Monthly Archives: April 2012

Anzac Day glorifies war

IN AUSTRALIA, Anzac Day is a means to promote militarism and nationalism. It marks the day when Australian forces invaded Turkey in 1915, entering World War I.

Sixty thousand Australians were killed in that war and nearly 16 million people died worldwide. It was no event over which to rejoice.

Anzac Day was initially used during the war to recruit people to fight on the other side of the world. In 1916 and 1917, Anzac Day became a means of supporting conscription.

After 1918, there was a long period when people were fed up with what they had exprienced during the war. Economic conditions were not good due to the numerous strikes caused by an increasingly militant workforce. During that time, Anzac Day was hardly celebrated.

Once the league for returned servicemen was formed, the government started supporting it and handed over control of Anzac Day to the league. During the great depression, the league grew in number as it offered unemployment relief.

Class tensions were rife at this time and Anzac Day marchers were told not to march according to rank. This created some kind of a covering of class differences and Anzac Day was promoted as a means of unifying the nation. But as the nation’s anti-war sentiment grew during the Vietnam War, so too did the popularity of Anzac Day.

Bob Hawke and Paul Keating began the current revival of Anzac Day as a nationalist celebration. Social spending was falling and Anzac Day was used as a poultice to project the spirit of nationalism and to hide class distinctions. Hawke brought back the pilgrimage to Gallipoli and Keating spoke long and loud about the sacrifice on the Kokoda Track.

John Howard took this to a new level, invoking Anzac Day and building up a spirit of militarism to justify Australia’s participation in wars in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Anzac Day is meant to be a day that recognises the horrors of war. Instead, it has become a day that caters to militarism, imperialism and conservatism.

No soldier would want to glorify the events at Gallipoli. War is not a thing that those who fought in enjoyed. Sensible people should reject this celebration and boycott what happens because all it is doing is making a good and glorious event out of the misery of war.

Afghanistan: lies and damn lies. No statistics

THIRTY-TWO Australians have died needlessly in Afghanistan. All of them were young, in their 20s and 30s, and have left young families behind. If there was some point to their dying, if they had sacrificed their lives for a worthy cause, then at least their loved ones would have some means of consoling themselves.

But that isn’t the case. They have died for nothing. They have died because one man’s vanity led to him thinking that he could do better than the old Soviet Union, the British Empire and even the much reviled Genghis Khan.

That one man is George Dubya Bush.

When the US sent troops into Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 in order to wreak havoc on Osama bin Laden and his followers, it was a justified reaction. Had the US smashed the al-Qaeda network and exited the country in six months, all would have been well.

But that wasn’t the case. The US and its allies decided that they would stay and try to indulge in nation-building. The long-term motive was to obtain mining concessions in Afghanistan and to try and build a pipeline through Central Asia for an alternative supply of gas. (That, incidentally, hasn’t worked. All the concessions, bar one, went to China and India; Canda was granted one.)

There has been some curious muddle-headed thinking by many in the Western camp; people like David Kilcullen have concluded that if the Afghans were given all the Western accoutrements of development, they would suddenly fall in love with their Western invaders. Kilcullen has a ridiculous hypothesis that the Taliban, who were ruling Afghanistan when the West invaded, has to draw on ordinary citizens for support and that these citizens can be weaned away by improvements in local conditions. Exactly how he came to this conclusion is unknown.

Things haven’t worked out that way. Had Bush asked someone to read the history books and find out what had happened to nations that tried to subjugate the Afghans, he might have found out that it was a mission that would end in failure. (Bush himself cannot read.)

But nobody among all the Western nations, Australia included, bothered to read up on the history of Afgnanistan and note that no invader has ever managed to get the better of the Afghans.

Now Australia has moved up its date of departure. Late next year, the Australian Labor Party will have to face an election which it will find very difficult to win; the Afghan involvement should not be present as an election issue.

For the US, something similar exists; Barack Obama goes to an election later in 2012 and if Afghanistan is an issue, it will not be helpful to him. So the American pullout will continue apace.

In the end, the Taliban will come back to power within six months of the West pulling out. The same Taliban which was ruling when the US invaded.

In the interim, the US, other NATO countries and Australia will tell their citizens any number of lies to quell the queries from the media. But in the end, it all amounts to nothing.

Once the troops have left Afghanistan it will all be back to square one.

The China wave

PROFESSOR Zhang Weiwei is not particularly well-known around the world. An author and former translator for the Chinese supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, Zhang is, however, a very important figure in China.

