The Invention of Monsters: Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya

By
Johnny Gaunt, March 2016.

 For centuries we have invented monsters: the thing in the woods; the troll beneath the bridge; the witch in the old house.

dali

Inventions of the Monsters – Salvador Dali, 1937

 

Inventing monsters has often served an extremely useful purpose: it allowed people to transfer the most horrific elements of society and project them elsewhere, like pumping sewage into the sea. This transference had a satisfying by-product of creating unity and consensus amongst the communities and societies which the monster was ‘victimising’; the good people could stand bravely together in the face of the external evil. This consensus of minds could then justify, with any alternative thinking effectively marginalised, acts of incredible cruelty: the execution or banishment of the physically or mentally disabled; the persecution of non-conformists; the burning of innocent women, men and children; the slaughter of our wild animals.

A third effect would often occur during these terrible punishments. The public torture of the monster, with stones, the noose, the stocks or fire, created an immediate and deep cleansing of these crimes from the consciousness of the people. Guilt would be replaced by righteousness.

In time, as our societies developed and changed, most of these monsters drifted into mythology or filtered down into fairy-tale and horror stories. And there, many of us perhaps thought they stayed; but our perception of the past, future and the present are demarcated only by time, which simultaneously links them together. The invention of the monster never really went away, and today its story-tellers sit in positions of great power.

 

The individuals mentioned below are undoubtedly very unpleasant people. Certainly not the kind you would rush home to meet mother. But evil is a concept often branded onto people (usually by the press and authorities) without any real thought to how wickedness and brutality in human beings occur.

When my children were born, I remember having thoughts such as, “I hope they will be healthy,” or, “I hope they will be bright and inquisitive.” What I don’t remember thinking is, “I hope they won’t turn out evil.” Our long and continuing history of misunderstanding first mental health and then genetics has served only to confuse this madness all the more. Modern research has shown that environmental factors are far more influential in human behavioural development than any genetic predisposition. It is more a case of extremely similar genetic seeds, cultivated within different environments, combining to create an individual personality. It’s also important to realise that there is never a finished article; more, human beings are in permanent development, always capable of changing and responding to the world around them.

Today’s monsters (at least from the Western perspective), are often the leaders of nations that appear to share a few distinct commonalities. In more cases than not their countries sit on resource rich land, or happen to be in geo-politically desirable positions. They are often authoritarian, but nonetheless rule over cohesive, sometimes socially progressive societies. Most adhere to a vague socialist ideology, offering free education and health care. But, the most monstrous common trait amongst contemporary monsters is the pursuit of independent home and foreign policies. This can lead to audacious ideas of considering their own nations first, avoiding external debt and being non-subservient to Western demands.

 

Looking at the decades before Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait, it becomes apparent that when to tell the story is just as significant and the story itself. During much of Saddam’s oppression of his people (and even during his use of chemicals weapons on civilians), he continued to covertly receive arms from the US and the UK governments. Ironically, this aid included materials that would lead to his eventual downfall as they constituted part of the evidence for the now infamous weapons of mass destruction. This is important as by accepting this aid, Saddam unknowingly gave the West its future pretext to destroy Iraq.

Literally days before his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the US sent diplomats to Baghdad to talk to Saddam about the build up of tensions between Iraq and its neighbour. The US ambassador to Iraq, April Glespie, gave Saddam an official statement on the US position in regards to the high numbers of Iraqi troops massing on the Kuwaiti border. There’s been much written about the ‘advice’ Glepsie gave to the Saddam administration, which lacked anything direct and only repeated the textbook diplomatic message of the “US has a policy of non-involvement in Arab-Arab border issues”.

Within the context of the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988) which had ended only 2 years earlier, and where US aid and weapons had secretly flooded into Iraqi hands in order to hurt Iran, it’s not difficult to see how Saddam may have misconstrued Glespie’s message as simply another official line, below which the true message can be inferred. However, this was bad judgement, as the Bush (Snr) administration were done with the Iraqi regime and its belligerent leader. The meeting with Glespie seems to be the extent of direct US diplomatic negotiations with Iraq prior to the air campaign (which would drop over 88,000 tons of bombs), and with diplomacy exhausted the need for war quickly became a non-debatable ‘fact’. The invasion of Kuwait took place less than a week later (Aug 2nd, 1990) and with immediate effect the media cross-hair locked on to its new monster: The Butcher of Baghdad.

Glaspie_hussein

April Glespie meeting Saddam Hussein, 1990

The devastation the bombs and missiles brought to the people of Iraq were followed by thirteen years of severe sanctions. These sanctions, though not widely discussed in the media, were so severe that a similar number of Iraqi children died each month during the thirteen year imposition as all the people who died in the 9/11 attacks. The sanctions were so effective that by the time the second invasion began on 21st March 2003, there was barely any civilian society left to destroy, and the new bombs fell on an already decimated people, tearing down what remained of the Iraqi infrastructure.

Western media remained virtually silent about the sanctions imposed on Iraq, and the untold death and misery they were causing its innocent people. However, from the outset of the build up for public support to re-invade the country in 2003, it once again found its voice to disseminate the monster story; his brutality and indifference toward using outlawed chemical weapons (given to him by the West). The mythical WMDs became major headlines as the public were told a mixture of lies and truths designed to agitate the ancient monster hate emotions and support a war that had far reaching and violent repercussions.

 

Osama Bin Laden had also been a former beneficiary of Western generosity. During the prolonged struggle of the Afghan people against the Soviet invasion in 1979, Bin Laden was routinely aided by the US (and the Saudis amongst others) both financially and with arms. An interesting perspective is highlighted by Noam Chomsky in many of his lectures: the demands of both Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush were very similar; Bin Laden wanted Western imperialism banished from Arab lands, and the US administration wanted Islam banished, but in this case from the world.

Osama-Bin-Laden-in-a-cave-008

Osama Bin Laden, 1980s, during the Afghan-Russian war

Prior to the 7/11 attacks in New York, the political opponents of the Taliban in Afghanistan welcomed the added pressure from the West to bring down the regime. But they envisaged change through the Afghan people’s uprising and the overthrow of the Taliban by internal political means, but it became increasingly clear that this was a road the US and allies were less enthusiastic about going down.

Abdul Haq was a prominent opposition voice and was highly respected throughout the Middle East and Western states. The ‘Lion of Kabul’, as he was affectionately named, was gifted with rare abilities to unite the diverse political groups that had been separated for many years along ethnic and regional lines, towards common goals which benefited the people and the nation of Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban. Indeed, he was for some time a UN Peace Mediator. A renowned warrior who bravely fought against the Soviet invasion, losing a foot on a landmine in the action, Haq became a central contact for the CIA, and considered a friend to the US. By the late 1990s, Haq was very close to forming a united front, which included almost all of the previously internally fighting groups, to stand against the decreasing popularity of the Taliban. However, once the the twin towers in New York fell, the idea of a Western backed Afghani led uprising, fell with them.

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Adul Haq, around 1999

However, this didn’t stop Haq, who had by this point fallen from favour with the CIA. US ally, Pakistan, were concerned about the unification of Afghans, and what that would mean to their own internal politics. There were reports of information being leaked from the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) to the Taliban when Haq re-entered Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2001. Further criticism mounted when the Taliban captured Haq and no Western aided attempt to rescue him was made. Abdul Haq was tortured and hanged by his captors a few days later.

What is hugely important about this story is that although the prominent facts were reported in the press, it was never discussed as a possible alternative to warfare. What remained fixed on the television and print news was the face of Osama Bin Laden, the cave-dwelling monster. Haq’s potential solution, and just how advanced it was, was largely ignored by the western media. Instead, they thrust forward military force as the one and only option.

 

The destruction of Libya, under the pretence of actioning a no-fly-zone, was an opportunity to open up the land’s resources whilst simultaneously doing away with a major thorn in the side of western governments. Although Colonel Gaddafi allowed international private companies to pump and sell the rich deposits of Libyan oil, he was never the reliable economic partner preferred by the US and the dominant nations of the EU. In fact, many reports suggest Gaddafi was intent on creating an African single currency, backed by gold and known as the gold dinar. This would have had serious  implications on the economies of the US and the EU.

muammar_al-gaddafi

Muammar Gaddafi, around 2005

There is no denying Gaddafi’s dictatorship, the corruption of his office and the ‘disappearances’ of his critics, but this needs to be balanced off against what Libya has become since its liberation, and against certain lesser discussed facts: Libya was a stable and cohesive society, boasting free education, free health care (the best in North Africa and most of the middle east), free electricity and 0% interest on loans from the national bank. Homelessness had been all but wiped out, and literacy stood at 90%. All this was in stark contrast to life in Libya for the two decades before Gaddafi’s rise to power, when literacy was at 10%, people were denied access to fresh water and most people’s idea of a home was a tin shack or a cave.

Of course, a section of society were rightly pressing for democracy in Libya, and to an end of Gaddafi’s regime. The so-called Arab Spring gave a platform to some of these voices, although the demonstrations were quickly hijacked by armed, extremist militias. The Colonel’s troops handled the uprising in brutal fashion. This led to much criticism in the Western press, which showed little of the armed militias (by this point referred to as ‘rebels’) but plenty of Gaddafi’s troops responding. This culminated in UN resolutions for NATO to enforce a no-fly-zone. Within days of the intervention, the number of deaths increased ten-fold.

Gaddafi’s tendency towards cronyism and family involvement in the state was always going to lead to a tricky hand over of power whenever he decided he’d had enough. His sons became embroiled in several years of political manoeuvring amongst themselves to optimise their positions, with the British educated Saif al-Islam Gaddafi looking favourite to to take over. Saif, a very complex person as you might expect being the privileged son of a dictator, was arrogant, patronising and corrupt, but he had carried the hopes of many Libyans of introducing reforms that would start the process of making the nation more democratic. But NATOs bombs left that hope in tatters. Saif was captured whilst trying to escape the invasion, and is believed to be held by the Zintan militia in the west of Libya, although he hasn’t been seen since 2014.

benghazi

Benghazi, Libya, 2015

The country remains completely unstable, and now exists in three major ‘ruling’ divisions within Libya. To the east, in Tobruk is the former internationally recognised government, the House of Representatives (HoR). In Tripoli is the moderately Islamic government of the General National Congress (GNC). Between the two northern centres is Sirte (the birthplace of Gadaffi) which has become an IS stronghold. Until recently, when the western talk of another intervention in Libya became rife, the eastern HoR had been seen as the legitimate power in Libya by overseas nations and the UN. However, when both the HoR and the GNC in Tripoli declined the idea of further foreign military intervention, another governmental body was created by the UN, the Government of National Accord (GNA) which supersedes both other governments and is now the officially recognised ruling power outside of Libya. Within it, it is ignored. Of course, the GNA, originating from the UN with US and EU support, is pro- foreign intervention, and so neatly sidesteps the objections of both the HoR and the GNC, along with the majority of Libyans.

During the uprising, high ranking members of the Libyan military were rumoured to be asking for foreign tutelage on how best to handle Gaddafi’s weakening grip of power; work, you might think, cut out for the UN. But instead of diplomatic support, the West, under UN humanitarian cover, delivered a brutal lesson on military destruction and the perversion of international law.

The west cheered as images of Gaddafi being sodomised with a kitchen knife appeared on YouTube, and his bloodied face was printed onto every major newspaper in Europe and the US. Another monster done away with, another country in ruin, a new monster was needed. It didn’t take long to find one:

Bashar al-Assad.

 

“Silence by media; war by media.” J. Pilger.

 

We Should be Working 15 Hour Weeks… but I’ll take 25.

overworked

“So, we are working harder and longer than ever, and although there’s an abundance of wealth out there, less and less of it is being paid in real wages.”

