02 March 2010


Casualties of War

While not being a pacifist I generally support anti-war movements and scrutinise very carefully any plans emerging from our government to go to war over this or that issue. I was on the million plus march against the invasion of Iraq - and I think we made our point over the Taliban's accommodation of Al Quaida in Afghanistan some years ago. It's time to withdraw. While dragging Afghan society into the 20th century (sic) might be a laudable objective the fact is that we won't succeed in doing it. The baggage is too great and the very presence of foreign troops is almost the only reason why the Taliban continues to thrive. As in Iran, the domestic struggle for progress is far more likely to succeed than is foreign occupation. The long-planned invasion of Iran will simply make the forces of religious conservatism and intolerance stronger than ever.

But one aspect of the anti-war campaign strikes me as more than a little odd. This is the concentration on the level of British casualties.

Now don't get me wrong. The death of each soldier is a tragedy and, at least from a personal perspective, surviving as a badly disabled and severely disfigured person even worse. The parents and relatives of those killed are deserving of our immense sympathy - as are those of the war victims we cause.

But it has to be said that the lads and lasses who voluntarily join up know full well what they are getting into. It is not a matter of having no other employment choice. How frequently do we hear from grieving parents that their boy died doing what he loved doing? That he always wanted to be a soldier, that he couldn't wait to see 'action'?

In interviews with front line troops it is also common to hear the comment that they can't wait to get into battle, that it is the waiting around that is so boring. Whether they have got the ideas from violent video games, are following a family tradition or acting out a macho youth ideal, it would be patronising to infer that they don't know what they are doing.

Yes, they are sad to lose comrades, but they knew that would be the price, if not their own life then a mate for whom they felt great affection.

A few, I know, have joined up in recent years to give the Islamists a taste of their own medicine. These few feel duty bound to respond to 9/11 and 7/7 in just that way. But it is only a few - and in my view it is also misguided as it merely adds to the rationale used by the Islamists in recruiting new members to counter the 'invasion of Muslim lands by the infidel'.

In terms of campaigning for British withdrawal I appreciate that rising casualties is one of the best grounds on which to convince people that they should vote for a party that holds out the possibility of early withdrawal. But my feeling is that the soldiers on the ground won't actually vote that way at all. War has become their raison d'etre.

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War is one of the things that the British have traditionally been rather good at. I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq. However the engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan at present seems perfectly justifiable. But it is important for the troops to be properly equipped and supported. The present strategy of involving the Afghan army and police is the right one, and leaving at this stage would only result in worse chaos. Let's stay and get the job finished. The article by Ross Longhurst in last months Leicester Secularist depicting the Taliban as an "authentic popular movement" strikes me as a delusion of someone who still thinks in outdated "anti-imperialist" terms. The world has moved on and left Ross behind. Osama Bin Laden was after all part of a major capitalist family in Saudi Arabia.
I completely agree with Harry's comments about British forces in Afghanistan. There has been a massive Government and media campaign to depict "our brave boys" in Afghanistan as "heroes". In fact the real heroes are the peasant farmers who dare to defy the most powerful military forces in human history which have invaded and occupied their country. George Jelliss is the one who is deluded about the Taliban. The fact of the matter is that they are a people's army only able to fight because they have mass popular support. If nobody supports them then why are the imperialists sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan? The Afghani army and police formed by NATO are mercenaries who are feared by their own people. If you live in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and quite a few other places imperialism is far from "outdated" and has a very real presence.
The real heroes in Afghanistan are indeed the general populace who just want a peaceful life and to educate their children, and have had to put up with the extremist Taliban trying to control every aspect of their lives, as well as the impact of UN sanctioned forces from the outside world, who are there to stop terrorism being exported. These forces are not engaged in taking over Afghanistan as part of an empire-building or colonising project. To describe the Afghan army and police as "mercenaries" is ridiculous; they are native to the country whereas many of the Taliban and their al-Qaida advisors have come in from elsewhere. Iraq and Palestine are entirely separate issues.
Harry says "the lads and lasses who voluntarily join up know full well what they are getting into". That's OK then. And "It is not a matter of having no other employment choice." - maybe not (yes, maybe), but for how many is there another choice that offers such potential rewards, security, respect - going on adulation - and excitement?
I wonder if induced boredom features in the psychology manuals on preparation of troops for action? Has Harry asked who selects the troops to be interviewed? Has he missed the way Joe Glenton has been abused, vilified - and now punished? More on this here:

