Category Archives: War

ANZAC Day – a day to remind leaders that soldiers’ lives are a precious resource not to be wasted

Few would seriously dispute that ANZAC Day is supposed to remind us of the sacrifice made by soldiers in war. About how tragic is every one of those deaths and injuries, and what a high price we should put on ever asking any soldier to take that risk again.

In other words, it should remind us and our elected representatives that war is not a slightly-serious decision that will make us feel big and important. It’s not an opportunity to extend our national influence or impress countries we assume are definitely going to sacrifice their own soldiers in gratitude for this downpayment if we ever ask them.

If our soldiers are ever to be sent to a war it needs to be an absolute last resort. Only somebody who’d utterly failed to grasp the significance of ANZAC Day – or who had stupidly confused it for a day celebrating nationalism – would sell their sacrifice so cheaply as to send them to an overseas military campaign where there was no serious plan for winning it or for what would happen if we did. It may well be that protecting the human rights of other people and establishing a long-term genuine free democracy may be a high enough good to be worth paying the extremely high price of soldiers’ lives – but anything less than that certainly isn’t.

If you genuinely valued soldiers’ lives as highly as ANZAC Day is supposed to remind you you should, then you would not send them until you had such a plan on your desk and had had serious people evaluate its prospects.

I can only conclude that certain recent leaders who sent Australians to die in wars that have left the countries in question in chaos and their citizens in danger not significantly better than what was there before our soldiers’ sacrifice – an outcome that was entirely predictable because no-one in charge of the campaigns appears to have seriously contemplated how they were going to rebuild the countries once they’d smashed them up – that those leaders (or that leader) must have slept through the ANZAC ceremonies they’d previously attended. That they did not listen to the soldiers’ stories. That they completely missed the lesson of what happened at Gallipoli. That they did not grasp just how valuable our soldiers’ lives really are.

Let’s hope that our current and future leaders are paying attention today. Never again. Lest we forget.

Soldiers urinating on corpses: just bad apples! Not our fault!

Sebastian Junger at The Washington Post on the US soldiers who urinated on the Taliban fighters they’d killed:

There is a final context for this act in which we are all responsible, all guilty. A 19-year-old Marine has a very hard time reconciling the fact that it’s okay to waterboard a live Taliban fighter but not okay to urinate on a dead one.

When the war on terror started, the Marines in that video were probably 9 or 10 years old. As children they heard adults — and political leaders — talk about our enemies in the most inhuman terms. The Internet and the news media are filled with self-important men and women referring to our enemies as animals that deserve little legal or moral consideration. We have sent enemy fighters to countries like Syria and Libya to be tortured by the very regimes that we have recently condemned for engaging in war crimes and torture. They have been tortured into confessing their crimes and then locked up indefinitely without trial because their confessions — achieved through torture — will not stand up in court.

For the past 10 years, American children have absorbed these moral contradictions, and now they are fighting our wars. The video doesn’t surprise me, but it makes me incredibly sad — not just for them, but also for us. We may prosecute these men for desecrating the dead while maintaining that it is okay to torture the living.

I hope someone else knows how to explain that to our soldiers, because I don’t have the faintest idea.

Hysterically punishing these individual young soldiers is of course much easier than actually addressing the much more serious problem of the behaviour of those who sent them there, so let’s ignore everything Sebastian just said. BAD APPLES! NOT OUR FAULT! NOTHING WE NEED TO CHANGE ABOUT OURSELVES!

We’re wasting money trying to further punish David Hicks for the outright travesty of Guantanamo? Seriously?

So, the Commonwealth DPP has actually applied to seize the proceeds of David Hicks’ memoirs under the Proceeds of Crime Act – despite Hicks having never actually been found guilty of a real crime in a fair hearing in a real court – and the NSW Supreme Court has actually frozen them in the meantime.

For what? A “crime” that didn’t exist when he was alleged to have committed it? A profoundly unjust and corrupt process that had none of the protections of a fair trial and in which he was essentially forced to plead guilty to a ridiculous charge because otherwise his matter would never actually be heard?

What Australian court could possibly view what happened at Guantanamo as legitimate, as justifying the application of any further punishment here in Australia?

What a waste of public money. What an act of utter bastardry.

Why don’t we care? Do we blame them?

There are many disturbing parts to this desperately sad Guardian story about one hidden group of victims of rape in war – men who are raped by other men, who cannot reveal what has happened to them without being even more victimised – but there’s one that we can apply immediate pressure to reform:

As part of an attempt to correct this, the RLP produced a documentary in 2010 called Gender Against Men. When it was screened, Dolan says that attempts were made to stop him. “Were these attempts by people in well-known, international aid agencies?” I ask.

“Yes,” he replies. “There’s a fear among them that this is a zero-sum game; that there’s a pre-defined cake and if you start talking about men, you’re going to somehow eat a chunk of this cake that’s taken them a long time to bake.” Dolan points to a November 2006 UN report that followed an international conference on sexual violence in this area of East Africa.

