Category Archives: Afghanistan

From Central America to Syria: The Conspiracy against Refugees

Watching the ongoing debate between US liberal and right-wing pundits on US mainstream media, one rarely gets the impression that Washington is responsible for the unfolding crisis in Central America.

In fact, no other country is as accountable as the United States for the Central American bedlam and resulting refugee crisis.

So why, despite the seemingly substantial ideological and political differences between right-wing Fox News and liberal CNN, both media outlets are working hard to safeguard their country’s dirty little secret?

In recent years, state and gang violence – coupled with extreme poverty – have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, among other countries, in Central and South America.

US mainstream media, however, is rarely interested in the root cause of that reality.

Fox News is tirelessly peddling the offensive language used by President Donald Trump, which perceives the refugees as criminals and terrorists, who pose a threat to US national security.

At a press conference last October, Trump urged a reporter to take his camera into ”the middle” of a caravan of migrants on the treacherous journey through Mexico, to locate ”Middle Eastern” people that have infiltrated the crowd. In Trump’s thinking, ‘Middle Eastern people’ is synonymous with terrorists.

CNN has, on the other hand, labored to counter the growing anti-immigrant official and media sentiments that have plagued the US, a discourse that is constantly prodded and manipulated by Trump and his supporters.

However, few in the liberal media have the courage to probe the story beyond convenient political rivalry, persisting in their hypocritical and insincere humanitarianism that is divorced from any meaningful political context.

The fact is the Central American refugee crisis is similar to the plethora of Middle East and Central Asian refugee crises of recent years. Mass migration is almost always the direct outcome of political meddling and military interventions.

From Afghanistan, to Iraq, Libya, Syria, millions of refugees were forced, by circumstances beyond their control, to seek safety in some other country.

Millions of Iraqis and Syrians found themselves in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, while a far smaller number trickled to Europe, all seeking safety from the grinding wars.

Political opportunists in Europe are no different from their American counterparts. While the former has seized on the tragedy of the refugees to sow seeds of fear and hate-mongering, Americans, too, have blamed the refugees for their own misery.

Blaming the victim is nothing new.

Iraqis were once blamed for failing to appreciate Western democracy, Libyans for their failed state, Syrians for taking the wrong side of a protracted war, and so on.

Yet, the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Syria are all, in varied degrees, outcomes of military interventions, a truth that does not seem to register in the self-absorbed minds of both right-wing and liberal intellectuals.

The irony is that the hapless refugees, whether those escaping to Europe or to the United States, are perceived to be the aggressors, the invaders, as opposed to the US and allies that had, in fact, invaded these once stable and sovereign homelands.

Trump has often referred to the Central American migrants’ caravan as an ‘invasion’.  Fox News parroted that claim, and injected the possibility of having the refugees shot upon arrival.

If Fox News lacked the decency to treat refugees as human beings deserving of sympathy and respect, CNN lacked the courage to expand the discussion beyond Trump’s horrid language and inhumane policies.

To expand the parameters of the conversation would expose a policy that was not introduced by Trump, but by Bill Clinton and applied in earnest by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Media grandstanding aside, both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the current refugee crisis.

In 1996, Democratic President Clinton unleashed a war on refugees when he passed two consecutive legislations: the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

Millions of people – who had escaped US-instigated wars and military coups – were deported back to Central and South America. While 2 million people were deported during the Bush terms, 2.5 million were deported under Obama.

A terrible situation was exacerbated. Violence and want flared even more.

To rally his angry and radicalized constituency, Trump waved the migrant card once more, threatening to build a “great wall” and to close “loopholes” in the US immigration law.

Like his predecessors, he offered little by way of redressing an unjust reality that is constantly fomented by destructive US foreign policy, stretching decades.

But the refugees kept on coming, mostly from Central America’s Northern Triangle region. Without proper political context, they, too, were duly blamed for their hardship.

Considering Fox News and CNN’s lack of quality coverage, this is not surprising. Few Americans know of the sordid history of their country in that region, starting with the CIA-engineered coup d’état in Guatemala in 1954, or the US support of the coup against the democratically-elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, or of everything else that happened in between these dates.

The unhealthy relationship between the US and its southern neighbors goes back as early as 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt declared the ‘right’ of his country to hold “international police power” in Latin America. Since then, the entire region has been Washington’s business.

The free trade agreement (CAFTA-DR) signed between Central American countries and the US has done its own share of damage. It “restructured the region’s economy and guaranteed economic dependence on the United States through massive trade imbalances and the influx of American agricultural and industrial goods that weakened domestic industries,” wrote Mark Tseng-Putterman in Medium.

Acknowledging all of this is threatening. If US mainstream pundits accept their country’s destructive role in Central and South America, they will be forced to abandon the role of the victim (embraced by the right) or the savior (embraced by the left), which has served them well.

The same stifling political and intellectual routine is witnessed in Europe, too.

But this denial of moral responsibility will only contribute to the problem, not to its resolution. No amount of racism on the part of the right, or crocodile tears of the liberals, will ever rectify this skewed paradigm.

This is as true in Central America as it is in the Middle East.

Children: Civilization’s Future, Victims of Western Brutality

The United Nations Universal Children’s Day – 20 November – has come and gone and nothing has changed. No action that would now protect children any more than before, no move even by the UN to call on nations at war to take special care to protect children if for nothing else but the fact that children are our planet’s future. They are the standard bearer of human generations to come and of our civilization as a whole, if we don’t run it into the ground. Yet, children are among the most vulnerable, discriminated and abjectly exploited and abused species within human kind.

The culture of greed and instant profit has no space for children, for their rights, for their up-bringing within a frame of human rights, fair education, access to shelter and health services everywhere. For much of our western society, children are a nuisance, at best, a tool for cheap labor, especially when the west outsources its production processes to poor developing countries, mostly in Asia and Central America, so poor that they cannot enforce laws against child labor, all to maximize corporate profits.

Otherwise the western driven killing and war machine indiscriminately slaughters children, by famine, by drones, by bombs, by disease, by abuse. Collateral damage? I doubt it. Children could be protected, even in illegal wars. But eradicating by death and poverty entire generations in nations the west intends to subdue has a purpose: rebuilding of these nations will not take place under the watch of educated children, grown adults, who would most likely oppose their ‘hangmen’, those that have destroyed their homes and families, their villages and towns, their schools and hospital, their drinking water supply systems, leaving them to the plight of cholera and other diseases brought about by lack of hygiene and sanitation. So, in the interest of the empire and its puppet allies, children’s calamities and crimes on them are at best under reported. In most cases nobody even cares.

Look at Syria. The poison gas attacks instigated by US and NATO forces, carried out by their proxies ISIS and Saudi Arabia, to blame them on President Bashar al-Assad, were directed at children for greater public relations impact, further helped by the fake heroes, the White Helmets. Can you imagine! (I’m sure you can!) Children have to be poisoned and killed by western forces who want to topple the Syrian Assad regime to put their puppet in Assad’s place, so that they can control the country and eventually the region. Yes, children are sacrificed – a huge crime against humanity – to commit another horrendous international crime – forcefully change a democratically elected regime. That’s what the west does and is – and probably always was for the last 2000 years.

Take the situation of Yemen, where for the last 3 ½ years the network of the world’s biggest mafia killer scheme, led by Saudi Arabia, as the patsy and foreign money funnel aiding the United States and her allies in crime, the UK, France, Spain, several of the Gulf States, until recently also Germany, and many more – has killed by bombs, starvation and cholera induced by willingly destroyed water supply and sanitation systems, maybe hundreds of thousands of children.

According to Save the Children, some 85,000 children below 5 years of age may have already died from famine; mind you, a purposefully induced famine, as Saudi and Gulf forces destroyed and blocked the port of Hodeida, where about 80% – 90% of imported food enters the country. The most vulnerable ones, as with every man-made disaster, are children and women.