Imagine having lots of spare time. Now there’s a thought! Maybe it’s slipped from memory, but we’ve all had periods of our lives that came with enough free time to encourage us to develop in individual and sometimes eccentric ways; some learn to play the guitar or cook, others work their way through the classics of literature, or go travelling. Some people appear to do very little with their spare time; but physical inactivity shouldn’t be misunderstood; still waters run deep, or so they say.

These periods normally occur before the social pressure of getting a steady job, an extortionate mortgage and building a little family really begin to squeeze.  Of course, a full-time job these days comes with a UK average week of over 39 hours to go with it, which has the knock on effect of sending your spare time into outer space for about forty-five years.

But let’s just imagine we could have both: spare time to indulge our natures and the same standard of living. If you were working 20-25 hours a week with your current full-time pay, you would have time and energy to really enjoy the family, maybe get involved with the community or see old friends. There’s usually something people want to do but don’t have the time: learn a new language, write, paint, play a particular sport, complete a course on feminism… the list is endless. Trying to do any of these things and work almost 40 hours a week reminds me of the Woody Allen line, “I took a course on speed-reading and now I’ve read War and Peace. It’s about Russia.” What we are talking about is having the time to develop who you really are, instead of allowing ourselves to be defined by the means with which we exchange our labour for money.

John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes

This was part of how John Maynard Keynes saw our society unfolding, back in 1930. He thought that with our living standards set to rise like never before, we would be able to own or access the necessary material things of life and therefore have a greatly reduced reason to work. Consumerism, as we know it today, was just a hatching plan in 1930. Edward Bernays had a year before staged the famous ladies smoking their ‘torches of freedom‘ and with it the concept of Public Relations and advertising (as a means to influence) was born.

A few years ago, Larry Elliott in The Guardian suggested that the reason Keynes’ prediction of such a reduced working week had failed to materialise, was down to ‘our desire’ to work harder in order to keep up with our wealthier neighbours. There may be a tiny element of truth in this, but I think there is a whole bunch of other things being tactically ignored.

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I think first of all we have to look at wages. Real wages have been generally falling for nearly 30 years in the UK. That’s why two generations ago it was common for an average family to live on one breadwinner’s wage. Then we came to our parents’ generation, the baby boom, who found a full-time job now needed supplementing, usually with the other parent taking on part-time work. Our generation has normalised the idea of both parents going out to work full-time; you have to question if the social movement of workplace gender equality has been a victory for campaigners, or if it was politically allowed to increase government revenue in taxes and obfuscate the shrinking of real wages.

An average family starting out today (even with both parents in work), will have by comparison with their grandparents, shocking levels of debt.

Real wages, 1964-2012 (Office for National Statistics)

Real wages, 1964-2012 (Office for National Statistics)

The above graph shows how wages have compared to inflation. You can see how the ECG of the boom and bust years is replaced in the early 1980s by the spidery scrawl of a dying villain. These are the neoliberal years; the adoption by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party of the economic theories of Milton Friedman et al., which are still held deeply in the bosom of the current Tory government. But it was also embraced by New Labour, spearheaded by Tony Blair in 1997. Jeremy Corbyn’s recent election as leader of the Labour Party, has created a schism within the organisation, as Blairites repel the principles of peace, justice and democracy from the new leader. From 1988 onwards, the graph tracks a serrated, quarter-century journey, mostly downhill. We are looking at an obvious decline, culminating in the death spasms of the recent financial crash.

GDP per capita, by contrast, has risen almost without fail, year after year… until the crash in 2008, but it has now surpassed the pre-crash level, indicating the recovery that we are always hearing lots about, but seeing very little.

UK GDP per capita, 1964-2014 (ONS)

UK GDP per capita, 1964-2014 (ONS)

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So although we are working hard and long hours, and the obvious fact that there’s an abundance of wealth out there, less and less of it is being paid in real wages.

The very notion of a tax haven summons up images of sun-drenched remote islands, palm trees, anchored yachts and cocktails. But this stereotype has benefited those who take advantage of the reality. The truth is, Britain itself is a tax haven, with corporate and business tax breaks and avoidance schemes orchestrated from the City of London. At the Treasury Select Committee this year, George Osborne proudly stated that Britain has “one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the western world”.

When CEOs such as Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, who has a salary of £30million, earn 780 times more than their average employees, you begin to see how the huge gap between the top earners and everyone else has distorted the general equality that Keynes must have assumed was going to be a continuous aspect of social progression. That the present corporate world seems comfortable with the notion that one CEO can be as valuable as 780 employees, displays its lack of social conscience, not only in regards to employment level, but in the perpetuation of increasing global inequality.

I think the real reason Keynes’ vision failed to materialise has more to do with the advent of advertising and mass consumerism. Can he be blamed for failing to anticipate the uptake, through the ballooning influence of barely regulated or taxed financial institutions and corporations, of neoliberalism in almost all western governments, and their subsequent handing over of power (and mind-blowing wealth) to the banking and corporate world?

Heroes of Neoliberalism

Heroes of Neoliberalism

Sources:

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_368928.pdf
http://www.theguardian.com/business/2008/sep/01/economics
http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/31/real-wages-falling-longest-period-ons-record
http://highpaycentre.org/blog/ftse-100-bosses-now-paid-an-average-143-times-as-much-as-their-employees

http://topincomes.parisschoolofeconomics.eu/

Simple Stories of the Insanely Complicated

drone blog picture

“Exactitude is not the truth.”
— Henri Matisse

It’s very tempting to divide life into forces of good and forces of evil. It’s easier to make sense of a world if there are just two fundamental human types: good people and bad. My little girl is 5, and will often ask me when we are watching a film, “Is he a goody, dad? Or a baddy?”

In this fairytale world, the forces of good and bad are wrestling it out through eternity, in a never-ending cycle of precarious victories for the side of the angels. Our need for simple stories to explain the human chaos in the world has even begun to alter how we look at our history; re-examining World War II, and all it’s associated horrors, as a shining example of a narrative that at least made sense. Or, as John Pilger recently put it,

“As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.”

Western leaders have in recent decades responded to the people’s demand for the truth by inventing simple stories of good and evil to justify their own malefic actions. By doing this, these tales become moral fictions of righteousness prevailing over wickedness; but today, the ramified reality behind this simplified pretence is beginning to tear through the thin fabric of lies, exposing, to anyone who cares to look, the mad, brutal and inhuman truth of modern global politics.

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I wonder which simple story best articulates an American president, representing the most powerful, rich and armed democratic nation on earth, settling down each Tuesday morning in his presidential chair, sipping coffee and signing off the weekly ‘kill list‘?

This list of names is the combined US and UK intelligence of the geographical whereabouts of various Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. Commonly these locations are in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) of North Pakistan, the stateless Somalia, Yemen and, never to be missed out, Iraq and Afghanistan. These countries are not officially at war with the US, but that equates to very little when placed over today’s reinterpreted and extended definitions of international conflict. These militants, who may or may not have committed a crime, will usually become the targets of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, otherwise known as drones. Flown by remote control from air bases hundreds or thousands of miles away, these lethal toys have become tools for the West to extend the parameters of what’s acceptable in warfare.

And the simple narrative to justify this ‘execution’ by another name? A well used warmonger’s contradiction: defence.

Self-defence, actually. By tracking down and killing men the Obama administration think are senior members of Taliban or al Qaeda groups, and who might, now or in the future, be possibly thinking about plotting a terrorist act on US citizens or soil (and who might not), then you are acting in self-defence, by making a terrorist attack on the US less likely. Nuking the rest of the planet would have a very similar effect.

Here’s a map of Pakistan:

Pakistan_and_Waziristan

In 2003, US and UK intelligence led NATO into already war-torn Afghanistan, and the increased fighting forced thousands of people, including Taliban members, to spill out into the north-westerly corner of Pakistan, called Waziristan. Afghanistan has been a battleground for long periods of its recent history: British India used it to absorb any “radical” ideology emanating from Russia throughout the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Then in the 1970s, a series of coups drew out the Soviet Union, who invaded in 1979 and stayed there for almost a decade, fighting a brutal proxy-war with the US, who was pouring money and weapons into any organisation that claimed to be Afghan rebels resisting the Soviets. This includes funding an early al-Qaeda.

Pakistan is now home to some 2.7 million Afghan refugees, some registered, but most are illegal. The militarisation of North Waziristan has led to the displacement of 350,000 people, desperately trying to escape the violence of both the Taliban and the US attacks.

This is an excellent interactive archive, which really helps illustrate the increase in drone strikes since 2004, please have a quick look:

http://drones.pitchinteractive.com/

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Barack Obama has courageously defended US soil (I refuse to use the term ‘homeland’) by authorising over 460 drone strikes, more than any other world leader or former US president. The US military and CIA have on occasion even neglected to communicate with allied nations before launching attacks. It seems to me that the people being targeted can’t reasonably be considered “consistently in the role of conflict”, contravening the international laws set down in the Geneva Convention.

The intelligence that ‘justifies’ a drone strike has often been appallingly inaccurate.  This has lead to the sickening murder of hundreds of innocent civilians, like the convoy of cars that was hit as they made their way to a wedding or a grandmother playing with her two grandchildren on their farmland, and countless other silent tragedies.

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drone plane

There is something about the nature of this windowless, metallic vehicle that leaves you cold. They fly slowly, are rigged with camera’s and listening devices, and of course, carry air-to-ground Hellcat missiles. They are quiet and can hover over their targets for hours if necessary before firing, sending back footage to bases in Afghanistan and Las Vegas, Nevada. These bases are also where the pilot remotely flies the drone, and it is this long-distance and risk-free advantage that has compounded the immorality of the program.

According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), strikes in Pakistan alone between 2004 — 2015 number 413 (362 authorised by Obama), and have killed up to 3,492 people. Of these killings, the TBIJ estimated 1,167 were civilians, including 207 children. The CIA and the US military have an insider term for this innocent loss of lives, they call it bug-splat.

Political language may well be a stranger to the truth, but it does tell us a lot about national perspectives. The majority of civilian deaths are denied by the US military and the CIA, despite evidence from witnesses and journalists on the ground, and do not stop Obama’s administration from using terms like ‘surgical strikes’ and ‘precision targeting’ to blind-side the US public.

“Nearly for the past year, there hasn’t been a single collateral death, because of the exceptional proficiency, [and] precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop,” said John Brennan, the CIA agent overseeing its covert drone operations. He was giving a public lecture on counter-terrorism at Johns Hopkins University, in June 2011 and his statement, to say the least, was contentious. Between June 10th, 2010 and June 8th, 2011, TBIJ reported drone strikes in Waziristan numbering over 120. Their investigations reported up to 196 civilian killings for this time period, including the murders of 16 children.

2010.08.23-13-Orphans-Picture-016-e1312981141940

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Seemingly everything comes back to language. Tall stories, misinformation and the necessary ability to transform your wicked deeds – through pseudo-technological sound bites, into bright, shining paradigms of progression – are modern political essentials.

“Where foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory, the primary alternative to targeted lethal action would be the use of conventional military options. As I’ve already said, even small special operations carry enormous risks. Conventional air-power or missiles are far less precise than drones, and are likely to cause more civilian casualties and more local outrage. And invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies, unleash a torrent of unintended consequences, are difficult to contain, result in large numbers of civilian casualties and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict.”

Obama in his ‘Terrorism speech‘ of May 2013, comes at us from a skewed perspective; not as the leader of a country participating in the war of terrorism, but as the body defining its very rules. Technology is advancing faster than international law can be adapted, and in the dangerous space this creates, new archetypes can be set. Stuff you would’ve expected to happen in covert CIA programs, are now played out in broad daylight and are hailed as breakthrough policies that will ‘save’ lives.