“I know for a fact that the people behind the report insisted the definition of rape be restricted to women,” he says, adding that one of the RLP’s donors, Dutch Oxfam, refused to provide any more funding unless he’d promise that 70% of his client base was female. He also recalls a man whose case was “particularly bad” and was referred to the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR. “They told him: ‘We have a programme for vulnerable women, but not men.’”

That’s not good enough. Oxfam? The “cake” might be too small, but you are adding to the problem by artificially excluding from help one group of victims with even fewer avenues for assistance.

It’s funny – peculiar, not ha ha – how selective compassion can be. Because the perpetrators of most violence are men, we ignore it when other men are the victims of violence – as if they deserve less sympathy because, hell, they already had the gender identity to be the givers rather than receivers of violence, so really it’s somehow their own fault that they fell into what we’ve defined as the woman’s role?

There’s a lot of nasty and destructive gender thinking in that last sentence. And you’ll see in the article just what it does in practice.

UPDATE: Not that you can imagine male rape being treated in the West with as much indifference.

Actually, if they get them home sooner, the Wikileaks revelations could save soldiers’ lives

On a post on what the chat logs between Bradley Manning and the guy who dobbed him in reveal about that sneaky gentleman, a commenter reveals one attitude to Bradley from serving members of the military:

I have 3 active duty service members in my immediate family, two of whom are on their umpteenth millionth redeploy to that sh*thole that is Afghanistan. They’re also Marines.

Their take on this: Whatever gets us the fuck out of here fastest is OK by me.

Quite. Let’s be clear: the real people put at risk by the Wikileaks revelations were those in charge of what’s happening over there, not the soldiers themselves. The risk those guys are in could hardly get higher.

Land of the sheep, tormenter of the brave

Private Bradley Manning, the whistleblower who is being held in cruel conditions barely distinguishable from torture for allegedly releasing classified US documents such as the Collateral Murder video, has now been charged with 26 counts, including one punishable by execution.

And yet his fellow countrymen, for whom he released the material – so that they would know what is being done in their name – are not rising up in anger about his treatment. Far from declaring him a national hero and a brave fighter against the abuse of government power, they are contentedly sitting by while their government uses its immense power to crush him in a solitary prison cell. Even those who claim opposition to government tyranny as their most important principle, seem to have little problem with how this man is being treated – being treated, mind you, before even being tried.

Apparently Americans would rather not know in future what is going on. They’d rather whistleblowers were bullied in to keeping their bloody mouths shut, so the rest of the country could continue not to care what goes on around them.

The price of liberty is eternal what? Quiet, we’re watching TV to check that our politicians are wearing flag pins.

UPDATE: And now Manning’s being stripped every night because he made a sarcastic remark. They’ve decided he’s a risk of suicide – but they haven’t placed him on “Suicide Risk Watch”, probably because that would require an actual assessment by a mental health professional.

It’s punishment before trial, clear as day.

A thousand words

Perhaps this image will make the point where it’s needed – where thousands of cogently-argued words have failed:

(Courtesy of @Theremina.)

Don’t push your luck, Hicks

Has enough time passed since David Hicks was bullied into pleading into whatever they demanded because otherwise they were going to hold him in Guantanamo Bay making up charges until they found a judge who’d accept them, that we’ll accept his plea as actual evidence of having committed a real crime so we can punish him further? The Liberals seem to think so:

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Guy Barnett has questioned whether convicted terrorism supporter David Hicks’s memoir will breach the Proceeds of Crime Act.

In unrelated news, both the President who abandoned the rule of law to use Guantanamo as a special extra-legal imprisonment system for people he accused of offences that didn’t actually exist when they were alleged to have committed them, and the Prime Minister who was happy to leave an Australian languishing in it (whilst unconstitutionally keeping people off the electoral roll for his own political advantage), have written their own memoirs since the incident. Neither of these breach the Proceeds of Crime Act, because nobody placed those men in legal limbo with no prospect of a fair trial unless they pleaded guilty to something.

So that’s good.

It’s a bit strange that Hicks hasn’t been completely bullied into silence by the terms of his release, though. Doesn’t he realise we can lock him back up again if he says something we don’t like? As we’ve demonstrated previously, it’s not like it even has to be against the law – and this time, we made him agree to shut his big pie hole before we let him out. How could he betray us like this?

Meanwhile, of course the new “please don’t be angry with us Mr Liberal Party” ABC, armed with two differing responses to the David Hicks book, naturally chooses to lead with the one claiming his book is “deceptive”.

Can anyone imagine the “leftist” ABC daring to say that about Winston’s upcoming collection of self-justifying half-truths and evasions?

“If we accidentally shot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body, and make them look like an insurgent.”

Why won’t people just take the military that suppressed that video at its word that it found RPGs and guns on the bodies? (Apart from it being irrelevant to their shooting the group when it wasn’t doing anything, let alone the unarmed people who came to rescue the wounded photographer.) Because there are a lot of soldiers out there who know how the game was played:

Washburn testified on a panel that discussed the rules of engagement (ROE) in Iraq, and how lax they were, to the point of being virtually nonexistent.