Already a year ago, the UN warned that the cholera outbreak in Yemen is the fastest spreading cholera epidemic since records began and that it will affect at least a million people, including at least 600,000 children. A year later – how many of them have died? Extreme food shortages, destroyed shelters and hospitals, lack of medication, as medicine is also blocked at the points of import, have reduced children’s natural immune systems even further.

Imagine the suffering caused not just to the children, but to their parents, families, communities! What the west is doing is beyond words. It’s beyond crime; and all those ‘leaders’ (sic) responsible will most likely never face a criminal court, as they are controlling all the major justice systems in the world. Though, no justice could make good for the killing and misery, but at least it could demonstrate that universal crime – as is the war on Yemen and many others fought for greed and power – is not tolerated with impunity.

UNHCR – the UN refugee agency — reports that worldwide some 70 million refugees are on the move or in refugee camps. This figure does not include a large number of unreported cases, perhaps up to a third more. Most of the refugees are generated in the Middle East by western initiated wars; wars for greed, for natural resources, for controlling a geopolitically and strategically important region on the seemingly ‘unstoppable’ way to full power world dominance.

At least two thirds of the refugees are children – no health care, no education, no suitable shelter, or none at all, malnourished-to-starving, raped, abused, enslaved – you name it.

Where do all these children go? What is their future? There will be societies – Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan – missing a full generation. The countries are suffering a gap in educated people. This wanton gap will likely prevent rebuilding and developing their nations according to their sovereign rights. These countries are easier to control, subdue and enslave.

Just imagine, many of the lost children pass under the radar of human statistics, ignored, many of them are totally abandoned, no parents, no family, nobody to care for them, nobody to love them – they may quietly die – die in the gutters, unknown, anonymous. We – the brutal west – let them.

And the UN-declared Children’s Day has come and gone and nothing has changed, Nothing will change as long as the west is devastating indiscriminately countries, cities, villages for sheer greed. Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan — never were threatening the United States, nor Israel, of course. But they have resources the west covets, or they are geopolitically of strategic importance – for step by bloody step advancing towards world hegemony.

According to the UN, about 300 million children around the world do not go to school. Again, the unreported figure is possibly double or higher, especially including those that attend school only sporadically. Many of the children are abducted, sold into slavery, prostitution, imprisoned for medical testing and for use in orgies of blood thirsty secret societies, their organs harvested and traded by mafia type organizations. Organ trading allegations are levied against Israel’s armed forces killing thousands of children in Israel’s open prison and extermination camp, called Gaza; and against Ukraine’s Kiev Nazi Government.

Did you know, 60% of all children in Gaza are mutilated and amputated as a result of Israel’s war against the Palestine population? And the world looks on, not daring to protest and stand up against this criminal nation – God’s chosen people.

In the UK, 1 of 4 children live in poverty. In the US, 60 million children go to bed hungry every night. As I write these lines, at the US-Mexican border refugee children and their mothers are being shot at with teargas canons by US police and military forces, to prevent them from entering Mr. Trump’s Holy Land, the Great United States of America.

The former UN Secretary General, Koffi Annan, winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, referring to the horrific siege on Aleppo and calling for international action to stop the war, said:

The assault on Aleppo is an assault on the whole world. When hospitals, schools and homes are bombed indiscriminately, killing and maiming hundreds of innocent children, these are acts that constitute an attack on our shared, fundamental human values. Our collective cry for action must be heard, and acted upon, by all those engaged in this dreadful war.

But, how could the world of today be described better than by Caitlin Johnstone in her recent poem “Welcome to Planet Earth”, where she says:

Welcome to Planet Earth…… where children who do not know how to live, teach their children how to live; where children pray for miracles, using minds that are made of miracles; with clasped hands that are made of miracles; where children wander in search of God, upon feet that are made of God, looking with eyes that are made of God.

Where have all the children gone?

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NE0)

The Power of the Documentary

At the same time that John Pilger makes his keynote speech to open his The Power of Documentary Film Festival, you can read the text here.

Breaking the Silence

The Power of the Documentary is an unusual film festival, because its aim is to break a silence that extends across much of film-making, the arts and journalism.

By silence I mean the exclusion of ideas that might change the way we see our world, or help us make sense of it.

There are 26 films in this festival and each one pushes back a screen of propaganda – not just the propaganda of governments but of a powerful groupthink of special interests designed to distract and intimidate us and which often takes its cue from social media and is the enemy of the arts and political freedom.

Documentary films that challenge this are an endangered species. Many of the films in the festival are rare. Several have never been seen in this country. Why?

There’s no official censorship in Australia, but there is a fear of ideas. Ideas of real politics. Ideas of dissent. Ideas of satire. Ideas that go against the groupthink. Ideas that reject the demands of corporatism. Ideas that reach back to the riches of Australia’s hidden history.

It’s as if our political memory has been hi-jacked, and we’ve become so immersed in a self-regarding me-ism that we’ve forgotten how to act together and challenge rapacious power that is now rampant in our own country and across the world.

(pause)

The term “documentary” was coined by the Scottish director John Grierson. “The drama of film,” he said, “is on your doorstep. It is wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

I like those words: “on your doorstep”.

What they say is that it’s the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people that has given us the documentary film at best. That’s the difference.

A documentary is not reality TV.  Political documentary is not the consensual game played by politicians and journalists called “current affairs”.

Great documentaries frighten the powerful, unnerve the compliant, expose the hypocritical.

Great documentaries make us think, and think again, and speak out, and even take action.

Tomorrow at the MCA, we’ll show a documentary called Harvest of Shame directed by Susan Steinberg and Fred Friendly and featuring the great American journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Made in 1960, this film helped pave the way to the first Civil Rights laws that finally ended slavery in the United States, though not the oppression borne of slavery.  It has great relevance in the Age of Donald Trump, and Theresa May and Scott Morrison.

On 9th December, we’ll show a remarkable film entitled I am Not Your Negro, in which the writer James Baldwin speaks not only for African-Americans but for those who are cast aside everywhere, and these include the First Nations people of Australia, still invisible in the country that is unique only because of them.

Next week, at the Riverside, we’ll  show The War Game.

The War Game was made for the BBC in 1965 by Peter Watkins, a brilliant young film-maker then in his early 20s.

Watkins achieved the impossible — he re-created the aftermath of a nuclear attack on a town in southern England. It’s true reality; it’s surreal; it’s truth.

No one has ever matched Peter Watkins’ achievement, or the direct challenge of his art to the insanity of nuclear war.

What he did was so authentic it terrified the BBC, which banned The War Game from television for 23 years.

In one sense, this was the highest compliment. His grainy 48-minute film had scared the powerful out of their wits.

They knew this film would change minds and cause people to question Cold War policies. They knew it would even turn people away from war itself, and save lives.

Today, not a frame of The War Game has been altered — yet it’s right up to date.

Not since the 1960s have we been as close to the risks and provocations and mistakes that beckon nuclear war. The news won’t tell you that. The incessant alerts on your smart phone won’t tell you that. That’s what I mean by ‘silence’.

Governments in Australia – a country with no enemies – seem determined to make an enemy out of China, a nuclear armed power, because that’s what America wants.

The propaganda is like a drumbeat. Our TV and newspapers have joined a chorus of American admirals and self-appointed experts and spooks in demanding we take the final steps to a confrontation with China and Russia.

Donald Trump’s vice president, a religious fanatic called Mike Pence, destroyed this month’s APEC conference with his demands for conflict with China.

Not a single voice in Australia’s privileged, deferential elite spoke out against this madness.

Well paid journalists have become gormless cyphers of the propaganda of war: lies known these days as fake news and spread by the intelligence agencies.

How shaming for my craft.

The aim of this festival is to break that collusive silence  –  not only with The War Game but with documentaries like The War You don’t See and The Coming War on China.

(pause)

And the festival is proud to feature Australian documentaries that have broken silences: Dennis O’Rourke’s haunting Half Life, and Curtis Levy’s The President Versus David Hicks — and Salute, Matt Norman’s film about his uncle, Peter Norman, the most courageous and least known of our sporting heroes.

Mark Davis’s film, Journey into Hell, was one of the first to report the persecution of the Rohingya in Thailand and Burma.

I shall be in conversation with Mark at the MCA next Wednesday. I urge you to come and hear this distinguished Australian journalist and film-maker.

This coming Friday, the 30th, the festival will welcome Alec Morgan, who will introduce his historic film, Lousy Little Sixpence.  This landmark documentary revealed the secrets and suffering of the Stolen Generation of Indigenous Australia.

We owe a debt to Alec Morgan, who made his film in the early 1980s, around the time Henry Reynolds published his epic history of Indigenous resistance, The Other Side of the Frontier. Together, they turned on a light in Australia.

Alec’s film has never been more relevant. Last week the NSW parliament passed a law which, for many Aboriginal people, brings back the whole nightmare of the Stolen Generation. It allows the adoption of their children. It allows Pru Goward’s troopers to turn up at dawn and take babies from birth tables. It was barely news, and it’s a disgrace.

I have made 61 documentaries. My first, The Quiet Mutiny, will be shown immediately after this talk. Filmed in 1970 when I was a young war reporter, The Quiet Mutiny revealed a rebellion sweeping the US military in Vietnam. The greatest army was crumbling. Young soldiers were refusing to fight and even shooting their officers.

When The Quiet Mutiny was first broadcast in Britain, the American ambassador, Walter Annenberg, a close friend of President Nixon, was apoplectic. He complained bitterly to the TV authorities and demanded that something be done about me. I was described as a “dangerous subversive”.

This is certainly the highest honour I have ever received, and tonight I bestow it on all the film makers in this festival. They, too, are dangerous subversives, as all documentary film-makers ought to be.

One of them is the Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez whose film, The Golden Dream, will be shown at the MCA on 2nd December.

This wonderful film takes us on a perilous journey through Central America to the US border. It could not be more relevant.

The heroes are children: the kind of children Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison and Donald Trump would call “illegal migrants”.

I urge you to come and see this film and to reflect on the crimes our own society commits against children and adults sent to our Pacific concentration camps: Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island: places of shame.

Of course, many of us are bothered by the outrages of Nauru and Manus. We write to the newspapers and hold vigils. But then what?

One film in the festival attempts to answer this question.

On 6th December, we’ll show Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, which the late David Munro and I made 25 years ago.

David and I filmed undercover in East Timor when that nation was in the grip of the Indonesian military. We were witnesses to the destruction of whole communities while the Australian government colluded with the dictatorship in Jakarta.

This documentary became part of one of the most effective and inspiring  public movements we’ve known in Australia. The aim was to help rescue East Timor.

There is a famous sequence in Death of a Nation in which Gareth Evans, foreign minister in the Labor governments of the 80s and 90s, gleefully raises a glass of champagne to toast his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, as they fly in an RAAF plane over the Timor Sea.

The pair of them had just agreed to carve up the oil and gas riches of East Timor.

They were celebrating an act of piracy.

Earlier this year, two principled Australians were charged under the draconian Intelligence Services Act.  They are whistleblowers.

Bernard Collaery is a lawyer, a former distinguished member of the ACT government and a tireless champion of refugees and justice. Collaery’s crime was to have represented an intelligence officer in ASIO, known as Witness K, a man of conscience.

They revealed that the government of John Howard had spied on East Timor so that Australia could defraud a tiny, impoverished nation of the proceeds of its natural resources.

Today, the Australian government is trying to punish these truth tellers no doubt as an example to us all — just as it tried to suppress the truth about Australia’s role in the genocide in East Timor, and in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it has colluded with Washington to silence the courageous Australian publisher Julian Assange.

Why do we allow governments, our governments, to commit great crimes, and why do so many of us remain silent?

This is a question for those of us privileged to be allowed into people’s lives and to be their voice and seek their support. It’s a question for film-makers, journalists, artists, arts administrators, editors, publishers.

We can no longer claim to be bystanders. Our responsibility is urgent, and as Tom Paine famously wrote: “The time is now.”

The Power of the Documentary

At the same time that John Pilger makes his keynote speech to open his The Power of Documentary Film Festival, you can read the text here.

Breaking the Silence

The Power of the Documentary is an unusual film festival, because its aim is to break a silence that extends across much of film-making, the arts and journalism.

By silence I mean the exclusion of ideas that might change the way we see our world, or help us make sense of it.

There are 26 films in this festival and each one pushes back a screen of propaganda – not just the propaganda of governments but of a powerful groupthink of special interests designed to distract and intimidate us and which often takes its cue from social media and is the enemy of the arts and political freedom.

Documentary films that challenge this are an endangered species. Many of the films in the festival are rare. Several have never been seen in this country. Why?

There’s no official censorship in Australia, but there is a fear of ideas. Ideas of real politics. Ideas of dissent. Ideas of satire. Ideas that go against the groupthink. Ideas that reject the demands of corporatism. Ideas that reach back to the riches of Australia’s hidden history.

It’s as if our political memory has been hi-jacked, and we’ve become so immersed in a self-regarding me-ism that we’ve forgotten how to act together and challenge rapacious power that is now rampant in our own country and across the world.

(pause)

The term “documentary” was coined by the Scottish director John Grierson. “The drama of film,” he said, “is on your doorstep. It is wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

I like those words: “on your doorstep”.

What they say is that it’s the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people that has given us the documentary film at best. That’s the difference.

A documentary is not reality TV.  Political documentary is not the consensual game played by politicians and journalists called “current affairs”.

Great documentaries frighten the powerful, unnerve the compliant, expose the hypocritical.

Great documentaries make us think, and think again, and speak out, and even take action.

Tomorrow at the MCA, we’ll show a documentary called Harvest of Shame directed by Susan Steinberg and Fred Friendly and featuring the great American journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Made in 1960, this film helped pave the way to the first Civil Rights laws that finally ended slavery in the United States, though not the oppression borne of slavery.  It has great relevance in the Age of Donald Trump, and Theresa May and Scott Morrison.

On 9th December, we’ll show a remarkable film entitled I am Not Your Negro, in which the writer James Baldwin speaks not only for African-Americans but for those who are cast aside everywhere, and these include the First Nations people of Australia, still invisible in the country that is unique only because of them.

Next week, at the Riverside, we’ll  show The War Game.

The War Game was made for the BBC in 1965 by Peter Watkins, a brilliant young film-maker then in his early 20s.

Watkins achieved the impossible — he re-created the aftermath of a nuclear attack on a town in southern England. It’s true reality; it’s surreal; it’s truth.

No one has ever matched Peter Watkins’ achievement, or the direct challenge of his art to the insanity of nuclear war.

What he did was so authentic it terrified the BBC, which banned The War Game from television for 23 years.

In one sense, this was the highest compliment. His grainy 48-minute film had scared the powerful out of their wits.

They knew this film would change minds and cause people to question Cold War policies. They knew it would even turn people away from war itself, and save lives.

Today, not a frame of The War Game has been altered — yet it’s right up to date.

Not since the 1960s have we been as close to the risks and provocations and mistakes that beckon nuclear war. The news won’t tell you that. The incessant alerts on your smart phone won’t tell you that. That’s what I mean by ‘silence’.

Governments in Australia – a country with no enemies – seem determined to make an enemy out of China, a nuclear armed power, because that’s what America wants.

The propaganda is like a drumbeat. Our TV and newspapers have joined a chorus of American admirals and self-appointed experts and spooks in demanding we take the final steps to a confrontation with China and Russia.

