The Dignity of the Mob

Three days ago, Bob Cole chose to end his life with dignity, with a smile on his face and listening to Beethoven’s Ode To Joy at Dignitas in Switzerland. Last year, he accompanied his wife to the same clinic to end her life. Every two weeks, another Brit has to leave their home and travel abroad while they’re still able to do so to end their life, generally sooner than they’d have to, if they had the same opportunity under British law to die peacefully at a time of their choosing in more familiar surroundings.

Our politicians struggle with the moral questions surrounding euthanasia, often bringing their own personal deity of choice into the debate. On the other hand, most members of the public who have seen a loved one die slowly through a debilitating illness have no such moral quandaries and know exactly what choice they would make, given the opportunity.

A criticism levelled against Switzerland’s system of (semi-)direct democracy is that it leads to the rule of the mob. Interestingly, such criticism is generally advanced by ideologues who think that a ruling elite with the ‘correct’ opinions should rule over others’ lives; that politicians should ‘lead public opinion’, as they proudly put it – as though politicians were somehow vested with powers of super-wisdom, rather than merely ordinary members of the public who seek power and are subject to political pressure from lobby and special interest groups, or in the worst cases, bribes.

Naturally, these advocates of the chosen few leading the common herd always shout the loudest when the wise few ruling over them don’t happen to be their particular chosen few.

For those who aren’t aware, the Swiss have benefitted for nearly two centuries from a system whereby any franchised citizen can launch an initiative, which, when it reaches a sufficient number of votes, automatically triggers a referendum. It’s a system that I know many people in the UK would dearly love to have, if they were even aware of it. It’s a system which has been widely touted by the likes of UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, Conservative London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, and, unusually for a leftist party, the Greens.

That means that unpopular legislation from politicians can always be overruled by the voters. Imagine it… If the public supports renationalisation of the railways, it could have it; no privatisation of the NHS – not a problem; no foreign intervention in wars which don’t concern us – consider it off the cards; if most people support the idea of one’s right to decide when, where, and how to end one’s life, it becomes a reality.

It also means that the public is ultimately responsible for good and bad decision-making and that it therefore tends to be more politicially engaged. Bear in mind that a recent UN research once again found that the Swiss are the happiest people in the world.

After almost two centuries, I think we can conclude that the Swiss system clearly works.

Dignitas is a classic example of where public thinking is way ahead of politicians’ thinking over some core fundamental issues. If this is mob rule, bring on the mob. I’ll get my pitchfork.

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Hiroshima – 70 Years On

  • Up to ten million civilian deaths in mainland Japan.
  • U.S. military casualties of up to one million (the U.S. still issues Purple Hearts from its stock of 500,000 made in anticipation of a mainland invasion of Japan).
  • 400,000 civilian deaths in Hokaido under Soviet invasion, following Soviet Union’s entry into war against Japan on 8th August 1945.
  • Execution of all Allied POWs in event of mainland invasion, following Japanese orders on 1st August, 1945.
  • Death of 250,000 civilians in China, Vietnam, and wider Asia for each month that the war continued.

These were some of the considerations in continuing with a mainland invasion of Japan and the issues which must have framed Truman’s decision to use the atom bomb.

Due to Tokyo’s largely wooden composition, 100,000 people died in there in a single conventional incendiary raid in scenes reminiscent of the attacks on Dresden and Hamburg. Conventional blanket bombing was hardly a sanitised procedure in comparison to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and death in a conventional firestorm no more humane.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not bombed without warning. In both cases, Japan was informed in advance that the Allies were in possession of a new weapon of unprecedented destruction which would be used if Japan failed to surrender. 

We are talking of a time of total war and unspeakable atrocities. Japanese atrocities in Manchuria are well documented, including bayonet practice on live civilians, burying alive, cannibalism and medical experiments on live prisoners, and worse. We should also consider that Japan is responsible for launching hostilities against the U.S.A. and was not shy in planning to visit death on its enemy. Japan was planning to unleash plague attacks on America shortly before war’s end in Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night.

Japanese bushido code had already been strongly in evidence in the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinowa. In Iwo Jima alone, only 216 out of over 26,000 Japanese soldiers were taken alive. The remainder died fighting or in ritual suicide. And then there were the mass civilian suicides, based on Japanese civilian fear of Allied reprisals for starting the war… fears which were unfounded when these civilians came into American hands.

Don’t misunderstand me, the use of the atom bomb in Hiroshima and then Nagasaki three days later, following Japan’s refusal to surrender, were awesome, in the true sense of the word, but the alternative scenario is easily overlooked and that scenario would have seen millions of more civilian deaths and untold destruction.

So, let us indeed commemorate those poor innocents of a country which is now a firm friend, who lost their lives and suffered from the long-term effects of the events which finally ended the Second World War, but let us do so in the knowledge that countless millions survived as a result of that awful decision taken by Truman in Potsdam.

We’ll never know the alternative scenario for sure, but it’s fairly clear that Truman’s decison was not one taken with sadistic relish, but after quiet reflection of the alternative scenario. It would be better if media considered this a little more in their reporting.