“During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot,” Washburn’s testimony continued, “The higher the threat the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond. Something else we were encouraged to do, almost with a wink and nudge, was to carry ‘drop weapons’, or by my third tour, ‘drop shovels’. We would carry these weapons or shovels with us because if we accidentally shot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body, and make them look like an insurgent.”

But I’m sure that didn’t happen in this case. Why would they lie AND suppress the video evidence?

Anyway, it’s a complete lie that the “Rules of Engagement” represent absolute contempt for Iraqi lives:

Jason Wayne Lemue is a Marine who served three tours in Iraq.

“My commander told me, ‘Kill those who need to be killed, and save those who need to be saved’; that was our mission on our first tour,” he said of his first deployment during the invasion.

“After that the ROE changed, and carrying a shovel, or standing on a rooftop talking on a cell phone, or being out after curfew [meant those people] were to be killed. I can’t tell you how many people died because of this. By my third tour, we were told to just shoot people, and the officers would take care of us.”

There’s more. A depressing – and, in the context, unsurprising – amount more. No wonder soldiers resort to dehumanising laughter to cope. And if you still think there’s no problem with the way the occupation is being prosecuted in our name in Iraq, and that we shouldn’t be concerned or demand change, then you should bloody well read it.

(Via Darryl Mason)

ELSEWHERE: Apologists for the killing go on the attack.

Do soldiers need to laugh at killing?

Amongst the various issues raised by the release of the previously-suppressed video of US soldiers massacring civilians in Baghdad who weren’t doing anything was the attitudes revealed by their comments as they killed, and after they killed. They laughed. They joked. They demonstrated utter contempt for those they had just, or were about to, disintegrate through their sights. It was apparent that they did not see these people as human beings whose lives had value, but as an unknown element that could prove a threat and therefore could, erring on the side of caution for Coalition soldiers but on the complete opposite side of caution for Iraqi civilians who might be in the area, be destroyed with no concern.

The argument is that this sort of callous indifference to human life is a vital way of dealing with what soldiers are asked to do.

“You don’t want combat soldiers to be foolish or to jump the gun, but their job is to destroy the enemy, and one way they’re able to do that is to see it as a game, so that the people don’t seem real,” says Moore.

It’s laugh or go mad.

But, look – is their job “to destroy the enemy”? Regardless of the consequences? Remember, these people are there representing our governments – representing us. Shouldn’t their job be “to defeat the enemy, whilst avoiding killing if reasonably possible”? Particularly when we’re not talking about a war between armies, but urban pacification? Collateral damage is, in many cases, probably unavoidable. In this case, it is clear from watching the video that it wasn’t – whether or not earlier in the video the camera looks like an RPG, it is absolutely certain that when the helicopter gunner has the group in his sights, before he mows them down, they are not doing anything. Why, if Iraqi lives were valued at all, could the helicopter not have continued to keep them under observation, 30mm cannon trained on them, ready to fire if one of them hefted an RPG to his soldier to fire at them or raised an AK47 to shoot at ground troops or adopted a hostile stance, and covered them until the soldiers arrived to check through binoculars whether they were a threat or not?

The real reason this killing happened is that the military calculation for Iraqi lives vs Coalition lives was (and is) completely off kilter. Fifteen innocent Iraqi lives? Happy to make them pay that if it potentially saves one Coalition soldier.

Anyway, back to the issue of the attitude they displayed: grim humour doesn’t bother me. What bothers me about the soldiers’ conduct in the video is the deadly connection between the contempt for Iraqi life they express in their words, and the contempt for Iraqi life they demonstrate in their actions. This isn’t consequence-free joking: it’s making light of an atrocity so they don’t have to feel bad about it.

But soldiers shouldn’t be committing atrocities. They should be avoiding committing atrocities. That doesn’t mean there won’t be innocent deaths – war is difficult. War is messy. (One reason we should only enter into it if the alternative is clearly even worse.) But if soldiers act carefully, professionally, taking all reasonable steps to avoid killing innocent people, and then innocent people die anyway, then surely they can avoid madness by the very sensible rationalisation that they did all they could? That what they’re asked to do is a necessary evil?

(That of course requires that it be “necessary”, part of the problem with sending them to Iraq in the first place.)

Because these fifteen people dying WAS avoidable. There were alternatives. Whilst I place most of the blame for this incident in the hands of the command that authorised the attack on sketchy information, and on the rules of engagement they implemented that simply make this sort of thing inevitable because their attitude is one of Iraqi lives being next to worthless, not worth taking the time to try to save – I still think the gunner did the wrong thing. He could see they weren’t doing anything when he opened up. He’d been trained to open up regardless, because they were just Iraqis and who knows, they might threaten a Coalition soldier at some point, but following orders hasn’t been an excuse for almost sixty years.

He should feel guilty. And so should we, for putting him in that position.