Tag Archives: Iraq

War: what is it good for?

25 Apr

April 25 2012

Last night SBS Dateline reported on how life changes for many military men and women and their families after they’ve seen action in a theatre of war. Post traumatic stress disorder is rife, for example, and the effects of this illness can be horrific. It’s compounded by the stigma attached to those suffering the mental trauma of war, a stigma that can discourage sufferers from seeking help.

Reporter Nick Lazaredes has spent considerable time  investigating the dire circumstances of far too many returned military personnel in the US, and asks is Australia prepared to support and assist our soldiers who come home emotionally and mentally damaged by their service to their country?

This piece has just appeared at The Drum, addressing similar concerns, as does this one by Bruce Haigh.

As well, here at Overland is Jeff Sparrow’s excellent essay on Anzac Day and the celebration of forgetting.

As one observer in the SBS documentary pointed out, politicians like to declare “America is at war!” However, America isn’t at war, he claimed, America is in shopping malls. The military is at war, and America is ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of that when men and women with shattered psyches return to take up an ordinary life. The difficulties they face affect everyone around them, and the wider society.

If politicians are willing to send citizens to war in order to preserve our freedom and values, it seems remarkably short-sighted of them not to ensure the society we’re fighting and dying to protect doesn’t suffer, when those citizens return unable to rejoin it because of their contribution to its protection.

In 2003, then US President George W Bush told then Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas: “God told me to strike al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.” Our own John Howard supported Bush in this endeavour, as did then British PM Tony Blair.

It seems rather remiss of God not to have told Bush, Howard and Blair to make ample preparation for the care of the military personnel they sent to do God’s work, when they returned from their endeavours broken in body and/or mind. It seems remiss of God not to have commanded the leaders to adequately care for the partners, parents and children of these women and men who risked everything in God and George W Bush’s interests.

It seems remiss of God not to have ordered Bush to have a strategy in place for the period after he toppled Saddam Hussein as well. But there you go. The Bush God is a belligerent, obstreperous and ignorant war-monger. He cares nothing for the lives of women, men and children affected by his witless triumphalism. He rewards only the moral fervour of arrogantly incompetent white alpha males who cherish the delusion that American-style democracy must be adopted by the entire world, and it matters not who suffers in the pursuit of this implacable goal of blind universalism, as long as it isn’t them.

Politicians will always find reasons to send their populations to war, no matter how ill-founded, duplicitous, and opposed by the citizens those reasons are. The invasion of Iraq is proof of that statement. While that situation seems unlikely to change in the near future, what governments ought to be forced to do is made adequate provision for the wounded, in mind, body or both, when they return from doing their duty in whatever hell hole they have been assigned to by their governments. Anything less than this is scandalous.

What we need of course is a paradigm change. We need to cease our participation in what is, to paraphrase John Gray,  the US myth of its manifest destiny as a redeemer nation, expressed in missionary-style politics with the salvation of mankind as the goal.  As Robespierre noted in 1792: “No one loves armed missionaries: the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies. One can encourage freedom, never create it by an invading force.”

I’m encouraged by the perspective of this youthful blogger, who points out that while on Anzac Day we must commemorate those who died in battle, we shouldn’t be celebrating the wars in which we’ve participated. There’s nothing to celebrate in war. War is hell, and it is all too often good for absolutely nothing.

Axis of Arsehats

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Hitchens, Iraq and the writer’s voice

19 Dec

The late Christopher Hitchens was a brilliant writer. Even when you loathed his content, his form was reliably superb.

Everyone is entitled to at least one bizarre position on something in their lifetime, and for Hitchens his outstanding peculiarity  was his support of the invasion of Iraq.

Hitch envisioned a “short war,” one in which Saddam Hussein would be overthrown with a minimum of destruction. He vigorously supported George Bush, and when it became obvious to even the most ardent supporter that there were no weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in Iraq, he claimed that given that was the case the invasion was even more necessary, as it could be undertaken without fear of a nuclear or chemical response. The man was, on the subject of Iraq, crazed.

His loathing of Hussein was profound. He was right that Hussein and his “crime family” maintained “private ownership of Iraq” that ought not to be allowed to continue. However, the same could be said for several dictators, Mugabe, for example, who are left in place. The Bush-led invasion was not preemptive, in Hitchen’s view, but a natural historical consequence of US interest in Iraq’s affairs since 1968, including CIA involvement in bringing Hussein to power.

The post 9/11 timing of the war made sense, he claimed, as the terrorist attacks on the US homeland were an example of “fascism with an Islamic face.” This generalized justification allowed Hitchens to gloss over the reality that the terrorists involved had nothing to do with Iraq, but were mainly from Saudi Arabia. They were the “face of Islam” to him, regardless of their nationality.

