Saturday, November 26, 2016

No man is an island: reflections on the death of Fidel Castro

This post is NOT subject to the usual Obituary rules of this blog.

A few years ago when I published an obituary notice intended as a tribute to a public servant who had worked hard for Copeland, an anonymous local resident who disagreed with some of the deceased person's decisions posted comments on the thread critical of the individual concerned which were seen by, and caused offence to, his grieving friends and family.

I deeply regretted that and could see no justification for allowing it to happen again, so I deleted the posts which had caused offence and changed the comments policy on this blog so that when I posted an obituary thread - defined as a tribute to a recently deceased person with RIP in the title then comments on that post critical of the deceased would not be permitted on this blog. "Nisi Nihil Bonum" (do not speak anything but good of the dead) would apply.

But "Nihil nisi bonum" cannot be a universal law. Usually when someone dies, you say good things or you say nothing.

But in some circumstances, such as when the deceased was a murderer, terrorist, or a brutal dictator, this position is not always sustainable.

Fidel Castro was a human being. I consider it wrong to celebrate his death for the same reasons I considered it wrong of certain people to celebrate Margaret Thatcher's death.

As John Donne said in his poem

"No man is an island,"

and so the death of any man or woman diminishes me. And to actually celebrate the death of any man or woman would diminish me far more.

So I will not celebrate the death of Fidel Castro, but neither will I indulge in the gross hypocrisy of pretending that I approved of him.

Castro was one of the worst warmongers of the 20th century - which I know is a pretty strong claim given the competition - because his role in the Cuban Missile crises was directly responsible for bringing the world as close to a nuclear apocalypse as it has ever been.

Fifty-four years ago my father said to my mother as they went to sleep at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, "I hope to see you in the morning." We now know that Castro actually urged Khrushchev to launch a nuclear first strike against the United States.

Fortunately for the people of the USA, Cuba and indeed the world, Khrushchev had more sense, pointing out to Castro that such an action would have triggered a thermonuclear world war in which the Cuban people "would have perished."

Castro was a dictator by any reasonable definition, including on the criteria he himself used before coming to power to (rightly) castigate the Batista regime which he overthrew. Even his defenders admitted that within weeks of taking power he was arresting and imprisoning members of his own movement, that some of his opponents were executed, that criticising his government could have serious consequences.

I was as horrified to hear or read the words of some of those who defended Castro today as I was to hear that some people in Miami threw parties to celebrate his death.

Richard Gott on the BBC and on the Guardian website was perhaps the worst but as Guido Fawkes recorded here, an number of people who ought to have known better, including Jeremy Corbyn, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jean-Claude Juncker issued statements praising the former Cuban dictator.

Those who apologise for Castro either were either taking diplomatic hypocrisy begond the point where it is wise, or casting doubt on their own judgement.

If Margaret Thatcher had cancelled elections, arrested her political opponents and executed some of them, do you think that that opposing apartheid, improving literacy and training more doctors for NHS would have persuaded any of the people who praised Castro today to issue an equivalent statement praising Mrs T when she died?

I don't think they would have. And if, like Castro, she had done those things, nor should they.

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