Saturday, 7 November 2009

War crimes and hypocrisy disguised as "honour"

On Wednesday, five British soldiers were shot dead "in an attack the UK military blamed on a "rogue" Afghan policeman." BBC News tells us that "the soldiers, three from the Grenadier Guards and two from the Royal Military Police, had been mentoring and living with the Afghan police in a compound." According to the BBC's correspondent, "sources had indicated the attacker was a police officer called Gulbuddin who had fled the scene after the shooting" and although "it appears he could have been involved in a dispute with his commander," "tribal sources have pointed to a link with the Taliban."

The following day, the Daily Telegraph reported that another soldier "died in an explosion near Sangin in Helmand province." This "brings the total British death toll in the conflict to 230," with 93 killed in this year alone.

In the time between the two incidents, peace campaigners gathered at the Cenotaph in London to hold a 229-minute vigil for all of the soldiers who had been killed thus far. Holding a sign that read "honour our troops: bring them home," the three activists stood silently as members of the public, schoolchildren, and tourists passing by demonstrated their support. However, the police were not so supportive, interrupting the vigil in order to make a very public arrest of the campaigners.

However, with more and more of the public turning against the war, Gordon Brown continues to insist that Britain "cannot, must not and will not walk away" from the illegal act of aggression.

Under its commitment to "balance," the BBC quoted the strategic criticisms of the war's "mixed message" and the need for "a complete rethink of the international strategy." However, moral and legal arguments against the war remain absent, and Brown's justification for the war dominated the report. Apparently, "protect[ing] our security" is now the reason we went to war, with catching bin Laden, deposing the Taliban, and installing democracy no longer adequate as retroactive justification. (And Phil Woolas's fleeting idea that soldiers are in Afghanistan "to help us control immigration" having been an embarrassment even to those gullible enough to believe in "democracy promotion.")

Tomorrow, Brown will stand alongside Elizabeth Windsor and other members of the British establishment to "honour the fallen." Whilst those responsible for "subvertising" billboards for the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal have been accused of making Remembrance Day overly "political," but the truth is that there is nothing more political than using dead soldiers as totems to deflect criticism of an illegal and unjust war.

That is exactly what Brown is doing when he invokes Harry Patch, who until his death earlier this year was the last surviving Tommy, saying that "this Armistice Day, we must make anew our promise to Harry and his comrades: that although they are gone, we will never, ever forget." The sentiments would be laudable if they weren't so disingenuous. It was Patch's view that "war isn’t worth one life" and that it amounted to the "calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings."

With 230 British soldiers now dead, not to mention 7,589 Afghan civilians, these words stand as a powerful accusation. Those who held the vigil at the Cenotaph will stand trial in mid-December. Their "crime" was breaching the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) by "taking part in an unauthorised demonstration within a designated area," but they are not the real criminals. Our duty to Harry Patch and his comrades will not be served until we bring an end to war and imperialism, and those falsely claiming to serve their memory are held to account for their crimes against humanity.