In September of 1939 a little over 74 years ago the German U boat U-30 sighted and sunk the civilian liner SS Athenia while en route to the United States. The ship was crowded with civilians trying to escape the war. The SS Athenia has the dubious distinction of being the first British vessel to be sunk in World War II.
It was not a warship and was sunk against the rules of War as laid down by the Hague Conventions and Germany’s own rules of war the Prize Rules (Prisenordnung) as laid out in 1936. The captain of the U boat, Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp left the scene of the attack without offering aid to any of the survivors as they floundered in the water, 117 passengers and crew were killed in the attack which sent shock waves around the world.
The controversy over the attack on a civilian vessel filled with unarmed combatants combined with the fact that there were US casualties was a source of no small amount of concern to the Nazis. Immediately their propaganda operation swung into action. Rather than court-martial the captain of U-30 they instead denied they carried out the attack. The log book of U-30 was altered as soon as the submarine made port and Goebbels released a story claiming that the British themselves sunk the SS Athenia in order to create sympathy for their war effort and force neutral countries into the war against Germany.
Now over 70 years later we are again confronted with two opposing narratives regarding an attack on unarmed civilians. On the one hand the truth, that the President of Syria, Bashar Assad ordered the launch of chemical weapons against his own populace and the lie, that rebel forces launched the attack with the aim of discrediting one of the most evil regimes on the planet which is systematically murdering its own populace.
At the moment Assad’s regime plus that of Iran and Russia are engaged in a charm offensive in the west. An op-ed in the New York Times, apparently written by the Vladimir Putin himself, an interview given to NBC by the new President of Iran Hassan Rouhani and an interview given by Bashar Assad to Fox News
He attempted to come across as a ‘normal’ human being but succeeded only in showing the banal face of evil. He also seemed to ask the USA for a billion dollars in order to remove the chemical weapons he claimed he didn’t use.
The truth is there is a dictator killing his populace with any and all means at his disposal, he is being supported in his slaughter by Iran and Russia…and us.
While we sit around wringing our hands and uttering meaningless words about human rights, while the leader of the free world blusters with uncertainty and no clear policy on how to move forward we all get suckered into a lie told to ensure the continuing murder of thousands.