Donald Trump’s vice president, a religious fanatic called Mike Pence, destroyed this month’s APEC conference with his demands for conflict with China.

Not a single voice in Australia’s privileged, deferential elite spoke out against this madness.

Well paid journalists have become gormless cyphers of the propaganda of war: lies known these days as fake news and spread by the intelligence agencies.

How shaming for my craft.

The aim of this festival is to break that collusive silence  –  not only with The War Game but with documentaries like The War You don’t See and The Coming War on China.

(pause)

And the festival is proud to feature Australian documentaries that have broken silences: Dennis O’Rourke’s haunting Half Life, and Curtis Levy’s The President Versus David Hicks — and Salute, Matt Norman’s film about his uncle, Peter Norman, the most courageous and least known of our sporting heroes.

Mark Davis’s film, Journey into Hell, was one of the first to report the persecution of the Rohingya in Thailand and Burma.

I shall be in conversation with Mark at the MCA next Wednesday. I urge you to come and hear this distinguished Australian journalist and film-maker.

This coming Friday, the 30th, the festival will welcome Alec Morgan, who will introduce his historic film, Lousy Little Sixpence.  This landmark documentary revealed the secrets and suffering of the Stolen Generation of Indigenous Australia.

We owe a debt to Alec Morgan, who made his film in the early 1980s, around the time Henry Reynolds published his epic history of Indigenous resistance, The Other Side of the Frontier. Together, they turned on a light in Australia.

Alec’s film has never been more relevant. Last week the NSW parliament passed a law which, for many Aboriginal people, brings back the whole nightmare of the Stolen Generation. It allows the adoption of their children. It allows Pru Goward’s troopers to turn up at dawn and take babies from birth tables. It was barely news, and it’s a disgrace.

I have made 61 documentaries. My first, The Quiet Mutiny, will be shown immediately after this talk. Filmed in 1970 when I was a young war reporter, The Quiet Mutiny revealed a rebellion sweeping the US military in Vietnam. The greatest army was crumbling. Young soldiers were refusing to fight and even shooting their officers.

When The Quiet Mutiny was first broadcast in Britain, the American ambassador, Walter Annenberg, a close friend of President Nixon, was apoplectic. He complained bitterly to the TV authorities and demanded that something be done about me. I was described as a “dangerous subversive”.

This is certainly the highest honour I have ever received, and tonight I bestow it on all the film makers in this festival. They, too, are dangerous subversives, as all documentary film-makers ought to be.

One of them is the Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez whose film, The Golden Dream, will be shown at the MCA on 2nd December.

This wonderful film takes us on a perilous journey through Central America to the US border. It could not be more relevant.

The heroes are children: the kind of children Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison and Donald Trump would call “illegal migrants”.

I urge you to come and see this film and to reflect on the crimes our own society commits against children and adults sent to our Pacific concentration camps: Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island: places of shame.

Of course, many of us are bothered by the outrages of Nauru and Manus. We write to the newspapers and hold vigils. But then what?

One film in the festival attempts to answer this question.

On 6th December, we’ll show Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, which the late David Munro and I made 25 years ago.

David and I filmed undercover in East Timor when that nation was in the grip of the Indonesian military. We were witnesses to the destruction of whole communities while the Australian government colluded with the dictatorship in Jakarta.

This documentary became part of one of the most effective and inspiring  public movements we’ve known in Australia. The aim was to help rescue East Timor.

There is a famous sequence in Death of a Nation in which Gareth Evans, foreign minister in the Labor governments of the 80s and 90s, gleefully raises a glass of champagne to toast his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, as they fly in an RAAF plane over the Timor Sea.

The pair of them had just agreed to carve up the oil and gas riches of East Timor.

They were celebrating an act of piracy.

Earlier this year, two principled Australians were charged under the draconian Intelligence Services Act.  They are whistleblowers.

Bernard Collaery is a lawyer, a former distinguished member of the ACT government and a tireless champion of refugees and justice. Collaery’s crime was to have represented an intelligence officer in ASIO, known as Witness K, a man of conscience.

They revealed that the government of John Howard had spied on East Timor so that Australia could defraud a tiny, impoverished nation of the proceeds of its natural resources.

Today, the Australian government is trying to punish these truth tellers no doubt as an example to us all — just as it tried to suppress the truth about Australia’s role in the genocide in East Timor, and in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it has colluded with Washington to silence the courageous Australian publisher Julian Assange.

Why do we allow governments, our governments, to commit great crimes, and why do so many of us remain silent?

This is a question for those of us privileged to be allowed into people’s lives and to be their voice and seek their support. It’s a question for film-makers, journalists, artists, arts administrators, editors, publishers.

We can no longer claim to be bystanders. Our responsibility is urgent, and as Tom Paine famously wrote: “The time is now.”

A Badge of Shame: The Government’s War on America’s Military Veterans

For soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, coming home is more lethal than being in combat.

― Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, September 11, 2012.

Not all heroes wear the uniform of war.

In the United States, however, we take particular pride in recognizing as heroes those who have served in the military.

Yet while we honor our veterans with holidays, parades, discounts at retail stores and restaurants, and endless political rhetoric about their sacrifice and bravery, we do a pitiful job of respecting their freedoms and caring for their needs once out of uniform.

Despite the fact that the U.S. boasts more than 20 million veterans who have served in World War II through the present day, the plight of veterans today is America’s badge of shame, with large numbers of veterans impoverished, unemployed, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, suicide, and marital stress, homeless, subjected to sub-par treatment at clinics and hospitals, and left to molder while their paperwork piles up within Veterans Administration offices.

Still, the government’s efforts to wage war on veterans, especially those who speak out against government wrongdoing, is downright appalling.

Consider: we raise our young people on a steady diet of militarism and war, sell them on the idea that defending freedom abroad by serving in the military is their patriotic duty, then when they return home, bruised and battle-scarred and committed to defending their freedoms at home, we often treat them like criminals merely for having served in the military.

The government even has a name for its war on America’s veterans: Operation Vigilant Eagle.

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, this Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program tracks military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and characterizes them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”

Coupled with the DHS’ dual reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” which broadly define extremists as individuals, military veterans and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics bode ill for anyone seen as opposing the government.

Yet the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is taking aim at individuals trained in military warfare.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that the DHS has gone extremely quiet about Operation Vigilant Eagle.

Where there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire.

And the government’s efforts to target military veterans whose views may be perceived as “anti-government” make clear that something is afoot.

In recent years, military servicemen and women have found themselves increasingly targeted for surveillance, censorship, threatened with incarceration or involuntary commitment, labeled as extremists and/or mentally ill, and stripped of their Second Amendment rights.

An important point to consider, however, is that under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as threats to national security.

This is not the first time that psychiatry has been used to exile political prisoners.

Many times throughout history in totalitarian regimes, such governments have declared dissidents mentally ill and unfit for society as a means of rendering them, disempowering them.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum observes in Gulag: A History:

The exile of prisoners to a distant place, where they can ‘pay their debt to society,’ make themselves useful, and not contaminate others with their ideas or their criminal acts, is a practice as old as civilization itself. The rulers of ancient Rome and Greece sent their dissidents off to distant colonies. Socrates chose death over the torment of exile from Athens. The poet Ovid was exiled to a fetid port on the Black Sea.

For example, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union often used psychiatric hospitals as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners from the rest of society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally through the use of electric shocks, drugs and various medical procedures.

Insisting that “ideas about a struggle for truth and justice are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure,” the psychiatric community actually went so far as to provide the government with a diagnosis suitable for locking up such freedom-oriented activists.

In addition to declaring political dissidents mentally unsound, Russian officials also made use of an administrative process for dealing with individuals who were considered a bad influence on others or troublemakers.

Author George Kennan describes a process in which:

The obnoxious person may not be guilty of any crime . . . but if, in the opinion of the local authorities, his presence in a particular place is “prejudicial to public order” or “incompatible with public tranquility,” he may be arrested without warrant, may be held from two weeks to two years in prison, and may then be removed by force to any other place within the limits of the empire and there be put under police surveillance for a period of from one to ten years. Administrative exile–which required no trial and no sentencing procedure–was an ideal punishment not only for troublemakers as such, but also for political opponents of the regime.

Sound familiar?

This age-old practice by which despotic regimes eliminate their critics or potential adversaries by declaring them mentally ill and locking them up in psychiatric wards for extended periods of time is a common practice in present-day China.

What is particularly unnerving, however, is how this practice of eliminating or undermining potential critics, including military veterans, is happening with increasing frequency in the United States.

Remember, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) opened the door for the government to detain as a threat to national security anyone viewed as a troublemaker. According to government guidelines for identifying domestic extremists—a word used interchangeably with terrorists—technically, anyone exercising their First Amendment rights in order to criticize the government qualifies.

It doesn’t take much anymore to be flagged as potentially anti-government in a government database somewhere—Main Core, for example—that identifies and tracks individuals who aren’t inclined to march in lockstep to the government’s dictates.

In fact, as the Washington Post reports, communities are being mapped and residents assigned a color-coded threat score—green, yellow or red—so police are forewarned about a person’s potential inclination to be a troublemaker depending on whether they’ve had a career in the military, posted a comment perceived as threatening on Facebook, suffer from a particular medical condition, or know someone who knows someone who might have committed a crime.

The case of Brandon Raub is a prime example of Operation Vigilant Eagle in action.

Raub, a 26-year-old decorated Marine, actually found himself interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.

On August 16, 2012, a swarm of local police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s Virginia home, asking to speak with him about posts he had made on his Facebook page made up of song lyrics, political opinions and dialogue used in a political thriller virtual card game.

Among the posts cited as troublesome were lyrics to a song by a rap group and Raub’s views, shared increasingly by a number of Americans, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.

After a brief conversation and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, Raub was then handcuffed and transported to police headquarters, then to a medical center, where he was held against his will due to alleged concerns that his Facebook posts were “terrorist in nature.”

Outraged onlookers filmed the arrest and posted the footage to YouTube, where it quickly went viral. Meanwhile, in a kangaroo court hearing that turned a deaf ear to Raub’s explanations about the fact that his Facebook posts were being read out of context, Raub was sentenced to up to 30 days’ further confinement in a psychiatric ward.

Thankfully, The Rutherford Institute came to Raub’s assistance, which combined with heightened media attention, brought about his release and may have helped prevent Raub from being successfully “disappeared” by the government.

Even so, within days of Raub being seized and forcibly held in a VA psych ward, news reports started surfacing of other veterans having similar experiences.

“Oppositional defiance disorder” (ODD) is another diagnosis being used against veterans who challenge the status quo. As journalist Anthony Martin explains, an ODD diagnosis:

denotes that the person exhibits ‘symptoms’ such as the questioning of authority, the refusal to follow directions, stubbornness, the unwillingness to go along with the crowd, and the practice of disobeying or ignoring orders. Persons may also receive such a label if they are considered free thinkers, nonconformists, or individuals who are suspicious of large, centralized government… At one time the accepted protocol among mental health professionals was to reserve the diagnosis of oppositional defiance disorder for children or adolescents who exhibited uncontrollable defiance toward their parents and teachers.

Frankly, based on how well my personality and my military service in the U.S. Armed Forces fit with this description of “oppositional defiance disorder,” I’m sure there’s a file somewhere with my name on it.

That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) these veterans is diabolical. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these veterans are being declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights.

If it were just being classified as “anti-government,” that would be one thing.

Unfortunately, anyone with a military background and training is also now being viewed as a heightened security threat by police who are trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

Feeding this perception of veterans as ticking time bombs in need of intervention, the Justice Department launched a pilot program in 2012 aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.

The result?

Police encounters with military veterans often escalate very quickly into an explosive and deadly situation, especially when SWAT teams are involved.

For example, Jose Guerena, a Marine who served in two tours in Iraq, was killed after an Arizona SWAT team kicked open the door of his home during a mistaken drug raid and opened fire. Thinking his home was being invaded by criminals, Guerena told his wife and child to hide in a closet, grabbed a gun and waited in the hallway to confront the intruders. He never fired his weapon. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. The SWAT officers, however, not as restrained, fired 70 rounds of ammunition at Guerena—23 of those bullets made contact. Apart from his military background, Guerena had had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

John Edward Chesney, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, was killed by a SWAT team allegedly responding to a call that the Army veteran was standing in his San Diego apartment window waving what looked like a semi-automatic rifle. SWAT officers locked down Chesney’s street, took up positions around his home, and fired 12 rounds into Chesney’s apartment window. It turned out that the gun Chesney reportedly pointed at police from three stories up was a “realistic-looking mock assault rifle.”

Ramon Hooks’ encounter with a Houston SWAT team did not end as tragically, but it very easily could have.

Hooks, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, was using an air rifle gun for target practice outside when a Homeland Security Agent, allegedly house shopping in the area, reported him as an active shooter. It wasn’t long before the quiet neighborhood was transformed into a war zone, with dozens of cop cars, an armored vehicle and heavily armed police. Hooks was arrested, his air rifle pellets and toy gun confiscated, and charges filed against him for “criminal mischief.”

Given the government’s increasing view of veterans as potential domestic terrorists, it makes one think twice about gpvernment programs encouraging veterans to include a veterans designation on their drivers’ licenses and ID cards.

Hailed by politicians as a way to “make it easier for military veterans to access discounts from retailers, restaurants, hotels and vendors across the state,” it will also make it that much easier for the government to identify and target veterans who dare to challenge the status quo.

Remember: no one is spared in a police state.

Eventually, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we all suffer the same fate.

It stands to reason that if the government can’t be bothered to abide by its constitutional mandate to respect the citizenry’s rights—whether it’s the right to be free from government surveillance and censorship, the right to due process and fair hearings, the right to be free from roadside strip searches and militarized police, or the right to peacefully assemble and protest and exercise our right to free speech—then why should anyone expect the government to treat our nation’s veterans with respect and dignity?

So if you really want to do something to show your respect and appreciation for the nation’s veterans, here’s a suggestion: skip the parades and the retail sales and the flag-waving and instead go exercise your rights—the freedoms that those veterans risked their lives to protect—by pushing back against the government’s tyranny.

Freedom is not free.

It’s time the rest of the nation started to pay the price for the freedoms we too often take for granted.

Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air

Iqbal Khyber and Badshah Khan bring a breath of fresh air

Grade 12 Afghan student Jamila Omary asked, “Do you have any plans to arm yourselves, because of the threats and dangers you have faced?”

Iqbal Khyber answered, “No. Though it is easy to buy weapons today, arming ourselves will worsen the war. Weapons will make us less secure.”

What a breath of fresh air in the stench of war-as-usual!

Iqbal and his fellow People’s Peace Movement (PPM) representative, Badshah Khan, had an unusual and delightfully different conversation with the young Afghan participants of the ‘Youth on the Road to Peace Conference’ on the 26th of September 2018, organized by the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) in Kabul.

“Many governments and corporations have a thriving weapons business. I feel that this is dangerous because as they seek greater profits, they are threatening not just Afghanistan, but the whole world. We human beings may soon destroy ourselves,” Iqbal Khyber had said to me afterwards.

We acquiesce to continued international arms sales because we are comfortable in our pet beliefs and fixed ideas about defeating ‘terrorists’ through superior warfare. Just as we preserve our fossil-fuel habits despite our awareness of climate science, we ignore U.S. congressionally-mandated evidence that the ‘war against terrorism’ has, in fact, increased terrorist attacks five-fold.