George calls the description 'mercenaries' ridiculous. In another place and time such were called 'collaborators'.
My original point can be highlighted by comparing the modern volunteer British army with that of the conscripted army of the two world wars. Nowadays before someone goes down to the recruiting office to sign up they will have seen endless hours of newsreel on TV about Afghanistan and the Taliban, the parades of coffins, etc. They have put their lives on the line knowingly, whether for Queen and country, to give payback to the Islamists, for excitement, travel and comradeship or whatever. To say they don't know what they are doing, or are brainwashed, is to be patronising in the extreme.
Harry writes "To say they don't know what they are doing ... is to be patronising in the extreme."

I agree. That's why I did not say such a thing.

Brainwashed? Coerced by circumstances? Misled by a media operated by and in the interests of the warmongers - the 'military-industrial complex'? Do you really say that to suggest such things is 'patronising'?
No, of course, not, but to imply, in this information age in possibly the most well-informed country in the world, that the people who join up have been given a distorted view of the reality is quite mistaken. Either that, or we all have a distorted view of reality only in different ways. Yours picked up from certain media of a radical anti-war, anti-imperialist bent, perhaps. Nothing wrong with that, but the squaddie who joined up because he wants to take out a few Taliban in revenge for 7/7 might well say that you have been brainwashed, not him. You'd consider that patronising, I know.

All this raises the question of whether it is possible to get a fully objective view of things, free of bias from vested interests and representing the 'truth'. Marx talked of 'false consciousness' as explaining why the workers did not rise up against their oppressors, the capitalist class. Maybe it wasn't false consciousness at all, but a judgement that they were happier, on balance, with a fairly carefree life, albeit at a lower standard of living and in poor working conditions, than the capitalists who had all the stress and worry of maintaining and increasing their wealth, working all hours and having sleepless nights over their profit margin.
So I am misled because I choose to read a little of the information not provided by and on behalf of those with a vested interest. Objectivity is indeed elusive - does this mean we should abandon the quest? It's no secret that my views are often outside the mainstream and often differ from those of the institutions that make or have made the greatest effort to influence me (and you and the rest of us) - educational institutions, employers and the media - so odd that you use your stereotype squaddie to suggest that I'm the brainwashed one. I'm not interested in taking offence at being patronised here - the view that vested interests influence the editorial content of the media is supported by evidence. See this recent Morning Star article (though it's in the context of advertisers, not the arms industry)
http://bit.ly/WhoPaysThePiper .
Perhaps someone should make a contribution as a new blog item that covers the whole question of how to arrive at a view that is as objective as possible on the great issues of the day? There are numerous websites dedicated to critiquing media bias as well as TV and radio programmes, books and journals, etc., putting different views. As freethinkers and rationalists we ought to be leading the game on these issues.

That said, it's still a fact that in this country we possibly have the most access to alternative opinions and the least pressure on us to conform to the views of any particular interest group or the state. That was my point abut the squaddie (just a slang term not a stereotype) having a different but possibly just as well informed opinion as your own.
Frank wrote: "George calls the description 'mercenaries' ridiculous. In another place and time such were called 'collaborators'."

The description 'collaborators' is equally ridiculous. The situation is not one of an empire-building force taking over the country, it is of an internationally sanctioned force trying to stabilise the country with the help of and for the benefit of the majority of the local people, and to eliminate the export of terorism.

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