Introducing Gustav Landauer

•September 16, 2015 • 3 Comments


[Below is a biographical intro note on Gustav Landauer and his possible contemporary relevance, which I have also posted over at my other blog of translations from the German, Passing on the Flame. For anyone interested, I’ll be posting a few translated texts by Landauer at Passing on the Flame in the coming days and weeks.]

Gustav Landauer (7 April 1870 – 2 May 1919), German-Jewish mystic and non-violent anarchist, writer and literary critic, married to poet Hedwig Lachmann, was one of the leading innovative theorists of anarchism and libertarian socialism in Germany at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Most would find it hard to disagree with anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker in his estimation of Landauer as ‘without doubt the most significant mind libertarian socialism in Germany has produced’.

Landauer was an advocate of Proudhonian social anarchism, non-violence, decentralised re-ruralisation and the concrete building of socialism right now in intentional village communities. Influenced by libertarians like Etienne de la Boétie, Proudhon, Stirner, Bakunin, Tolstoy, Kropotkin, Friedländer, mystics and philosophers like Meister Eckhart, Spinoza, Rousseau, Fichte, Nietzsche, Mauthner, and writers like Goethe, Hölderlin, Whitman, Ibsen, his approach to socialism was self-consciously opposed to that of Marxist historical materialism and economic determinism, stressing instead culture and spirit, or ‘Geist’ (spirit, consciousness), the latter understood as the universal human spirit of social cooperation and association. For Landauer this spirit was the defining essence of socialism rather than class struggle or material conditions.

Physically thrown out of the social-democratic Second International together with the other anarchists, and also rejected by other class-struggle anarchists, Landauer remained a lonely figure outside all political groupings. As Rocker noted: “that Landauer had to live and act in Germany, of all places, became his fateful destiny, as it were. The majority of anarchists then in Germany understood him the least, and most of them did not even realise what they possessed in this man. Landauer always remained alone and lonely in that circle which should have been closest to him, understood only by a few and misunderstood, reviled and fanatically fought by many.”

However, his writings did find resonance among many intellectuals and youthful activists of the time, influencing men like Rudolf Rocker, Erich Mühsam, Augustin Souchy, Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch. A close friend of Martin Buber, Landauer thus also directly influenced the latter’s form of religious socialism and thus the later kibbutz movement in Palestine. Buber published some of Landauer’s unpublished works after his death and also devoted a chapter of his Paths in Utopia (1946) to a discussion of his ideas.

Landauer was briefly ‘Commissioner of Enlightenment and Public Instruction’ of the short-lived Bavarian Council Republic of 1918-1919. He is also known for his study of sceptical metaphysics and mysticism (Meister Eckhart), his literary criticism and his translations of Shakespeare, Whitman and Wilde into German. At the age of 49, Landauer was murdered in prison by counter-revolutionary forces sent by governmental Social Democrats to destroy the Munich Council Republic in April-May 1919.

Landauer seems of great contemporary relevance for anyone interested in non-violent civil disobedience and anarchism/libertarian socialism, in the critique of both Marxist orthodoxy and mass parliamentary democracy, in communitarianism and cooperatives, in transitioning to and building another decentralised, free, non-capitalist world right now, in the almost unknown emancipatory tradition of radical mysticism, in the integration of meditation/spirituality and activism, poetry and praxis, of inner and outer freedom.

A Call to Freedom

•September 3, 2015 • 4 Comments

pina-bausch-rite of spring

[This Call to Freedom has been strongly influenced by an essay in German by non-violent, mystic anarchist Gustav Landauer written in 1911, the title of which translates as ‘The Abolition of War by means of the Self-determination of the People’. I have been translating it, and will soon publish it at my other blog Passing on the Flame. During the so-called inter-imperial ‘Morocco Crisis’, three years before the outbreak of World War 1, Landauer was making a despairing, last-ditch attempt to awaken the people by calling for general strikes and worker conferences to prevent war and start building the social alternative: self-determination, self-organisation, self-management. He failed of course. Countless millions died and suffered in the resulting two world wars and dictatorships. All one can do is pass on the flame, try again, perhaps: fail better. The photo is from the wonderful late Pina Bausch’s ‘Rite of Spring’ production.]

A Strike for Life and a Great Palaver. A Call to Freedom.
– For all those who cannot take it anymore, yet feel another world is possible

Deep Down

Deep down we know it all.

At that level, down there beyond our fears and rationalisations, no one need tell us what the case is.

At that level, we are wiser and wider than our narrow everyday selves. This is the level we are at when we deeply respond to a work of art, music, a poem, a child, the ocean, the silence of a forest or an empty room, a quietened body-mind.

At that level, no one need preach and tell us what deep trouble the world is in.

No one need tell us that things cannot go on like this without some total, cataclysmic breakdown, one that has already begun and will cause further immense and lasting death and suffering.

At that level, we know that no one is an island and the world is one. That endless growth is not possible on a finite planet. That climate chaos or nuclear war could destroy civilisation for centuries. That the Sixth Mass Extinction of plant and animal species is upon us because of global deforestation, over-industrialisation, over-consumption, over-development. That our freedoms are being increasingly eroded as liberal societies become authoritarian police and total surveillance states. That true social and global peace and security are not possible without greater equality and social justice within and among nations, without a massive popular rejection of imperial interventions, militarism and jingoistic nationalism.

This sense of the existential threats to the common good is just common sense. Any child, any wise old person knows that.

The General Solution

No professors or activists’ megaphones need tell us that our ways of interacting with each other and the planet, our ways of organising our societies and economies, are utterly unjust, undemocratic and unsustainable.

At that deep level, we even know what the general solution is, whatever the debatable specifics of that solution: we know we have to fairly share wealth, resources and the global commons (water, air, oceans, land and soils, forests, internet…).

We know we have to make democratic decisions about how we organise things, how and what we produce, distribute and consume not for the benefit and unsustainable, luxurious wants of a global few but for the benefit and real, sustainable needs of all beings, human and non-human, present and future.

These social solutions are the same as the general means of achieving them: direct democratic debate, self-organisation and self-management, mutual aid, free collective action, civil disobedience, non-violence.

Yes, But…

However, at this point our narrow everyday selves often say: no, we are powerless. No, it’s all too complex and overwhelming to face, and we aren’t competent enough to understand it all. No, we should leave it to the government, leaders, the experts, the CEOs, the scientists and technologists, the international conferences. No, we should just vote for someone who will ‘fix’ it all for us.

We would prefer to delegate our own thinking and responsibilities to others, and then complain when they fail to ‘fix’ things for us, and then go and vote for the next lot who necessarily must do the same, over and over again.

As voters marking a piece of paper and then going home and abdicating our own sovereignty to so-called representatives for another three or four years, we prefer to remain passive consumers of ‘democratic’ political spectacles created by others. We prefer to remain dependent, obedient, voluntary slaves, as it seems much more comfortable than thinking our own real thoughts, than being our real, wider self, than acting independently, for ourselves, in free interaction with others. We prefer to ignore our inner freedom, to drown out our niggling conscience with noise and ceaseless busyness. Sometimes we even do this in noisy political activism making demands to the state authorities, often mouthing mind-numbing clichés and the dead slogans of yesteryear.