The majority of us are not the ones being killed, so we casually get used to wars festering in other places. But the smoke of war is catching up on all of us, making us sick at two minutes to midnight, as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have warned. Eventually the business of war can stifle and kill all of us, just as Iqbal fears.

It is remarkable that amidst war’s unforgiving flames, Iqbal and Badshah wish to douse the inaccurate and unimaginative beliefs about the Afghan war.

They want fellow Afghans and the people of the world to consider nonviolence as a pragmatic solution, and they are ‘walking their talk’ beautifully.

So that we can consciously open our shut ears, Iqbal, Badshah and five other ordinary Afghan folk initiated the PPM as the Helmand Peace Convoy, walking more than 700 km from their unrestful home province of Helmand to Kabul. They were so passionately thirsty about delivering their message of peace that they walked in the fasting month of Ramadan, under the blazing summer sun.

They met the Conference participants after they had returned to Kabul from their barefoot convoy to several Northern Afghan provinces.

Nurturing honest conversations and different mindsets

I got dizzy thinking about these Afghan youth standing before the militants and the strongest militaries of the world that are ‘congregated’ in Afghanistan, and saying, “We don’t want your weapons and your armies. We want peace.”

Iqbal continued his story, “Near the province of Samangan, we were told that the Taliban had laid an ambush, intending to hurt us. I discussed this with Badshah Khan and another core member of the PPM. We didn’t tell the other members as we didn’t want them to be un-necessarily afraid. The three of us decided to press on. In fact, we decided to go right to the ‘headquarters’ of the Taliban in that area.”

Iqbal and his friends set up camp in Taliban territory, and though their ‘microphones were taken away”, no one harmed them physically.

The faces of the youth in the discussion room were drawn with both tension and excitement. They were hopeful, but they also had doubts.

Mohammad Jamil, a university student, was even suspicious of fellow Afghans living in Helmand Province, “Do the people of Helmand really want peace? What is the war in Helmand about?”

Iqbal replied, “The people are all tired of war. They want it to end. This is an economic war. In Helmand, minerals are extracted, and opium is traded.”

Ending the war in Afghanistan without armies and weapons may seem overwhelming. Unsure about the PPM achieving favorable outcomes, Mah Gul asked, “What are your future plans and actions?”

“We wish to go to mosques, and have conversations with the people at the mosques,” Iqbal stated.

Members of the PPM are showing that instead of using bullets and bombs, every individual and society can choose other ways to build peace. They suggest that peace has been elusive so far because we have largely presumed that war was necessary, and only chosen military strategies.

We have all been smoking the cigarette of war, despite the evidence on its cancer-causing nature. What we should do is to quit smoking. Quit the human behavior of war!

Support Nonviolent Afghans

What can each of us do to support the People’s Peace Movement and Afghan Peace Volunteers ( APVs ), instead of continuing an ineffective and unkind Trumpian non-strategy of ‘killing people’?

We can work through our doubts by having honest conversations with them by writing to the People’s Peace Movement ( PPM )  or moc.dlrow2liamnull@eerfredrob

We can sign “The People’s Agreement to Abolish War” or World Beyond War’s Peace Declaration.

Just as more and more of us are steering away from fossil fuels, we can look for and divest from war-making jobs, businesses and policies.

War is not inevitable. It is an obsolete, repetitive choice. Everywhere, each of us can emulate these new-generation Afghans by ushering in breaths of fresh air!

Charting a Jagged Course through the Apocalypse

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop

— Economist Herbert Stein

Those who live in the reaches of the Arctic Circle tend to convey the same humbling lesson: Mother Nature calls the shots and survival depends upon preparing for her mood swings. It’s an adage that will take on increasing relevance as history unfolds because disaster has been baked into our future. Decades ago a whole series of events was set into motion and it may be too late to break their momentum. Civilization will be tested as large swathes of the globe become uninhabitable. While it might be tempting to seek refuge in the form of denial or nihilism, doing so won’t prevent what’s coming down the pike.

It’s Much Worse than You Think   

The indicators are hard to miss. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached levels not seen for nearly a million years. Roughly half of India’s population (which tips the scales at over a billion) currently faces extreme water scarcity and within two decades India’s demand for water will likely rise to twice the available supply. Moreover, by the end of the century scientists assess that population centers across the Middle East will confront “temperature levels that are intolerable to humans.” Which is a polite way of describing a death trap. One that will probably snap shut even if emissions are somehow kept within internationally agreed upon levels.

At some point our system’s requirement for infinite economic growth will hit the limits of a finite planet. As the ensuing collision transpires there will be widespread famine, mass migration, and disease. Thus setting the stage for military conflict on a global scale. People rarely go gently into the night when their backs are thrust against a wall. For instance, it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising if Pakistan and India end up in a nuclear war over water rights to the Indus river system.

This kind of regional clash can spread like a contagion, dragging larger actors into the fray. Daniel Ellsberg, who briefed the Kennedy administration on President Eisenhower’s nuclear war plans, believes that it’s a miracle there hasn’t already been a nuclear war. Given the veritable litany of close calls, he asks “Could we survive another 70 or 100 years without nuclear winter?” To which Ellsberg responds “It’s unlikely.” Other high-ranking Pentagon insiders share Ellsberg’s assessment. Former Defense Secretary William Perry claims that “The likelihood today of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than during the Cold War.”

According to one official who studied the topic at length, economically crippling the United States would only take something in the ballpark of a half dozen sub-megaton nuclear devices detonated in strategically vital cities. The core subset of such targets includes financial hubs (e.g. New York, Chicago, and San Francisco), ports (e.g. Los Angeles, Savannah) and cities with internal waterway access (e.g. Toronto). A strike of this nature is well within the reach of current nuclear powers.

Hope as a Form of Procrastination

Most Americans shrug and quietly hope that experts like Ellsberg and Perry are wrong. But hope can sometimes make things worse. By postponing a much needed reality check. What if it’s too late? What if, as Ellsberg warns, we’ve dramatically underestimated the likelihood of nuclear war? What if civilization is about to perform an epic face-plant, leaving only feudal vestiges of the economy and infrastructure?

Enter John Mosby, the nom de plume of a Special Forces alumnus who has cultivated a keen interest in the decline of empires. Mosby’s insights about survival are drawn from a combination of academic research, piles of military documents, and his own first-hand participation in what he mordantly labels as “nation-building” operations. Mosby is an army veteran who has seen with his own eyes what happens in a country when the state ceases to function.

We’re All Rick Grimes Now 

The future that Mosby envisions isn’t for the faint of heart. In the aftermath of a collapse he expects that the United States would give way to “historically typical failed-state neo-tribalism.” Afghanistan is a textbook example. A destination that the Department of Justice refers to as “largely lawless, weak, and dysfunctional.” In other words, hungry country where groups of farmers struggle to eke out a living amidst mafia-style networks and despotic warlords.

In a setting like this it’s only natural that communities would band together for their common defense. Evolution has programmed us to do so. This, according to Mosby, will be vital for survival. As a lone individual you’ll succumb to the environment. Presumably starve to death or perhaps get run over by a pack of marauders. Only as a member of a larger community do you stand a chance. When the going gets tough, the tough posse up.

This emphasis on social collaboration is noteworthy because it contrasts sharply against the stereotype of the lone survivalist. Crouched down in a basement with their freeze-dried food and ammunition. In fact, Mosby predicts that the billionaire crowd is unlikely to survive over the long run despite their high-end designer bunkers. Mosby concedes that “to some degree, the patrician classes CAN buy their way out of some trouble.” However, once society has been steamrolled by calamity, Mosby asserts that “the masses of people will start looking for leadership, towards people who can offer them security in the form of food and protection.”

