Category Archives: NATO

NDP Leadership Debates Continue to Ignore Foreign Policy

There has yet to be a single question about foreign policy in the NDP’s first two leadership debates, but some contenders say they want the party to devote a forum to international affairs.

During a gathering organized by Courage after the recent youth issues debate in Montréal I asked Niki Ashton whether she voted in favour of bombing Libya. The NDP leadership candidate said she and a few other MPs sought to dissuade then leader Jack Layton from supporting the NATO war. Failing to convince him, Ashton said she couldn’t remember if she voted yes on Libya.

Here’s the background:

The NDP supported a vote in March 2011 and another in June initiated by the minority Stephen Harper government endorsing the bombing of Libya. Green Party leader Elizabeth May was the only member of parliament to vote against a war in which Canada played a significant role. A Canadian general led the NATO bombing campaign, seven CF-18 fighter jets participated, two Canadian naval vessels patrolled the Libyan coast and an unknown number of Canadian special forces invaded.

Since the war Libya has descended into chaos. ISIS has taken control of parts of the country while various warring factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of 6 million. Not only did the war destabilize that country, in 2012 the Libyan conflict spilled south into Mali and has even strengthened Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The African Union predicted as much. In opposing the invasion of Libya, AU Commission Chief Jean Ping said, “Africa’s concern is that weapons that are delivered to one side or another … are already in the desert and will arm terrorists and fuel trafficking.”

Days into the February 2011 uprising in Eastern Libya the AU Peace and Security Council sought a negotiated solution to the conflict, but was rebuffed by the US/Britain/France/Canada backed National Transitional Council, which controlled Benghazi. A week before NATO began bombing Libya, the AU Peace and Security Council put forward a five-point plan demanding: “A cease-fire; the protection of civilians; the provision of humanitarian aid for Libyans and foreign workers in the country; dialogue between the two sides, i.e. the Gaddafi regime and the National Transitional Council (NTC); leading to an ‘inclusive transitional period’ and political reforms which ‘meet the aspirations of the Libyan people.’”

Three weeks into the bombing the AU High Level Ad Hoc Committee on Libya, including four heads of state, visited Libya to pursue a ceasefire. Gaddafi agreed to the first phase of the proposal but it was rejected by the NATO-backed NTC. At a meeting with the UN Security Council three months into NATO’s war the AU High Level Ad Hoc Committee on Libya criticized the war. Delivering the AU position, Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda’s permanent representative to the UN, said: “there has been no need for these war activities, ever since Gaddafi accepted dialogue when the AU Mediation Committee visited Tripoli on April 10. Any war activities after that have been provocation for Africa.”

In Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa, Concordia University professor Maximilian Forte argues the invasion of Libya was designed to eliminate an important supporter of African unity and critic of Western militarism on the continent. Gaddafi spearheaded opposition to the United States’ Africa Command (AFRICOM), which Washington wanted to set up on the continent. A 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Tripoli called “the presence of non- African military elements in Libya or elsewhere on the continent” almost a “neuralgic issue” for Gaddafi. Eliminating Gaddafi delivered a blow to the AU and those who rejected AFRICOM.

Ashton’s inability to remember whether she voted to support the war on Libya leaves much to be desired. But, I don’t want to single her out unfairly. The only reason I thought to ask Ashton about Libya is she attended the Courage event, which is part of her plan to draw the party closer to social movements. Moreover, at the youth issues debate Ashton criticized the party leadership for “turfing” pro-Palestinian candidates during the 2015 federal election campaign.

Ashton seems to have brought up Palestine partly because the Young New Democrats of Québec asked the party leadership to include a question in the debate about Palestine. They refused.

During my conversation with Ashton she said the party should devote more energy to discussing foreign policy issues. In response, I asked if she would publicly call for one of the planned eight leadership debates to be devoted to the subject. She agreed, writing in a follow-up message: “Grassroots members are calling for a specific debate on foreign policy or foreign policy questions at each debate and the party should listen and follow suit.”

Afterwards I emailed the three other registered contenders and potential candidate Sid Ryan to ask whether they would “support a leadership debate devoted to military and foreign policy issues” and whether they voted to support the NATO bombing of Libya. (Guy Caron and Sid Ryan were not in the House of Commons at the time of the votes so I didn’t ask them about Libya.)

Despite emailing and Facebook messaging them, Angus and Julian failed to reply to my question about whether they voted to bomb Libya. Angus and Julian also ignored the question about a foreign policy focused debate.