We are not used to, we have no practice in, democratically debating public issues within our communities with a view to doing things together ourselves. We are not used to seeing beyond our own narrow and immediate personal interests, our work and families, our daily issues, even as the world slides into chaos around us precisely because we don’t want to face the larger issues and our own consciences that are the inner expressions of those existential larger issues. At an emotional level, we don’t really feel an emphatic part of, and thus responsible for, a social and natural community or world, except as rate- and tax-payers, voters, tourists, and, occasionally, anxiously frenetic flag-wavers.

Our everyday unfree self cannot respond to anything beyond itself and its perceived narrow interests, thus feel no responsibility for the wider world. In our true, free selves we respond to conscience and world, we are respons-ible. Freedom is not opposed to, but the same as responsibility.

This narrow and this wider self, this fearful unfreedom and this fearless freedom, are in constant tension or conflict within us all. We oscillate between them. Social movements oscillate between them. The political and corporate powers-that-be, in all their varied mediocracy, are in fact living embodiments of the former and they do all they can to keep us all there at that level. Their opportunistic careerism, their media narcissism and entitled trough-hogging, their rigid ‘realism’ and Machiavellian mindsets, media communications and psy-ops constantly spin out nothing but fear-mongering, divide-and-rule, scapegoating, power maintenance, denial, short-termism, jingoism, the adolescent party-political games of abusing and ‘wedging’ opponents.

The Great Strike for Life and Great Palaver

So, what to do? Perhaps to even have to ask that question is already an indication of how bad things are.

In a healthy community confronted by imminent, life-threatening danger, the natural human response would be to down tools, stop work, get together to talk about the issue and what to do about it.

This is exactly what the world crises are indicating that all communities large and small, what humanity as a whole, should be doing: downing tools, going on strike, stopping the destruction machine, taking time out, coming together and conferring about the world’s deep and mounting crises and what to do about them.

Some of course are already doing this, not in striking but in a global mosaic of local resistance or constructive endeavours, cooperatives and social experiments outside the main turbo-charged system of work itself. It is time for the latter to be included. This can only be done by stopping the ever faster and more intensive exploitation within the main system itself for a period of resting, deep breathing, regaining clarity and sanity, conferring together. A kind of active holiday, a ‘holy’ day of whole-ness, of being whole and hale.

A possible initial name for this natural response and process could be: the Great Strike for Life and the Great Palaver. As it develops, the process will in time probably find its own name, or names.

Because it would be a directly democratic process, the outcomes of this process cannot be predicted or ordained. All that can be said about it is that, like the wider self we all have within us, it is necessary, needed, and must freely follow its own course according to its own internal dynamic.

The first steps: critically think all this through for yourself. Listen inside, ask your gut intelligence and intuition, your conscience and wider self, for a response. If you find you agree with it, circulate this Call to Freedom to colleagues, friends, neighbours, fellow citizens. Talk about preparing small, temporary strikes and palavers at work, in the community, in various grassroots groups and initiatives. Once these happen sufficiently and repeatedly, they may start to communicate with each other, link up, start preparing larger regional, national and international strikes and palavers.

The Identity of Means and Ends

Is this a clever ‘political strategy’ to achieve some distant ‘goal’ as defined by some armchair theory or other? The purpose of stopping work in the destruction machine and conferring is to stop work in the destruction machine and confer. The purpose or goal of the Great Strike and Palaver is not outside itself.

Nevertheless, such a lively, vital process, like the previous alter-globalisation, World Social Forum and Occupy movements, could become contagious across localities, regions and borders as it impresses and directly speaks to the suppressed feelings of others with its vital democratic energy and meaningfulness.

The purpose of the process is not to look ‘up’ or out and influence our ruling oligarchies, the usual form of what passes for ‘politics’. Rather, it is to become the ‘rulers’ ourselves, i.e. the active subjects of direct democracy, subjects who are stopping work and conferring together about life-threatening dangers, the declining quality of life on all levels, the common good.

Some within the state and corporate oligarchies, their consciences touched, might be moved to join us, others will try to manipulate, intimidate, co-opt or, as usual, suppress us with violence. Often the violence will also come from criminal thugs or sections of the people themselves who identify with the state and system or who feel threatened in their authoritarian beliefs.

However, there is no point in trying to prophecise what may or may not happen. Those are the speculative games of the armchair spectators and know-alls who enjoy spectating and almost never get active. Whatever does happen simply becomes the subject of the people’s Great Palaver.

The Choice to Be, the Choice to be Free

Deep down under our various social masks and insecurely rigid identities we know we are free, intelligent, responsible beings with a conscience. We know we are humans with souls and vital organic needs, not machines. Can we let this inner freedom, this freedom-to-think-and-act-for-ourselves without worrying what others may think or do, this freedom to be our true, wider selves, emerge like a bright butterfly from the tired old cocoon of narrow and false identity, from daily distraction and habit, from self-oppression of our deep longings and true selves?

Can we let our basic, intuitive understanding well up from within and break through into our clear, conscious minds and inform our actions? Can we let ourselves be the free beings we really are to save the world and all beings, i.e. ourselves? Je suis nous, ich bin wir, I am we.

Another world is possible: if we but let it, it is already inside us, as potential, as reality. Its name is: freedom.

(September 2015)

Sense of a Century

•August 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment 1915

[This three sonnet poem I wrote last year has just been published in the Australian Poetry Journal 5.1 . Saves you buying it, although you should anyway: Support Your Local Poet! The painting is Malevich’ Black Square from 1915, the painting to end all paintings. But of course people continued painting. Got paints, brushes, gotta do something…]

Sense of a Century


Your father four, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams
analysed into English, a suffragette beams
at a camera from a broken window in Holloway
after her sisters have tried to blow it up, US

Customs asks if you’re an anarchist, polygamist,
idiot, the Paris audience riots on the opening
night of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Berlin crowds
clap on three monarch cousins of England, Prussia

Russia, whose beards wag a third of the world, the
bordellos’ tight tango pulses through Buenos Aires
in sync with the sly sterling of London Banks while
Villa & Zapata ride peasant rage into Mexico City

& The Economist opines the spread of capital &
beneficent boots of empire make war impossible.


Fourteen & neither here nor there.
Books begin to open an escape hatch.
Just down the hill from high school
Parramatta Road’s telos is fulfilled

& LA enters as a drive-in milk bar
while Ramsey Road gets a supermarket
where you can buy without talking.
You prefer I Want to Hold Your Hand

to She Loves You. Neither is true.
No girls at school, or anywhere else.
Dominus vocat, servus advenit, non
je n’ai pas la plume de ma tante.

No TV, you don’t see dogs & fire-hoses
in Alabama, nor King having a dream.


