Belfast Telegraph

Must we stand idly by while leaders spout this codswallop?

By Robert Fisk

Even Churchill told the Empire that Britain would 'not stand by idly and see Poland trampled'. Funny how the news agenda gets tired. Like the quotes.

Only a couple of months ago, we were all bracing for Israel's attack on Iran's nuclear installations. And for serious pressure on Bashar al-Assad to end his "barbaric campaign". I quote Susan Rice, La Clinton's lady at the UN. And now?

Well, Bashar lingers in his palace while Iran goes off the boil.

Yet still we do not question the story. Or the words. Or even the expressions. Let's start with Susan Rice who recently informed us, in reference to Bashar's "barbaric campaign of violence against the Syrian people", that - mark these words - "in the United States, our patience is exhausted". Well, La Clinton looked a little bit exhausted (was it the hair?) when she waded in herself. "World opinion," she said of the Assad regime, "is not going to stand idly by."

Haven't I heard this before? Why yes, I have. Back in 2009, Robert Gates was getting very exhausted with North Korea. And what did he tell us, on 30 May to be exact? "We will not stand idly by" as Pyongyang developed nuclear weapons. Last year, Obama said America would not "stand idly by" when a tyrant (to whit, Gaddafi) "tells his people there will be no mercy" ... And if you think the phrase is reserved only for the powerful, a certain N. Clegg said just 18 months ago that the government would not "stand idly by" if banks didn't rein in bonuses. Clegg is in good company. TV's Homer Simpson also used the expression: "I will not stand idly by and watch you feed a hungry dog."

But none of us journos ever point out what a load of old codswallop this is. We simply do not say or report that "not standing idly by" and patience being "exhausted" are among the greatest cliches of the political world.

Why do we not return to some original sources? And I'm afraid we've got to go back to That Wretched Bavarian Corporal who was pretty adept at issuing threats and - unlike latter-day politicians - had a disturbing habit of meaning exactly what he said.

And so here he is, Adolf Hitler addressing his "volk" on 26 September, 1938. He had just met Chamberlain, but was very angry at the Czech prime minister for not handing over the German-majority Sudetenland to the Nazis. And what did Hitler say?

"I am no longer willing to stand idly by." And - wait for it - "our patience is exhausted". But hold on. Even Churchill told the Empire on 31 May 1942 that Britain never reneged on its guarantee that it would "not stand by idly and see Poland trampled". He abandoned that guarantee at Yalta. But is there, I sometimes wonder, a ghostly quotation machine that runs from the British Empire via Adolf Hitler to La Clinton and Homer Simpson and the rest? Have words no more morality? Don't we need to source this guff?

I've no doubt that the "idly by" quotation originates with Leviticus 19:16 - "Do not stand idly by when your neighbour bleeds". It has a Biblical reference point, however it is used or misused. Truly, my patience is exhausted.


From Belfast Telegraph