Guy Caron’s spokesperson wrote that he’s “looking forward to getting a chance to debate foreign policy issues. While the party has not indicated specific themes for the remaining debates, I would certainly be open to having a substantive discussion on questions of foreign policy.”

For his part, Ryan expressed “concern as to why the NDP debates have completely ignored the question of foreign policy” and said he “absolutely supports the idea of holding a debate that focuses exclusively on foreign policy.”

A video Ryan recently released bemoans “billions of dollars for the NATO war machine” and shows a protest sign that says, “Stop the US-Israel war”. Elsewhere, Ryan has said Canada should withdraw from NATO, which sharply contrasts with outgoing leader Tom Mulcair’s description of the NDP as “proud members of NATO.” While Mulcair pushed to strengthen sanctions against Russia, Ryan has called for an end to Canada’s military deployments in Eastern Europe. In maybe the starkest difference, Ryan has spoken at pro-Palestinian demonstrations and when he was president of CUPE-Ontario he accepted the members’ vote to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel’s violation of international law. For his part, Mulcair purged a number of NDP candidates – some elected by local riding associations – that supported Palestinian rights.

There are important differences of opinion within the NDP regarding foreign policy questions. These issues deserve to be aired.

A party unable to openly debate its foreign policy is likely to support another war that devastates a small African country.

War and Propaganda

The U.S. has been at war throughout much of its history. Some wars were blatantly wars of conquest; e.g., the Indian Wars (the near genocide of Native Americans) and the Mexican-American War. Whatever the real reasons for our military actions, they were usually sold to the public as being defensive in nature and this practice still goes on.

Some insiders have spoken more openly about reasons for wars. For example, in 1933 Major General Smedley Butler USMC, who served for 33 years and was one of the most highly decorated marines, stated:

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses….

And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

Another leading U.S. military figure, General Douglas MacArthur, spoke in 1957 at a Sperry Rand Corporation annual meeting:

Our swollen budgets constantly have been misrepresented to the public. Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear — kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor — with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.

Shamefully, the U.S. mainstream media plays a key role in advancing the establishment’s stories in creating enemies and in pushing the use of the military instead of diplomacy. For example, most of the influential media unquestionably spread the false claims about weapons of mass destruction before the illegal and unwarranted U.S.-led attack on Iraq in 2003. This monstrous U.S. war crime killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and caused incredible suffering and devastation that continue even today. In addition, that attack played a major role in creating the chaos in the Middle East and in spawning ISIS and other terrorists groups.

For a decade now, the influential media has been building fear of and animosity against Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. For example, the media spread the establishment’s story that NATO’s buildup of weapons and forces near the Russian border is a reaction to Russian aggression. In its coverage, the media downplayed the U.S. violation of its pledge not to expand NATO ‘one inch’ to the east if the Soviet Union would allow Germany to be reunited. Unfortunately, the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations all violated that pledge. Perhaps the media didn’t think NATO’s expansion to Russian borders might have been viewed as a provocation to Russia.

However, a key insider saw things very differently. In 1996 George Kennan, architect of the containment policy towards the Soviet Union, warned that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet territories would be a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.” In 1998, Thomas Friedman solicited Kennan’s reaction to the Senate’s ratification of NATO’s eastward expansion. Kennan said: ”I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else.”

The mainstream U.S. media also downplayed the importance of the U.S. supported 2014 Ukrainian coup, a major provocation that caused Russia to react as Kennan had predicted. Even George Friedman, CEO of Stratfor, a U.S. firm involved in analyzing intelligence, spoke about this coup that the media hailed as a revolution: “It really was the most blatant coup in history.”

The media continues the campaign against Russia by hyping the unsubstantiated claim that the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails and somehow provided the emails to Wikileaks. This problematic charge further bolsters the perception of Russia as our enemy, making the idea of war more palatable.

Disappointingly, the influential U.S. media ignores a strong challenge to this claim from former intelligence officials (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity) who have a very good track record in evaluating evidence. Adding to the concern about these claims, it is important to remember that the CIA’s political leadership has a major credibility problem. Moreover, Julian Assange of Wikileaks, denied receiving the emails from the Russian government. Given these concerns and the lack of any solid evidence being shown to the public, a responsible media would certainly have carefully investigated the charge before unnecessarily heightening tensions between two powers with nuclear weapons.

