No Need To Apologise, Putin!

me1It feels funny, sitting here in the relative tranquility of a small Dutch town, with nothing more dramatic going on than a bunch of workmen laying new electricity cables just outside my front door, to write the words “we are living in troubled times”. But living in troubled times we are. In fact, we’ve never not lived in troubled times, for whenever all seemed well with the world in prosperous, well-ordered Holland there were always other places in the world where war, pestilence and natural disasters were taking their macabre toll. Our news media report every bit of human misery in exhaustive detail and I’m sure we’d all become clinically, suicidally depressed had Mother Nature not provided us with a clever defense mechanism: indifference. It’s a wonderful invention, based on the “us and them” principle. Roughly this works along the lines of  ‘the closer to home people are being killed, the more disastrous I believe it to be’

Many of us would deny this, of course, claiming that a picture of a dead Palestinian child in Gaza would affect them as deeply as one of a Dutch toddler who perished in the Malaysian airliner crash. But you only need to look at the tremendous outpourings of grief, the wave of outrage and fury that has washed over this country in recent days to know that 192 Dutch victims have a stronger grip on our emotions than the now 500+ dead in Gaza. Blood is thicker than water isn’t it? What’s wrong with that? Well, what’s wrong with that is that, not knowing any of the Dutch victims or any of the people directly affected by their death, I can’t say I feel much closer to them than to a blown up inhabitant of Gaza City. Or a dismembered Hutu.

And who’s to blame? I could scarcely believe it but within a few hours of the crash Western fingers were pointing towards Moscow, more specifically our current favourite whipping boy Vladimir Putin. Never mind the fact that Russian militias in the crash area blamed Ukraine; Kiev said “it was the Russkis what done it” and -the West being Ukraine’s best friend since the unceremonious ousting of a democratically elected pro-Moscow president- that was all the proof that was needed. The predictable claim by a Ukrainian leader of debatable legitimacy was immediately embraced as the unvarnished truth. Well, in the absence of independently produced, conclusive evidence, it is certainly possible that it was Russian militias who brought the airliner down. moordenaars

In which case the next question is: deliberate or accidental? Many people seem to find this distinction irrelevant. ‘MURDERERS’ thundered a Dutch newspaper, dispensing with such legal niceties as ‘intent’, ‘innocent until proved guilty’ and ‘due process’. It was a view echoed by many around the social media and the press, On Sunday -when even less was known than on Monday- the British Murdoch paper The Sunday Times ran an editorial comment with the rousing title “Make Putin The Pariah Pay For This Outrage”. Just how this could be done is not entirely clear: something to do with freezing assets and what the paper called  ‘concerted pressure’. Well, I wish everybody luck.putin smile

It’s not, by the way, as if Ukraine doesn’t have previous in the aircraft-downing stakes. In 2001, a Trans Siberian airliner carrying 66 passengers and a 12-man crew plummeted into the Black Sea after being struck by a Ukrainian missile. No one survived and, perhaps ironically, most of the victims were Israelis. The eventual verdict: a horrible mistake. Case closed. So if this turns out to be a mistake, what should Putin do? Apologise? No, no, no! If he is the true patriot I think he is he could express regret at the loss of life. Words of sympathy with the victims and their families, fine. But an apology? No way. He needn’t worry, for in refusing to bow in the dust he will be in good company. In July 1988, an Iranian Airbus carrying 290 passengers and crew (most of them Iranian) was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz by a US naval vessel, the USS Vincennes. The aircraft, on a short hop to Dubai, was flying at low altitude and could easily be identified as civilian. Not a single occupant of the plane survived, among the dead were 60 children. You remember the incident and no doubt the bitter tears you shed on that occasion. Your outrage and fury were red hot, I bet. Was there a Dutch newspaper thundering ‘MURDERERS!’ in July 1988? I can’t remember. Must have been, surely. What I can remember is then US Vice President George Bush (senior) giving us a memorable example of contrition, American style:

“I will never apologize for the United States”, he said on the 2nd of August, “I don’t care what the facts are. I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.”American-Eagle

Over to you, Vladimir.

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