So convinced of his rightness was Hitchens, that he titled his 2003 book  “The Postponed Invasion of Iraq.” His view will be, he declared, on the right side of history, while those who oppose both the war and his take on it will find themselves left behind.

Anything is possible of course and if conservatives rule the world in the future Hitch will be proved right, given that the victor writes  history. However, as Foucault argued there is no power without subversion, so in the event of  conservative global dominance, there will be dissenting voices arguing that Hitchens, Bush, Howard and Blair were wickedly wrong.

It’s all very well to predict the right and wrong side of history, but that depends entirely on who’s in charge of writing it.

For me, one of the most powerful pieces of Hitchen’s recent work came in this short essay for Vanity Fair titled “Unspoken Truths.” In it, Hitch gives us a glimpse of the state of stunning vulnerability all humans enter when we have to live with knowledge of our approaching death from terminal illness.

The cancer treatment he was receiving damaged Hitch’s vocal chords, causing him to fear the loss of his voice on both a real and metaphysical level. For a writer, the voice is all, and Hitchens movingly describes his sense of shocked  defeat upon encountering this unanticipated indignity. The essay is also a resonant meditation on the writer’s voice. It was a Hitch maxim that if you can talk well you can write, so for him, to lose the ability to talk well threatened his very identity. “So this above all,” he exorted his students, “find your own voice.”

And as he revealingly notes in the final paragraph of the Vanity Fair essay, quoting W.H. Auden: “All I have is a voice.”

What is also interesting in the piece is how this renowned atheist seems to be embarking on a flirtation with an un-named transcendental exteriority. For example, he quotes the Leonard Cohen song:

If it be your will,
That I speak no more:
And my voice be still,
As it was before …

which leads the reader to speculate who Hitchens imagines he is addressing. We know for the poet Cohen it’s God, but it’s a bridge too far to ascribe that sentiment to Hitch. Contrarian he was, but steadfast in his disbelief.

Hitchens also quotes T.S Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

Hitchens had a voice that could enthrall, whether you were listening to his articulate, mellifluous presentation, or reading his sustained adjectival abuse of those he regarded with contempt. His position on Iraq is to me a terrifying aberration, one that I will never understand, and one that I believe added unjustified gravitas in the eyes of many to what was a vile and unethical war.

Hitchens was as large in his faults as he was in his brilliance. He was a figure of immense complexity, and this is what drew me so powerfully to his work. Our culture doesn’t  encourage complexity, indeed, more often than not it is pathologized. Now and again a figure appears in fiction or reality who embodies our potential and reveals our possibilities, for better and for worse. In other words, humanity’s full gamut. Hitchens was just such a figure, and I am sorry he is gone.

Vale, Christopher Hitchens.

Did Bush claim God told him to invade Iraq? Yes, he did.

3 Oct

On Q&A tonight, News Limited journalist Greg Sheridan insisted, and insisted, and insisted again that George Bush did not claim that God had told him to invade Iraq.

But the BBC, The Independent, The Guardian, The Age, and The Washington Post said this in October 2005:

(In June 2003)…the former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath says Mr Bush told him and Mahmoud Abbas, former prime minister and now Palestinian President: “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,’ and I did.”

And “now again”, Mr Bush is quoted as telling the two, “I feel God’s words coming to me: ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.’ And by God, I’m gonna do it.”

Those Christian fundamentalists and their imaginary friends.

Those News Limited journalists and their selective hearing.

Those warmongering religious fanatics with God on their side.

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side.

Sunday with Leonard; born to be bad, and how long is a duck’s dick?

15 Aug

In need of spiritual nourishment and it being Sunday, I gave myself a dedicated Leonard Cohen day. This entailed, along with the scented oils, incense, beeswax candles and floaty shawls, a total immersion in music and lyrics enabled by our new system that transcends anything we’ve ever had before in terms of thrilling quality of sound.

As it turns out, it is perfect for Cohen’s fruity rasp, and for appreciating the brilliance of his musicians and backers, each one of whom is a top class artist in her or his own right.

Later,as the white blond moon peered through the window at me and the dog with the cauliflower ear, I settled down with a glass of red to a viewing of the On The Road DVD, featuring excerpts from Leonard’s recent world tour, and, how sweet it is, backstage stuff about Leonard’s quirks.

Needless to say the rest of the household had buggered off by then. Sympathetic to Cohen’s music though they are, nobody has my staying power.

I am crazy in love with this man, or at least the idea of him, having never met him. Up close he’s probably as irritating as every other human being can be: it never pays to confuse the art with the artist, especially someone like Cohen who writes many of his songs from what appears to be an imagined God perspective. Or channels them, depending on your belief system. This might make him even more difficult personally than the average bloke.