Carbon passes 400, mother dies & reality
TV plans to send two keen people to Mars
in five years, forever. Early adopters go gaga
over Google Glass, eyes leaving their eyes

& planet for an algorithm. As Typhoon Haiyan
smacks the Filipino poor, the first lab-grown
meat is eaten on YouTube. The first child is born
from an IVF batch whose genomes his so-called

parents screened for what they consider ab-
normalities, mice are shown to be connate
with a smell encountered by their grandparents
& Snowden leaks our total Stasi State. Mother

dies, we get a map of first mama universe’s
relic light & new data confirm God is a particle.

Hiroshima and Mass Terror Bombing 1942-45

•August 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Nagasaki 45

[We have just commemorated the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This older essay attempts to place Hiroshima and Nagasaki within the bigger historical context of Allied mass terror bombing, a war crime, in World War 2. In the victors’ countries like the US, Britain and here in Australia the war crime order-givers and the bomber pilots are commemorated as heroes. The image is from Nagasaki 1945. Despite all the complexity of all social issues like war, in the end there will be no more wars when people begin to really understand why there are wars, who manipulates for and profits from them and who the victims are on all sides, how all wars dehumanise, bestialise and traumatise, then simply refuse to fight them. WordPress again won’t allow my copious endnotes.]

Mass Terror Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan 1942-45

The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended, is prohibited.
– Article 25 of the Hague Convention of 1907

One of the most essential principles of civilized warfare involves the distinction between the peaceful civilian and the military and the prohibition of deliberate attack on the former. If this distinction is obliterated, warfare must inevitably degenerate into barbarity. Yet, the practice of air bombardment in World War II eroded this principle.
– ‘War, Laws of’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15 edn., vol. 19, p. 541 .

Was there a rule to say you shouldn’t bomb, shouldn’t kill, shouldn’t burn to death one hundred thousand civilians in a single night?
– ex-US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in the film The Fog of War (2004)

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans.
Spare their women for Thy sake,
And if that is not too easy
We will pardon Thy Mistake.
– from John Betjeman, In Westminster Abbey

But to whom could you express such doubts? Raids on our cities helped to still the small voice of conscience but it worries me still to this day. Had the Germans won the war, should we or ought we to have been tried as war criminals? If we believed it morally wrong, should we have spoken out to our squadron commanders and refused to participate? What would have been the results? Court martial! It would have needed much more courage to have spoken out on this matter than the mere fact of continuing to fly on operations.
– A Pathfinder navigator of the Second World War

What does it matter to the widows, the orphans, the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought in the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?
– Gandhi (cited in Nikki van der Gaag, ‘Iraq- The pride and the pain’, New Internationalist
316, Sept 1999, p. 9)

On the first day of the Second World War in September 1939, US President Roosevelt appealed to the warring nations that ‘under no circumstances [to] undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities.’ The following year, in the course of its openly imperialist attacks, Hitler’s Nazi regime first unleashed terror bombing campaigns against civilian targets in cities like Warsaw, Rotterdam, Belgrade, Coventry, London, Stalingrad. Hitler also planned the complete annihilation of Moscow and Leningrad, the genocidal eradication of Poland and the Ukraine, the forced expatriation or killing of thirty one million people in Western Russia, home of my paternal ancestors. Total civilian deaths resulting from the German Blitzkrieg on Britain in 1940/41 were about 66,000; 4.1 million houses were destroyed. President Roosevelt quite accurately described the Blitzkrieg on British cities as ‘inhuman barbarism.’ The urgent question then was how democratic regimes would respond to the fascist barbarism of indiscriminate terror bombing of civilians.

Beyond all the ‘just cause’ and ‘just war’ rationalizations given to this day, and in solidarity with the point of view of the innocent victims that this essay is based on, the democratic response was also: equally ‘inhuman barbarism’. It was a complete reproduction of fascist means and principles. It was (and still is), however, known as ‘area’ or ‘strategic bombing’, an obfuscating linguistic euphemism like ‘collateral damage’ that is meant to effectively ‘disappear’ the civilian victims.

The allied bombing campaign on Germany during the second world war – directed on the British side by Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris – involved the Royal Air Force alone dropping a million tons of bombs on enemy territory, attacks on 131 cities and towns, the destruction of 3.5 million homes, 7.5 million left homeless and the deaths of about 600, 000 civilians. Of these 600,000 (mostly women or the elderly) about 80,000 were children.

In February 1942 Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet sanctioned a mass bombing campaign that was openly and officially intended ‘to destroy the morale of the enemy civilian population and, in particular, of the industrial workers.’ According to Philip Knightley, this decision

abandoned the accepted practice of attacking the enemy’s armed forces and, instead, made civilians the primary target. Night after night, RAF bombers in ever-increasing numbers struck throughout Germany, usually at working-class housing, because it was more densely packed.

The RAF was joined by US bombers from 1943 onwards. Even when deployed against whole cities (not military targets), only 20% of US bombs dropped during the war actually fell on designated areas. While terror bombing German civilians was in fact British War Cabinet policy, throughout the war, it was always officially claimed (and of course never contradicted by patriotic Allied correspondents) that only military targets were being bombed and German or neutral correspondents’ reports to the contrary were dismissed as propaganda in Britain and the US.

Lübeck, an old cultural city of no military importance, became the first target of Harris’ new ‘area bombing’ strategy. Many other German towns and cities like Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt and Hamburg were then subjected to mass bombing onslaughts. The Most Secret Operation Order No. 173 of May 27, 1943, stated under the heading of ‘Intention’ that the aim of the bombing raid was ‘to destroy Hamburg’ and estimated, in language strongly reminiscent of National Socialist usage, that 10,000 tons of bombs would be needed to ‘complete the process of elimination’: the raid in July 1943 in fact successfully created warfare’s first artificial firestorm that, in a single night, ‘eliminated’ 45,000 people by burning them alive.

However, it is Dresden that has, rightly or wrongly, long been the symbol of this policy of massive civilian killing by means of conventional aerial bombing. On February 13, 1945, the war almost over, the RAF dropped three-quarters of a million incendiary bombs on the city crowded with refugees from the Soviet advance. There were no ammunition factories or military facilities and the marshalling yards were not even attacked. ‘The aiming-point issued to Bomber Command crews was not the railway yards, but a stadium close to the city centre.’ The bombs created a fire storm in which winds approaching 100 miles an hour swept people into a fire centre where the temperature exceeded 1,000 degrees centigrade. Casualty figures have long been controversial. Knightley reports the long generally accepted figures of between 100,000 and 130,000 people being burnt alive or suffocated. More recent research by Dresden academics puts the figure considerably lower at around 25,000.

What is not disputed is the overwhelming ferocity of the attack, the fact that the city was a helpless target, that there were hardly any bunkers for the population and that the next day US planes returned to – in the great tradition of the ‘turkey shoot’ (cf. such US practices in the Vietnam and Iraq wars) ‒ ‘machine-gun survivors as they struggled to the banks of the Elbe’. As with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one of the main motives for the bombing of Dresden was to also ‘show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do’ (from the briefing note to Bomber Command squadrons detailed for the attack on Dresden).