The oligarchs, with their self-justifying philosophy of radical individualism, are unlikely to acquire this degree of trust. Because it’s not something you can buy. Mosby says that “It is about being the person who puts the tribe before himself.” He concludes “the super-rich probably don’t have that ability.” The financial strip mining of the middle class that followed the events of 2008 stands in testimony.

The bad news is that tribalism is hardly a utopia. Mosby observes that it will be characterized by “continuous endemic violence” and that — given the state of modern armaments — it will result in “catastrophic losses to all parties involved.” Again, Afghanistan comes to mind. Where the typical life expectancy is approximately 50 years. A place so hazardous that it has garnered a reputation as the graveyard of empires.

Or consider Great Britain after the Romans finally lost their grip in 410 A.D. With the Romans gone the island quickly passed into a dark age where it was relentlessly invaded by northern tribes. Wave after wave of conquering Angles, Saxons, and Vikings. Life was uncertain. Death was everywhere. Something as basic as red meat was a luxury that few could afford. The aftermath of a nuclear exchange will almost certainly result in comparable instability and deprivation. Suffice it to say, in the wake of such a catastrophe there will be a sizable contingent of survivors who’ll wish that they’d simply perished at ground zero.

Out of the Ashes

In spite of the gloomy desolation of the post-apocalypse, there’s still a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. History will not end. Yes, it’s true, civilizations fall. But after a rocky transition period new ones emerge from their remains. And as centuries pass fiefdoms unite and fledgling nations are born. While the Romans left England to fend for itself, the turmoil of Britain’s lost years gradually gave way to the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. The rule of monarchs, which persisted for millennia, was supplanted by rule of law.

In due time established ideologies like socialism and capitalism will be abandoned for doctrines that produce better results. Technology will continue to progress and yield ever more fearsome weapons. Confronted with near term extinction the human species will be obliged to learn from its mistakes and evolve beyond destructive tendencies. Otherwise Mother Nature will relegate the human race to Darwin’s wastebasket and dutifully move on with new experiments.

Doctrines of Impunity: John Bolton and the ICC

The Trump administration’s national security advisor John Bolton has never been a fan of international law, a concept he has found, at best, rubbery.  Any institution supposedly guided by its spirit was bound to draw the ire of both his temper and temperament.  Before members of the Federalist Society on Monday, Bolton took to the pulpit with a fury reserved for the unreflective patriot certain that his country, right or wrong, was above such matters.  “The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”

The wicked body, in this instance, is the International Criminal Court, established by the Rome Statute to try instances of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, a “court of last resort” backed by 123 nations.

The instigation for such concern on Bolton’s part came from the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who requested that the court investigate the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan from 2003 by forces including elements of the US military and intelligence services.  In doing so, she was moving the frame of reference beyond a continent that has featured all too readily in the court’s prosecutions: Africa.

Bolton was quick off the mark after the announcement in 2017, with a blistering observation in the Wall Street Journal:

The Trump administration should not respond to Ms. Bensouda in any way that acknowledges the ICC’s legitimacy.  Even merely contesting its jurisdiction risks drawing the US deeper into the quicksand.

Bolton has been consistent with such tirades.  In 2000, he contemplated the issue of whether there was such a thing as “law” in the matter of international affairs. His sustained attack in Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems remains salient to a parochial understanding of how such rules work.  For Bolton, the central defining issue was one of liberty: how such “law” might “affect individuals in the exercise of their individual freedom”.  Prior to the Second World War, international law was essentially a matter of nation states rather than individuals and groups.

Bolton wishes it remained there, a courtly, distant matter separate from the populace.  But “the logic of today’s international law proponents drives them toward more pervasive international command-and-control structures that will deeply affect the domestic policies and constitutions of all nations.”  Such law lacked notions of “popular sovereignty or public accountability through reasonably democratic popular controls over creation, interpretation, and enforcement of laws”.  It lacked clear sources and a mechanism to determine its change.  In short, and here, reflective of the sum of all his grievances against international law, such juridical phenomena were not of the US order of things, specifically the “United States Constitution and its system of government, exemplifying the kind of legal system acceptable to a free person.”

His address to the Federalist Society recapitulates his critique: the “supranational” and “unchecked” conspiracy of the ICC advanced by “‘global governance’ advocates” inimical to the Founders’ vision.  “Any day now, the ICC may announce the start of a formal investigation against these American patriots, who voluntarily signed on to go into harm’s way to protect our nation, our homes, and our families in the wake of the 9/11 attacks…. An unfounded, unjustifiable investigation.”

The efforts of the ICC was to be frustrated at every turn.  No assistance would be provided to its functions and its pursuits. “And, certainly, we will not join the ICC.  We will let the ICC die on its own.  After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

Bolton keeps interesting company in having such views.  The refusal by the US to ratify the ICC’s founding document in 2002 was joined by Israel, Saudi Arabia and China, fearing its “unacceptable consequences for our national sovereignty”.  Bolton subsequently led efforts as Under Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration to broker some hundred bilateral deals preventing countries from surrendering US nationals to the ICC.  These remain, by his own admission, a proud achievement.

The ICC has had its fair share of bad press.  It groans under a bureaucracy that has led to accusations of justice delayed being justice denied.  It has conspicuously failed to deter the perpetration of atrocities in Syria, Yemen and Myanmar.  Its Africa-focus has also caused more than a flutter of dissent from states on that continent.  Early last year, the African Union passed a non-binding resolution for member states to withdraw from the court, or at the very least seek reforming it.  South Africa confirmed its desire to remove itself from the jurisdictional reach of the ICC, a decision that continues to shadow law makers.

Bolton’s resentment, in short, has fuel to fire.  President Donald Trump sees any international pact untouched by his influence to be deficient and contrary to the values of the imperium.  But the ICC still has legs, however plodding, and such efforts to despoil their function will not necessarily cripple, let alone kill it.

In contrast to Bolton’s view is another stream of US legal thought that sees international law and its enforcement as indispensable to peace.  That view is unduly rosy, and held, at times, disingenuously. But for the US Chief Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson, delivering his opening address in November 1945 to the judges of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, such a body, far from being abstract, incoherent and spineless, supplied the animating legitimacy for an international court.

What fouled international law’s decent nest were those wars of imperialism waged during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, leaving the impression “that all wars are to be regarded as legitimate wars.”  Jackson’s point was that no one, not even the leaders of the United States, could always remain unaccountable, anathema to Bolton’s idea of impunity outside the US constitution.

Canada’s NDP and the World’s Downtrodden

The NDP hierarchy’s response to noted war hawk John McCain’s death is shameful. Even worse, it reflects a general hostility towards the victims of Western imperialism.

After the U.S. Senator died over the weekend federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted:

John McCain had the courage not to stoop to divisive politics. He showed us that we can disagree in a way that creates dialogue and discussion, not fear and division. Rest In peace.

Rachel Notley also praised a US politician who never met a war he didn’t like. “As @BarackObama wrote today”, the leader of Alberta’s NDP Government noted, “all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means.” In a follow-up tweet Notley called McCain “a true public servant.”

Even purportedly progressive Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili praised McCain on Twitter, saying “sad to hear of the passing of Sen. John McCain – a principled man who served his country with honour in difficult times.” (Meili at least had the sense to delete his tweet.)

Anyone who has any doubt about celebrating McCain should watch Rania Khalek’s video and, as Ben Saucier noted in a succinct rejoinder to Singh:

McCain heavily promoted the lies that led to the Iraq war. He championed the NATO bombing of Libya. He supported and armed the jihadists destroying Syria. He played a role in bringing neo-Nazis to power in Ukraine and backed Saudi Arabia’s genocide in Yemen. He was no hero.

But, praising a man who rose to public attention by dropping bombs on civilian targets (a war crime) in North Vietnam is only part of the leadership’s whitewash of Western militarism. At the end of last month Singh published a statement on Korean War Veterans Day “honouring the brave veterans of the Canadian army who fought valiantly during the Korean War, so that today, South Koreans can live in peace and prosperity.”