(An aside, check out David Horton’s piece on climate change sceptics today, titled “I believe.” It’s a little gem. As Leonard says: Take the only tree that’s left, and stuff it up the hole in your culture…)

Back to writing in the God voice, look at the Lover Lover lyrics: (I’m using the capital “G” because I’m referring to one imagined transcendental being, not a whole bunch of them in which case I would use the small “g.” The concept of a whole bunch of them doesn’t work at all in this instance. And I know God could just as easily be a woman, but that doesn’t work either.)

I asked my father, 
I said, “Father change my name.” 
The one I’m using now it’s covered up 
with fear and filth and cowardice and shame. 
Yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me, 
yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me. 

He said, “I locked you in this body, 
I meant it as a kind of trial. 
You can use it for a weapon, 
or to make some woman smile.” 

Yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me 
yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me. 

“Then let me start again,” I cried, 
“please let me start again, 
I want a face that’s fair this time, 
I want a spirit that is calm.” 

Yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me 
yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me. 

“I never turned aside,” he said, 
“I never walked away. 
It was you who built the temple, 
it was you who covered up my face.” 

Yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me 
yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me. 

And may the spirit of this song, 
may it rise up pure and free. 
May it be a shield for you, 
a shield against the enemy. 

Yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me 
yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me. 

Now, personally I can barely resist the notion of an imagined transcendental being driven by such passion and such profound longing for reunion with me. It busts the heart right open, but only if it’s Cohen that’s singing about it, I’m not getting sucked in by those fundamentalists banging on about how God loves me and longs for my love in return.

Which reflects badly on me, I know, suggesting as it does that it’s the aesthetic not God after all, that transports me with delight.

There’s nothing “pure and simple” about violence and greed. Yet this phrase and others like it have been used over and over again as “explanations” of the motivations of those who rioted and looted in British cities last week.

It’s becoming evident that the offenders were not a homogenous group. Students, employed people, young kids, representatives of the middle class, the unemployed and a variety of ethnicities were all involved. Perhaps the only generalization that holds up is that they were young.

That their behaviours are criminal is unquestionable. That they ought to be held accountable is also unquestionable. What does need to be questioned is why this particular group of opportunistic looters are being singled out for attention when the world is awash with the predatory species. Check this link to the Drum today and Michael Brull’s excellent piece.

Like drug mules, the rioters and looters easy targets. They’re at the bottom of the opportunistic criminal food chain.

“They did it because they can” is another “explanatory” phrase. But all opportunistic criminals do it because they can, many of them causing far more mayhem and misery, unchecked, and for far longer periods. Opportunistic criminal behaviours, like domestic violence and incest, cross social divides. Those who are protected from the surveillance of authorities by money, power and influence are rarely called to account. Those who act out their capacity for violence and greed in the public gaze are pulverized by the self-righteous orthodoxy with the means to conceal their own criminality.

Lock them up and throw away the key, stop their benefits, chuck them out of public housing and make them homeless, that will teach them a lesson they’ll never forget.

The orthodoxy will do all this and more, because it can. It will do this because its prevailing attitude is that certain people are born bad and that’s all there is to it, and to them. The born bad fulfill a useful purpose: they distract public attention from greater opportunistic crimes perpetrated by another certain kind of person. This kind of person is presumably not born bad because being born bad means not having the ability to hide your criminality. The not born bad opportunistic  criminal commits crimes that are not perpetrated in clear sight. This species is among those with whom the orthodoxy is on good and mutually self-interested terms.

British politicians led by Old Etonian David Cameron are also engaged in giving the police a bollocking for not doing things properly. Which is a bit rich considering it took Cameron a few days to get back from his holidays in a Tuscan villa. It looks as if the only people not responsible for any of it are the politicians, who have been badly let down by both the opportunistic looters and rioters and the coppers, while they had their backs turned on their hard-earned summer holidays.

I can’t run no more,
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud…

 

That last line always makes me think of Tony Blair. You have heard about his Faith Foundation, haven’t you, the one that “promotes respect and understanding about and between the world’s major religions,” and has a flourishing branch at the University of Western Australia?

I suppose it makes a change from bringing democracy to Iraq through Blair, Howard and Bush’s Christian method of bombing the living shit out of civilians no matter what faith they follow.

Finally, I now know that the Argentine duck has a penis that is almost half a metre in length, and is, dear God, shaped like a corkscrew.

Here is a picture of a duck checking on his penis. He looks like he can’t believe it either. That’s mine?! WTF!

I don’t know how the female deals with this appendage. Please don’t anybody feel they have to tell me.

Did God give the Argentine duck his body to make the girl duck smile? Hallelujah!!!

