On Nick Cohen, the left and violence – letter to New Statesman, 19 Feb. 2007

John Kampfner is right to draw attention to the importance of the far-left starting point of Nick Cohen’s political journey (Books, 12 February). Cohen rightly pinpointed the failure of the anti-war movement’s leadership to see the Saddam regime – with its history of violence – as a problem that needed international action. Yet he himself so easily embraced the equally problematic violence of bombardment, invasion and “accidental” civilian casualties that constituted the US/UK response.

The common thread is the facile politicisation of violence: the inability to see violent means as problematic, so long as the political ends are justified. The cases of George Bush and Tony Blair show that such attitudes are by no means exclusive to the left, but they do have a peculiar history in communism. Just as some “anti-war” leftists will condone any violence that is “anti-imperialist”, old leftists do seem to supply a disproportionate number of Bush’s intellectual fellow-travellers. This is hardly accidental, as we used to say.

Martin Shaw
Professor of international relations
University of Sussex

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