Tag Archives: Afghanistan

If ye break faith with us

So Remembrance Sunday has passed, when the UK spends two minutes quietly remembering its war dead, before returning to the usual business of adding more names to memorials.  The event was originally conceived to honour the now long dead young men of that most futile ‘war to end all wars‘, but its motives seem to have been lost recently in a fog created by a bitter war of words over the poppy.

It is as if pinning one to your jacket and thereby supporting the work of the Royal British Legion has become akin to joining a kind of ‘all war is good’ chorus, instead of the charity appeal for a soldier’s welfare and campaigning movement which is what it really should be.  This is especially sad, as all this chatter about paper flowers drowns out the essential conversation we ought to be having about the lives our wars are damaging today.

These include, but are not limited to, the soldiers who are taking their own lives after returning from combat or others suffering the effects of mental illness alone.  The UK’s Mental Health Foundation reports that:

What is known is that only half of those experiencing mental health problems sought help from the NHS, and those that did were rarely referred to specialist mental health services.

Wearing the poppy should always be a matter of individual choice, after all, there are as many reasons to wear one or not to as there are people.  For some it might be a memory of those they have known personally, for others a matter of respect or gratitude.  For those who do not, it could be for based on their pacifism, or a reluctance to be seen to support the motives of recent wars.  On this, I agree with the Independent’s leader of last week:

The moment that someone feels obliged to wear the symbol for fear of looking out of place or disrespectful is the moment we forget what our servicemen and women actually fought for.

I would also love to see a moratorium on starting the next one (Iran) until all the damage caused from the last few (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya) has been cleared up.  I would like to see an end to politicians wielding huge wreaths at the Cenotaph while slashing the support available to serving and former services personnel.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I hope I’m not the only one…

Here are two war poems, perhaps the most famous of all and a more recent addition, Adam Ford’s prize-winning entry to the ‘Dulce et Decorum… Next!’ competition.

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WikiLeaks: the sound of a stable door slamming

Dorothy Parker, LCD Soundsystem, Paul Auster, Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Jack Kerouac, Jimmy Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Muhammed Ali, MC5, Hunter S. Thompson, Blondie, Joel & Ethan Coen, Bruce Springsteen, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp…

At times such as these, when America behaves more like a belligerent teenager than the Land of the Free/Home of the Brave, my friend and co-writer Mark Woff advises to take a minute out of your day to compile your own variation on the above list.  The aim is to hopefully cheer you up a little and remind yourself that a nation responsible for nurturing such a list of talents can’t be completely beyond hope and redemption.

I feel it is important to keep this in mind when considering what looks to be about to become the case of USA v WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.  The extent to which America is focusing on punishing the source of the information rather than addressing the more pressing concerns contained within it almost defies belief. Sure, diplomats, you got caught with your pants down.  But worrying about the secrecy of a database that can be accessed by millions of people does appear to involve a certain amount of stable door slamming post-exit by horse.

Of greater importance to this writer are the fascinating insights into the cozy pillow talk between governments and corporations as they conspire to brutally stitch up their countries’ populations and of how just how relaxed they can be when lying about details some would find electorally embarrassing:

The leaks make it abundantly clear not just that the US-Anglo-European adventure in Afghanistan is doomed but, more important, that the American, British and other Nato governments privately admit that too.

The problem is that they cannot face their electorates – who also happen to be the taxpayers funding this folly – and tell them this. The leaked dispatches from the US ambassador to Afghanistan provide vivid confirmation that the Karzai regime is as corrupt and incompetent as the South Vietnamese regime in Saigon was when the US was propping it up in the 1970s. And they also make it clear that the US is as much a captive of that regime as it was in Vietnam

Also of lasting importance is the wider war being fought by WikiLeaks, alongside this particular battle, as it has far-ranging implications for the freedom of information on the internet.  As Richard Wilson writes in his excellent article:

The very existence of Wikileaks also seemed to point towards a larger question – how durable is the scale of freedom that has developed on the internet in recent years? Will the net really lead to a permanent “redistribution of data” – the mass availability of information previously so jealously guarded by the media and political elites? Or will the current era come to be seen as a short-lived blip – an involuntarily loosening of controls that lasted only as long as it took for the elites to figure out the dynamics of the new technology, devise new systems for bringing it under control, and develop the political means to apply those systems worldwide?

