A response to Jonathan Freedland's article, "The gaping hole in Iraq".
Burying the truth
In your article "The gaping hole in Iraq" The Guardian, April 30, you refer to the three ways in which the public knows the war in Iraq is meant to be over - the declarations, the back to business, the frivolities.
I see striking similarities with the methods of "management" of news during the FMD epidemic, when the majority of the public was lulled into believing that the epidemic was virtually over in time for the Election. Firstly there were the declarations based upon Professor Anderson's computer predictions that the daily outbreak total would finally hit zero on 7 June, the Election date, (this then being miraculously upstaged by the declaration by MAFF of zero cases of FMD on May 17 2001). Secondly, Tony Blair started talking about public services again, and the countryside was told to return to normal (in time for the early May Bank holiday). Thirdly, there were the "frivolities" - the photo opportunities in Haworth and York, followed by the Mexican mudbath holidays. "Would they dare engage in such frivolity if the troops were still in action?"
So the conflict must have been over. Surely we were in the "aftermath" when the majority of us could "doubtless tune out, unwind after a stressful few months and get ready for summer"
The ill conceived war on the disease was in fact far from over. "Few would have guessed that in the preceding 10 days ministry and army death-squads had killed more than a quarter of a million animals on more than 1000 farms. Between May 4 and May 12 alone, according to the ministry's own figures, it "killed out" 889 farms, an average of 125 a day. The daily average of animals slaughtered in that week was 32,000 nearly three times the figure for the previous week." (Christopher Booker, when referring to MAFF's announcement of zero cases on May 17, Sunday Telegraph article "Killing by stealth hides true scale of slaughter"). "In the week after the election 80,000 animals were killed. The following week the total was 93,000."
The slaughter continued through the summer months with a vengeance, with the disease apparently breaking out in new areas. The further mass slaughters of Shap, North Yorkshire, and the Brecon Beacons struck fear into the heart of the rural communities. While Ministers basked in sunshine, tens of thousands of hefted sheep were being wiped out, simply because they were antibody positive. The slaughter of antibody positive sheep carried on long after September 2001 when the government had officially declared the last case of FMD. Three months later, after this "last" case, the UK regained Disease Free Status Without Vaccination in January 2002. So why did Defra see the New Year in by carrying out a mass slaughter of 2000 antibody positive sheep in Northumbria on January 1st 2002.
So the public were fooled, and at least 11 million animals were killed. It was quite easy. Terminology was altered, so that the vast majority of animals killed no longer appeared in the daily "headline total" as they were no longer classified as "confirmed cases". Furthermore, much of the slaughter and burial was done by stealth at night. (Booker). It was also easy to mop up resistance by "techniques of persuasion" more akin to those of a police state.
The whole disaster brought about rural collapse, bloody shootings and worse, and the waking of a giant - the upsurge of massive distrust and anger of the rural population with a government perceived to be arrogantly anti rural and utterly out of tune with the countryside. There is much more than "the nagging doubt" that the draconian measures employed to combat the disease were not only a disproportionate response to the situation, when other much more acceptable ways of proceeding were available.. The conspiracists would go further and say that the ulterior motive was not the stated one, of combating the disease, but actually part of a larger scheme to turn rural Britain into theme park Britain largely devoid of (outdoor) animals.
There indeed has been a vacuum, a gaping hole, left in the countryside in the wake of FMD. The big corporations are moving in, with government support, determined to impose more of their particular brand of "farming" on the countryside - intensive factory production units, well away from public gaze, separated by swathes of land devoted to GM crops. This is indeed an unwelcome invasion and occupation of our countryside, with consequences too worrying to contemplate.