According to one source, the first US fire bombing of Tokyo on 9-10 March 1945 roasted more than 80,000 people alive, made 1,000,000 homeless and destroyed about 25% of the city in a single night. According to another source, this raid killed at least 200,000 people. 334 B-29 bombers dropped almost half a million incendiary bombs containing jellied petroleum, a prototype of the napalm later so notoriously used in Vietnam, a substance that stuck to everything and turned water into fire. The horrific fire storm moved at 30m/second, canals boiled, metal melted and people burst into flames and became living torches.

The commander of the operation General Curtis LeMay, who at the time had said he wanted Tokyo ‘burned down, wiped right off the map’ in order to ‘shorten the war’, afterwards also boasted ‘we scorched and boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo on that night of 9-10 March than went up in vapour in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.’ He later also laconically expressed considerable insight into the true nature of his actions: ‘I suppose if we had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side’. The US Strategic Bombing Survey itself concluded

Probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a 6-hour period that at any time in the history of man. People died from extreme heat, from oxygen deficiency, from carbon monoxide asphyxiation, from being trampled beneath the feet of stampeding crowds, and from drowning. The largest numbers of victims were the most vulnerable: women, children and the elderly.

Similar fire bombing raids were conducted on Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Yokohama, Toyama and about 60 other Japanese cities, leaving a total (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki) of about 672,000 incinerated civilians (most of them of course women and children) and 10,000,000 homeless.

On August 6, 1945, a US B-29 bomber, touchingly named ‘Enola Gay’ after the pilot’s mother, dropped the first atomic bomb (equally touchingly named ‘Little Boy’ ) on Hiroshima. According to one source, between 70,000 and 80,000 were killed instantly, more than 70,000 others injured and 11 square kilometres of the city completely destroyed. According to another source, 130,000 to 140,000 died in the first four months in Hiroshima. Hiroshima, a city of almost 400,000, was of no great military significance. A second bomb (named ‘Fat Man’ possibly to obscenely complete the unconscious Oedipal triad begun with ‘Enola Gay’ and ‘Little Boy’), testing an alternative plutonium-based device, was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. This directly killed between 35,000 and 40,000 people, injured a like number and devastated 4.7 square kilometres of the city. (Four months later, gain due to radiation sickness, the figures were again 60,000 to 70,000 dead in Nagasaki).

In 1955, 10 years after the bombing, the city of Hiroshima published the number of victims as being 260 000, but also included the number of missing persons as being 163, 293, which lets one conservatively assume the number of nuclear victims in Hiroshima as being around 300,000. Dr Rosalie Bertell’s estimate of Hiroshima-Nagasaki victims is 322,000, a figure which includes cancer victims and 1,000 to 21,600 genetically damaged offspring each generation until death of the family line.

Forty years later in the mid-eighties there were nearly 400,000 ‘hibakusha’ (nuclear victims) in Japan suffering from the delayed after-effects of radiation, scarring, disfigurement, recurring illnesses, survivor-guilt, prejudice and discrimination in finding jobs or marriage partners. They are still unsuccessfully demanding that the US government admit “that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were against all humanity and a violation of international law under the terms of the Hague Convention.”

The official reason given (both at the time by President Truman and still today) for the mass nuclear killing and maiming of civilians in Japan has been that it saved US lives by shortening the war. Accepting this reason for the moment, it would seem to be a fine display of Machiavellian (or Jesuit, fascist or Leninist-Stalinist) ethics. The means, hundreds of thousands of dead or maimed and terrorised civilians (who in this case also of course happen to be of another race, as well as being mostly women and children), are said to justify the purported laudable ends. The Hague convention and international law count for nothing, the standards laudably developed at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials of Axis war criminals count for nothing in regard to one’s own crimes.

Moreover, the official reasons given may also not be the true reasons. Other, less ‘benign’, reasons also posited for these war crimes and crimes against humanity have been (a) to demonstrate, as the first warning shot in the Cold War, superior power to the imperial rival the USSR which was about to enter the war on Japan and/or (b) to study the effects of these new weapons on human guinea pigs (of another race). US scientists did in fact monopolise the radiation research studies on the victims by closing down the research sections of the Japanese hospitals but leaving the actual treatment of the survivors, of no interest to them, to Japanese doctors. Over a thousand victims’ bodies were flown to the US for autopsies and relatives could not bury them in Japan; US research was not made public at the time and when US archives were partly made public in 1977, survivors’ organisations had to actually buy back the information.

In US historian and philosopher Lewis Mumford’s view, as disconcerting an amoral continuity can be discerned between ‘conventionally’ destroyed Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo and atomically destroyed Hiroshima, Nagasaki, as there can between fascist and democratic governments’ commitments to exterminating civilians:

But the facts are now clear: the preparation for this misuse of power preceded the explosion of the first atomic bomb. Well before the first atom bomb was tested, the American Air Force had adopted the hitherto ‘unthinkable’ practice of the wholesale, indiscriminate bombing of concentrated civilian populations: this paralleled, except for distance from the victims, the practices employed by Hitler’s sub-men in extermination camps like Buchenwald and Auschwitz. (…) Thus the descent to total demoralization and extermination was neatly plotted well before the supposedly ‘ultimate’ weapon, the atom bomb, was invented.

We also know that Churchill, in a secret memorandum dated 6 July 1944, and in language and mind set identical to Hitler’s, contemplated the following:

It may be several weeks or even months before I shall ask you to drench Germany with poison gas, and if we do it, let us do it one hundred percent. In the meanwhile, I want the matter studied in cold blood by sensible people and not by that particular set of psalm-singing uniformed defeatists which one runs across now here and there.

Using a disease metaphor, Mumford sees the willingness of such democratic, ‘civilized’ men to practice obliteration bombing as an expression of the transferal (‘like cancer cells’) of fascist moral nihilism and disintegration into ‘the sound tissues of democracy’. Whether those democratic ‘tissues’ were as sound as Mumford maintains, is of course highly questionable. Sadly, the ‘transferal’ of fascist moral nihilism was not restricted to the old racist imperialists like Churchill and governmental and military order-givers like Truman. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki a Fortune Magazine poll found that a slim majority, 53%, of the US population ‘believe that we should have used this secret weapon in exactly the way we did’, while ‘a majority of all sexes, all age groups, and people in every part of the country subscribed to this feeling of satisfaction over our use of the atomic bomb.’