However, none of these arguments should be taken to imply that Assange is himself beyond suspicion, at the very least as Justin McKeating argues, he is guilty of being a ‘great honking idiot’.  While Modernity reminds us that governments are not above using indirect means such as court actions to target those they perceive as enemies, if there is a case to be answered on the charges, he should answer it.  Perhaps I am displaying a naive believe in the rule of law, but if the case is dismissed, it is rendered redundant as a tool to smear Assange and the WikiLeaks project.  Greater damage is done by declaring him to be innocent or above the law because of his actions in leaking the documents, even if, as noted by Katrin Axelsson of Women Against Rape, it does appear strange that he has been hunted across the globe for a crime with staggeringly low conviction rates in both Sweden and the UK.

To anyone with an acquaintance, either from memory or through the writing of Hunter S.Thompson and others, of those dark days at the end of the Sixties that saw a political class create the My Lai massacre, the Kent State shootings and the Watergate burglary, it must appear that this is all familiar territory, that America is indeed doomed to repeat its history having failed to learn the lessons the first time around.  In such circumstances, we do well to remember that it is better to be a Daniel Ellsberg than a Richard Nixon.

The final word goes, as ever, to this man:

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act

- George Orwell

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A free press

After writing yesterday of the Independent’s Murdoch-baiting, you could bet that I wasn’t going to be a slouch when I heard and saw the lovely lady dishing out free copies of the paper in my city centre this lunchtime. Oh no. I was over to her quicker than Tsegaye Kebede, ready to see for myself.

Today’s politician-skewering headline:

Inside, a neat editorial manifesto sets out what the Indy’s hoping to achieve with this election giveaway, which I am delighted to note is planned to continue until 6 May.  It doesn’t appear that James Murdoch’s tirades have dissuaded anyone from sticking the boot in on his Daddy in the slightest:

Rupert Murdoch’s mighty media empire has become a propaganda machine on behalf of the Conservatives

Yet the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the other smaller parties are routinely ignored by the media.  The Independent is hoping to redress this, while remaining true to the name on the masthead and not swinging behind any one political party.  How refreshing!

The paper continues, rueing the manner in which serious issues are being ‘ignored or underplayed’ by the main parties, giving the examples of Afghanistan – even as troops die there, their continued deployment goes undebated and largely unmentioned – as well as climate change, where politicians are dangerously out of step with wider opinions.

As the Liberal Democrats have noted in today’s horse trading over hung parliament outcomes, our electoral system is badly broken.  The Independent is an old hand at this game having launched, with ‘tens of thousands’ of readers backing it, a petition seeking reform after the last election.  Their archive reveals Labour wasn’t always so reluctant to talk to the Lib Dems about the subject.  The paper also extols the benefits an elected House of Lords, fixed-term parliaments, active membership of the EU, robust economic reform and a revival of liberal democracy would bring to the UK.  All the stuff that has small-l liberals swooning.  What is the Murdoch empire going to chuck back at that?  Page 3 and Dear Deirdre?

So far they’re ticking all my boxes but will there be room for insightful football coverage?  I fear that the Indy might disdain football, with its pampered millionaires, gargantuan debt and stonking carbon footprint.  So it is with some trepidation that I flip to the back pages, expecting to find coverage of Woodcraft Folk-esque non-competitive games.  But worry ye not, sports fans, the back section looks good enough to keep even the most avid of us happy.

Pick up one of these free copies and there is an offer to subscribe at a reduced rate.  I confess I have never been loyal enough to any paper to consider doing such a thing – do they guarantee to have it with you before the morning commute begins? – but once the free thing ends, I might be back to drop a few groats in the pocket of Mr Lebedev.

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Julia Smith is away.

Julia Smith is away.

So amuse yourselves in the Archives and also, catch up on the following essential articles:

  • Godfrey Hodgson’s ‘The great American refusal’, discusses the controversy over the passing of the heathcare-reform bill in the context of American history since the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Disillusioned with the UK election?  Give your vote to someone in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Ghana.
  • Not looking forward to another crap day in the office tomorrow?  At least it is unlikely to kill you, and at least you aren’t earning £1.30 a day.

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Suffer, little children

If you should find yourself musing on the immigration question this election-tide and wondering if we are, in fact, in danger of being swamped, seen as a soft touch or provider of free swan burgers to all the world’s poor and huddled masses, reassure yourself with this story:

M was arrested, and locked up in Cardiff Bay Police Cells, in extreme distress, dwarfed in man-sized padded clothing to protect him from self-harm. His seat was booked on a flight bound for Afghanistan…

In the dark early hours of Tuesday 2nd March, M was taken with an adult detainee by caged van on the 109 mile journey from Cardiff to Oxfordshire and Campsfield House, an adult detention facility run by the government’s commercial partner Serco. He shared a dormitory with seven men.