“…and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict.” This is clearly aimed at IS (or ISIS), but it could be equally true of another group that augmented and strengthened under US military interventions. The ragged followers of Saloth Sar numbered about 4,000 when the US began their bombing campaign of Cambodia. Three years later, when the Generals were satisfied that the whole country was levelled beyond recognition, that number had swollen to an army of 200,000. Both leader and army renamed themselves Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodian genocide

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In the UK we don’t bother too much with the fairytale stuff. Here instead, is the continuation of a more traditional method of public misinformation — lies, cover-ups and secretion. The MoD’s role in the drone program is rarely discussed as far as mainstream media are concerned, however, it’s pretty obvious that they are up to their necks in complicity.

Of the 500+ drones now held by the MoD, only around 10 Reapers are armed. British drones have been used predominantly to collect data surveillance intelligence, or at least that is the official line; but in such a secretive and distant campaign, who really knows how much action the Reapers have seen. But even if we stick with the ‘intelligence gathering’ story, by handing that intelligence to the CIA or US military, then the UK government becomes 100% complicit in the ongoing murders/executions/killings, as it is quite obvious what the intelligence is going to be used for.

According to Drone Wars UK, in the five years from 2007 to 2012, Britain spent over £2billion on the purchase and maintenance of its drones. In the meantime, the cuts to UK essential services continue to be torn out of the country in the name of ‘debt recovery’. I guess when you spend that kind of money, you really don’t want to see your new play things gathering dust in a hanger somewhere, like a fleet of classic cars. No, you’d need to use them to justify the price-tag, but at the same time you don’t want too many people knowing that you are using them. Here’s a question to parliament regarding the current usage of RAF drones. Please note the geographical location given for the whereabouts of the UK drones as, “in the Middle East”. That narrows that down, then.

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Of course, big corporations couldn’t help but get in on the action. British Telecom (a national treasure in the UK!), agreed a 5 year, £23million contract with the US government to make and sell advanced fibre-optic cable (about 30x faster than their Infinity broadband cables) to the US military, specifically for use in the drone program. BT responded by saying the cable is for general purpose, and see no issue with their deal. But Reprieve, the human rights organisation, has accused BT of “wilful ignorance”, and has demanded that they end their contract with the US Government.

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Despite the rather obvious benefit of being absent from the strike site, it seems that drone pilots do not escape the most commonly overlooked of war injuries: mental trauma. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, alcoholism and drug addiction are the most prevalent syndromes returning soldiers in the US and UK suffer from. Initial indicators from the psychological testing of drone pilots seems to show a strikingly similar pattern.

This problem was compounded by a lack of suitable or enthusiastic pilots, forcing the US military to make changes in its career pathways. Pilots who have found themselves on the drone program have also suffered from a burgeoning stigma within the Air force of being “not real pilots”, or that they are simply “jumped up video gamers’. The number of flights pilots are ordered to make intensified to its peak at the end of last year, pushing the pilots to work 16+ hours shifts, sometimes 6 days a week.

Here’s a rather odd music video I found on the TBIJ website and offers us a tiny glance into the world of a drone pilot. It’s written by the pilots ‘singing’, and you can definitely tell. The dynamic is one of men that have been too long in the company of other men. It’s sort of a protest song, with the pilots explaining through the medium of ‘rap’ how they much preferred to kill by firing missiles at people from a jet, the old fashioned way, rather than this boring drone flying. I think we are supposed to feel sorry for them. Perhaps you do, and maybe for different reasons.

Would you believe, some people living under the persistent threat of a drone strike might even agree with Top Gun 1 & 2, feat. Top Gun 3, there. That is to say, some civilians have actually been reported to say that they would prefer their village to face an air strike from an F16 jet, because at least “the attack ends”.

How must it feel, and what must it do to your psychology, to be under the persistent threat of these glinting, metallic hunters high above? The answer is thankfully beyond me, as it is beyond everyone who lives in the US and in the UK. Our leaders would tell us that the reason we cannot fully sympathise with this kind of fear, is precisely because of their successes in the War on Terror.

Another simple story. It might even be one you believe? Why not? We have to believe in some things. I assume you are comfortable with the price other less fortunate, but no less important, people are forced to pay for our freedom?