Voting in Britain for War

Take Your Pick

Staring at the vast military history section in the airport shop, I had a choice: the derring-do of psychopaths or scholarly tomes with their illicit devotion to the cult of organised killing. There was nothing I recognised from reporting war. Nothing on the spectacle of children’s limbs hanging in trees and nothing on the burden of shit in your trousers. War is a good read. War is fun. More war please.

The day before I flew out of Australia, 25 April, I sat in a bar beneath the great sails of the Sydney Opera House. It was Anzac Day, the 95th anniversary of the invasion of Ottoman Turkey by Australian and New Zealand troops at the behest of British imperialism. The landing was an incompetent stunt of blood sacrifice conjured by Winston Churchill; yet it is celebrated in Australia as an unofficial national day. The ABC evening news always comes live from the sacred shore at Gallipoli, in Turkey, where this year some 8000 flag-wrapped Antipodeans listened, dewy-eyed, to the Australian governor-general Quentin Bryce, who is the Queen’s viceroy, describe the point of pointless mass killing. It was, she said, all about a “love of nation, of service, of family, the love we give and the love we receive and the love we allow ourselves to receive. [It is a love that] rejoices in the truth, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And it never fails”.

Of all the attempts at justifying state murder I can recall, this drivel of DIY therapy, clearly aimed at the young, takes the blue riband. Not once did Bryce honour the fallen with the two words that the survivors of 1915 brought home with them: “Never again”. Not once did she refer to a truly heroic anti-conscription campaign, led by women, that stemmed the flow of Australian blood in the first world war, the product not of a gormlessness that “believes all things” but of anger in defence of life.

The next item on the TV news was an Australian government minister, John Faulkner, with the troops in Afghanistan. Bathed in the light of a perfect sunrise, he made the Anzac connection to the illegal invasion of Afghanistan in which, on 13 February last year, Australian soldiers killed five children. No mention was made of them. On cue, this was followed by an item that a war memorial in Sydney had been “defaced by men of Middle Eastern appearance”. More war please.

In the Opera House bar a young man wore campaign medals which were not his. That is the fashion now. Smashing his beer glass on the floor, he stepped over the mess which was cleaned up another young man whom the TV newsreader would say was of Middle Eastern appearance. Once again, war is a fashionable extremism for those suckered by the Edwardian notion that a man needs to prove himself “under fire” in a country whose people he derides as “gooks” or “rag-heads” or simply “scum”. (The current public inquiry in London into the torture and murder of an Iraqi hotel receptionist, Baha Mousa, by British troops has heard that “the attitude held” was that “all Iraqis were scum”).

There is a hitch. In the ninth year of the thoroughly Edwardian invasion of Afghanistan, more than two thirds of the home populations of the invaders want their troops to get out of where they have no right to be. This is true of Australia, the United States, Britain, Canada and Germany. What this says is that, behind the media façade of politicised ritual – such as the parade of military coffins through the English town of Wootton Bassett — millions of people are trusting their own critical and moral intelligence and ignoring propaganda that has militarised contemporary history, journalism and parliamentary politics – Australia’s Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, for instance, describes the military as his country’s “highest calling”.

Here in Britain, the war criminal Tony Blair is anointed by the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee as “the perfect emblem for his people’s own contradictory whims”. No, he was the perfect emblem for a liberal intelligentsia prepared cynically to indulge his crime. That is the unsaid of the British election campaign, along with the fact that 77 per cent of the British people want the troops home. In Iraq, duly forgotten, what has been done is a holocaust. More than a million people are dead and four million have been driven from their homes. Not a single mention has been made of them in the entire campaign. Rather, the news is that Blair is Labour’s “secret weapon”.

All three party leaders are warmongers. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats leader and darling of former Blair lovers, says that as prime minister he will “participate” in another invasion of a “failed state” provided there is “the right equipment, the right resources”. His one condition is the standard genuflection towards a military now scandalised by a colonial cruelty of which the Baha Mousa case is but one of many.

For Clegg, as for Gordon Brown and David Cameron, the horrific weapons used by British forces, such as clusters, depleted uranium and the Hellfire missile, which sucks the air out of its victims’ lungs, do not exist. The limbs of children in trees do not exist. This year alone Britain will spend £4 billion on the war in Afghanistan, and that is what Brown and Cameron almost certainly intend to cut from the National Health Service.

Edward S Herman explained this genteel extremism in his essay, “The Banality of Evil.” There is a strict division of labour, ranging from the scientists working in the laboratories of the weapons industry, to the intelligence and “national security” personnel who supply the paranoia and “strategies”, to the politicians who approve them. As for journalists, our task is to censor by omission and make the crime seem normal for you, the public. For it is your understanding and your awakening that are feared, above all.

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on May 6th, 2010 at 9:39am #

    Without seriously disagreeing with John Pilger, don’t lose sight of Wall St’s current attack on the EU and the euro. Rumors of economic blackmail flew at the time European troops were sent to Afghanistan and the current attack lends credence to those rumors. Also, look at the humiliation just imposed on the Japanese PM. There can be no more talk of America defending, or being supported by, its “loyal” allies! When someone holds a gun to your head, do you say “get lost, you idiot” or do you say “I’ll do anything you want, good sir”? The Empire is panicking and thereby losing its grip!

  2. Rehmat said on May 6th, 2010 at 7:18pm #

    Gilad Atzmon wrote an excellent post on British voting….

  3. John Andrews said on May 6th, 2010 at 11:29pm #

    MichaelKenny, your point is right, but this piece is about the Permanent War we are conditioned on a daily basis to accepting. Wall St’s raid on the Euro, no doubt encouraged by a Whitehouse that would love nothing better than a break up of Europe, is worthy of an article or two in its own right. The Clegg/Cameron/Brown alliance are not only united in their enthusiasm for war, they are also united in their subservience to the Chicago School economic model and sing in perfect harmony on the subject of destroying public services. But Mr Pilger’s piece is about Permanent War.

    Here in England there has been a considerable rise in the number of school children that are encouraged to wear military-style uniforms to school. They wander around the streets trying to emulate the steely-eyed heroes that make up most of the daily ‘news’, without the faintest idea of the evil they’re supporting, or the dangers they’re promoting. My letters to our local paper on this point are ignored, as are my enquiries to the schools who are no doubt primarily responsible for the encouraging.

    But we keep on resisting – what else can we do?

  4. mary said on May 7th, 2010 at 12:57am #

    This is a statement on our current situation by the editors of Medialens, friends of John Pilger incidentally.

    Sometimes humanity catches a glimpse of itself in the mirror of some great disaster and is shocked by what it sees. The war of 1914-1918 demolished, forever, the assumption that ‘progress’ was pre-ordained, a God-given gift buried in the natural world, so that all we had to do was uncover the path and follow it. Instead, we learned that technology could just as easily deliver mass death as mass production. The Second World War confirmed the terrifying amorality of science – we can build a world glittering with labour-saving, health-giving devices, and +still+ end up with a lifeless, incinerated planet.

    But climate change is the ultimate mirror. In our lifetimes it will reveal the answer to the great question of who we are as a species: Is human society basically rational and free, or are we slaves to a billion selfish thoughts and actions that have become encrusted in political institutions over decades, centuries and millennia? Are the forces of reason able to transcend the forces of greed? Is the need for collective human action able to overcome the individual concern for instant gratification and familial security?

    At present, it has to be said, the outlook is grim indeed. In contrast to the merciless ‘honesty’ of environmental limits, we have a political system that renders truth and sincerity ‘off-message’, and replaces them with rehearsed affectation.


    They need financial help as they are stuggling. They are a two man band basically.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on May 7th, 2010 at 10:14am #

    One of the tragedies of Australia’s descent into mindless jingoism and chauvinistic worship of military ‘glory’, first instituted as state policy by the repulsive John Howard, is that it has become bi-partisan. The Rudd rabble, about to be ejected after one term as their leader’s essential inauthenticity, phoniness and political cowardice are exposed, have adopted nearly all of the Howard policies, even the vilest. Just like the Blair betrayal after 1997, and the Obama fiasco,as the Apostle of ‘Hope’ emerges from the chrysalis of mass delusion resplendent as George Dubya Bush redux (worse, in fact), the Ruddites show, conclusively and incontrovertibly, that there is no choice, not in the Anglosphere at least, but one or other brand of Rightwing, market capitalist, US and Israel adoring clutch of opportunistic psychopaths. In Australia the spiritual disease of apeing the US in all things has reached the nauseating point where our public occasions have now sprouted innumerable Australian flags, mimicking the US jingoism, and dullards clutch their left tit as the national dirge is played. And waiting in the wings is Tony Abbott, a Rightwing, religiously reactionary zealot who, in the now obligatory fashion,is lying through his teeth that he has ‘changed’.