Tag Archives: perpetual war

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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A hanging?

From Mussolini to Hitler to Ceausescu, history is littered with examples to the effect that, if you are a murderous son-of-a-bitch who has rejoiced in the suffering of your own people, chances are a death from old age in an easy chair by the fireside is not on the cards.  Perhaps Colonel Gaddafi wouldn’t have been surprised at his fate, and perhaps we shouldn’t be either – even when pictures of the mangled corpse of a man whose regime we were once happy to do business with turn up on the evening news.

As so trenchantly noted by the Flying Rodent, when we were not protecting Libya ‘to fucking rubble, house-by-house’, we were carrying out an operation that:

may just reek more of a hitjob than a humanitarian enterprise.

The agendas at play have now become more dangerous to civilians than the dictators could have dreamed of being, especially now as they are being taken down one by one.  We are moving into a new reality, where the bounds of what is possible and justifiable in international law get stretched ever thinner in the race for results.  It wasn’t always thus.

Although the suicides of many of the Nazi high command put them out of the reach of justice, the instinct at the end of the Second World War was to follow a kind of due process before sentencing the captured leaders to death.  More recently, Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic were both put on trial, although some of the difficulties in trying the Serbian leader – coupled with the inconclusive end to the trial following his early death from a heart attack – may have convinced the authorities that a swift bullet is the preferred outcome.

Yet however slowly justice moves, I believe there must be an advantage to the victims in such a measured reckoning.  Beyond the soothing vengeance of a quick and ignoble death is the removal of the opportunity for a proper post-mortem for tbe Libyan people.  Perhaps I am being too cynical in wondering if that will cause a few less sleepless nights in London, Paris and Washington this week.  It must also be causing a certain amount of restlessness in Iran and Syria too.

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Egyptians are in the street looking for a brighter day

No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges

- Buenaventura Durruti

With these words ringing in our ears, it is hardly surprising that a number of governments, ours included, usually so gung-ho about exporting democracy to other parts of the world – particularly the Middle Eastern bits – seem to be remaining tight-lipped about the uprisings in Egypt.

Of course, as Justin McKeating notes, America and Britain have a many different reasons not to be pushing Egyptian President Mubarak out of the door too swiftly, at least not until they have safely recovered the keys to the filing cupboards (you just know there are paper records somewhere…) containing details of all the War on Terror detainees renditioned to the country to be tortured on our behalf.

And via Truth, Reason & Liberty we learn that even if the Western leaders wanted to share in the glow of their very own Berlin Wall moment, they have the restlessness of the international markets to consider first:

A one-dollar, one-day increase in a barrel of oil takes $12 million out of the U.S. economy.  If tensions in the Mideast cause oil prices to rise by $5 for even just three months, over $5 billion dollars will leave the U.S. economy. Obviously, this is not a strategy for creating new jobs

- Jason S. Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington research group, quoted in the New York Times

Difficult to ignore the not-so-veiled threat to workers in America contained in the last line.

So, while it is tempting to get carried away by the romance of soldiers and protesters embracing, hard-headed realism is required.  As the regime rounds up journalists and seeks to prevent pictures being taken of Tahrir Square, as more protesters are shot, it is essential that we stand in solidarity with the people of Egypt as they struggle to make their society more as they wish it to be.  Even if they get their wish and see Mubarak removed, what follows may be far from the envisaged democracy, as vested interests seek to protect their privileges.

Then, maybe it is also time for us to stop the bar-room and blog grandstanding and learn from Egypt’s example, where people are out on the streets, trying to change their realities in any way they can.  As I sit typing in Japan’s safe commercial paradise, a country that one of my students describes as ‘slowly sinking’, unwilling to wake up to the problems it faces, I can only wish for some of what is in the water in Cairo to be transported to Tokyo and London, to help us avoid complacency, however unlikely that appears.

Egyptians are in the street looking for a brighter day.  Are we content to sit and watch it on TV, or can we be persuaded to join them?

Photograph from 3 quarks daily, via the mortal bathMore photographs of the demonstration at the Boston Globe

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More neo-con fuckwittery

I am sure we were all aware that the neo-con world-view was not something you would want your best friend to start espousing over a drink at the end of a long working day, for fear you would have to wear out your elbows on their ribs.  Still, it is nice to have it confirmed that they really are a bunch of unmitigated dickheads.

