Geoffrey Wheatcroft: The hypocrisy of America's outrage

Share
Related Topics

Last week two Englishmen said that they were deeply sorry, but David Cameron had an easier time of it than Tony Hayward. The prime minister’s unequivocal apology in Parliament for what he called the indefensible shootings in Londonderry in 1972 was universally praised for its candour and courage.



Two days later the hapless chief executive of BP appeared before a Congressional committee and managed to dig himself into a deeper hole than ever, quite failing to propitiate the wrath of his interrogators, not that there was anything he could have done to satisfy them short of kneeling and disembowelling himself according to the formal rituals of seppuku. Hayward is a perfectly competent geologist who has been hopelessly out of his depth from the beginning of this disaster and whose excruciating gaffes (“I want my life back”) -- have won no friends.

But that’s not the end of the matter. If we are witnessing a story of corporate greed and incompetence in the Gulf of Mexico, to match the story of military brutality and incompetence in Londonderry 38 years ago, we have also seen a quite remarkable display of American hypocrisy.

Anyone can understand the anger sweeping America as the original explosion was followed by BP’s seeming helplessness. But are the Americans really the ones to cast the first stones? BP have made huge profits through their north American operations, and may have been negligent. But they were also providing the American government with enormous revenues, and the American public with part of the 20 million barrels of oil a day needed to ensure that petrol there still costs a fraction of its price in Europe.

And American rage at BP might remind us of other episodes. In July 1988 an explosion on the Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea killed 167 men, 15 times more than the 11 who died on Deepwater Horizon. No executive of Occidental Petroleum, the American owner of that rig, was hauled before any committee in London, and neither Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister, nor any other politician here used the tragedy as an occasion for anti-American polemic.

Even that was almost trivial compared with the unutterable horror of December 1984 in India, the leak of methyl isocyanate gas and other toxins from the Bhopal pesticide plant, owned by a subsidiary of the American company Union Carbide. To this day no one knows the full death toll, but at least 2,259 died immediately (and gruesomely), and some estimates reckon that as many as 15,000 may finally have died in consequence. As part of their desperate attempt to assuage the Obama administration, BP have agreed to establish a $20 billion compensation fund; Union Carbide finally paid $470 million compensation for Bhopal, and only after many years of foot-dragging. But then as Henry Waxman might say, human life is cheap in India.

Or even if he doesn’t put it like that, the chairman is an interesting figure. Waxman is the “Member for Hollywood”, with a congressional district including Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. He may have little love for “the Brits”, but he is needless to say an ardent friend of Israel. Only a couple of weeks before his denunciation of Hayward, Waxman strongly defended the operation against off the coast of Gaza against the Mavi Marmara, which “never intended to carry out a peaceful humanitarian mission”. Israeli soldiers only reacted in self-defence, Waxman insisted, and the “international rush to condemn Israel for defending citizens and soldiers under attack is a travesty” (quite unlike the rush to condemn BP).

Not that this is the only kind of American double standard. For years past, the United States (and its stooges here, alas) have spoken of waging a “war on terror”, a phrase which that intelligent soldier General Sir Rupert Smith says is "without useful meaning". And yet, as the Saville report indirectly reminds us, American hatred of terrorist murder is very selective,

The killing of 14 civilians at Londonderry by the Parachute Regiment was a disgrace, made worse by the subsequent cover-up. It very closely resembles another episode, in October 2000, when Israeli police killed 13 unarmed Arab Israeli civilians who were demonstrating in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Guess which of these is endlessly commemorated in America.

While accepting that the Saville report was correct, and that Cameron’s apology was well judged, Norman Tebbit has suggested that there might now be another inquiry, into the murderous IRA bombing at the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton 1984. “Just as the families of the victims at Londonderry had a right to know whether people in high places had plotted the killings, so the surviving victims and the families of the dead of Brighton deserve to know if the killer Magee acted on his own, or whether the murders were plotted by people in IRA--Sinn Fein – and, if so, who those plotters were.” He refrains from mentioning that his own wife was left in a wheelchair for life by that outrage.

And Lord Tebbit doesn’t mention something else. The Brighton bomb, and the fire bomb which burned 12 people to death when they were attending parties at La Mon House hotel, and the bomb which killed 11 people at a Remembrance Day service in Enniskillen, and the Shankill Road bomb which killed nine Protestants, two of them children, and all the other bombs exploded and bullets fired by the IRA over a quarter century, were paid for at least in part by money raised in the United States. Again, guess how much time congressional committees have devoted to investigating that American-bred campaign of murder.

To say all this may be called “anti-American”. As it happens, it’s written by someone with a deep affection for the United States as a country and the Americans as a people. But, really, has there ever been such a land of humbug and hypocrisy?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front of House Team Member

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This strategic outsourcing and energy se...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Larry Fink, the boss of fund manager BlackRock , is among those sounding the alarm  

Not all discounts are welcome: Beware the myopia of company bosses

Ben Chu
Cilla Black lived her life in front of the lens, whether on television or her earlier pop career  

Cilla Black death: A sad farewell to the singer who gave us a 'lorra, lorra laughs'

Gerard Gilbert
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen