In the 1998 scifi action film Soldier, Kurt Russell plays Sgt Todd, a soldier who has been trained from birth to be a ruthless and efficient killing machine. To illustrate Todd’s complete absence of empathy, there’s a scene at the beginning of the film where he is in a battle in Moscow, walking through blasted ruins mowing down enemy Russian soldiers with his machine gun. A Russian soldier takes a civilian woman hostage, and holds her in front of him as a shield. The ruthless Sgt Todd shoots the civilian and the soldier without blinking. Todd’s complete dedication to the mission is chilling. We know that he is wrong; we know that he is not a moral person.
Watching Soldier on the television the other night it struck me that this is what a ‘human shield’ looks like. A non combatant intentionally placed in the line of fire to stop the opposing side firing on troops and military assets. It’s a term we’ve been exposed to relentlessly in the past couple of weeks.
It’s been one of the criticisms levelled at Hamas – that they are using civilians as human shields. And this has been used extensively by apologists of the Israeli government to defend the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza. Make a comment critical of Israel’s military actions and it won’t be long before a pro-Israel astro turfer rolls out the human shield defence. The reasoning usually applied is one of the following:
– Hamas are using human shields, so Israel has no option but to kill those human shields in order to kill Hamas.
– Hamas are using human shields, so it’s inevitable that Israel will unintentionally kill those human shields whilst trying to kill Hamas.
Neither options can be considered moral. Both scenarios mean that civilians will die as a result of the Israeli government’s military actions, and that the Israeli government knows it.
There’s no doubt that Hamas is waging it’s war on Israel from the neighbourhoods of Gaza, and have been caught storing weaponry in empty schools. But Gaza is a city of over two million, and it quickly becomes clear that Hamas’ war is being waged from inside a heavily populated area, not behind the people of Gaza. To make it worse, the civilians of Gaza are pinned in place by Israel and Egypt with no place to run. They are trapped.
And yet, Israel continues to launch high explosive ordinance at that small patch of land packed with humans.
This is no defence of Hamas or its allies. I wouldn’t want anyone to live in a state run by religious extremists who ban freedom of speech, murder their political enemies and zealously execute sharia law with often deadly consequences.
The saying goes about the first victim of war being truth, and the Middle East is no different. Using the human shield claim as absolution for killing the innocent is staggeringly dishonest and cowardly.
For dressing in a ‘Satanic’ ’emo’ fashion popular with many western youngsters. It seems that Tony Blair’s holy war to liberate Iraq from the cruelty of Saddam Hussein has handed the country, and it’s youth, into the grip of the cruelty of religious fundamentalists.
Territorial Army troops from 205 Battery based in Northfield Gardens, South Shields are going to be taking bibles into combat with them, kindly provided by the Gideons. The battle bibles are being issued to troops with the full support of their officers.
Captain James Foster, said:
“Our intent here at 205 battery is to present each soldier going on an operational tour with the new pocket-sized Gideon’s bible.”
Does that include Muslim, Hindu and atheist soldiers? Contrary to cliche, there are atheists in foxholes and troops of all denominations serving. It is worrying though, that rather than take a secular approach ensuring everyone is treated with equal respect, officers are using their rank to proselytize to troops about to go into a dangerous and stressful environment, and cheerily publicising it in the press too. You couldn’t get a better way of confirming the worries of religious colonialism felt by many Afghans, and feed the propaganda of insurgents who insist that coalition troops are fighting a religious war.
“I feel it’s a little book that can bring an awful lot of comfort.”
The Bible is also a book featuring God-sanctioned slavery, rape, incest, war, conquest and ethnic cleansing.
If you want to look for further suggestions that the British and American occupation of Afghanistan has a religious facet you need look no further than the biblical Gideon himself. The bible organisation’s Gideon didn’t mind a scrap, for territory and for his god. In the Bible, Gideon and his three hundred men were able to defeat enemies with faith in, and help from, God. The message is simple: obey orders like good soldiers and your god will deliver you victory.
And if you had any doubt, for good measure, Gideon’s name can translate as “Destroyer” or “Mighty warrior”. That’s mighty comforting.