M is 14.  Except the authorities think he is lying and he is actually an adult.  See what you think of the picture accompanying the story.

You could argue that we can’t take in everyone that wishes to come here.  You could mention that harsh treatment is an essential deterrent.  But if you try to argue that terrified children should be taken from their beds in the early hours, caged and told they are being sent back to the war zone they have fled, I would think that you had lost all touch with what it is to be human.  May you be lucky enough never to be in need of compassion from strangers!

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Justice League

I wrote earlier that Amir Choudhary was ‘wrong, plain wrong’ and was rightly called up on it by this bloke over here in the comments. Rightly because, in one important aspect, Mr Choudhary is right, for reminding us of the non-British war dead, albeit for some very wrong reasons: getting his name in the papers. We lost count as the Afghani and Iraqi body counts increased far in advance of our own, widely mourned, totals. Except that is too kind an analysis, because we didn’t lose count, we decided not to count. Partly out of embarrassment and partly because we found it more convenient to turn the dead into terrorists:

The problem is: in Afghanistan the peasants do suspicious things, too. Some then die because they are indeed Taliban, while others become Taliban for being dead

There is a road safety ad on TV at the moment which shows a man haunted by the mangled body of the dead child he hit with his car. Everywhere he looks he sees the broken, twisted limbs. You have to wonder if that’s what Tony Blair’s dreams are like. Except there’s not just one child, there are hundreds, all eyeballing him through the dark nights, silently demanding to know why they couldn’t be allowed to live.

Over Christmas I watched the film Frost/Nixon, the showbiz and glitz world of the interviewer warily treading onto the unfamiliar territory of dead Vietnamese and Laotians. We all want a Frost/Nixon moment, where the wrongdoer looks at the camera and it hits him, that there is so much blood on his hands he is looking at about 200 billion years in Purgatory. That he caused all this pain because he couldn’t admit to being wrong. It is probably too much to hope for that we get such a moment on Friday afternoon. As Blair realises that he, like Nixon, is now tainted unto death and probably in his obituary too, as a man who waged an illegal, doomed war when all sensible advice counselled against it. Then he looks straight to camera as a single, unwiped tear drifts down his cheek and finally, we have our absolution.

I don’t expect it to end so neatly. Real life has a tendency to be, of course, less dramatic than dramatists would hope. However, the Iraq Inquiry has gone about its work with a calm dedication that, although I almost hate to admit it, has done more good than throwing Blair, Campbell and Straw into the Coliseum and releasing the lions.

Banning dissent, ignoring international law, disregarding Parliament. For a bunch of lawyers, New Labour has shown a strange disrespect for all things legal. Speaking truth to power is never a comfortable job, but good counsel has rarely been at such a low premium, at stages ignored, disregarded and, a final humiliation, ‘encouraged’ to provide more favourable advice. The Guardian’s legal affairs correspondence, Afua Hirsch:

What also came across with fresh clarity was the government’s dismissiveness of the legal expertise in its own departments… In his evidence, Wood said Straw’s dismissal of his advice was ‘probably the first and only occasion’ that a minister rejected his legal advice in this way

So it is all the more heartening to see the forces of justice fight back, not like the superheroes Blair and Bush imagine themselves to be, but via calm reasoning and careful sifting of the facts, the Supreme Court and the Iraq Inquiry have, this week, given a small glimmer of hope that the rule of law still prevails.

Picture from the Hollywood News, with thanks!


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And so this is Christmas

It’s a predictable question for this time of year, but one which needs to be asked again.

And so this is Christmas
And what have you done?

What exactly?  Covered yourself in glory? Or featuring repeatedly on the naughty list?  How can you tell?

It has been a year of such rampant evil that you are probably safe in thinking that your minor misdeeds will be easy to ignore.  After all, YOU didn’t steal billions to pay your mates fat bonuses.  YOU didn’t poison thousands in West Africa and then try to gag elected representatives when they asked questions about it in a legitimate forum.  Nor did you kill a single villager in Afghanistan with a mis-directed drone or even vote for Jedward long after it had ceased to be funny.  No, all in all, you have had a pretty good year.

But perhaps the Ten Minute Steak went down the wrong way.  Or perhaps it didn’t but is instead fuelling the anger: look at the French, they eat tons of steak and they are always angry!  Perhaps that is a good thing.  I say ‘enough’ to sitting quietly by, no more letting them off the hook for the crap deal they sell us.  Time to stop shrugging the shoulders and wearily copping out with a weak ‘but they’re all at it’.