The war you don’t see; Blair wows the msm, and the Malaysian solution becomes a reality

1 Aug

Whatever the criticisms of John Pilger, he has achieved the remarkable feat of keeping alive his indignation towards government and media manipulations and duplicities for decades. His recent documentary The War You Don’t See is no exception. I rather belatedly sat down to watch this yesterday.

Pilger takes the global media to task for its sycophantic coverage of the Iraq war, when journalists had to be embedded if they wanted to work for any of the mainstream press, and once embedded, were compromised as to what they could reveal and what they would have to conceal.

As with any account of events, current or historical, there is much truth to be found in the authors’ silences. What has been omitted and why is perhaps the first question a discerning reader needs to ask. In the case of Iraq, there are alternative sources such as Al Jazeera, independents and blogs and of course Wikileaks. Pilger has gone to these sources as well as interviewing big names such as Dan Rather  and a couple of very defensive and pedantic VIPs at ITV and the BBC.

“Well, it depends what you mean by the word links,” the ITV VIP argues, in a pathetically unsuccessful attempt at sophistry that serves only to confirm Pilger’s allegations of sycophantic bias. ‘Blair was very careful when he chose to use the word links,” the ITV Blair apologist continues, demonstrating in one sentence the entire Pilger thesis of conspiracy and collusion between government and mainstream media. (Of course, we know even more about this parasitic relationship since the recent Murdoch News of the World downfall. Say what you like, Pilger’s still on track.)

Under Pilger’s politely unrelenting pressure, these media bosses acknowledge their obsequience to their government in the matter of their reportage of the Iraq invasion, as well as WMD’s and chemical weapons allegedly held by Iraq and used, falsely, to justify the invasion.

The footage of the suffering of Iraqi people is horrific. Up to 90% of those injured and killed in this war are civilians. This is of course a reflection of the increasing sophistication of weaponry: in the first World War there were comparatively few civilian casualties. “Collateral damage” in wars has increased exponentially with the aggressor’s ability to bomb the living shit out of anything that moves.

As I wrote here this documentary was banned from screening at some events in the US and Pilger’s invitation to speak was revoked. Having watched it, I can see why it is perceived in some quarters as a threat, as it clearly explains the role of media as the servant of government  in the propaganda of war.

Alleged war criminal Tony Blair has been in Australia this past week, and has been predictably courted by over-awed mainstream journalists. Blair, a convert to Catholicism, is promoting a faith-based attitude to global affairs and has harsh words for secularists like Julia Gillard, who he seems to feel are missing the point.

Personally, I’m unable to take Blair out of the context of his slavoring admiration for  George Bush, and his lack of judgement on the Iraq invasion. There was plenty of evidence available at the time to cause any serious-minded political leader to pause and re-consider his position.

Blair, like John Howard, did not do this, and took us to war in spite of a great deal of opposition from their respective electorates. The consequences of this were and continue to be death, death, and more death with a very large dose of suffering thrown in.

Aren't I having fun?

The first fifty asylum seekers to be sent to Malaysia were intercepted yesterday. They will be taken to Christmas Island, and held for 72 hours for preliminary health and identity checks before being flown out.

As another example of how government propaganda works through information that is either omitted or collectively and consistently ignored, nobody wants to address the small matter of our laws. In domestic law, asylum seekers are permitted to arrive in Australia in any manner whatsoever, with or without papers, and to request protection while their refugee status is ascertained.

I would sincerely like to know why there is no move to rescind this law, seeing as we have no intention now or in the future of upholding it. Like the human appendix, it would seem to be a useless evolutionary remnant, and we should get rid of it in case it turns septic and poisons the whole system.

Apart from that, it is psychologically unhealthy for an individual or a country to exist in a state of cognitive dissonance. No good can come from it, and we ought to be lining up our laws with our actions if we don’t want consequences.

I would also like to know why asylum seekers who arrive by plane are not sent to Malaysia. Why do we have this two tier system in Australia, and why are we creating a two tier system in Malaysia? How to explain this peculiar attachment to promoting inequality amongst the world’s most vulnerable and desperate people?

Of course, I am asking the wrong questions, that is, the ones nobody wants to hear, but there’s nothing to be done except to keep on asking them.

Everybody knows that none of this has anything at all to do with asylum seekers and refugees per se. It is solely to do with “stopping the boats” in the desperate hope of shoring up the increasingly tenuous possibility that the Gillard government will survive the next election. Asylum seekers arriving by boat are collateral damage in this domestic battle. Strangely, many of them are already collateral damage as a consequence of the wars we’re involved in, in their home countries.

I guess there are just some human beings who can be damaged collaterally over and over again by the same people, and nobody thinks it matters.

Why?

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