Accuracy in reporting is especially important now since Russian and U.S./NATO forces are operating in close proximity along the Russian border and in Syria. Any small miscalculation could set off a nuclear conflict with unbelievably dire consequences for life on the planet. For example, studies by well-informed scientists have clearly demonstrated that there are no winners in a nuclear conflict. Therefore, it is past time for the mainstream U.S. media to live up to its responsibilities to the public and to carefully investigate claims instead of simply being a shameless propaganda tool of the U.S. political and military establishment.

The Korea Problem

South Korea — As an occupied country, the successive governments of South Korea — occupied since 1950 with between 326,000 US soldiers (during the Korean War) and 28,500 US soldiers (today) and the war that divided the peninsula and the people of Korea — has seen massive human rights violations, repression and state terrorism, and has also perpetrated atrocities in other countries.  This is a so-called “member of the international community.”  Will the real war criminals please stand up?

South Korea — Seoul, 10 May 1990: Student pro-democracy and anti-US imperialism demonstrations rocked Seoul for two days on 9 May and 10 May 1990. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The Central Intelligence Agency under Allen Dulles launched covert operations in South Korea by 1950 — utilizing South Korean police and other secret agents to serve the imperial “pro-democracy” agenda. The ever touted claim that North Korea launched a very clear war of aggression by crossing the 38th parallel — an arbitrary line of demarcation between Soviet Russian and US/allied forces after WW-2 — and invading South Korea is not born out by the facts that existed on the ground in the Korean peninsula in June of 1950.  Not only are there credible reports of death squads crossing into the northern territory and committing atrocities, but the diplomatic record shows a pattern of belligerence and war-mongering that has become de rigeur for the United States all over the world since then.

Massive post-WW-2 repression and murder (extrajudicial summary executions) by South Korean troops, with US military oversight, occurred against their own people in the south, including such horrible massacres as occurred on Je Ju island 1948-1949 and were white-washed by the western propaganda and intelligence apparatus (see the documentary film “The Ghosts of Je Ju“).  The somewhat more well-known “Koch’ang incident” in February 1951 involved some 600 men and women, young and old, that were reportedly herded into a narrow valley in south Korea and mowed down with machine guns by a South Korean army unit on the loosely applied claim that they were “suspected of aiding guerrillas” — these being Korean people who resisted the overt terrorism that the Korean people (north and south) were subjected to by the southern forces and US troops.

South Korea – May 1990:  A map posted in the northern zone just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) showing the DMZ and major dams contstructed on both sides of the illegal border.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

“The Governor of Je Ju at the time admitted that the repression of the Island’s 300,000 residents led to the murder of as many as 60,000 Islanders,” wrote S. Brian Wilson, “with another 40,000 desperately fleeing in boats to Japan. Thus, one-third of its residents were either murdered or fled during the “extermination” campaign. Nearly 40,000 homes were destroyed and 270 of 400 villages were leveled.”

US troops fired on crowds, conducted mass arrests, combed the hills for suspects, and organized posses of Korean rightists, constabulary and police for mass raids (reported at the time by correspondent Mark Gwyn for the Chicago Sun: see in William Blum Killing Hope).

South Korea – May 1990: A partially camouflaged military encampment in the northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel (Keith Harmon Snow)

Said one British scholar Jon Halliday at the time: “After all, if civilians could be mowed down in the South on “suspicion” (italics on the original) of aiding (not even “being” {italics on original}) guerrillas — what about the North, where millions could reasonably be assumed to be Communists, or political militants?” (See: Killing Hope p. 51).

The US military carpet bombing and use of napalm against the northern Koreans during the Korean War was murderous and unprecedented (though rivaled by the bombing of Dresden) and set the stage for similar repeat operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Entire villages were wiped off the map and the Korean peninsula.  Some 3 million Koreans north of the 38th parallel were killed, with 1 million Korean people killed in the south and over 1 million Chinese deaths.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Student pro-democracy and anti-US imperialism demonstrations rocked Seoul for two days on 9 May and 10 May 1990.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

Note that the *United Nations* were involved in the war: UN troops were commanded by general Douglas McArthur and committed egregious atrocities all over the place — and these atrocities were always blamed on the “North” Korean forces — a particularly poignant tactic (blaming the victims) ever exercised by the pro democracy forces of the New World Order in the process of exercising our military freedoms and exorcising anyone deemed to be undemocratic (meaning: opposed to predatory capitalism, the IMF and the World Bank, multinational corporate destruction, and the feeding, housing, clothing, educating and taking care of the people).

Under then US-installed puppet dictator Syngman Rhee the allied (US/UN/south Korean) troops confiscated massive tracts of land and other “spoils of war” (confiscated property of the former brutal Japanese occupiers) and doled them out, for example, to ultra-right wing former sympathizers and collaborators with the former Japanese occupation, the most wealthy, and other conservative elements. This further set the stage for widespread resentment amongst the Korean population — whose ancestors saw and who did not forget the first massacres in Korea at the hands of invading US forces in 1871.

South Korea – May 1990: A military jeep carries soldiers along a remote road in the northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The arbitrary and illegal line of demarcation drawn at the 38th parallel became the de facto border separating the Korean people due to US/UN/NATO/South Korean military aggression and refusal to compromise with the northern power structure (the northerners  made many overtures and granted many concessions toward reunification).

Subsequent to the war, the Republic of Korea military under its US tutelage did not limit the atrocities against innocent civilians to the domestic arena.  Some 300,000 South Korean troops joined the NATO war in Indochina, and committed serious atrocities there: at least several major massacres are well documented. Examples include:

Bình Hòa massacre
Binh Tai massacre
Hà My massacre
Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacre

— all being located in South Vietnam and all being massacres of hundreds of unarmed non-combatant children, pregnant women, and the elderly.  The South Korean troops committed brutal atrocities — such as cutting the breasts off women and bayonetting pregnant women in the bellies and bulldozing shallow graves for summary burials to cover up the evidence.  Some of the villages and people so targeted were known to be very sympathetic and supportive of the US military, but after these atrocities many survivors joined the Viet Kong.

South Korea – May 1990:  The northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 28th parallel (Keith Harmon Snow)

There is no doubt the South Korean forces were trained in brutal “counter-insurgency” techniques now well-documented to include the most horrible crimes that people have ever committed against people — all under the watchful eyes and logistical coordination of the United States and our intelligence apparatus (e.g. the Phoenix Program  — a campaign of absolute terror and egregious crimes against humanity and war crimes conducted in Indochina during the US wars there).

For example: at Binh Hoa village (December 1966) in South Vietnam the South Korean “Blue Dragon Brigade” slaughtered over 400 mostly children, women and elderly; ROK troops then burned the village to the ground and slaughtered the people’s buffaloes.

South Korea – May 1990: Camouflaged cement structures ready to be deployed as barricades on the roads in northern South Korea, a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

Over the past 60 years the people of South Korea have been subject to egregious curtailment of freedoms under certain “National Security” directives (laws) including: the (repeated) jailing of thousands of “dissidents” who have, in one form or another, protested imperialist US involvement and occupation in South Korea; people who have organized against US imperialism; students and other civilians that have maintained contacts with people in North Korea; civil society groups and individuals that have contacted foreign organizations seeking help against repression; the censoring and destruction of truth in education and educational materials.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Some 40,000 riot police were deployed on 9 May and 10 May to crush demonstrations involving over 100,000 people.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

There have been suspicious deaths of student activists, and attempts to get outside help to demand proper investigations of such deaths have led to further repression of the petitioners (seeking help).

On 9 May 1990, some 100,000 Koreans marched and demonstrated against the then latest US/UK/EU-backed dictatorship of president Roh Tae-Woo (1988-1993); over 40,000 South Korean storm troopers (riot police) were mobilized and over 1900 people detained.  Some of the perceived organizers were jailed for several years.  Torture has been selectively used on political prisoners, but was routinely deployed against certain segments of the population during particular periods since the 1950’s, such as the run-up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where thousands of “vagrants” were rounded up off the streets, most of them small children, and were sent to a “welfare facility” called “Brothers Home,” where they were subject to several years of brutality and/or including fatal beatings and routine rape — all this under orders of the then-president Park Chung-hee (father of President Park Geun-hye who was recently impeached in December 2016) and whose successor, President Chun Doo-hwan, suppressed any investigation into the atrocities.

South Korean labor unions and struggles have in the past been infiltrated and co-opted by gangs of thugs hired by / for multinational corporations like Daewoo, Samsung and Hyundai.  The bribery, influence peddling, hired thuggery, and other forms of corruption by the “chaelbol” — giant family run multinational conglomerates — rival those of the Japanese Sogo Shosha (trading houses) and the Japanese mafia (Yakuza) and their western corporate criminal counterparts (CIA/FBI/NSA/DIA/USAID and the 1 percent) — where anything and everything can be bought and sold with reckless abandon and near zero accountability and the corruption and criminals are shielded by the judiciary.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Some 40,000 riot police were deployed on 9 May and 10 May to crush demonstrations involving over 100,000 people (Keith Harmon Snow)

The corporate Goon Squads have often used various forms of torture, including beatings and kidnappings, and the thuggery by corporate gangs has in many cases been supported by state security and police — who have furthered the extrajudicial punishments and torture against labor organizers and employees of the large corporations targeted, for example, for exercising their freedom of expression.  Public and private school teachers have also suffered retaliation and repression for their involvement in activities that the “state” deemed a threat to “national security” — such as labor and pro-democracy organizing.

South Korean people lived under more than 30 years of military dictatorship from 1960s-1993 but given the corruption and absence of freedoms the situation under “democratically elected” presidents has not been particularly encouraging, to say to least, for the average South Korean — repressive laws instituted under military dictatorship continued to serve a repressive state security apparatus, including arbitrary arrests and detentions — and so “democracy” has been an absolute farce.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Riot police searched shop to shop door to door hunting down demonstrators and arresting some 1900 people.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

As S. Brian Wilson discusses, the current inhabitants of Je Ju Island have been opposed to the construction of a deep water port that would serve US/ROK military objectives enabling guided missile equipped AEGIS class destroyers access to port facilities at the village of Gangjeong. The ROK’s CIA-like Korean National Intelligence Service has spied on and raided citizens and organizations that are opposed to the deep water port that would be built by the criminal Samsung Corporation.  Samsung has a history of more than 50 years of environmental pollution, trade union repression, corruption, tax flight and tax evasion.

South Korea – One photo of just one of the many Je Ju Island massacres that occurred in South Korea and were committed by US-backed South Korean forces in 1948 and 1949. (Photo credit unknown)

South Korean civilians have also been persecuted from the 1950s to the present day, including arrests, kidnappings, beatings and torture, for advocating reunification with North Korea.  Millions of Koreans were separated from family members by the illegal US-enforced bifurcation of the Koreas before and after the Korean War (1950-1953) and, as we can imagine, reunification is blocked by powerful political interests whose motivations (power, control, private profit) do not serve the greater common interest of the Korean people (north and south) or the rest of us.  Further, South Korean militarization has benefited US, UK, Canadian, EU and Israeli corporations — further wagging the dog of war and serving the powerful interests that will never move toward a peaceful equitable reunification serving the interests the people (north and south).

South Korea is effectively run by an organized crime syndicate with deep ties to the United States power structure (see, for example, the notes on The Cohen Group below).  Beyond a repressive security apparatus and pro-imperialist international foreign policy, South Korea suffers very high and increasing rates of suicides, alcoholism, sexual and domestic violence.

South Korean corporations have also run roughshod over the environment domestically and abroad and slavery conditions have historically prevailed for their labor forces while sweatshop conditions still do.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Riot police occupied all major subway stations and train stations in the search for demonstrators. (Keith Harmon Snow)

While the South Korean government has offered an “aggressive” public face to the issue of “calling for reunification”, this is mere lip service as they have simultaneously increased military spending, maintained a compulsory draft (with severe penalties for any conscientious objector), and moved to the front of the line as a leading arms exporter.  In recent years South Korea has purchased scores of billions of dollars worth of warplanes, anti-missile systems and other weapons (of mass destruction), and the ROK has annual defense budgets of over $30 Billion.

Meanwhile, South Korea and its western allies (including Japan) have escalated aggressive military posturing and rhetoric targeting North Korea, including deployments of troops and weaponry (e.g. battleships) in “joint military exercises” within striking distance of North Korea. The escalation of tensions and probability of war — on the Korean peninsula — are due to the duplicitous and sociopathic criminal hegemony and aggression by the United States *government* and its closest allies and their *leaders*.

South Korea – Seoul 10 May 1990: Riot police search shops and restaurants for demonstartors. (Keith Harmon Snow)

South Korea sealed its biggest-ever — until then — arms purchase in September 2015 with a U.S. $7.04 billion deal for 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.  South Korea has also been stocking up on spy satellites and drones — courtesy of US weapons manufacturers like Northrup Grumman.  South Korea also sports a large number of Apache Attack helicopters, and it has more than “capable” air force and navy.