It’s absurd to imply the 1950–53 Korean War was designed to secure “peace and prosperity” for South Koreans. About 27,000 Canadian troops and numerous warships expanded and internationalized a civil war that left as many as four million dead. They fought in support of Syngman Rhee’s brutal regime, which had killed tens of thousands in what Canadian diplomats in Washington described, in an internal cable to External Affairs at the time, as “a fair amount of repression by the Military Government of left-wing groups.” The understated diplomats added, “liberal social legislation had been definitely resisted.”

At the end of World War II the Soviets occupied the northern part of Korea, which borders Russia. US troops controlled the southern part of the country. According to Noam Chomsky:

When US forces entered Korea in 1945, they dispersed the local popular government, consisting primarily of antifascists who resisted the Japanese, and inaugurated a brutal repression, using Japanese fascist police and Koreans who had collaborated with them during the Japanese occupation. About 100,000 people were murdered in South Korea prior to what we call the Korean War, including 30-40,000 killed during the suppression of a peasant revolt in one small region, Cheju Island.

Singh’s Korean War Veterans Day statement concluded with a flourish of martial patriotism.

On this Korean War Veterans Day, let us also remember our current military personnel, and their families, who continue to fight every day to ensure that the values of peace, freedom, and democracy are defended around the world.

Were 385 Canadians sent to Sudan in 1884 to defend “peace, freedom, and democracy” or to beat back indigenous forces seeking to wrest control of Khartoum from famed English General Charles Gordon? Or how about the 7,000 Canadians who fought in southern Africa between 1899 and 1902? Was that war about advancing Cecil Rhodes’ mining interests and strengthening Britain’s position in the region or “peace, freedom and democracy”?

World War I had no clear and compelling purpose other than rivalry between up-and-coming Germany and the lead imperial powers of the day, Britain and France. And 20,000 Iraqi troops and tens of thousands of civilians were killed during the 1990–91 Gulf War to deepen the US foothold in the region.

The 18 Canadian fighter jets that participated in NATO’s illegal bombing of Serbia in 1999 didn’t bring “peace, freedom, and democracy” there. Nor did the 40,000 Canadians who fought in Afghanistan, which remains wracked by violence. Seven years after Canada participated in NATO’s war in Libya that country remains divided into various warring factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million. (Canadian “peacekeepers” also helped overthrow Jean Bertrand Aristide’s elected government in Haiti and Congolese independence leader Patricia Lumumba.)

Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II. But, the historical record shows that Nazi expansionism’s threat to British interests, not opposition to fascism or anti-Semitism, led Ottawa to join WWII. (Only two years before the war Prime Minister Mackenzie King visited Hitler and in his diary King repeatedly expressed sympathy towards the Nazis.) As Jack Granatstein and Desmond Morton explain, “Canada went to war in September 1939 for the same reason as in 1914: because Britain went to war.”

Somebody should buy Jagmeet Singh a T-shirt that says: “I pissed on the world’s downtrodden to ingratiate myself with the mainstream establishment but all I got was this lousy shirt.”

Catholic Support for War: Another Child Abuse Scandal

On August 14, 2018 a report from a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania identified 300 Catholic priests across the state who had sexually abused more than 1,000 children. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades,” the grand jury wrote in one of the broadest inquiries into church sex abuse in U.S. history. Five days earlier, on August 9, in northern Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a school bus with a missile made by Lockheed Martin and supplied to the Saudis by the U.S. government, and 44 children were killed. Just as the horror of abuse of children by priests goes beyond the scope of the report from Pennsylvania, the children traumatized and killed by the U.S. military and its proxies globally number far more than those 44. Only one of these events sparked a crisis and soul-searching both in and out of the Catholic Church, but they both should have.

Some Catholic activists for peace and justice have long lived in a state of crisis with our church and have recognized the scandal of “men of God” who bless and cover for the abuse and murder of innocents through war, economic injustice and institutional racism.

“Over and over again in history the Church has become so corrupt it just cries out to heaven for vengeance,” Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement said in a 1970 interview. “The crisis is something terrific,” she said then, before the problem of sexual abuse of the young was well known. This crisis, she said, was “a result of the corruption in the institutional Church, through money and through their acceptance of the lousy, rotten system.”

A radical even before she became a Catholic in 1927 (“I have said, sometimes flippantly, that the mass of bourgeois smug Christians who denied Christ in His poor made me turn to the Communists, and it was the Communists and working with them that made me turn to God…”) Dorothy never had the “honeymoon” of blind love enjoyed by many new converts and was always conscious of the Church’s flaws and failings. “I was just as much against capitalism and imperialism as ever, and here I was going over to the opposition, because of course the Church was lined up with property, with the wealthy, with the state, with capitalism, with all the forces of reaction,” she wrote in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness. “This I had been taught to think and this I still think to a great extent.”

Even as a new convert, Dorothy deplored “the scandal of businesslike priests, of collective wealth, the lack of a sense of responsibility for the poor, the worker, the Negro, the Mexican, the Filipino, and even the oppression of these, and the consenting to the oppression of them by our industrialist-capitalist order – these made me feel often that priests were more like Cain than Abel.  ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ they seemed to say in respect to the social order…  There was plenty of charity but too little justice. ‘The worst enemies would be those of our own household,’ Christ had warned us.”

While the use of the word “scandal” to describe the Catholic Church is new and painful for many contemporary Catholics, it was constituent to Dorothy Day’s vocabulary: “I loved the Church for Christ made visible, not for itself, because it was so often a scandal to me,” she said. More than once she applied Jesus’ caution that our enemies are “of our own household” to priests and bishops. She confessed that it was these “enemies,” not the Viet Cong, not even the industrial war profiteers and generals, that she found the hardest to love and to forgive as Jesus bade her.

In a 1967 column entitled “In Peace Is My Bitterness Most Bitter” Dorothy wrote about Cardinal Spellman and his support for the war in Vietnam: “But what words are those he spoke — going against even the Pope, calling for victory, total victory? Words are as strong and powerful as bombs, as napalm.” “I can sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and wrestle for that peace in the bitterness of my soul, a bitterness which many Catholics throughout the world feel, and I can find many things in Scripture to console me, to change my heart from hatred to love of enemy.”

In 2002, after growing awareness of clerical abuse of children and twenty two years after Dorothy Day’s death, the priest/activist Father John Dear decried the scandal of the Church’s support of the war in Afghanistan: “Last November, nearly all the U.S. Catholic bishops voted to bless and support the bombing and mass murder of the people of Afghanistan. We know that some 4000 civilians were killed during the first two months of that U.S. war. Hundreds of children were killed by the United States, and the Catholic bishops condoned their murder.” John Dear stated what should be obvious: “Talk about child abuse! The Church cannot condemn child abuse by pedophiles and yet bless the government’s murder of children in its wars, if it wants to be consistent and faithful to Christ.”

Many Catholics are now struggling with the question, “how can I remain in this abusive Church?” In her meditation on Cardinal Spellman, Dorothy Day asked “as to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.” Dorothy often quoted theologian Romano Guardini, who said “the Church is the Cross on which Christ is always crucified. One cannot separate Christ from his bloody, painful Church. One must live in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with the Church.”

Long time peacemaker and resister, Father Daniel Berrigan once said “I don’t know a more irreligious attitude, one more utterly bankrupt of any human content, than one which permits children to be destroyed.” In a situation like the present, satisfaction with the Church and its institutions is unnatural, sinful, even, and to view the suffering of children without scandal is inhuman. For too long, the Church has abetted the abuse, exploitation and murder of children. I pray that the rising outrage in the Church over the exploitation of children, and the resolve to protect them, will encompass also the children who are victims of war.