If this poll reflects true public opinion (and it still may very well be the prevalent popular opinion today), it would seem to at least raise uncomfortable questions of democratic majorities and minorities and of ‘collective guilt’ quite as incisively as those raised in regard to German collective guilt for the Nazi regime and its crimes, especially that of the Holocaust. Whether there is, or should be, such a thing as ‘collective guilt’ and if so, how much knowledge, blind collusion or outright support should define it, have been very controversial issues in the German case. To raise the same issue with regard to explicit democratic support for the terror bombing of German and Japanese civilians is of course based on an implicit moral premise that in itself cannot be ‘proven’ but only shared or rejected. This premise is that there can – whatever the historical situation or barbarities of the enemy regime ‒ never be such a thing as a ‘democratic mandate’ for the barbarity of obliteration bombing, crimes against humanity and the massacre of innocents, torture or genocide without destroying the very meaning of ‘democracy’, indeed of civilization, itself.

On this ethical assumption, ‘democratic barbarism’, ‘democratic terror’, ‘democratic torture’, ‘democratic area bombing’ or ‘democratic genocide’ can never be anything but absurd self-contradictions and Orwellian oxymorons. A corollary assumption is that there can never be any double standards with regard to the abuse of human rights without destroying the very meaning of those rights: the perpetrators are to be condemned, and brought to justice, as perpetrators and war criminals no matter what their nationalities, political allegiances, intentions or rationalizations.

If these basic moral premises (which also ground international law) are accepted, then it would seem difficult to refute Mumford when he maintains that ‘As with the Nazis, our lack of a sense of guilt was almost as great as the sin itself.’

However it should never be forgotten that significant minorities of people in democracies have, even in wartime, shared the moral assumptions outlined above and have thus refused to accept the double standards of their leaders and polled majorities. Even in 1943 a resident of one of London’s most heavily bombed areas could ask

Why is it that so many religious leaders, politicians and journalists, who denounced German barbarism during the heavy raids on this country, now either applaud such methods when they are adopted in intensified form by the Allies, or acquiesce by their silence?

British philosopher A.C. Grayling sums up the moral and human rights perspective on Allied ‘area bombing’ in the following way:

Was area bombing necessary? No.
Was it proportional? No.
Was it against the humanitarian principles that people have been striving to enunciate as a way of controlling and limiting war? Yes.
Was it against general moral standards of the kind recognised and agreed in Western civilisation in the last five centuries, or even 2,000 years? Yes.
Was it against what mature national laws provide in the way of outlawing murder, bodily harm, and destruction of property? Yes.
In short and in sum: was area bombing wrong? Yes.
Very wrong? Yes.

Total Civilian Deaths from Mass Bombing (Germany/Japan): 1,272,000

We spend a lifetime losing the perfection of the instant

•August 2, 2015 • 4 Comments

[Poem from my 2012 book Requiem. Posted here for Kristi, cf. also ‘Sceptical Poem’ posted January 2013. The title/first line is from a poem by Australian poet Peter Boyle. The line ‘lovers of change include the worst of men’ is from a poem by Australian poet Chris Wallace-Crabb. I shot the gulls…’but I did not shoot the sky’, at Kiama.]

We spend a lifetime losing the perfection of the instant

or moment we felt the swirl & energy of the general
student assembly at Munich, the smoke & surge
of direct democracy in action, no dry abstraction but
the thrilling theatre of posture & eyes, the honest lies

& raising of arms & bodies swaying like seaweed
in the flow of heady rhetoric, again the old delight
to be alive to the new horizons just out of sight
opening over a world about to change in ways

we could not even imagine but knew to be true
to the unknown god that reigned sublime & knew
us in our denied & deepest currents even as
lovers of change include the worst of men.

Ok, granted, we were a generation of fucked-up kids
who got TV instead of tit, un-bonded, narcissistic,
coddled like delicate eggs, ripped down the middle
with yawning holes of missing wrapped in plastic

we were what Eliot meant in The Hollow Men
& Wasteland, or Beckett’s waiting tramps & urns
even as our hips yearned like Elvis or Jagger,
sang of street fighting & yellow submarines.

So what, every generation’s got its baggage
& ours was lit up by Hiroshima & malls,
some turned to terrorism, some to THC on tap,
most trudged the long march through institutions

joined humanity punching eternal time clocks
in multifarious office blocks as far from Petrograd
or Eden as My Lai was from Bethlehem
& King on the steps of the Capitol.

Yet briefly we drank the anxiety & hope
in that god’s nectar, read tracts & books
that shared the inebriation of his raptures
spread over centuries of revolt’s rude gestures

the first ecstatic moments of revolutions
before reaction & the fear of our own godliness
set in & we become hostage to the facts
of history & self, the need to work, act,

love in a world of violence & the reign of things
that makes love & solidarity exceptional
to our state as Eden-unready as both heaven & hell,
the daily descant of compassion & hate.

Was it something like that you imagine, placing
your heart in, receiving from, those that came
many times before – the sweat & breath
of the ecclesia at Athens where excellence was

in the passionate tongue & reasoning mind;
the Iroquois federation sitting the equal circle
of nature till the spirit moved & all had spoken;
the peasants & Diggers who doffed their hats

to no man &, reading the Christ in Everyman,
found no gentlemen when Adam delved & Eve span
& uprising as necessary as the free rise of breath;
the first generations of factory workers everywhere

carrying their former independence of sod or tool
into the mine & mill revolting against cold
Capital’s impersonal kill of community & kin,
dignity, the moral economy that bore only fair price

& wage unrelated to the market & logic of more;
was it like this among the sans-culottes of 93 & 71,
the St Petersburg soviets of 05, 17 & Kronstadt 21,
right through the self-managed miracles of farm

& factory in Spain, that short summer of living
anarchy in 36 that proved peasants & workers
needed no civics to run the show; in Budapest
the armed workers’ councils in 56 heroically

resisting totalitarian tanks for democracy & bread;
the spontaneous general strike not for bread
but some intensity beyond dead life all over
France in le joli mai of 68 that defined our time?

You have no idea. The baggage remains, the fatal
flaws in all these shattered mirrors of the human
dream, violence, demagoguery, misogyny, power
trips, triumphalism synonyms for rudderless despair.

But between two breaths or some bird’s call,
a pause in a conversation or a train of thought
the flame is there, the memory passed on untaught,
a torch across time & place between perfect strangers

in active struggle or reading books, the perfection
of the instant we imperfect ones are together free
& truly human, humbly sketching the eternally failed
& quivering not-yet of our rising god to be.

Harold Pinter cutting through the official lies

•July 30, 2015 • 2 Comments

Harold Pinter

[Closing comment on the Iraq wars and US imperial policy in general by the late great English playwright Harold Pinter in his great, and under-reported, Nobel Prize speech delivered 10 years ago, three years before he died. This speech (this here is merely an extract, the whole is available at the official Nobel Prize website) deserves widest possible dissemination. It cuts through so much media and dinner conversation bullshit with the powerful words of a great writer.]

from: Harold Pinter, ‘Art, Truth and Politics’, lecture on receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature 2005

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory [the problematic territory of truth-telling in art] since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it. […]

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It’s a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.’