But don’t just take it from me, David Hoskins on behalf of Gideon’s International said:
“We just hope they will give some comfort to those who receive them.”
There’s that comfort word again. I’m sure many Christian soldiers in war zones will find comfort in their holy book, however if I was on the front line, I would prefer the Gideons giving me extra body armour, or even better, campaign to bring the troops home. Instead though, they’d prefer to try to gain new Christian converts amongst soldiers in stressful conditions, all with the enthusiastic support of their officers.
David Cameron today described the 300th British fatality in Afghanistan as “no more or less tragic” than the other 299 dead in this war. In a national sense he is right, partly at least.
If it’s your loved one who has been killed or maimed you will see it very differently, and there’s one family in South Shields who have found out the hard way this last couple of days. This is what brings a far away war into the heart of our community and conveys how close the destructive power of conflict really is to us.
As well as the deep shock at the felling of young people fighting someone else’s war, every extra British death will be a stain on our collective soul, unless there is a just outcome. Rather than a single tragedy that David Cameron claims, every death and injury (British or foreign) adds to a cumulative and increasing tragedy.
Cameron missed this when he dipped into the banal when he said:
“We are paying a high price for keeping our country safe”
This war was never about our safety or justice. Despite UN and NATO involvement, Afghanistan was always about satisfying America’s blood lust and need for revenge after 9/11.
Our forces were always fighting an array of guerilla enemies, but the current strategy has resulted in little more than a stalemate, and an inventive enemy using homemade devices and thirty year old weapons has put a heavy cost on every inch of ground taken.
Whilst most of those serving in Afghanistan, if not all, love their job and are proud to be serving their country, it’s time we investigated alternatives, and got our troops out. Brute force and technological superiority aren’t working.
For those in South Shields who are having another hard night, I’m thinking of you.
There’s one person who was involved with the events running up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 who is sadly unable to give evidence at the Iraq War Inquiry. Seven years ago today, Robin Cook resigned as Leader of the House of Commons in protest at the invasion of Iraq. His resignation speech is as damning now as it was then, and was based around two key issues: there was little support either domestically or internationally for the invasion. Upon that he built a strong case that showed that the imperative for war was weak, built on policy design rather than the evidence.
Cook’s logic over the threat of Saddam Hussein was/is unassailable:
“We cannot base our military strategy on the assumption that Saddam is weak and at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that he is a threat.”
Unfortunately Cook’s voice will not be heard at Chilcot, but his resignation statement should be read in as evidence to the inquiry.
So according to Clare Short, Tony Blair misled the cabinet and Parliament and took our country into an illegal war. I’m looking forward to further revelations from Ms Short that bears defecate in the woods and the Pope is indeed a Catholic.
I know, I sound somewhat cynical about Ms Short. I’ve got no reason not to believe her testimony today, but I also think she is damaged goods. Blair needed her, she was lefty turned NuLabourette and his link to the backbenchers and old left, or what remained of it after the pre 97 purges. She fell for the Blair war line, and was bought with empty promises of rebuilding Iraq into a new post war Babylon.
Once we were at war, Short’s damp squib of a departure was no loss to Blair or Labour. He had got what he wanted.
Short wasn’t alone, much of Parliament also fell for it, including those who were meant to be in opposition and challenge Labour’s plans. An opposition that wouldn’t normally take Blair’s word over anything, except for Iraq. Any scrutiny was left to dissident Labour backbenchers and the Lib Dems. Without Conservative backing the Blair war machine would have lost momentum and credibility, and probably much of it’s public support. Who knows, without UK support, the USA might even have changed it’s plans.
Labour’s betrayal of the public trust was also a Conservative failure to protect it.
One thing I keep coming back to in my mind is a simple question. I didn’t believe Blair, his 45 minutes, his WMD, his legal argument or his sexed up intelligence dossier. I’m just an average bloke of average intelligence. Yet I saw though Blair’s war cry, as did millions of others. Why did the hundreds of MPs who voted in support of the war not see through it?