1 May 2004
“Any forces that would impose their will on other nations will certainly face defeat,” General Vo Nguyen Giap, on the anniversary of the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. May 7, next Friday is also the fiftieth anniversary of the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Yesterday the 30th April was the anniversary of the fall of Saigon and what better way to celebrate it than with one of ‘Uncle Ho’s’ very apposite poems.
Before the gate, a guard
with a rifle on his shoulder.
In the sky, the moon flees
Swarming bed bugs,
like black army tanks in the night.
Squadrons of mosquitoes,
like waves of attacking places.
I think of my homeland.
I dream I can fly far away.
I dream I wonder trapped
in webs of sorrow.
A year has come to an end here.
What crime did I commit?
In tears I write
another prison poem.
Ho Chi Minh, written whilst imprisoned by the French,
translated by Kenneth Rexroth.
The phrases come thick and fast off the glib tongues of the Western occupiers, “They have besmirched the good name of the Army and its honour” says General Sir Michael Jackson.
Yet the ‘tradition’ of pissing on the enemies of the empire has a long and ignoble history. British troops, when faced with Ghandi’s non-violent resistance to the colonisers, recognising that murdering them didn’t work, took to pissing on them instead, in order to get them to move from the vast sit-down demos the Indian anti-colonial movement organised.
Then there’s the case of the war the British conducted against the Malayan liberation fighters, exposed by the then Daily Worker (newspaper of the then Communist Party of Great Britain) of British SAS soldiers holding aloft in triumph the heads of decapitated Malayan guerrillas, that was at the time dismissed as a fake and ‘Communist propaganda’ but many years later revealed to be true.
And then there’s the actions of the British in Kenya, where British troops murdered thousands of Kenyans in the war against the Mau-Mau guerrillas. So far from being an exception to the rule, such treatment is the rule. Indeed, had I the energy, I could roll off a litany of such treatment of ‘lesser’ peoples at the hands of the colonisers.
Even closer to home, we have the treatment of Black people at the hands of the British police or those that have occurred in the US at the hands of American cops. Are these all ‘exceptions’ to the rule? I think not, not when a British official commission investigating the murder of a young black child concluded that, “racism was institutionalised” in the police.
And as with the infamous My Lai massacres during the War on Vietnam (covered up by none other than Colin Powell), whilst it will be the ‘grunts’ who (may) get prosecuted, the culture of militarism and racism stems from those who mastermind the wars of imperialism, coming as it does from a culture imbued with racist ideology that sees all people of colour as inferior – less than human – hence not worthy of humane treatment.
Any investigation of the history of slavery and colonisation reveals that underpinning it was the Christian-inspired idea that because Africans and Asians were not ‘God’s children’ (ie ‘pagan’) they did not deserve to be treated as fully human. Slavery was thus rationalised in this way.
The media’s treatment is also illustrative of the Western attitude to the exposure of such actions, where they seem more concerned with the “backlash” (Independent 01/05/04) such exposés incur rather than the fundamental attitudes it reveals about Western ‘civilisation’. As Ghandi once said when asked what he thought of Western civilisation he replied, “I think it’s a very good idea” or words to that effect.
The Independent in another piece bylined by Rupert Cornwall tells us in connection to the photos taken in Abu Ghraib:
“The two sets of images are likely to be disastrous for the Alliance’s attempts to pacify [sic] Iraq, endangering its troops in the country and shattering what remains of its standing in the Arab world.”
And yet again, it reveals that the corporate media is more concerned with the West’s ‘pacification’ of Iraq and even more revealing, the danger it poses to Alliance forces than with what it reveals about Western attitudes toward Arabs and the inhuman treatment meted out to them by our supposedly superior civilisation.
Further on in the same piece, the Western attitude is further revealed by Cornwall’s assumptions when he says that:
“…the prison footage will be used by opponents of the US to turn public opinion decisively against the occupation. [my emph. WB]”
Are these apologists for imperialism really aware of what their words reveal?
Cornwall goes on in the same smug way when he tells us:
“Now it transpires that the US military has been conducting its own — admittedly less murderous — maltreatment of the Iraqis it was supposed to be rescuing, in the Abu Ghraib prison that was the symbol of Saddam’s repression.”
So I suppose the 10 to 15,000 or so (but who’s counting?) dead Iraqis are not symbolic of our “less murderous” occupation? Or the radioactive pollution as a result of the hundreds of tonnes of depleted uranium fragments littering the landscape or the thousands of unexploded cluster bombs are not symbolic of our “less murderous” occupation? Who are you kidding Rupert Cornwall!
Torture is torture, whether of one or a hundred, or a thousand people. It represents an institutional attitude that no amount of rationalising can excuse.
BBC Radio 4’s AM News this morning interviewed Major General Patrick Cordingley, former commander of the Desert Rats [sic] during Gulf War II who said:
“When you get young men ready to do something that the vast majority wouldn’t expect ever to want to do, to kill other people, then expect them to go into action and then the next minute you bring them down and you say now you’re a peacekeeper.”
Now contrast this with the statement made by Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister later on the same programme:
“Let me say this, the British armed forces wherever they serve apply international law to the highest standard and it is very much integrated into the training all our troops receive and indeed, we then pass on that training and indeed I have witnessed this in other countries where we have armed forces serving, pass it on to other nations, the type of training we give our people on upholding human rights. [my emph. WB]”
As I’ve said on innumerable occasions here, racism and imperialism are inseparable, for what does the term “institutionalised racism” really mean? It means that the very fabric of the state itself is imbued with racist attitudes, that allows – hence encourages – the racist actions of individuals through its formalised attitudes toward people of colour that finds its expressions in every state institution from the police, education, health, housing, you name it.
It’s why the deaths of two hundred people in Madrid warranted hysterical headlines but the deaths of 10-15,000 Iraqis at the hands of the ‘coalition of willing’ is not even worthy of documentation let alone headlines. Even the phrase ‘coalition of the willing’ reveals something quite fundamental about Western attitudes, as what it really means is that those in the West are willing to murder and massacre with impunity, knowing that they can get away with it. Most importantly they know they can get away with it because the nature of institutionalised racism has resulted in a general attitude amongst whites that the lives of people of colour are worth less.
Of course, if I were a Christian, I could cite the words of Jesus and say “they know not what they do” but of course if Jesus were to return today, he would no doubt be locked up as an ‘illegal alien’ and ‘terrorist’ in Belmarsh Prison or in Guatanamo Bay concentration camp, for they most decidedly do know what they do.