Once, we took a stand

June 26th Heavy Weather

On July 4th 1942 a British merchant ship was sunk near Spitzbergen, torpedoed by german bombers. She was the SS Navarino, and was just one of 21 ships that were sunk on convoy activities in the North Sea that day. In total 84 merchant ships and 18 warships were lost on Arctic Concoy duty, and 2,773 sailors lost their lives as a result. The Navarino was carrying goods to Russia, goods that would help the Russians defeat the Nazi’s on the Eastern front, and ultimately ensure that the scourge of Facism sweeping Europe would be defeated.

Many ordinary people came together to ensure that victory, people from all countries, races, ethnicities and religons. They fought, and died, to preserve the freedom of people from totalitarianism,  and when the war was over determined that the Europe they had defended would not be the same. In the UK a post war consensus of high taxation, regulation and a strong welfare state emerged, working people were not prepared to accept the old order that had immiserated them throughout the industrial revolution. In a Europe sickened by the genocidal idealogy of Fascism after seeing the evidence of the Holocaust new constitutions were adopted that, together with the establishment of the European Court of Human Rights, enshrined an explicit set of civil and political rights for all persons within the jurisdiction of its member states, whether those individuals are aliens, refugees, stateless persons, or citizens.

Why the history lesson? Because now, once again, we have the spectre of a people demonised, of people caught up in wars not of their making being turned away from safety and succour because of where they come from. Of people already granted right to remain being refused reentry to the US after going on holiday, barred from their homes, jobs, families and pets. Donald Trump’s Muslim ban makes no sense. It has nothing to do with the war on terror, the countries of origin of the people affected are not the ones the 9/11 bombers came from, and the exclusion from the ban of countries that Trump has business interests in, countries that are major buyers of US arms, simply highlights his hypocrisy.

The ban is and can only be designed to ensure that the fear of terrorism instilled in ordinary decent people is converted to hatred. That the economic misery of the workng class suffering the loss of income and ultimately work as a result of the market logic of neo-liberalism is directed away from capitalism. This is a coldly calculated action to recreate the anti-Jew hysteria of 1930’s Germany, and it is heartening to see how much resistance there is to it in the US, and how much condemnation and expressions of solidarity are coming from ordinary working people in the States, and worldwide.

In the UK our prime minister refused to condem the ban, and has only suggested that she would ‘make representations’ if British citizens were affected. In a probably inadvertent mirror of Chamberlain’s statement in 1939 (The way Germany treats Jews is up to Germany, it has nothing to do with Britain) she commented through a spokesperson “Immigration policy in the United States is a matter for the government of the United States, just the same as immigration policy for this country should be set by our government”    after going on to add that she disagreed with the ban. Wooh, strong words Theresa 😦

Faced with a world going to hell increasingly rapidly, and unable to escape or ignore the parallels with the rise of Nazi Germany, a rise fuelled by the unwillingness of people to challenge a hate fuelled idealogy until it was to late, my only choice as an artist is to speak out. Art itself cannot change anything, I am not so naive as to belive that, but I do believe that art can highlight the need for change, can serve as the mirror through which others can see a different view of the world. The convoy series shows a world in which people came together, and died together, to fight hatred, to preserve their freedom to do as they wished in so far as that did not affect anybody else’s right to do the same. It’s that spirit, and the one that saw the rise of the post-war consensus, that we need right now.






3 thoughts on “Once, we took a stand

  1. I agree wholeheartedly John – these are very worrying times indeed. By the way – my Dad was a sailor on the Russian Convoys, and when I visited Russia in the early 1990s I was received as the daughter of a hero. It truly was regarded as the worst journey in the world, and he made many trips and saw some terrible action – he was posthumously awarded the Artic Star.

    1. Thankyou Chris, had quite a bit of support and approval from people in Murmansk over the exhibition. I’m aware that they still haven’t forgotten, stark contrast to the UK governments reluctance to create and issue the Arctic Star in the first place, and their 4 year refusal to allow the Russians to award UK sailors medals. I hope to visit Murmansk as part of the development of the exhibition if I can get Arts Council funding.

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