One recent evening, whilst fumbling through a collection of documentaries by acclaimed journalist and film maker John Pilger, I came across ‘Heroes’. This short film, produced in 1981, shone a spotlight on the treatment of Vietnam veterans in the aftermath of the conflict by an administration that had sent them to war. In the documentary a former US marine, injured in Vietnam, recalled the hysteria that led to hundreds of thousands of young men volunteering to fight in a strange far off land. They had been told that Vietnam posed a credible threat to the USA and the war was sold to the American public as being a righteous moral venture. At that time, President Lyndon B Johnson promoted the ‘Domino Theory’ which speculated that if Vietnam were allowed to turn ‘Communist’, the so called ‘Red Menace’ would spread across Asia. The result, in Johnson’s own words, being: ”If we quit Vietnam, tomorrow we’ll be fighting in Hawaii, and next week we’ll have to fight in San Francisco”.
Such crude scare tactics would come to sound hauntingly familiar. Times have changes but propaganda style has not. In the early 21st century, the new bogeyman, Al-Qaeda this time, was on the lips of politicians, splashed across the pages of newspapers and disseminated through the airwaves. In the aftermath of September 11th, we were threatened with everything up to and including weapons of mass destruction being used against us by a far off, formidable, but for the most part, unknown enemy. Events were quickly put into motion and many were swept up in the flood of hysteria that was used to justify the invasion of two already crippled countries and the destruction of many lives. In 2005, George Bush reminded us ”We fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here”
An article published in 1977 in ‘The Veteran’, the official magazine of Vietnam Veterans against the War (VVAW), summed up the treatment of veterans after the war succinctly with the phrase- ‘The ruling class policy toward its soldiers–Use Once and Throw Away’.
The first major monument dedicated to more than 58,000 members of the armed forces killed in action in Vietnam, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was not erected until 1982, nearly a decade after the war’s end. However, the real tragedy revealed itself in the years following the conflict as the soldiers who returned home were deserted by the government whose battles they been sent to fight. By the time ‘Heroes’ had been produced, roughly as many Vietnam veterans had committed suicide as had been killed in active service. Many more have taken their lives since. Thousands returned home missing limbs, suffering from cancer brought about through exposure to Agent Orange, used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam, or casualties of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many became and still are homeless. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are usually around 107,000 veterans sleeping rough every night. Of these almost half served in Vietnam.
The US Department of Defence estimated the direct costs of the Vietnam War to have been $173 billion (corresponding to about $770 billion in 2003 currency). When it came to providing medical care to the veterans of Vietnam, the necessary funds were not available. In 1972, President Nixon vetoed the ‘Veterans Health Care Expansion Act’ on the grounds that the bill was ‘fiscally irresponsible and inflationary’. The purpose of the bill was to approve spending of $85 million to expand health care provision for veterans and their families.
The cost of the Vietnam war has already been outstripped by the amount spent on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and, more recently, Libya. To date, the US has expended over $1.1 trillion on these wars. The UK, a junior partner of the coalition, has spent over $20 billion – the same figure that the NHS has been told it must save over the next 4 years through a string of savage cutbacks.
History repeats itself. The invasion of Vietnam proved devastating to invader and antagonist alike. Modern wars have proved to be a one way ticket to disaster. For those still harbouring doubts, recent revelations that emerged in February this year put an end to any reservations. Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, an Iraqi defector whom the CIA codenamed ‘Curveball’ , admitted that he had fabricated stories about Iraq having a secret biological weapons programme. Alwan al-Janabi’s stories played a major role in building the case for war. He stated in an interview with the Guardian”I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.”
In reality Curveball appears to have been somewhat of a fantasist and a bit of a loser whose codename could well have been ‘Munchausen’. He fled to Germany in the 1990s and applied for political asylum after being sought by Iraqi authorities on charges of theft committed whilst working at a TV production company in Baghdad.
Not only do Curveball’s revelations provide a bitter send off to the Britain’s troops, the last contingent formally having left Iraq at the end of May after 8 years of war and 179 dead, his comment about singlehandedly brining democracy to Iraq insults the memory of over a million Iraqi dead; few Iraqis today enjoy their newly bestowed ‘margin of democracy.’
Nevertheless, an obliging media and a fearful public seem can make any narrative seem real.
Government and media exhortations to ‘Support our troops’ are sick irony. Many of those fighting abroad are from deprived socio-economic backgrounds, created and enforced by a capitalist economic system. David Cameron announced last week his intention of keeping the armed forces tied up in Afghan conflict till at least 2015. The question must be asked: should we support our troops by encouraging their deployment into danger to be maimed or killed in bogus wars or should we support the armed forces by opposing foreign invasions and calling for them to be brought out of a dangerous and futile situation once and for all.
Returning soldiers, having ‘outlived their usefulness’, risk being thrown onto the scrapheap by a government that one day lauds them as heroes and the next leaves them to the mercy of an unfavourable economic climate.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) published in October 2010 proposed the loss of 42,000 jobs, throughout the armed services over the next 10 years. The projected job losses would amount to 25,000 civilian MOD employees, 7,000 troops and 10000 navy and RAF personnel. The redundancies are intended to save the government £1.2 billion over the next decade. The ‘Future Reserves 2020 Study’, commissioned as part of the SDSR by David Cameron and carried out by General Sir Nick Houghton, deputy head of the armed forces, recommends an increased role for reservists, cheaper but lacking the training of regular soldiers, in future military missions.
History is awash with numerous examples of the ruling classes sending the deprived to fight for imperialist interests. Whilst the British people are constantly reminded of the need for cuts or ‘efficiency saving’ as they are known in polite company, every sector including the police and armed forces having to take a bite of the rotten apple, Prime Minister David Cameron has found the money (and the excuses) for another military adventure- Libya this time. His friends in the banking sector, whom we have much to thank for the current state of affairs, have also managed to avoid swallowing the bitter medicine of austerity.
A much greater threat arises from home-grown terror operatives. A band of fanatics operating in the UK are unleashing a wave of economic terror attacks. The first wave of extremists, operating in cells known as ‘investment banks’, caused billions of pounds worth of damage to the British economy and found creative ways to avoid paying taxes they owed. The second band of extremists, commonly referred to as the ‘Con-Dem coalition’, incited by fanatical free-market ideology, unleashed a wholesale and deplorable attack upon innocent public sector workers, targeting both military and police personnel and civilian workers alike.
The Con-Dem coalition, wealthy tax dodging corporations and individuals, alongside an unregulated financial sector, pose a much greater threat to the lives of the people of Britain than any civilians or nationalist movements in foreign countries ever did. The working class men and women that make up the backbone of the military are arguably turning their force on the wrong people. Perhaps it is time our armed forces were redeployed to the perilous Canary Wharf and City of London provinces to do battle with the socio-economic terrorists in their high-rise hideouts. Doubtless, our American allies would want a piece of the action too, snatching high ranking operatives, such as Phillip Green and former RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin, at the dead of night, hooding and placing them in orange jump suits before flying them half way around the world to face creative interrogation methods at the hands of the CIA.Tags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by Tomasz Pierscionek