The owners of corporations, their media and their parliamentary stooges have deliberately created many myths over many years in order to justify their wars for profit. A vile mix of racism, xenophobia and nationalism is added to an almost religious awe surrounding the military and war. This mystification is so pervasive that even among the 60% of people who oppose the Afghanistan war, many unwittingly base their arguments or reasoning on these fallacies. In order to properly understand the war, we need to look at the facts and expose the brutality of occupied Afghanistan.
Racism dominates much of the rhetoric and reporting on the war and is the premise of many of the “facts”. A prime example is the notion that, before 2001, the people of Afghanistan were just sitting around hoping that white people would come and save them from their fundamentalist government. Contrary to what many Hollywood movies imply, people in Third World countries faced with oppression can and do organise resistance against that oppression. Afghanistan under the Taliban was no different.
The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) was established in Kabul, the capital, in 1977 as an independent political-social organisation of women fighting for human rights and social justice. They consistently fought and exposed the violent excesses of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the US-backed fundamentalist “freedom fighters” and then the Taliban government. Its members often risked death to expose and resist the Taliban; now they take the same risk exposing life under the current warlord and opium baron government.
The remnants of progressive forces that existed in Afghanistan before the US invasion in 2001 have been scattered. After 2001, many progressive publications appeared, but all have closed one by one because they were constantly pressured and threatened by the warlords who make up the puppet government supported by the US and allies like Australia. Apart from RAWA, progressive organisations of note include the Solidarity Party of Afghanistan and the Freedom-Fighters Organisation of Afghanistan. These progressive groups have been set back by the US-led war, and the presence of foreign troops makes their struggle harder, the more so the longer the troops remain.
Another common racist myth perpetuated by imperialism is that the corruption it creates is somehow the result of the cultural or genetic make-up of its poor misguided allies. During the Vietnam War, fraudulent elections and corrupt governments in south Vietnam were blamed on the “character” of the entire Vietnamese people. Corruption in the Suharto regime in Indonesia was, according to US and Australian allies, “just the way the Asians do business”. Corrupt US-sponsored Latin American governments past and present are painted as typical of Hispanic “banana republics”. Now it’s “dirty Arabs” who are born drug dealers and election riggers who need to be brought into line.
The world’s majority non-white population is painted as corrupt and contrasted to our “principled” and “trustworthy” politicians and captains of industry. The reality is that these corrupt regimes were created by Western politicians and corporations. They install or fund and promote the people in poorer countries whom they know have no principles and are for sale. The very basis of capitalism is buying people off, those at the top ferociously hanging on to as much money and resources for themselves as they can, by any means possible.
Xenophobia and nationalism
Closely tied to the racist myths clouding perceptions of Afghanistan are xenophobia (the fear of foreigners) and nationalism. Both have been powerful tools for pro-war governments to silence dissent and debate.
The Gillard government, like the Rudd and Howard governments, is running a scare campaign about the people of Afghanistan. On July 10 Gillard told media her government keeps troops in Afghanistan because Afghanistan has been a safe haven for terrorists “who have wreaked acts of violence against Australians in 9/11 and in Bali”.
“The Afghan terrorists want to come and get you. You should be scared” is the constant message. They would have us believe that the subsistence farmer who has had a family member killed by occupation forces and who takes up arms against the occupation has the capability or even the desire to attack Australian civilians. At the same time, people with documented histories of organising and ordering terrorist attacks are either already in the warlord government or are being offered huge bribes and government positions to join it. The very fundamentalist leaders from groups like the Taliban and Hezbi-Islami that we are told make us unsafe are being coopted into the leadership of Afghanistan at a significant cost to US taxpayers, while ordinary Afghan civilians die in record numbers from Obama’s troop surge.
On September 20 the media got hold of an email from an unnamed infantry soldier in Afghanistan about the battle in which Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney became the 21st Australian soldier to die in Afghanistan. Much was made of the email’s call for more mortars, artillery and air support, but little was made of the statement, “Every (expletive) is too scared about collateral damage”. No one in the corporate media questioned the soldier’s statement that there should not be any concern for civilian casualties. This is part of the vilest of nationalist notions propagated by politicians and the media: that somehow the life of an Australian is worth more than the lives of “foreigners”.
“One Australian has been killed in an earthquake in country X – oh, and two thousand locals also died”, is the style of media reporting that reinforces this notion. Since 2001 the media and politicians have ramped up nationalism so that racist superiority is the unconscious default position for many. January 26, the date Britain invaded Australia in 1788, has long been a public holiday, but until recently most people did their own thing and treated it like any other holiday. In the last 10 years it has become a day when flags are stuck on houses, cars, shops and people, and anyone not white is asked by gangs of drunken youths, “What are you doing on the streets? This is Australia Day.”
Support for the Australian military and the wars they fight takes on the blind, parochial, unquestioning support given to a national sports team. Australian foreign policy becomes less of an issue because, in the minds of many, when it comes to other countries Australia is always right.
Cult of sacrifice
Blind nationalism has elevated war and military service to a mystical, almost religious, phenomenon not widely experienced since the Vietnam War. We are told by politicians and the media that the most honourable thing a working person can do in this country is to put on an Australian uniform and die in one of their wars, regardless of its nature, its purpose or any other factor. This same cult of sacrifice was used to justify or gloss over the senseless slaughter on the Western Front and the failed Gallipoli campaign during World War I.
The same acolytes of the cult of sacrifice do not consider the World War II Japanese kamikaze pilots honourable or glorious. They correctly see them as senseless waste by a militarised country gone mad with nationalism.
T. Christian Miller reported for ProPublica on September 23 that more private contractors than soldiers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months. More than 250 civilians working under US contracts died in the war zones between January and June 2010, according to the US Department of Labor, which tracks contractor deaths. In the same period, 235 soldiers died, according to Pentagon figures. Here are people doing the same jobs as people in uniform, in the same war, often for less money if they are from Third World countries: why aren’t their deaths glorious or on the front pages of newspapers?
Many in this country ridicule the martyrdom of the suicide bomber, but how is our cult of sacrifice any more sensible? There are self-sacrificing heroes in Afghanistan, but they are not the foreign troops, nor the puppet Afghan army fighting for corporate access to Afghanistan, nor the fundamentalist Taliban leaders. They are the ordinary workers and subsistence farmers who risk their lives to defend their land and the people they care about from brutal occupation. The sooner workers in Australia realise we have more in common with the ordinary people of Afghanistan than we do with the Rupert Murdochs of this world, the sooner we can end the slaughter of soldiers, civilians and resistance fighters by turning the online murmur of dissent into a roar of opposition in the streets.
[Hamish Chitts is a former infantry soldier and a founder of Stand Fast – a group of veterans and service people against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party].