Sunday, 20 March 2011

Liberating Libyan civilians - mind the collateral damage.

Anyone who has studied recent military history will be deeply concerned at the escalation of violence following the UN Resolution. News Bulletins are full of anodyne and blase comments about the targeting of ‘anti-aircraft’ establishments. The use of cruise missiles is mentioned without any pause for concern. Apparently 126 were fired on the opening night of the campaign. 
Gaddafi is a madman, a known liar and propagandist. Western media accept this whenever he is quoted or when a Libyan spokesman gives the ‘official view.’ Western media do not use similar detachment or sceptism when they report on our armed forces activities. Military and Ministerial press briefings are swallowed whole despite years and years of evidence of calamity and cock-up. Remember those very smart bombs that flew into bunkers by wire-guided devices which featured so prominently in coverage of the 1st and 2nd Iraq wars? Turns out they were not that effective after all and most of the damage was done by good old high explosive dropped from a great height. Cruise Missiles? Have been known to go astray, wiping out hundreds of innocent civillians. Doesn’t get the same coverage when the facts emerge months or even years later. 
One of the nastiest and most dispiriting phrases in the current lexicon is, ‘Collateral damage.’ It is used by military spokesfolks on an increasing regular basis in Afghanistan having had an excellent run in Vietnam and Iraq. All the talk of ‘hearts and minds’ is just so much hogwash so long as the military keep bumping off the people they are supposed to be helping. A classic example came from the Vietnam War.  A young US lieutenant cheerfully declared a village had been liberated from the Viet Cong by completely destroying it. 
Anyone who thinks that mindset has gone away has not been following the use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Wikileaks recently showed the appalling video footage from Iraq where gung-ho gunship troops killed many innocent civillians without a qualm. 
Do not trust the military to tell the truth or to even be effective. Do not rely on other than a handful of politicians to oppose the use of military force. Do not rely on the bulk of the media for independent analysis and scrutiny. Do not accept anything about this matter at face value. Members of the  ‘Arab League’ who, by pressing for the no-fly zone, gave the UN a significant nudge, are among the most despotic and undemocratic leaders in the world.
As RAF pilots fly thousands of miles to attack Gaddafi’s defences they will have plenty of time to ponder some curious ironies. 
The weapons trained upon them will be mainly British made or supplied (thanks Mr Blair). 
Their RAF squadrons are being cut back (thanks Mr Cameron and Mr Fox). 
The carrier which could have been very useful in this situation has just been decommissioned (thanks Mr Fox). 
By being very effective and ending the conflict swiftly they could fly quickly towards unemployment. 
Politicians are getting too used to sending other people’s kids off to die in foreign wars - they themselves are removed from the event. They can strut their stuff at ‘important’ strategic meetings where they plan the use of monumental force - and try to forget collateral damage.
And as they strut, remember,  they act in our name.

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