He has written a ground-breaking book, The China Wave – which has not, as far as I can make out, been translated into English – about China’s way of approaching development and one that is attracting great interest in his home country.

In an interview with the one news service that seems to have a knack for ferreting out the interesting and the newsworthy – Al Jazeera – Zhang made some very interesting observations.

In the West, whenever China is discussed, there are plenty of Western “experts” on call who offer opinion after opinion, many of which are, frankly, silly and born of a lack of education. Western news services seem to fight shy of calling on the Chinese themselves to analyse their own country.

Zhang’s point of view, is, in this context, refreshing, simply because he turns the lens on aspects of China which nobody so far has even thought relevant.

For example, one of the West’s preoccupations is that in a few decades China could well become the most powerful country in the world; with that as background, Western countries are forever postulating how China should become a democracy.

But Zhang points to an aspect of this democracy debate that has never been highlighted – if China had had a one-man one-vote system, he says, the country would have had a peasant government given its population structure. Such a government would be very nationalistic – and would probably go to war with Taiwan. Or even with Japan.

Is that what the West wants? Certainly not, says Zhang, and that is a very good reason why China needs the kind of government it has at the current time.

Another argument that the West uses against China is the question of individual rights. Zhang points out given China’a past – when right from the 1800s the longest period of internal stability has been eight or nine years – the average Chinese values internal stability much more. For the last three decades, there have been no invasions or internal uprisings in China and from the Chinese point of view that is much more important than the freedom to protest.

The West often tries to pass off its system of government – where accountability comes at the ballot box every three or four years – as superior to that in China where a nine-man politbureau is the supreme decision-making body. But as Zhang points out, the basic criterion for any member of this body is that he or she should have been a successful governor of a province for at least two terms. And as he points out, these are provinces which often have four or five times the population of an European country.

Zhang even has a little dig at the US here, pointing out that under such a system as this, a man like George W. Bush would never have been chosen as a leader.

As to Western fears of Chinese expansionism, Zhang is quick to point out that Beijing built a great wall to keep others out; in other words, its main preoccupation is internal social stability, not taking over and running the affairs of others.

He emphasises the value that China places on its past, the fact that people always look to history to understand the present and the future. Despite the fact that Mandarin has been in use for nearly 3500 years, he points out that the teachings of Confucius can still be read and understood by the average educated school child. This is in stark contrast to the fact that even a professor at an English university often cannot understand the works of Shakespeare as they were originally written.

Thus, China has a vast store of historic cultural wealth in its vaults that it can draw on and use while deciding about its future. This is not available to the West.

Zhang also points out that while the West is prone to laud its systems as superior, there has been no job creation in the US since 2008. By contrast in China, every year for the last three decades, there has been growth and job creation at every level, down to the smallest unit under governance. Why should China then adopt Western systems which have been shown to be inferior?

In short, Zhang shows that it is often more useful to look at the East through its own eyes, rather than consistently yielding to the big mistake of trying to measure Eastern achievements with a Western tape measure.

Burma: the gold rush has begun

THE push for democracy in Burma by the West has been going on for just one reason: resources.

Burma has gold, copper, tungsten, timber and oil in abundant quantities. All these years, the political situation and tight economic sanctions have not permitted exploration by Western companies. But now oil companies in the US are straining at the leash and waiting anxiously for the change to fly into Rangoon.

The Americans have already lifted some sanctions on Rangoon even though the only move towards a less rigid form of government has been an election in which the National League for Democracy was allowed to contest 45 of 664 seats. But what little has happened will be enough of an excuse for the Western carpetbaggers to start pouring the gates of the airport in Rangoon, the first real godl-rush since military rule was clamped on the country in 1962.

The Europeans are due to review sanctions on the country later this month and companies like BP and Shell are likely to be among the first companies to head for Burma once sanctions are, as expected, eased.

Nevertheless it looks like the generals who ran the country this long are now ready to put their hands out for American and other currencies. Like Suharto was encouraged to take over and divide the spoils in Indonesia in 1965, there will be a big auction in Burma too.

The American involvement in Afghanistan has turned out to be a total loss in terms of mining concessions and this makes the clinching of deals in Burma even more urgent. China and India have been the two big winners in Afghanistan and Canada picked up a solitary concession.

The Americans apparently believed they were entitled to get something, despite the mess they created in the country; Pentagon officials have even been heard complaining about it, claiming that they had done a lot for the country and got nothing in return! Which gives one a good idea about American naivety.