Who benefits from all this war making? Who are the directors of Lockheed Martin? Northrup Grumman? Don’t miss that retired US Air Force General and former director of the profoundly secretive National Reconnaissance Office on Lockheed’s board.  The NRO plans, builds and operates North America’s spy satellites, and they specialize in intelligence-gathering and information warfare — and the NRO coordinates the analysis of aerial surveillance and satellite imagery from several intelligence and military agencies, including the Defense Investigative Agency (DIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Oh, and don’t miss that retired US Admiral and Commander of the US Strategic Command, also on Lockheed’s board, who is also a director of the highly dishonest and destructive Institute for Nuclear Power (INPO).

Oh, and don’t miss the Lockheed directors that are also directors of The Cohen Group — founded and run by former U.S. Secretary of War (1997-2001) and bona fide war criminal William S. Cohen.  According to his own The Cohen Group web site: “Under his leadership, the US military conducted the largest air warfare campaign since World War II, in Serbia and Kosovo, and conducted other military operations on every continent” — including the U.S. proxy wars in Congo and Sudan — and “The Cohen Group principals have decades of experience working with The Republic of Korea (ROK) government and military and with ROK industry.”

I bet they do!

Now, let’s talk about North Korea.

Imagine, a country like North Korea, which, in fact, there is no other country like, that does not have the stellar record of committing massive war crimes that the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan or Israel do, and that had the audacity to develop a missile (capability) of their own…to defend themselves against the world’s leading military aggressor(s), one(s) with long and unpretty records of massacres, tortures, double-dealing and back-stabbing, amounting to a lot more than just massive and gross war crimes, crimes against humanity and mass murder in one country after the next.

Will the real war criminals please stand up?  If you are reading the New York Times, you are contributing to your own mental illness.

South Korea – May 1990: Scores of military vehicles (background) at a military base in the north of South Korea a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

P.S. I have also provided some (amateur) photos of the South Korea’s northern zone — where I was able to use my mountain bicycle to gain access to the area just south of the DMZ.  At the time (May 1990) it was highly militarized and I used my camera judiciously, though I always suspected that the ROK patrols that saw me assumed I was US military and gave me a certain carte blanche to bike freely.  The landscape there, it seems to me, was highly “manicured” devoid of almost all wildness. Other than the soldiers and police, the only people I saw were universally lower class farmers — warm, kind and friendly. I imagine that this northern region has been substantially more militarized since 1990, but really I have no idea.

South Korea – May 1990: Camouflaged cement structures ready to deployed as barricades on the roads in northern South Korea, a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The Korea Problem

South Korea — As an occupied country, the successive governments of South Korea — occupied since 1950 with between 326,000 US soldiers (during the Korean War) and 28,500 US soldiers (today) and the war that divided the peninsula and the people of Korea — has seen massive human rights violations, repression and state terrorism, and has also perpetrated atrocities in other countries.  This is a so-called “member of the international community.”  Will the real war criminals please stand up?

South Korea — Seoul, 10 May 1990: Student pro-democracy and anti-US imperialism demonstrations rocked Seoul for two days on 9 May and 10 May 1990. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The Central Intelligence Agency under Allen Dulles launched covert operations in South Korea by 1950 — utilizing South Korean police and other secret agents to serve the imperial “pro-democracy” agenda. The ever touted claim that North Korea launched a very clear war of aggression by crossing the 38th parallel — an arbitrary line of demarcation between Soviet Russian and US/allied forces after WW-2 — and invading South Korea is not born out by the facts that existed on the ground in the Korean peninsula in June of 1950.  Not only are there credible reports of death squads crossing into the northern territory and committing atrocities, but the diplomatic record shows a pattern of belligerence and war-mongering that has become de rigeur for the United States all over the world since then.

Massive post-WW-2 repression and murder (extrajudicial summary executions) by South Korean troops, with US military oversight, occurred against their own people in the south, including such horrible massacres as occurred on Je Ju island 1948-1949 and were white-washed by the western propaganda and intelligence apparatus (see the documentary film “The Ghosts of Je Ju“).  The somewhat more well-known “Koch’ang incident” in February 1951 involved some 600 men and women, young and old, that were reportedly herded into a narrow valley in south Korea and mowed down with machine guns by a South Korean army unit on the loosely applied claim that they were “suspected of aiding guerrillas” — these being Korean people who resisted the overt terrorism that the Korean people (north and south) were subjected to by the southern forces and US troops.