It’s a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it’s very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what’s called the ‘international community’. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be ‘the leader of the free world’. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally – a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man’s land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You’re either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they’re interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. ‘We don’t do body counts,’ said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. ‘A grateful child,’ said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. ‘When do I get my arms back?’ he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn’t holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you’re making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm’s way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, ‘I’m Explaining a Few Things’:

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.

And you will ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!*

Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda’s poem I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as ‘full spectrum dominance’. That is not my term, it is theirs. ‘Full spectrum dominance’ means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don’t quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity – the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons – is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government’s actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force – yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man’s man.

‘God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden’s God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam’s God was bad, except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don’t chop people’s heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don’t you forget it.’

A writer’s life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don’t have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection – unless you lie – in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called ‘Death’.

Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?

Who was the dead body?

Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?

Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?

Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?

Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.

Iraq 3: War and Occupation 2003 ff

•July 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment


[Last essay on the recent history of Iraq’s destruction. All endnote sources cut out by WordPress. All information taken from publicly available sources in print media, especially Sydney Morning Herald, and online.]

The Second Iraq War and Occupation 2003 ff

The war in Iraq is the most important liberal, revolutionary US democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. It is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.
– Thomas Friedman, The New York Times, c. 2003

The charges in the indictment that the defendants planned and waged aggressive wars are charges of the utmost gravity. War is essentially an evil thing. (…). To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
– from the Nuremberg Judgment of Nazi leaders/war criminals in 1945

I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today’s lesson: don’t rape, don’t torture, don’t kill, and get out while you can – while it still looks like you have a choice…Chaos? Civil war? We’ll take our chances – just take your puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.
– Young Iraqi woman at the Baghdad Burning blog in May 7, 2004

Before the US/British/Australian invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003, many academic experts in international law warned of its illegality. In September 2004 UN Secretary General Kofi Annan agreed and expressed the opinion that the US/British invasion of Iraq in 2003 was illegal under international law. The relevant international laws against wars of aggression (as ‘crimes against peace’) that the Iraq invasion and occupation breached are the Kellog-Briand Pact of 1928, the London Treaty of 1945 (which established the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal) and the 1945 United Nations Charter, Article 2 Clause 4.

The US/British/Australian official legal position on the invasion was that it was necessary as a ‘preventive’ measure to stop Saddam Hussein’s potential use of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and to enforce UN Security Council resolution 1441 which threatened ‘serious consequences’ for Iraq’s alleged failure to disarm. However, the latter resolution was passed unanimously precisely because it seemed to keep the Security Council (not the US) in charge and did not (by, for example, threatening ‘all necessary means’ or other diplomatic terms for actual military intervention) authorize the use of military force. The blatant lie of there being links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda (contradicted by western intelligence agencies themselves) was also publicly propagated or repeatedly implied by key US administration officials, including President Bush and Vice-President Cheney.

As for the ‘preventive war’ argument: ex-UN weapons inspector in Iraq Scott Ritter stated before the invasion that almost all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been eliminated, and this was confirmed when the invasion and occupation failed to find any at all. In late 2003 it was revealed that Saddam had proposed to give Bush and Blair almost everything they purportedly wanted in order to prevent an invasion: proof that Iraq was not linked to September 11, permission for several thousand US troops or the FBI to enter Iraq and look for weapons of mass destruction wherever they wanted to, acceptance of internationally monitored elections within two years, support for the US position on Israel and Palestine, even rights over Iraqi oil. All this was kept from the public.

Overwhelming evidence thus points to the pre-war ‘weapons of mass destruction’ argument as being purely and simply an utterly mendacious pretext for military intervention and the setting up of US bases in Iraq. Bush Vice-President Cheney, in his previous role as Defense Secretary under Bush Sr., already wanted to invade and occupy Iraq after the first Gulf War in 1991 but was over-ruled at the time. His policy was then elaborated in 1999 by the right-wing think-tank Project for a New American Century he co-founded (and the members of which also included other key Bush Jr. administration officials like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz). In 2001 Rumsfeld initially attempted to use the September 11 terrorist attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq but no al-Qaeda/Saddam link could be established. The invasion and control of Iraq, its immense oil wealth and geo-strategic importance was thus in fact an early, and even at times publicly stated (e.g. by Wolfowitz), intention of key members of the right-wing Bush administration.

Further evidence of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ pretext is contained in a memo of a two hour meeting in January 2003 between President Bush and close ally British PM Tony Blair: this revealed that Bush made it clear that he would invade Iraq ‘whether or not there was a second UN resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons program’; a second UN resolution would merely be an ‘insurance policy’ providing ‘international cover’ and ‘diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around military planning.’ Contrary to the public ‘spin’ given about the September 11 surprise and the Saddam threat, George Tenet, CIA director from 1997 to 2004, revealed that early CIA warnings about Osama bin Laden had received a lukewarm reception in the White House throughout most of 2001 and that ‘there was never any serious debate that I know of within the Administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat’.

One year before the actual invasion, the Australian ambassador to the UN Dauth also knew of its certainty: he told the Australian Wheat Board chairman Flugge that the Howard government would participate in a US invasion of Iraq, even while Prime Minister Howard continued to publicly lie that he was ‘still considering’ his government’s actions. (The Australian Wheat Board was at the time involved in financially supporting the officially demonised Saddam Hussein regime by paying its officials a mere $290 million in bribes in order to facilitate the sale of Australian wheat. The Australian government of course denied all official knowledge of these payments.)

After the invasion in 2003, US and British forces occupying Iraq arbitrarily detained, killed and tortured civilians, committing war crimes which violate articles 17, 18, 33 and 147 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. In fighting Iraqi insurgents, both US and British forces continued to break international rules of war by using cluster bombs and shells in urban areas at great cost to civilians: in 2003 even Iraqi government officials accused US forces of dropping cluster bombs on Baghdad and Hilla, killing 47 civilians and wounding 166.

In April 2004 the city of Falluja, an area of fierce resistance, was completely devastated by the US military. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 civilians were left in the city during the attack. White phosphorous, a chemical weapon, was used, as were ‘thermobaric novel explosives’ (NE) or ‘fuel-air’ weapons (also used by the Russian military in Chechnya) that barbarically kill by fireball, oxygen depletion and/or overpressure. The US Marines ‘leveled thousands of buildings, illegally denied access to the Iraqi Red Crescent, and, according to the UN’s special rapporteur, also used ‘hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population.’ While hospitals reported 600 dead and 1,700 wounded, at least half of them women, children and the elderly, there was no western corporate media reporting or outrage at this attack.

An undisclosed internal report obtained by The Washington Post by a Major-General Bargewell on the massacre and rape of two dozen civilians by US marines in Haditha in November 2005 critically stated the obvious: although the marines were now facing court martial trials, marine officers had shown no interest whatsoever in investigating allegations of a massacre, the reason of course being

“Statements made by the chain of command during interviews for this investigation, taken as a whole, suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as US lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the marines need to get ‘the job done’ no matter what it takes.”

