The Between the Lines column from the March 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
On Saturday, 9 February, while American and British bombers blew up their Baghdad targets and put the fear of bomb-blessing god into countless Iraqi kids, BBCI’s Going Live did its weekly "Press Conference" with Juliet Morris who had just returned from the Middle East where she was covering the war.
The Going Live programme allows teenagers to question the stars. Often the questions are more penetrating than the pompous political pundits ever dare ask. Sometimes they are naive. This week they were coated in fear.
How can we believe what we are told about the number of children killed and injured when the censors are at work? We can't, answered Morris - we just have to hope that the lies being told are not too great. Are Israeli kids scared of chemical missile attacks? Yes, very scared. How are they coping? Schools have been closed down - the difficulties of teachers putting gas masks on classes full of 30 six-year olds at a time are too great. Was she frightened when she was in the war zone? Yes.
Going Live is, by tradition, one of those jolly BBC shows put on to keep the kids smiling at the beginning of the long weekend. At the end of that week's show none of the children in the studio showed a tract of a smile. They had been dragged into the pit of fear which war pushes most of us in to. Going Live? But how long for?
SEEK TO BE DONE
On Sunday. 3 February your reviewer watched two films on TV. Both were about Justice. They could not have been more different. The Winslow Boy (Channel 4. 2pm) was about a false accusation made against an English public school boy. The boy’s father would not allow injustice to prevail and so sacrificed everything to see that his son's innocence was upheld. He took the matter to the House of Commons where the brilliant British defender of the law, Sir Henry Morton, made an impassioned plea for the right of the father to sue the Admiralty (who ran the boy's school). Of course, the parliamentarians were moved to a mass wave of sentimental awakening by the lawyer-MP’s speech and they voted for the case to be given a "fair trial". Then came the trial, with the sickening little goody-goody, Winslow up against the forces of the Mighty State. Needless to say, wee Winslow was in the Right, so the Mighty State had to concede defeat. Jolly good cricket, what! The film ends with the boy's father having been vindicated. But no, it was not he who was shown to be righteous in all of this, but the great English Legal System where Right is always done and, furthermore, seen to be done. What self-righteous little prats must have written, acted in and believed this film. What a smug and ridiculous act of complacent belief in good old English fairness this cinematic drivel symbolised.
Was the English parliament which decided to give young Winslow a "fair trial" the same kind as that which has refused persistently to free the Birmingham Six? Was the kindly judge out of the same stable as Lord Denning who is of the view that it would have been better for the Guildford Four to have been hanged, even though they have been found innocent?
The same night BBC1 showed Korczak, directed by Andrej Wajda. This was a film of painful truthfulness about one man's attempt to protect a group of orphan children from a full awareness of the brutalities of the Warsaw ghetto.
Korczak isolates the children in order to spare them a realisation of the grotesque social disorder which the fascist regime had imposed upon them. Perhaps he was wrong to deny them the truth; without a doubt, his intentions and actions, as depicted, were beautiful in their sincerity.
It was a film which refused to indulge in pathetic illusions about justice. In the end Korczak and his children are deported by train to meet their deaths in the gas ovens. There is a wonderful utopian moment close to the end of the film - a moment in which the carriage carrying the children falls off the end of the train and the young ones dance away to their freedom. It was one of the most moving scenes in any film ever. But Wajda, who is one of the finest film directors alive today, refused to allow viewers to roll back into the idiot's comfort of seeing justice done where it was not to be. The film ends with the stark information about the fate of Korczak and his children. It would have been a hardened viewer who did not weep.
THE MAD EMPIRE
First prize for the craziest moment of TV nationalism during the recent war lunacy goes to the half-time display during the US Superbowl. This was Nuremberg meeting Spielberg; George Bush on a big screen, and Fred Savage from The Wonder Years looking like junior commandant of the Florida Hitler Youth. Whoever devised this absurd pro-war pageant should be given an immediate offer of a star part in the sequel to Mel Brooks' The Producers. Bad taste? It’s the kind of thing that could make you wish that Columbus had never discovered America. And while the clowns performed workers died - needlessly.