PJ Harvey recently said that when writing her latest album ‘Let England Shake’, she imagined herself as an official war song correspondent. Since dubbed the new ‘war poet’ by the critics, the director of London’s Imperial War Museum went so far as to announce they would be interested in commissioning her to go into conflict zones to write a body of songs from the front lines. The mind boggles.
Lead single “The Words That Maketh Murder” laments England and America for the destruction caused in their name:
What is the glorious fruit of our land?
Its fruit is orphaned children.
To close the song, Harvey pinches a line from Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ , a song which lighthearteldy complains of being a teenager in 1958: Working a summer job, chasing girls, not being allowed to take the car out. As a remedy to this he proclaims,
‘I’m gonna take my problem to the United Nations!’
The character in Harvey’s song is having a very different summer. This soldier remembers the fierce sun, death all around, bodies blown apart hanging from trees, all the while longing to see a woman’s face. The song closes with the line,
‘What if I take my problem to the United Nations?’
Now this may be a very tenuous link, but it made me think about the change in the way the UN is perceived. The UN was only 13 years old when Cochran wrote ‘Summertime Blues’ and had achieved much in maintaining world peace and resettling millions of people displaced by two world wars. Founded in 1945, the UN’s mandate was to ensure the atrocoties of the Second World War were never repeated, set a benchmark for human rights standards and enforce the treaties adopted in the desire to preserve the dignity of the human being. The UN has since had to adapt to new threats to world security and human rights violations. Mistakes have been made, high profile ones in Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Iraq and the jury is still out on the current situation in Libya.
Resolution 1973 adopted on March 17th 2011 made me give out a little cheer. The UK had done something to be proud of on the international stage, pushing for action to stop Colonel Gaddafi slaughtering his own people. But three little words in Article 4 amongst the no fly zone, the arms embargo and the asset freezing could have got us into a whole world of trouble (again): “all necessary means.”
A month later, Gaddafi has still not stepped down and we are still forcefully engaged in military campaigns, stopping short of an all out invasion or occupation. Rightly so, as our presence in Iraq almost 8 years after “mission accomplished” was declared serves as a painful reminder of the consequences of putting boots on the ground.
So what now? Resolution 1973 also calls for “action to be taken on the diplomatic front” but who with? Forty years of oppressing the Libyan people has ensured no political opposition, no clear rebel leader has emerged to present a political alternative and the Gaddafi family are hardly packing their bags.
This is the point where human rights and peace clash. Human rights law demands justice and remedy for victims of human rights violations, which would probably start by indicting Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court. If Gaddafi struck a deal to step down as long as he was allowed to go into exile, it is a blow to justice but would it bring about peace more swiftly?
And so, with no end in sight, millions of Libyans shrug, “What if I take my problem to the United Nations?”