Wars continue to be waged worldwide under the reported premises of security threats and democracy. It is well understood by all but the most naïve that there is always an underlying motive to war that goes beyond purported humanitarian goals. There is usually a goal that is of strategic geopolitical or economic importance, such as the security of natural resource access or international trading partnerships.
While there are international wars taking place the majority of war is, in fact, civil war – war within a country, not between countries. However, the reasoning for civil war does not usually differ greatly from that of international wars – access to natural resources, land, and power over a population provide plenty of rationale, with humanitarian causes being consequences of war, not the original reason for it. In cases where violence is reported to be related to an ethnic or religious conflict this is usually a by-product of a mixture of the economic reasons combined with the issue of demographics. The international community generally does not interfere in a civil war unless it is recognized that the pie will be carved in such a way that there will be a hefty slice for them if they do.
Why war in some places and not others?
The United States, along with Australia, the UK and a number of other countries, invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, not much more than a month after the September 11th 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. Afghanistan, as a country, had had no part in the attacks on the World Trade Centre, had not posed a threat to US national security or to international security, and had not seemed to rouse concerns about its level of democracy in the eyes of the US administration before that date. Now, more than ten years on, a war is still being fought in Afghanistan, a war whose premise was the capture of a man, originally from Yemen, not Afghanistan, accused, with only weak circumstantial evidence, of orchestrating the World Trade Centre attacks, and who was captured and executed, without trial, in 2011 in Pakistan.
Iraq was also invaded in March 2003 following accusations of harbouring and developing weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to international security – a claim that has long since been dismissed as false. The premise for invading Iraq changed in 2004 to claims that the country needed democracy imposed by invaders, and that this, unfortunately, necessitated the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who stood in the way of their own liberation simply by being present in a war zone.
Early in 2011 the people of Libya rose up against their leader, Muammar Gadaffi and his government, leading to months of bloodshed and the ending of a brutal regime. Again, the US and other countries intervened on the premise of “necessary regime-change” and assistance to the rebels and civilians who were risk of being decimated by Gadaffi’s forces. Gadaffi himself was captured and executed without trial in October 2011. The invading forces are still present in Libya despite the accomplishment of their aims.
One may wish to ask what these countries have in common, aside from having been imperfect with regard to democracy and equality, a criticism that can be applied to many more countries such as North Korea, Burma and Uzbekistan, countries that have thus far escaped invasion on the premise of necessary regime change. The answer may, perhaps, be related to their natural resources, such as oil, as in the case of Iraq and Libya, and their geopolitical position, as in the case of Afghanistan. Burma, well known for its oppression of ethnic minority groups and forced labour camps, is geopolitically strategically positioned between China and India, perhaps a reason for Western powers resisting invasion while there is money to be made by Western corporations who continue to be financially active there despite economic sanctions. Uzbekistan has natural resources which it continues to trade with the US and other economic powers, uncriticized for its brutal regime. North Korea is known for its brutality and unwillingness to play economic ball with Western powers, but remains uninvaded. Iraqi and Libyan oil and Afghan strategic geopolitical position seem to be far too tempting to Western economic powers to resist invasion on the ever-changing premises on which many other countries could be charged, but are not.
People versus unpeople
When we take a look at any war in history a trend is visible – that of “people” and “unpeople”. The people are the allied soldiers who, if killed on duty, are given a state funeral and portrayed as heroes. The unpeople, on the other hand, are the thousands of innocent civilians who die every day in wars that they did not choose to be involved in, and who are given no state funeral for their sacrifice.
The unpeople are those who, in some cases, are simply bulldozed into mass graves or left to perish in the sun like rubbish. The unpeopled are those who starve while their leaders are at war. At present there is every indication that the deaths of the unpeople in war are increasing. In order for war to continue with little or no dissent the plight of unpeople must be either ignored or treated as of lesser importance when compared with strategy or the accomplishment of a “greater goal”.
Prisoners of the Guantanamo Bay military facility in Cuba are, perhaps, some of the most famously forgotten unpeopled. Few of these prisoners, during their ten-plus year stint at the base fondly referred to as Gitmo have been charged with any offense and fewer have been tried. Some have, however, been released – including David Hicks, an Australian national, and the Tipton Three, three British nationals who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Afghanistan during the US-led invasion of later 2001 was definitely the wrong place at the wrong time. With a policy of paying rival warlords for captive “Taliban soldiers” these captives were delivered from all directions and transferred to Gitmo often with no attempt to verify who they were. The fact that many of these men who ended up spending many years in detention were simply the victims of a crude kidnap-for-ransom system and had nothing to do with the war itself, and certainly nothing to do with the Taliban’s reported harboring of a man accused, without charge, or orchestrating an atrocity half-way across the world from where they were, is an extreme case of the bizarre callousness inflicted on unpeople.