Three years after the invasion, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis supported the armed resistance and strongly opposed the presence of foreign troops in Iraq and despite the legal and moral obligation to rebuild Iraq, the US had done very little in that regard. Of the $US 230 billion spent to 2006 (original estimate of war costs: $ 1,3 billion), only $18.4 billion were earmarked for ‘reconstruction’ and up to 80% of that was siphoned off for private security services. Oil and electricity production were below pre-war levels, health and water systems in disarray and everyday life a bleak struggle with petrol queues and power blackouts. A secret 2005 British Ministry of Defence survey of Iraq public opinion published in the London Sunday Telegraph (23/10/2005) found that 65% of polled Iraqis supported attacks by Iraqi armed resistance on US-led occupation forces, 72% said that the US-led occupation had made their lives less secure, and 82% ‘strongly opposed’ the presence of US and other foreign troops in their country.

As in Afghanistan, the introduction of formal ‘democracy’ and the presence of US-led forces in Iraq have also done little to advance women’s rights there. According to a 2005 Amnesty International report, several female activists were threatened, kidnapped or killed by male-chauvinist Islamicists for advocating women’s rights, others forced to operate in a climate of fear and intimidation; in addition, ‘reports have emerged of beatings, threats of rape, humiliating and degrading treatment and long periods of solitary confinement’ of Iraqi women by US forces.

Torture and other severe abuses of human rights also again became routine in post-invasion ‘democratic’ Iraq. Referring to Shiite Interior Ministry-run secret torture centres, former first post-Saddam prime minister Iyad Allawi (himself a secular Shiite) publicly stated in November 2005 that the abuse of human rights in occupied Iraq was as bad as it was under Saddam Hussein, if not worse. This Iraqi puppet government abuse was also modelled on US practices. According to the US Human Rights Network,

“The US military has systematically committed acts of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds have been detained indefinitely, without charge or trial, and often in secret. Criminal trials have been conducted in military tribunals that do not provide adequate transparency or due process protections.”

For example, at Abu Ghraib military prison near Baghdad arbitrarily detained civilian ‘security detainees’ (arrested during demonstrations, at checkpoints and in house raids ) were denied court access, killed and tortured or abused by physical, sexual and psychological means. The torture was photographed by guards, some of whom had worked in the US domestic prison system, and emailed. Seven male and female soldiers were charged or pleaded guilty to torture charges, but no officer or government official had to face criminal proceedings. According to renowned US journalist Seymour Hersh, within days of the first reports about Abu Ghraib abuses, ‘the judicial system was programmed to begin prosecuting the enlisted men and women in the photos and to go no further up the chain of command.’

In 2004 the Pentagon itself acknowledged that there had been at least 94 confirmed cases of death in custody, sexual and physical assault and other mistreatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan by US army guards. British soldiers were also charged with forcing Iraqis into humiliating sexual poses and photographing them. The International Red Cross told the US government that its treatment of illegally held detainees at its base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was ‘tantamount to torture’. Many of the techniques involving humiliation were part of a standard, so-called ‘futility’ or ‘ego down’ approach, and 16 of such harsh techniques were approved for use at Guantanamo by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld in December 2002.

After retirement (as not infrequently with members of the military and ruling elites), the US officer who opened and ran Guantanamo, Marine Major-General Michael Lehnert, agreed with the critics, saying that the camp should be shut down and noting that ‘in retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong’, and that it had ‘helped our enemies.’ As for the prisoners illegally held there for their ‘intelligence value’, he ‘quickly became convinced that most of them never should have been sent there because they had little intelligence value and there was insufficient evidence linking them to war crimes.’

In his declared so-called ‘war on terror’, torture and abuse had been sanctioned by President Bush in 2001 and 2002. Immediately after September 11 President Bush extended the Clinton-era practice, begun in 1995, of so-called ‘renditions’ by enabling the CIA ‒ now without even any internal bureaucratic oversight or review whatsoever ‒ to covertly transport illegally abducted and detained detainees in ‘ghost flights’ to certain countries for interrogation (Egypt, Jordan , Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia). These countries are known ‒ and have often been previously officially condemned by the US State Department ‒ to practise torture during interrogations. Thus, in order to circumvent the bans on torture in its own law and in international law, the US government thus secretly ‘outsourced’ its interrogations in a form of ‘torture by proxy’. According to a 2005 CBS TV report, ‘The suspects were often picked up by local security services or police at the behest of the CIA, and were then drugged, stripped and dressed in prison clothes by masked CIA operatives before being put on the jets.’ After his release from Guantanamo Bay , Australian detainee Mamdouh Habib was taken from Pakistan to Egypt, where he alleged that he was visited by Australian officials and repeatedly tortured by means of electric shocks and water immersion and threatened with sexual assault through trained dogs.

According to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker and State Department officials, President Bush decided to explicitly suspend the Geneva Conventions in January 2002. Since September 11, 2001 and under the pretext of a so-called ‘war on terrorism’, the US government in fact built up a largely invisible ‘global gulag system’ of secret prisons (‘black sites’) and an ‘outsourced’ torture network without prison rolls, visitor rosters, staff lists or complaint procedures. There has been no possibility of meaningful judicial process or review. These ‘ghost detainees’ were held outside any legal framework. By evading public and judicial scrutiny, by hiding the identity of perpetrators and fate of victims, the US administration can thus avoid accountability for its serious human rights violations.

As in any totalitarian state or authoritarian dictatorship, the US administration did this in order to ‘disappear’, hold without charge or trial and torture anyone it considered ‘suspect’. It attempted to set up a punitive parallel system beyond the reach of the American and European judicial process, i.e. beyond the rule of law or democratic process. Key features of liberal democracy were thus in fact abolished and a form of authoritarian police state introduced. According to US and UK military officials, the floating population of ‘ghost detainees’ in this global US gulag in 2005 exceeded 10,000.

In December 2005 the UN human rights chief Louise Arbour warned that the global ban on torture was becoming a casualty of the US-led so-called ‘war on terror’ and demanded that the US and other countries state clearly what practices they accepted in the interrogation of suspects, whether they operated secret prisons at home or abroad and the prosecution of those responsible for torture and ill treatment.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw asserted that the British government did not ‘knowingly’ use information gained under torture. By 2012, however, the British Ministry of Defence had already paid out $21.7 million in compensation to hundreds of Iraqis who had been illegally detained and tortured by British forces during their five-year occupation of south-eastern Iraq; lawyers representing former detainees ‘said the abuse was systemic, with military interrogators and guards responsible for the mistreatment acting in accordance with both their training in Britain and orders issued in Iraq.’ At the end of 2012 up to 1000 British soldiers were expected to be investigated in the UK for crimes allegedly committed during the Iraq war.

At the same time as Foreign Secretary Straw was alleging ignorance of torture, sacked former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray revealed that the British government was aware it was receiving information obtained by Uzbek authorities through torture and that British Foreign Office legal opinion argued that use of such information was not a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. A British Foreign Office briefing note for the PM’s office (December 2005) also revealed that, in contrast to official denials by Blair and others, the British government had been aware of the secret US interrogation centres and was trying to stifle attempts by British MPs to find out what it knew about CIA ‘torture flights’. According to a previously unpublished document obtained in 2005 by the Statewatch Civil Liberties Group, the European Union as a whole secretly allowed the US to use airports on European soil to transport ‘criminals’ in 2003.

