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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