Tag Archives: Saddam Hussein

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

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.

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