The Burmese people are dirt-poor and probably willing to work for less than the Chinese; China has already got a headstart in Burma and will be looking to consolidate. Thailand is another country which is looking to make some moolah in Burma. And one can’t discount India poking its nose in too.

Three years on, Sri Lanka still bleeds

A MONTH and two weeks from now, it will be three years since Sri Lanka won its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, effectively ending the campaign for a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka.

But there has been no movement on achieving a political solution to put the minority Tamils at ease. Instead, the triumphalism that has pervaded the country has seen the government act in a manner that can only serve to remind the Tamils that during the days when the Tigers were in the ascendant they were at least not marginalised in the way they are right now.

The Tigers had ensured that the north of the country was more or less completely occupied by Tamils. Now, the army is everywhere in the north and Sinhalese people are being resettled in large numbers to change the population mix. And, to rub it in, there are signs in many places that are only in Sinhala, a language that Tamils, cut off from the rest of the country for decades, cannot even speak.

The government was under pressure to institute an inquiry when allegations of war crimes by both sides began to surface after the conflict ended. It launched its own inquiry, called Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, with hearings all over the country. An eminent panel of jurists and academics was chosen to head the body.

The LLRC’s report was released in December last year. While it fell short of being comprehensive in many respects, it did make some recommendations that were sensible – the launching of an independent inquiry to find out how many civilians lost their lives, making restitution to those who suffered, and healing the wounds that have been created over the decades of ethnic strife.

The Sri Lanka government’s reaction has been surprising. It has asked the army to find out about civilians who fell victim during the conflict; the perpetrator of many of the deaths is thus investigating itself. Many of the top army brass have been promoted as ambassadors and now enjoy immunity from prosecution so that makes it very difficult to hold any of them responsible.

In the meantime, the Sri Lanka government has not eased up in any way on the restrictions on the media in the country. It has tightened things considerably by passing a law that all reporting on security matters should be passed through an official censor. And the abduction of people who are known to be opposed to government policies continues apace.

As one commentator put it, it is inconceivable that security forces which could bring an end to a highly organised and motivated group like the Tigers cannot track down any of those who have been abducted or find out who is behind the continuing episodes where white vans turn up and take people away.

Last month the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution asking Sri Lanka to conduct an independent inquiry into the war. Pushed by the US, Britain and Canada – each for its own reasons which I will explain – and backed by India – again for its own separate reason, on which I will elaborate – the resolution embarrassed the Sri Lankans no end as they had put in considerable diplomatic efforts to scuttle the resolution. It is doubtful, however, whether it will serve to push Sri Lanka any more than it has done.

The US is interested in Sri Lanka because China has a big foot planted in the tiny island. The US tried for many years to get a base in Trincomalee but failed; it would have been ideal as a spying post for the entire south Asian region. The Americans are now worried about the extent to which China has made inroads into Sri Lanka and the little island is just one more spot where the fading super power and China match wits.

Britain and Canada have big Tamil populations in certain areas and this issue plays directly into local politics. Else, neither country would give a stuff. Additionally, in Britain, there have been two excellent investigative programs from Channel 4 which provided stark proof of the extent of war crimes by the Sri Lanka government. The media pressure on the British government to do something has been intense.

India is the big power in the south Asian region. But in the case of Sri Lanka, it voted for the resolution against its neighbour because Colombo had broken a promise. During the dying days of the war, the main Tamil leaders had managed to contact US and other Western diplomats and there was considerable pressure on Colombo to allow them to escape. Sri Lanka was wavering when a boat was even sent to the northern area to evacuate them. But India was not about to forget that the Tiger leader Velupillai Pirabhakaran was responsible for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi back in 1991; the Indian naval vessel monitoring the situation from international waters moved a little closer to the area when news of the proposal for the evacuation came through. In effect, India challenged the US to act. The US did not dare to do anything.

The Sri Lanka government was happy about India’s reaction and as a quid pro quo agreed to get serious on devolving power after the conflict was over. It then went ahead with plans to kill all the Tiger leaders. But it never bothered about keeping its word. Having seen no sign of a move in this direction and, increasingly facing calls from its own Tamils for intervention, India had no option but to act against Sri Lanka when it came to voting on the resolution.

The Sri Lanka imbroglio will not sort itself out. The president needs to make some meaningful moves to resolve things politically. Else, to use a cliche, while he did manage to win the war, he will end up losing the peace.