tag: War

Apr 2011

On This Deity: 18th April 1955

Yesterday’s article at On This Deity was by yours truly…

18th April 1955: The Death of Albert Einstein.

On the 18th of April 1955 Albert Einstein died in Princeton Hospital, New Jersey. He was 76 years old. One of the chief architects of the modern era, there are few other individuals whose impact on human culture has been so significant. Fifty years earlier, in 1905, during what would later be referred to as his “miracle year”, Einstein published a series of papers that sparked a revolution in physics, laying the groundwork for twenty years of remarkable work. Papers that not only revolutionised the field in which he specialised, they revolutionised the world around him. In an era when established orthodoxies were under fire from all sides… from Marx and Darwin… from Nietzsche, Freud and Joyce… from technological advance and an emerging mass media, Einstein overturned the most fundamental orthodoxy of them all – Newtonian Physics.

Our well-ordered clockwork universe dissolved into a seething ocean of quantum uncertainty, and nothing was ever quite the same again.

read the rest…

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Announcements

Apr 2011

On This Deity: 5th April 1992

Check out my new article at On This Deity

5th April 1992: The Siege of Sarajevo.

On April 5th 1992 units of the Yugoslav People’s Army on orders from Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, in combination with Bosnian-Serb militia groups, took up positions in the hills surrounding the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. From there they opened fire on the city below with artillery, mortars and sniper rifles. It was the beginning of a three and a half year siege that left many thousands dead and heralded the disintegration of Yugoslavia in a decade-long series of conflicts, bringing to an end Tito’s dream of unifying the Balkans.

read the rest…

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Announcements

Mar 2011

On This Deity: 19th March 2003

New article at On This Deity

19th March 2003: The Beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On March 19th 2003 US President George W. Bush announced that US and UK armed forces had launched strikes against “targets of military opportunity” in Iraq. It marked the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom; a disastrous conflict that would drag on for the rest of the decade resulting in massive casualties, a huge economic cost and the further destabilisation of a region already beset by conflict and strife.

read the rest…

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Announcements

Feb 2011

Israel, Iran and what’s not reported

The first thing to point out is that I’m no fan of either Israeli or Iranian government policy. Both nations appear (to me at least) to be suffering their own collective psychoses. Israel’s is a type of post-traumatic stress exacerbated by decades surrounded by hostile neighbours, so that it’s developed into a paranoid psychosis. Iran, on the other hand, spent decades trapped within a classic double-bind and has now found itself in the grip of religious fundamentalism. I have a great deal of sympathy for the ordinary people of both nations, terrorised as they are by enemies internal and external; real and imagined.

That said, I have very little sympathy for the actions of either government, who appear hell-bent on bringing the region as close to the brink of war as possible. The current civil uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, while to be lauded for ending tyrannical regimes, are likely to make Israel (in particular) more jittery than usual and serve, in that sense, to ratchet tensions up even further.

Let me be clear; this is not an attempted justification or a call for the continuation of these regimes. Tyrants need to be overthrown, and while we all hope this happens with a minimal increase in regional instability, we do not expect a people to remain in oppressive conditions merely to ensure that their twitchy neighbours don’t get spooked. At the same time, we should collectively face up to the likelihood of an increase in regional instability and explore ways to mitigate it.

Because it seems we can’t expect nations in the region to do so. While dictators topple and political vacuums beckon — or else “the army” takes over, which is rarely a good sign no matter what assurances of a future transition to civilian rule are offered — Israel and Iran appear intent on sabre-rattling at what must surely be the least appropriate time to do so.

Warships through The Suez Canal

Middle East map

Today the BBC carries a news story about two Iranian warships passing through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea. As someone who objects to the routine projection of military power beyond national borders (I’m even dubious about the projection of military power within national borders, but that’s an issue of national sovereignty and, within reason, should be left to each nation to decide), I unconditionally condemn this action by Iran. Just as I condemn the US, British (and any other) fleets patrolling the oceans of the world as though someone appointed them custodians of us all. I understand the current need to keep warships in certain areas to help deal with piracy (though this itself is part of a wider issue, and those ships should be flying a UN flag). But I don’t believe the world should accept national navies adopting threatening positions just outside the territorial waters of nations they don’t like.