South Korea – May 1990:  A map posted in the northern zone just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) showing the DMZ and major dams contstructed on both sides of the illegal border.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

“The Governor of Je Ju at the time admitted that the repression of the Island’s 300,000 residents led to the murder of as many as 60,000 Islanders,” wrote S. Brian Wilson, “with another 40,000 desperately fleeing in boats to Japan. Thus, one-third of its residents were either murdered or fled during the “extermination” campaign. Nearly 40,000 homes were destroyed and 270 of 400 villages were leveled.”

US troops fired on crowds, conducted mass arrests, combed the hills for suspects, and organized posses of Korean rightists, constabulary and police for mass raids (reported at the time by correspondent Mark Gwyn for the Chicago Sun: see in William Blum Killing Hope).

South Korea – May 1990: A partially camouflaged military encampment in the northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel (Keith Harmon Snow)

Said one British scholar Jon Halliday at the time: “After all, if civilians could be mowed down in the South on “suspicion” (italics on the original) of aiding (not even “being” {italics on original}) guerrillas — what about the North, where millions could reasonably be assumed to be Communists, or political militants?” (See: Killing Hope p. 51).

The US military carpet bombing and use of napalm against the northern Koreans during the Korean War was murderous and unprecedented (though rivaled by the bombing of Dresden) and set the stage for similar repeat operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Entire villages were wiped off the map and the Korean peninsula.  Some 3 million Koreans north of the 38th parallel were killed, with 1 million Korean people killed in the south and over 1 million Chinese deaths.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Student pro-democracy and anti-US imperialism demonstrations rocked Seoul for two days on 9 May and 10 May 1990.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

Note that the *United Nations* were involved in the war: UN troops were commanded by general Douglas McArthur and committed egregious atrocities all over the place — and these atrocities were always blamed on the “North” Korean forces — a particularly poignant tactic (blaming the victims) ever exercised by the pro democracy forces of the New World Order in the process of exercising our military freedoms and exorcising anyone deemed to be undemocratic (meaning: opposed to predatory capitalism, the IMF and the World Bank, multinational corporate destruction, and the feeding, housing, clothing, educating and taking care of the people).

Under then US-installed puppet dictator Syngman Rhee the allied (US/UN/south Korean) troops confiscated massive tracts of land and other “spoils of war” (confiscated property of the former brutal Japanese occupiers) and doled them out, for example, to ultra-right wing former sympathizers and collaborators with the former Japanese occupation, the most wealthy, and other conservative elements. This further set the stage for widespread resentment amongst the Korean population — whose ancestors saw and who did not forget the first massacres in Korea at the hands of invading US forces in 1871.

South Korea – May 1990: A military jeep carries soldiers along a remote road in the northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The arbitrary and illegal line of demarcation drawn at the 38th parallel became the de facto border separating the Korean people due to US/UN/NATO/South Korean military aggression and refusal to compromise with the northern power structure (the northerners  made many overtures and granted many concessions toward reunification).

Subsequent to the war, the Republic of Korea military under its US tutelage did not limit the atrocities against innocent civilians to the domestic arena.  Some 300,000 South Korean troops joined the NATO war in Indochina, and committed serious atrocities there: at least several major massacres are well documented. Examples include:

Bình Hòa massacre
Binh Tai massacre
Hà My massacre
Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacre

— all being located in South Vietnam and all being massacres of hundreds of unarmed non-combatant children, pregnant women, and the elderly.  The South Korean troops committed brutal atrocities — such as cutting the breasts off women and bayonetting pregnant women in the bellies and bulldozing shallow graves for summary burials to cover up the evidence.  Some of the villages and people so targeted were known to be very sympathetic and supportive of the US military, but after these atrocities many survivors joined the Viet Kong.

South Korea – May 1990:  The northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 28th parallel (Keith Harmon Snow)

There is no doubt the South Korean forces were trained in brutal “counter-insurgency” techniques now well-documented to include the most horrible crimes that people have ever committed against people — all under the watchful eyes and logistical coordination of the United States and our intelligence apparatus (e.g. the Phoenix Program  — a campaign of absolute terror and egregious crimes against humanity and war crimes conducted in Indochina during the US wars there).