In December 2005 it was also revealed that for all its electorally popular, publicly ‘anti-American’ stance during the Iraq invasion, the Social-Democrat-Green government in Germany had also had detailed knowledge of, been quietly complicit with, and occasionally even rewarded for, its silence in regard to the US practice of CIA ‘renditions’ and so-called ‘black sites’ across Europe. In some cases, German intelligence officers had even actively cooperated and ‘even tried to profit from the controversial methods by questioning prisoners who were being held without any legal foundation.’ Similarly, according to the official Council of Europe report, the British government not only allowed the use of British airspace and airports for US ‘renditions’ but also ‘provided information that was used during the torture of one suspect’.

By turning a blind eye or actively colluding in the unlawful and abusive US practice of ‘renditions’, many other democratic European states and airline companies must – in the view of Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Kahn ‒ ‘also bear responsibility for creating a law-free zone in which human rights can be violated with impunity.’ This opinion was confirmed in 2007 with the conclusion of the 19-month Council of Europe investigation into the complicity of European governments in CIA ‘renditions’ which declared: ‘We have sufficient grounds to declare that the highest state authorities [in Europe] were aware of the illegal activities on their territories’, but continued to cover them up.

For fear of possible lawsuits and being made scapegoats for illegal Bush-administration decisions, some CIA officers in 2006 even refused to take part in internal discussions about secret prisons, controversial interrogation methods breaching the Geneva Conventions and ‘extraordinary renditions’.

Not only common sense but the order-givers and textbooks of the intelligence hierarchy – like CIA director Porter Goss or the US Army’s own interrogation field manual – have often admitted that torture is in fact a very unreliable interrogation technique because of the victim’s willingness to say anything the torturer wishes to hear. It may, however, serve quite other purposes than those officially maintained.

Domestically, the function of torture is also one of instilling a general sense of fear in the population, increasing social disengagement and weakening dissent, and thus increasing state social control. Increased unregulated state surveillance, the arbitrary arrest on mere suspicion that has become possible through so-called ‘anti-terror’ legislation (like the US Patriot Act and its British and Australian equivalents), torture, sedition laws and the elimination of habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence and the right to fair trial – all these introduced features of the authoritarian state also terrorize the broader community into acquiescence.

Thus, under the guise or pretext of the so-called ‘war on terror’ declared by the Bush administration, several Western democracies have been shifted towards less open, less democratic, less law-based and more intolerant, more authoritarian and more coercive systems of governance. Liberal democracy is at grave risk of disappearing into some form of ‘friendly (i.e. still constitutional and formally ‘democratic’) fascism’ . Combined with savagely neo-liberal economic policies strengthening the power of Capital over workers (tax cuts for the wealthy, radical reductions of the welfare state safety net, generally minimizing wages and penalty rates, intensifying working conditions, weakening of unions and workers’ rights) and increasing nationalism and xenophobia among frightened populations, outright ‘friendly fascist’ and authoritarian police states thus seem ominously nascent at least in the USA, some European countries and Australia.

The usual moral confusions and double standards also pertain. As the New York Times noted, the US State Department’s 2005 World Human Rights report chastised the Iraqi government that was under its own control and its security forces

“for the same kinds of arbitrary detentions, abusive treatment and torture that have been widespread in American military and intelligence prison camps. Indeed, some of the practices the report labeled as torture when employed by foreign governments were approved at one point for American detention centers by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.”

According to Francis Boyle, Professor of Law at the University of Illinois, the accountability for all these war crimes under the terms of the US Army’s own Field Manual 27-10 stretches from the immediate perpetrators up to the army high command, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush himself:

“So ultimately what we have here are people at the highest levels of the chain of command guilty of ordering or not preventing torture, which is both an international crime against the Geneva Conventions and the Torture Convention and a domestic crime as well. What we have here then is a conspiracy among the aforementioned individuals to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

However, at this point in time, a Nuremberg-style war crimes tribunal for Messrs Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Blair or Howard is as little in the offing as it was for the many war criminals, human rights abusers and international law breakers of previous US and Western democratic governments.

US and British forces in post-occupation Iraq of course faced the usual guerrilla insurgency seeking to throw them out. Violence quickly became the main cause of death in Iraq. Despite the predictable western media focus on insurgent bomb attacks and hostage taking, the main killers at least initially in 2004 were not the insurgents but US soldiers: the Iraqi ministry of health’s statistics showed that in the last six months of that year they killed almost twice as many people as the insurgents did. A 2005 report by the independent Iraq Body Count and the Oxford Research Group, applying very strict verification criteria, concluded that of the at least 24,865 Iraqi civilians verifiably killed in the two years after the invasion, four times as many (around nine and a half thousand, or 37%) died at the hands of US-led forces than were killed by suicide bombers or insurgents (2,353). Non-political criminal violence accounted for the second largest (36%) cause of death, the criminal murder rate having soared 20-fold since the invasion.

The massive breakdown of law and order as well as the health system in Iraq is of course also an effect of the invasion (coming on top of the destruction wrought by the first Gulf War and the sanctions) and the inherent ineffectiveness of the initial puppet regime and subsequent ‘democratic’ governments. Depleted uranium munitions were also again used in the 2003 invasion: in July 2007 the Iraqi Environment Minister linked a sharp increase in cancers to the 350 officially DU-contaminated sites across Iraq and urgently requested international assistance.

According to research by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore published at the end of 2004 in The Lancet medical journal, the estimated total (direct and indirect) death toll of the second Iraq war/invasion was at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Most were killed by air strikes. About half were women and children. In the same period 848 US military were killed in combat or attacks. In 2006 the same institute release a report based on their cluster survey research of Iraqi deaths in occupied Iraq. This report, which did not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, came to the conclusion that the illegal war of aggression and imperial occupation had caused more than 600,000 Iraqi deaths.

In Professor (of Law) Michael Mandel’s view, that is 600,000 murders: ‘Since the war was unlawful, the many thousands of deaths predictably resulting from it are also crimes, murder in fact, for which Bush and his officials and commanders are guilty in flagrante.’

In his Noble Prize speech of 2005, British playwright Harold Pinter emphatically concurred:

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. […] We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.’ […]

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines.

In 2012, seven years after Pinter’s speech, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa also concurred: in his view, Bush and Blair should be taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for their role in the Iraq war, accusing them of lying about weapons of mass destruction and leaving the world more destabilised and divided ‘than [after] any other conflict in history.’

Iraqi Deaths as a result of US/British/Australian 2003 Invasion of Iraq (as of 2006): c. 609,500

Total Iraqi Deaths through US/GB Interventions 1990-2006: c. 1,820,500


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