Tuesday, May 03, 2005


"Captain Abbirose Adey, a TA officer serving as the British Army's representative alongside Iraqi officials coordinating the refurbishment of Basrah's hospitals, holds a baby delivered in the new maternity ward just completed at Al Faihaa General Hospital, a former Iraqi military hospital now converted to look after the needs of the local community. The construction work was funded by UK grants and implemented by Iraqi workers."

(from the Operation Telic archive of the Ministry of Defence website)

one of the reasons we find it so difficult to think outside the frame of the war culture is that the instruments of that culture - the army, and, to a certain extent, the police - have managed to pull off a first-rate piece of cultural subterfuge, almost completely concealing what they actually do beneath the PR facade of delivering babies and tending to sick and injured bunnies and other abandoned fluffy creatures.

the very terms we have become used to employing in describing military activity are a triumph of semantic topsy-turviness over reality: the so-called Ministry of Defence has not been called upon, since the Battle of Britain, to 'defend' anything other than our supposed national right to impose our will in the field where it most matters - usually in the usurpation of a weaker nation's right to capitalise on its native resources. how the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq can be construed as defensive beggars belief, but so it goes. all is spin.

the war cultures of America (and, by extension, the UK) work in a very simple way: the staggeringly huge sums of money available from the manufacture and distribution of weapons and military materiel is one of the golden geese, almost a sine qua non - together with pharmaceuticals and tobacco and CocaCola - of the bluechip portfolio investors, whose individual and corporate infuence in the corridors of power is proportionate to their value. armies use this stuff, but it's actually useless unless they use it, so a compelling cultural perception of its necessity needs to be maintained, regardless of whether or not that need can be justified in rational terms. almost any excuse to start a new war is therefore welcomed as a means of keeping this cycle of profit rotating and - even better - expanding. each new theatre of war is a proving ground for the latest technology - a forum of demonstration and justification for the very large sums of money billed for its development and production.

clearly, the public needs to be kept onside in regard to the fiscal extravagance of all this. why the American people haven't risen up in arms against their leaders' year-by-year extended overdrawing of the national budget in order to fund these military adventures is a staggering demonstration of the triumph of institutional mendacity and propaganda over common sense. it's happened here, too, of course, but, in truth, it's actually been going on for a very long time - the extension of the war culture far beyond its sell-by date.

the basic lie that sustains all the other lies is that the outside world is a constant threat. it's an attitude unchanged since the time of Genghis Khan, and, although it's been demonstrated time and time again that it's nonsense, it's a simple and effective way of keeping a population scared, and therefore compliant. as long as we can be made to believe that any relaxation of 'security' and its consequent military backup will result in our homes being invaded by bloodthirsty foreigners and our throats cut and womenfolk abducted and enslaved then there's no problem in rolling out the next generation of stealth cluster-scythes and armoured boomboxes which are supposed to help protect us from same.

the perpetuation of the lower-grade version of the same global threats - the myth that the streets are increasingly unsafe, that there are violent crims around every corner, and that teenagers attend mugging workshops as a matter of course - serves two vital services: encouraging an individual state of fear that fits naturally into the larger, paranoid mindset of the culture of war, and fuelling the other section of the economy that feeds most heartily off this culture - the insurance industry, the forgotten fifth horseman of the Apocalypse.

this intolerable tension between the facts and the fictions of our diurnal experience as citizens has only one inevitable outcome - a pathology of social denial that requires the continuous application of cosmetic bullshit to that tenuous membrane of suspended disbelief at the interface of the actual and the spin-doctored state of affairs in order to sustain it. such blatantly manipulative PR gambits as showing soldiers caring for children is typical.

individually, soldiers are as good or as bad, as morally equivocal and fallible as the next man or woman. collectively, an army of soldiers is by definition excused both ethical and individual responsibilities. an army is the unthinking iron fist of the body politic, and is not required to do anything other than act when ordered to do so. the bottom line is that a soldier is licensed to kill, and that he or she may, in turn, be killed, in the line of duty. such very tenuous restraints on the limits of that license as the so-called 'rules of engagement'- and the Geneva Convention - are more a part of the PR exercise than of the military culture. there are too many instances of latter-day berserkers going apeshit in the zone - from Katyn to My Lai to Abu Ghraib - to pretend otherwise. obviously, as long as there are armies, and as long as 'our boys and girls' (yet another instance of tabloid-endorsed PR) in those armies have been trained properly, ie convinced that 'the enemy' is a dehumanised object - a target only - there will be atrocious killings, and not just of other soldiers.

what happened at Fallujah and Abu Ghraib - what is still happening at Guantanamo - is acknowledged to be the tip of the iceberg of the barbaric behaviour that is par for the course of the war culture. none of this was 'necessary' in any sense other than the contractual. the sooner we come to terms with the fact that such events as these are unexceptional - merely the ones that, more by accident than design, have come to light - the better our chances of moving on to something else, something more appropriate to humanity.

so show me no more images of softly smiling soldiers holding children like a loving aunt or uncle. show me the real image - of the roaring warrior snatching the baby from its mothers breast, swinging it by its ankles, and smashing its brains out against a wall. I'm a grownup. I can take it.

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