And Iran’s claim to be conducting exercises with the Syrian navy is farcical. Despite not being a physical threat to Israel, a fact that’s acknowledged in the BBC article, these ships are clearly entering the Mediterranean to piss off the Israelis. No other reason. And a nation like Israel, in the grip of paranoid psychosis, rarely deals with provocation in a rational or proportional manner. Look at their response to the Gaza aid flotilla. Witness their policy of collective punishment whenever Palestinian militants attack — or just threaten to attack — Israel. Provoking Israel is a dumb thing to do, because it can quickly create a situation that spirals out of control.

This is hinted at by the Israeli Foreign Minister himself in that BBC story, when he says:

To my regret, the international community is not showing readiness to deal with the recurring Iranian provocations. The international community must understand that Israel cannot forever ignore these provocations.

Avigdor Lieberman (Israeli Foreign Minister)

It’s familiar rhetoric all right, but no less ominous because of that. And it neglects a crucial element in this “Iranian warships in the Mediterranean” narrative that is currently ongoing. An element that is simply ignored in the four different news stories I’ve read about this issue today. Despite describing this act by Iran as “unprecedented”, why has much of the western media chosen to gloss over the fact that it’s nothing of the kind? Isn’t the fact that Iran’s action is clearly and unambiguously a response to Israel’s 2009 decision to send two warships the other direction through The Suez Canal worthy of reporting?

I’m not saying that “they did it first” is an adequate response to criticism of Iran’s action. It’s certainly a pathetic justification for something that clearly increases the likelihood of a military engagement between two heavily-armed nations. But without that crucial piece of information, Iran’s naval manoeuvre looks like a unilateral act of provocation, when in fact it’s actually another chapter in an ongoing tit-for-tat escalation between two psychotic nations. It must be viewed in that context, and whatever the western response to Iran may be, it must be made in that context.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2011

On This Deity: 15th February 1989

Check out my new piece over at On This Deity

15th February 1989: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Empires fall. It’s what they do. It’s inevitable.

Sometimes the collapse is due to the depletion of essential resources. Sometimes it’s a result of being overwhelmed by external aggressors. Sometimes it’s plague or a natural disaster that does it. And if all else fails, invading Afghanistan will do the trick.

read the rest …

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Announcements

Dec 2010

On This Deity: 28th December 1937

Head on over to On This Deity for another article by yours truly…

28th December 1937: The Birth of the Irish Republic.

At one minute before midnight on December 28th 1937 the Irish constitution passed into law and the Republic of Ireland (or Éire) was born. Although it has been described as a revolutionary act itself, the passing of the constitution was a strangely muted – almost administrative – conclusion to several hundred years of oppression and bloody rebellions.

read the rest…

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Announcements

Mar 2010

Expectations born of madness

Top US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have been calling for the military to go after the militants in these regions.

All this comes at a time when Pakistan’s government is already under a great deal of domestic criticism.

This is mainly due to increased missile strikes by the US targeting Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in the tribal areas.

These have turned a sometimes ambivalent tribal population against the Pakistan military.

Analysts say the tribesmen see the strikes, which have claimed more lives of civilians than of militants, as contiguous with the military operation.

I was imagining a scenario where the roles were reversed back on September 11th 2001. How different everything would be. If an extremist group of fundamentalist Christians had crashed a cargo plane full of explosives into The Great Mosque in Mecca. And now, almost a decade on, unmanned drones adorned with Islam’s Crescent Moon are levelling homes in Texas and Utah. Sometimes, killing sympathisers and extremists. More often, killing regular American families.

Obama and Hillary Clinton

Embracing the insanity of their predecessor

Can you imagine how much pressure the world would need to put on the US government to make them turn a blind eye to this bombing campaign? Which is exactly what America expects of the Pakistani authorities.

And would the people of America see these raids as justified? Or would they instead swear bloody vengeance on the perpetrators, and view the complicity of their own government as the most despicable betrayal in American history?

Expecting the government of Pakistan to accept the regular killing of innocent civilians — people whose interests they are supposed to represent — by a foreign military. Even when that killing is done in error…

It’s unreasonable. And it is a demonstration, among many, of the psychotic nature of The War Against Terror and of modern politics in general.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jan 2010

War & The Noble Savage

The latest book from my friend and fellow traveller, Gyrus, is subtitled “A Critical Inquiry into Recent Accounts of Violence amongst Uncivilized Peoples”. Over the past few years a debate has been raging… quietly raging, but raging nonetheless… regarding the nature of pre-civilized human society. In this slim but incisive volume, Gyrus summarises the debate and adds to it. Signficantly, in my view.

