Am I free of the same guilt or am I guilty? 'Most plunge in and accuse—and accuse, and accuse until retraction is impossible and they are caught up in a web of their own making.

Britain stands aghast at Franco's air raids in Spain, his slaughter of women and children, and his smashing of the cities of that country. Britain deplores the land-grabbing actions of the Japanese in China, their merciless extermination of thousands of non-combatants. Abyssinia conveniently lives in the past. Yet British Justice on the North-west Indian Frontier receives scant publicity. Proclamations such as this were dropped during air operations in Kurdistan over Ji rebel area:—

"You your villages, and your flocks will be attacked with machine-gun fire and bombs. . . . These operations will continue until all opposition has ceased."

And an eye-witness writes in the "News Chronicle" of the effect of these manifestations of British Justice:—

"On such occasions non-combatants are usually the chief victims. When our troops enter a bombed village the pariah dogs are already at work eating the corpses of the babies and the old women who have been killed. Many suffering from ghastly wounds, especially young children, are found still alive, covered with flies and crying for water."

As Pandit Nehru puts it:—

"It is not a pleasant or an easy thing for them to continue to suffer the terrible hardships which modern war with its aeroplanes and bombings brings. They would like an honorable way out, but they would not look at anything which involves their subjection."

But these are only a few obnoxious marauding natives, who like the leaders of the Indian Congress Party, have to be put out of the way because the freedom of 400,000,000 of their fellows is involved.

Franco and the Japanese—destroyers of life and happiness! It is surprising, and perhaps a little pathetic, how the gross perpetuation of a nation are tolerated within its boundaries when that nation's "own" interests are at stake. Maybe it is because people become so accustomed to the routine course of affairs within their own spheres that they become hardened and impervious to any little abnormalities, and tend to shirk responsibility, shifting it on to the government of the day, which becomes, as a result, the scape-goat of to-morrow.

On the other hand, should a non-belligerent view the affairs of an unfavorable belligerent they acquire a completely different meaning, and the "atrocitist" becomes a party to tremendous crimes and fabulous scandals with the greatest of ease. Atrocity is piled upon atrocity until it appears that they are naturally disposed towards wanton slaughter and destruction. In some instances it is pursued to such a degree as to become almost farcical.

Moralising is all very well, but when passing judgment on a person, a party, a nation do not become an accuser from the start and do not let the conception of "Distance and Beauty" (or Distortion) missile you but rather discount all preposterous and overwhelming evidences, and what is most important—examine three cases, that of the combatants—and your own. It might prove rather awkward for you if you pass judgment and then find yourself guilty of similar malpractices.