It’s true, of course, they all are.  But they can only do it for as long as we allow them to.  So together, let us make one resolution we can hopefully stick to beyond January 5th.  Namely that we pledge to stop letting these tossers get away with this shit.  My language may be foul but my intentions are no less sincere for it.  Tomorrow we will start talking about how we do it. 

Maybe it comes as a result of being back in the hometown or maybe it is a result of this being one of my favourite Chrimbo songs, but some words of John Lennon’s bear repeating this Yuletide:

If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliché that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal.

The thing the Sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.

Hope this becomes more than a possibility fifty years on.  That this time it’s a good one, without any fear.

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No alternative

marie meets the guillotine

Quote from a ‘senior source’ talking about the latest expenses scandal:

We were led up the garden path by Gordon. I have never known a prime minister to be heckled at a meeting of the parliamentary party as he was on Monday. Not even Tony during the Iraq war got such a rough ride.

(my emphasis)

The most damning statement about politicians in the UK today and it comes from their own lips.  They care more about feathering their own nests, more about lining their pockets, more about stealing from us, than they do about the utter mess which was our involvement in Iraq.

Never mind the thousands of dead we leave behind in that country as we involve ourselves in another misadventure in Afghanistan; disregard the fact that public opinion was ignored and manipulated on the issues to an unprecedented degree in the build up to war.

Instead, keep your mind on the fact that what really incenses our elected representatives is their right to bill us for their trips to Waitrose, plasma TVs and duck houses.

And for that reason, ten minutes hate considers it time to stop negotiating with them on a rational basis and move directly to tumbrils and guillotines.  The fuckers leave us no alternative.

Picture borrowed from here

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Victory Cigarettes for all!

Marine putting health in danger

Marine putting health in danger

US Forces in war zones are not going to be banned from smoking, as the Pentagon is worried that to do so might add to their stress.   Smoking rates are ‘thought to be as high as 50%’ among those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.  I’m amazed they are that low.

There is a telling quote from the photographer who took the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture above, here:

I flashed back to the chaos of combat in Falluja. In the tight spaces, we were scared mindless. Everybody dragged deeply on cigarettes.

Managing to quit the demon weed earlier in the year might allow me to feel a little smug about a ban, however I would imagine that if I were to find myself in either ‘theatre’ of war with a lack of vital equipment and a vague sense of not knowing what the heck I was doing there, my replacement vice of nail-biting might not be enough to keep me from going AWOL or blowing a hole in my own foot to get sent home.

What the IOM are missing is that the logic of protecting a soldier’s health from things that might kill them in later years is redundant if not part of a package of measures designed to protect them from the elements that are trying to kill them on a daily basis.  Most would probably rather play the odds on emphysema and lung cancer while remaining really quite fundamentally against IEDs, snipers and suicide bombers.

Plus, the killjoys are failing to grasp another essential truth: war is hell, but war without cigarettes is a dismal pit of despair.  War and cigarettes go together like strawberries and cream.  Even having your legs blown off is something that a good Woodbine can assist with:

Crippled for life at seventeen,
His great eyes seem to question why:
With both legs smashed it might have been
Better in that grim trench to die
Than drag maimed years out helplessly.

A child – so wasted and so white,
He told a lie to get his way,
To march, a man with men, and fight
While other boys are still at play.
A gallant lie your heart will say.

So broke with pain, he shrinks in dread
To see the ‘dresser’ drawing near;
And winds the clothes about his head
That none may see his heart-sick fear.
His shaking, strangled sobs you hear.

But when the dreaded moment’s there
He’ll face us all, a soldier yet,
Watch his bared wounds with unmoved air,
(Though tell-tale lashes still are wet),
And smoke his woodbine cigarette.

‘Pluck’ by Eva Dobell

Those First World War generals might have been murderous bastards who thought nothing of sending half a generation of men to their deaths before breakfast, but even they would have balked at stopping the tobacco rations.  It is likely that the non-smoking soldiers would also complain, as my Grandad’s tales of bargaining his ration in the Second one for everything from extra days leave to a new pair of boots can attest to.  Stop the smoking and the entire unofficial economy of the army collapses, and with it morale.