War and The Noble Savage

There is a tendency within our culture (perhaps within humanity, though anthropology suggests that it’s not universal, merely rather prevalent) to reduce everything to a kind of oppositional dualism. To polarise every debate. The baddies and the goodies. Yin and Yang. Male and female. Left and Right. I find this tendency rather unsatisfactory as it often (usually!) ends up simplifying issues to the point of uselessness.

The debate regarding pre-civilized cultures; specifically regarding the questions of whether they are/were more or less violent than civilized cultures and whether they are/were more or less ecologically conscientious than civilized cultures; has followed that general tendency and become polarised. On the one hand there’s the view — generally attributed to Rousseau — that pre-civilized peoples were “Noble Savages”. On the other hand there’s the view expressed by Hobbes that primitive life was “nasty, brutish and short”.

These two positions (both of which appear to have started life as thought-experiments, rather than deeply held convictions) have led to various kinds of caricature. The post-Hobbesians paint a ridiculous Dances With Wolves-esque idyllic utopia — minus the inter-tribal warfare scenes — picture of the other side, and insist they are guilty of nostalgia and wishful thinking. This is of course compounded by New Age primitivists with their Back to Nature rhetoric. On the other hand, the post-Hobbesians are themselves painted as deluded apologists for progress; desperately trying to portray the past as hellish even as civilisation destroys the future.

Where Gyrus, characteristically, succeeds is by refusing to be taken in by the propaganda of either established camps and instead casting a genuinely critical eye over the claims of both. In doing so, I believe he likely comes as close to the truth of the matter as we’re going to get — given the difficulties involved in establishing facts when discussing prehistoric societies and/or modern indigenous societies prior to our contact with them.

War & The Noble Savage is accessible, educational and well-written enough to be described as entertaining. It serves as a fine rebuttal to the recent tendency to view the past through a Hobbesian lens while never succumbing to the seduction of nostalgia or primitivism. I’m pretty much going to insist that my few regular readers (and the rest of you too!) buy it (think of it as returning the favour for the excellent service I’ve been providing here for several years, ahem). It’s privately published and costs a paltry four pounds (including P&P… people outside the UK add a quid for postage). Even if this isn’t a subject that traditionally you’d be interested in (though you’ll be surprised at how relevant it is to all manner of other areas of debate), you should still buy it in order to support the kind of independent research and publishing that the author, and others, undertake.

Overall, War & The Noble Savage is an important contribution to an important debate. For those interested in an introduction to the subject (while you’re waiting for the book to be delievered) Gyrus has given some talks on this subject, one of which was recently turned into a Slidecast which you can listen to on his website for free.

5 comments  |  Posted in: Reviews » Book reviews

Nov 2009

A free Mann

Equatorial Guinea is a pretty awful place to live. Unless, of course, you happen to be a member of the ruling elite. Despite experiencing recent economic growth thanks to the discovery of oil, the population largely live in poverty with almost all of the petroleum revenue being appropriated by President Obiang to fund a luxurious lifestyle for him and his inner circle, as well as ensuring the military are paid well enough to keep him in power. Although there are occasional elections, they are quite obviously loaded in Obiang’s favour and nobody is under any illusions about him being willing to relinquish power voluntarily. He is a dictator in all but name, and while he probably isn’t responsible for quite as much bloodshed and tyranny as the guy he overthrew, that’s really not saying much given the record of Francisco Macías Nguema. Macías reputably had a penchant for mass public executions to the soundtrack of Mary Hopkin’s Those Were The Days. His regime was nightmarish in the most literal of senses… terrifying and surreal all at once, like a David Lynch film writ large.

If you’re an ordinary person in Equatorial Guinea, you have a difficult life and probably quite a short one.

It’s worth pointing out that when people describe Equatorial Guinea as “oil rich”, it’s a statement that needs to be placed in some context. In fact, with estimated recoverable reserves of a little under 2 billion barrels, Equatorial Guinea represents a fraction of one percent of global oil. However, with a population of less than 650,000 that should, in the right hands, be enough wealth to provide the country with a more than adequate health, education and social welfare system. Given their oil resources in proportion to their population size Equatorial Guinea could be a very pleasant place to live given radically different circumstances.