There is one place in the world that easily springs to mind as an
“un-country” – Iraq. Iraq in the 1980’s had one of the highest education levels in the world, the majority were reasonably happy with their lives, and there was little poverty. Most people were not happy with their leader, but this is a theme common to most countries.
One thing Iraq had that separated it from the crowd, however, was that it was on the up and up. Saddam Hussein had, however, ended up committing to promises he was unable to keep with international banks and corporations. During the 1980’s the regime was supplied with weapons from the UK and US military, and was provided with huge loans by the World Bank and IMF to set up industries and Iraqi military bases all under the illusion of keeping a watchful eye over Iran. Nearing the end of the 1980’s Iraq had ceased all loan repayments and stopped taking orders. The Gulf War shortly ensued.
After this first Gulf War Saddam Hussein was left in power and the country reduced to ruins. Even after the horrendous crimes against the Iraqi people by the allied forces it is not, after the war, that one of the greatest crimes in history is unfolding. After the first Gulf War the amount of uranium in the Iraq and Kuwait region was immense. Iraq was denied equipment and expertise to decontaminate its battlefields, in marked contrast with Kuwait, which was rapidly cleaned up after the war. It is speculated that this is a main reason why people who live and work or who have lived and worked in Iraq have 5,000 times the recommended safe level or radiation in their bodies and are, therefore, at a greatly increased risk of cancers.
As Iraq entered Kuwait in 1990 the United Nations Security Council imposed an economic embargo which was upgraded the following year and is still in effect at present. The United Nations Sanctions Committee have repeatedly vetoed or delayed the deployment of vital medical equipment, chemotherapy drugs, even pain killers – all on the pretext of the potential dual use of this equipment for weapons purposes. Such sanctions border on barbaric, with the UN Sanctions Committee even banning nitrous oxide, which is used in caesarian sections to stop bleeding, perhaps even saving lives. During the 1990’s the World Health Organization informed the UN and the Sanctions Committee that there is no known way of converting any of the aforementioned drugs and medical equipment into any form of weapon.
After his resignation from the UN, Denis Halliday, former assistant Secretary-General, reported, in an interview with John Pilger, that well over a million people were killed as a result of these economic sanctions. 500,000 of these were children. According to Halliday, who resigned from his position “…because the policy of economic sanctions is totally bankrupt…. Five thousand children are dying each month… I don’t want to administer a program that results in figures like these…” such figures are likely vastly underestimated. When then US Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked for her opinion on the same her response was thus: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”
John Pilger asks pertinent questions of leaders such as why there are not similar sanctions on Israel which occupies much of Palestine and regularly launches attacks on Lebanon. He also comments on the hypocrisy of punishing Iraq with sanctions for its treatment of its Kurdish minority while Turkey, having displaced three million Kurds and caused the deaths of 30,000 more, goes unpunished. It seems there is more than simple hypocrisy in play where one country can be criticized, bombed and economically isolated for an action that does not even elicit raised eyebrows when performed by others. Our code of behavior is clearly not universally applied, holding differing standards for countries than for un-countries.
Effects on soldiers
The effects of war on soldiers are well documented. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—which is not really a disorder at all, but a natural reaction to trauma, is commonly reported. War veterans, poorly rehabilitated to life in civilian society post-war, experience skyrocketing rates of incarceration in jails and prisons. Military Sexual Trauma, including occurrences of rape by coworkers in the military that far exceed civilian rates, is ubiquitous.
We have an atrocious and seemingly endless war and uncertain future in Afghanistan. We have not actually “withdrawn” from Iraq. We have covert wars and an expanding military presence all over the world. We have the most significant military whistle-blower of our generation, Bradley Manning, facing life in prison. And every day we’re hearing threats of an attack on Iran — not unlike the propaganda fed to us in the lead-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2004.
Organizations such as Courage to Resist have a great history of supporting individual military resisters refusing illegal war, occupation and policies of empire—from “all the way back” when Marine L/Cpl Stephen Funk publicly refused to deploy to Iraq in April 2003, to when Army Lt. Ehren Watada became the first officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq in May 2006, to the hundreds of lower profile objectors assisted since. This work has been made possible by collaborating with concerned community members, veterans, military families—and folks like you. By supporting GI resistance, counter recruiting and draft resistance, it is possible to harness “people power” to weaken the pillars that maintain these seemingly endless wars.