You have to wonder about the state of an intellect which can consider leaking documents which reveal a program of state-sponsored murders to be more serious a crime than the murders themselves.  It is certainly a higher level of doublethink than I can muster.  Especially since I always thought that the neo-cons were such avid Bible readers and yet I know the place where it says ‘thou shalt not kill’ but I would struggle to point to the verse that tells us ‘thou shalt not leak’.

The story is not about the founder of Wikileaks, or about the men and women who must have battled with their consciences about whether to reveal information that they had a duty to protect, while knowing that it deserved to be widely disseminated in pursuit of a greater good.  The story is that America and Britain stomped into Iraq on trumped-up grounds and treated that country as a personal fiefdom while attempting to remain aloof from the unintended but entirely forseeable consequences that erupted following the invasion.

The truth is that while the blood spilled by the Iraq War remains on so many hands, it is premature to declare its end and place it beyond the bounds of further investigation.  Against such a backdrop it should be clear to all that the guilty parties are not those who point out the stain.

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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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Ross Kemp: Middle East

If you were disturbed last night by a noise you couldn’t identify, it was probably the wailing and gnashing of teeth of those who would consider themselves proper, serious journalists, having just watched the Ross Kemp documentary on Israel. The programme was screened over two weeks, with last week’s showing the situation in Gaza and last night’s that in Israel. Like those journalists, I confess, I was prepared to be cynical.

Within minutes of the start of the first programme, Kemp was having his bag searched by a member of Hamas at the border, before embarking on a trip to watch terrorists set roadside bombs, which the voiceover assured us were later removed without causing injury. So far, this ticked all the adrenaline-junkie boxes. However, his savoir-faire was further ruffled, and the journalistic corps given additional cause for heart failure, when he interviewed a young lawyer who had decided to become a suicide bomber. Complete with crudely-made face mask and explosive belt, he was a picture out of any bus traveller’s worst nightmare. Even the normally gung-ho Kemp looked stunned. Resolute of stare and sure of voice, the young man set out his reasons for choosing this terrible destiny.

This, for me, was where the documentary jumped light years ahead of Kemp’s usual bullets and glory soirees into dangerous territory.

War brings war

the terrorist told him, taking Israel’s strikes on Gaza in early 2009 as his justification for action. This tied in with a comment from the UN Director of Operations for Gaza, who warned:

if you treat people as hostile, they will become hostile

I was once a 24-year-old lawyer and I knew plenty of others, from all faiths and classes. None, I am certain, had ever contemplated suicide attacks on civilians, unless perhaps on a specific group of recruitment specialists keeping us out of the Magic Circle firms and away from the six-figure salaries therein. When you are young and idealistic, the urge to be a lawyer usually stems from, according to my own unscientific straw-polling anyway, a desire to change a bad situation for the better, to seek to help your fellow humans order their affairs, as well as to bring resolution and be an arbitrator of disputes. The lust for money and terrible taste in ties comes later, while deciding to blow yourself and others up shouldn’t feature at all. If even the lawyers are now militants, we have a serious problem.

It seemed as if Kemp agreed. However, he didn’t go to Israel for the second part of the programme looking to tag them as the perpetrators. Instead, he spoke to people who had lost family at the hands of terrorists and also elicited opinion across a spectrum of Israelis, from those who want to ‘seize every hill’ to others who prefer hanging out in Tel Aviv and shopping. Kemp did an excellent job in resisting the temptation to glamorise or ignore the futility inherent in the conflict. As Palestinian teenagers rained down rocks on Israeli troops and they slung back tear gas, unfortunately our brave lad caught downwind of it, he turned to camera without any of the drama common to news stories on similar confrontations, to ask: ‘what’s the point?’ It was difficult to disagree with the man as his eyes streamed. It was also difficult to disagree with his conclusion to the programme, that:

the majority on both sides must speak with one voice to negotiate a lasting peace

However, it was near impossible to think other than well, nice one, but how does that get us anywhere? In Israel, as in many other conflicts, a refrain has been: it’s a minority causing the problems; ordinary people are the key to peace. How helpful is it? Viewers hoping for an easy checklist of actions to bring peace were surely disappointed. However, Northern Ireland offers one example of two opposing peoples facing down the crazies to bring peace, with a new shopping centre and ‘Titanic Quarter’ where once was bombs and savagery. The inhabitants of Tel Aviv would no doubt approve. So it appears that in Israel, as in Northern Ireland, all that Western governments can do is get out of the way and not do anything to make peace less inevitable. Atrocities must be condemned evenly. Projects like these supported. Hopefully one day Ross Kemp will have to seek out alternative locations in which to get an eye and lungful of tear gas.
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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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