A final word, as ever, to Mr Orwell, who in Homage to Catalonia proclaimed tobacco to be one of the five essential needs of a soldier at the front.  (The other four being firewood, food, candles and the enemy).  I hope the IOM take note:

The use of tobacco in field hospitals is to be recommended … on account of its sedative qualities. No one can doubt that it has a soothing effect on men suffering from the pain of wounds, and produces a state of calm which is very beneficial under the circumstances … Perhaps none of the presents from aid societies as in time of war have been so much appreciated in hospitals as the presents of tobacco …

 

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Riot of my own

declaration of intent

declaration of intent

There were riots in Northern Ireland earlier this month.  As the news showed pictures of balaclava-wearing youths with petrol bombs in their hands, I thought ‘how old fashioned’ – as if this kind of thing had died out a long time ago.  You knew that our rulers thought they would never see the like again: a young, disaffected population, prepared to burn their world down over something that irked them.  Meanwhile, on this side of the Irish Sea, business continued as usual: the Government made promises to throw a few more billions after the good ones already lost and we were all too preoccupied with the redemptive death of a former racist to notice.

I look around me at the way that people live and think that either you must all be mad, or I am.  Constantly failing to make choices that would bring happiness, as if afraid of it.  Grinding out a dance towards ruin accompanied by a soundtrack of ‘that’s the way it’s always been’ while humming the refrain ‘what can I do to change things?’ to a backbeat of ‘why should I care?’  Watching my peers at play in the bars and dens of East London, I am afraid for us.  There can’t be enough great jobs, stylish loft apartments and beautiful girls and boys to go around, can there?  Which means that most, if not all, of us are going to miss out, consumed by a sense of failure over an unattainable dream, created in an advertising storyboard and sold to us by a magazine, instead of conjured up inside our own heads.

Yet, I wonder.  If, as Orwell noted, when ‘the comfortable were uncomfortable, the professional optimists had to admit that there was something wrong’, it becomes easier to convince that things can’t go on as before.  For in recent years, the sense that our way of life was crazy hovered in the background, but it seemed disingenuous to point it out while the good times rolled.  Like a dream or a retelling of the Emperor’s New Clothes, to suggest that the bubble could pop at any time seemed the action of a killjoy.  After the Battle in Seattle, the accidental death of an anarchist in Genoa, protest seemed dangerous.  But it must be obvious now our foolishness has been exposed for all to see, that the days of keeping quiet on the sidelines are finished.  The sight of the ruling classes displaying their innate drive to maintain the exact structure and neatly chaotic flows of information and capital that keep 200 pharaohs watching six billion slaves toiling at the pyramid demands a response.

But what?  I can only stand and point at politicians suckling at the foul paps of softly grunting swine, briskly wanking the dwindling cock of an embarrassed banker, murmuring soft words of reassurance and telling them it doesn’t matter, we will soon have their icy black ejaculate streaming over our faces once more.  They leave us to rot without work, signed up to a dazzling array of benefits, happily ignoring the jizz dribbling down our chins so long as they don’t get in the way of our 42” plasma screen.  Watch the telly for any time at all and it is obvious that we are more loyal to corporations than to each other, less likely to change our bank than to cheat on a lover.  ‘Money doesn’t talk, it swears’, drowning out all whispers of endearment.

Eighteen years of the Tories plus twelve of New Labour has added up to the creation of a ruling class completely focussed on the lining of its own pockets at our expense, gone even the pretence of contributing to the social weal.  The Home Secretary, caught claiming £116,000 expenses for her second home, breezily asserts that she could have had more, e.g. £40,000 per annum for her husband to fiddle ineffectively with his flies and expenses.  Army personnel purchase their own kit before deployment to war zones, while the Ministry of Defence spends millions on the redecoration of its office building.  Resigning offences once, now politicians on either side are happy to lie to our faces and then, on the rare occasions they are caught, even happier to amend the rules to allow their thievery to become law.  What call for writers when the satire is writing itself?

Reality is only going to alter for Britain when we realise that it is us v them, but not Tory v Labour, asylum seeker v native, British workers v Italian ones.  Not Left v Right, like two football teams in which a victory for your side results in a defeat for the other.  Instead it is us v Mandelson.  Us v Brown.  Us v Cameron.  Us v Osborne.  Time to realise that they do not have our best interests at heart.  They are all in hock to the spread betting billionaires, the formula one team owning billionaires and, er, the steel plant owning billionaires.  Meanwhile us poor, ordinary, non-billionaire folk are ignored apart from during elections, our rulers content to dole out the prolefeed to distract us as the numbers become more meaningless – it is bubillions, cajillions, flabillions, chenkuibodillions of nonsense.  Wherever you mark your cross the outcome is the same: the shafting of our hopes and dreams, until, like an abused cellar-child, we have actually grown used to it.  We have to stop dancing to their tune.  Ignore the opinion polls, the leader writers, the professional soothsayers who want you to believe that a Tory victory is the only true outcome, because it is another victory for them.  We have to hold them to account.  And when there is nothing else left, we have to riot.

Words by Julia and Ampleforth

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