It’s the sort of place that could desperately do with a change in government.

And about five years ago, a group of men decided to try do just that. A bunch of South African mercenaries led by Simon Mann (a former British SAS officer turned soldier-for-hire) were preparing to launch a coup d’état when they were seized enroute to Equatorial Guinea. The Zimbabwean government intercepted their chartered plane when it touched down in Harare to take on supplies and Mann was extradited to the small West African nation to stand trial. During the trial allegations were made that Mann’s coup attempt was being backed by members of the British establishment including Sir Mark Thatcher (son of a certain ex-Prime Minister) and Jeffrey Archer (baron, bad novelist, prominent tory and all round git). These remain “allegations”, though Thatcher’s involvement in providing logistical support has been proven despite his insistence that he was unaware of the details of the plan and had no idea Mann and his private army were up to anything dodgy.

The details of the operation are obviously a little vague, but the basic plan seems to have been to overthrow Obiang and install either Mann himself or a local puppet as President of the country whereupon those who organised, financed and took part in the coup would reap the rewards in much the same way that Obiang currently does. I feel confident that largescale infrastructure projects and a redistribution of the oil wealth to the general populace wasn’t on the cards.

Mann was placed on trial in Equatorial Guinea and found guilty of plotting to overthrow the government. In July last year he was sentenced to 34 years in prison.

Now, it’s fair to say that Equatorial Guinea probably doesn’t have the most robust or transparent judiciary. People like President Obiang rarely install that kind of thing in the countries they rule. Dictators can be funny like that. Nonetheless, there’s no question — given Mann’s own public statements — that the basic facts are as stated. Surprisingly (or not if you assume that some kind of deal was done… cf. not the most robust or transparent judiciary) Mann has just been released having served less than a year and a half of his 34 year sentence. He appears to be a guy with an axe to grind and is looking to get even with the other coup plotters who left him swinging in the wind.

Despite the obvious relish with which some are anticipating whatever he’s got up his sleeve for Thatcher, there are others; Merrick for instance; who point out quite rightly that “a vicious mercenary is now free to enjoy his millionaire’s lifestyle and work on his book deal and film options”. This is hardly very satisfactory and is a somewhat lamentable outcome to the entire affair.

John Band, on the other hand, via that horrid twitter service that irritates me considerably, makes the following comments…

Struggling to see why Merrick upset re S Mann – Eq Guinea one of Africa’s vilest regimes, so no biggie if overthrown

and then (because twitter insists on breaking simplistic soundbites down into absurd soundnibbles)

If he’d been overthrowing an (even vaguely) democratic or liberal government, *that* would actually matter

Taken at face value (and Twitter is doubtlessly doing John a disservice by reducing his position to two sentences of less than 140 characters each) that’s a pretty dreadful sentiment. It seems to be saying that so long as the regime is bad enough, it doesn’t matter if rich westerners storm into an African country, kill a bunch of people, overthrow the government and then syphon off the mineral wealth for their own benefit. It’s an endorsement of violent imperialism because the suggestion that Mann and his 70 heavily armed mercenaries were going to liberate the people of Equatorial Guinea from tyranny is risible.

Perhaps they’d have set up a regime that was moderately less oppressive? But that resolves into an endorsement of Obiang’s government given the fact that it is moderately less oppressive than the Macías dictatorship it replaced.

The reason we should be upset about the likes of Simon Mann and his establishment backers… the reason their actions should matter… is because military intervention and murder for personal gain should not be tolerated even if most of the dead were bastards. People like Mann are no different to the Obiangs of the world, even if he did go to Eton. And I’m a little taken aback that John seems to think it doesn’t matter if they go tearing around Africa pocketing the continent’s wealth at gunpoint.

7 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Nov 2009

Ukraine's got talent

I generally dislike TV talent shows. Whether it’s X-Factor, Pop Idol, The All-Ireland Talent Show or Opportunity Knocks. They tend to showcase acts that appeal to a lowest common denominator, and the occasional exceptions to this rule don’t make the rest worth watching. I don’t think this view makes me a snob, but if it does then so be it.

However, if I was living in the Ukraine and knew that this woman would be appearing on their national TV talent show, then I’d have gladly made an exception. It’s genuinely beautiful and really quite moving.

I advise watching it in fullscreen mode. Enjoy.

Kseniya Simonova — Sand Animation

1 comment  |  Posted in: Media » Video