For example: at Binh Hoa village (December 1966) in South Vietnam the South Korean “Blue Dragon Brigade” slaughtered over 400 mostly children, women and elderly; ROK troops then burned the village to the ground and slaughtered the people’s buffaloes.

South Korea – May 1990: Camouflaged cement structures ready to be deployed as barricades on the roads in northern South Korea, a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

Over the past 60 years the people of South Korea have been subject to egregious curtailment of freedoms under certain “National Security” directives (laws) including: the (repeated) jailing of thousands of “dissidents” who have, in one form or another, protested imperialist US involvement and occupation in South Korea; people who have organized against US imperialism; students and other civilians that have maintained contacts with people in North Korea; civil society groups and individuals that have contacted foreign organizations seeking help against repression; the censoring and destruction of truth in education and educational materials.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Some 40,000 riot police were deployed on 9 May and 10 May to crush demonstrations involving over 100,000 people.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

There have been suspicious deaths of student activists, and attempts to get outside help to demand proper investigations of such deaths have led to further repression of the petitioners (seeking help).

On 9 May 1990, some 100,000 Koreans marched and demonstrated against the then latest US/UK/EU-backed dictatorship of president Roh Tae-Woo (1988-1993); over 40,000 South Korean storm troopers (riot police) were mobilized and over 1900 people detained.  Some of the perceived organizers were jailed for several years.  Torture has been selectively used on political prisoners, but was routinely deployed against certain segments of the population during particular periods since the 1950’s, such as the run-up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where thousands of “vagrants” were rounded up off the streets, most of them small children, and were sent to a “welfare facility” called “Brothers Home,” where they were subject to several years of brutality and/or including fatal beatings and routine rape — all this under orders of the then-president Park Chung-hee (father of President Park Geun-hye who was recently impeached in December 2016) and whose successor, President Chun Doo-hwan, suppressed any investigation into the atrocities.

South Korean labor unions and struggles have in the past been infiltrated and co-opted by gangs of thugs hired by / for multinational corporations like Daewoo, Samsung and Hyundai.  The bribery, influence peddling, hired thuggery, and other forms of corruption by the “chaelbol” — giant family run multinational conglomerates — rival those of the Japanese Sogo Shosha (trading houses) and the Japanese mafia (Yakuza) and their western corporate criminal counterparts (CIA/FBI/NSA/DIA/USAID and the 1 percent) — where anything and everything can be bought and sold with reckless abandon and near zero accountability and the corruption and criminals are shielded by the judiciary.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Some 40,000 riot police were deployed on 9 May and 10 May to crush demonstrations involving over 100,000 people (Keith Harmon Snow)

The corporate Goon Squads have often used various forms of torture, including beatings and kidnappings, and the thuggery by corporate gangs has in many cases been supported by state security and police — who have furthered the extrajudicial punishments and torture against labor organizers and employees of the large corporations targeted, for example, for exercising their freedom of expression.  Public and private school teachers have also suffered retaliation and repression for their involvement in activities that the “state” deemed a threat to “national security” — such as labor and pro-democracy organizing.

South Korean people lived under more than 30 years of military dictatorship from 1960s-1993 but given the corruption and absence of freedoms the situation under “democratically elected” presidents has not been particularly encouraging, to say to least, for the average South Korean — repressive laws instituted under military dictatorship continued to serve a repressive state security apparatus, including arbitrary arrests and detentions — and so “democracy” has been an absolute farce.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Riot police searched shop to shop door to door hunting down demonstrators and arresting some 1900 people.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

As S. Brian Wilson discusses, the current inhabitants of Je Ju Island have been opposed to the construction of a deep water port that would serve US/ROK military objectives enabling guided missile equipped AEGIS class destroyers access to port facilities at the village of Gangjeong. The ROK’s CIA-like Korean National Intelligence Service has spied on and raided citizens and organizations that are opposed to the deep water port that would be built by the criminal Samsung Corporation.  Samsung has a history of more than 50 years of environmental pollution, trade union repression, corruption, tax flight and tax evasion.

South Korea – One photo of just one of the many Je Ju Island massacres that occurred in South Korea and were committed by US-backed South Korean forces in 1948 and 1949. (Photo credit unknown)

South Korean civilians have also been persecuted from the 1950s to the present day, including arrests, kidnappings, beatings and torture, for advocating reunification with North Korea.  Millions of Koreans were separated from family members by the illegal US-enforced bifurcation of the Koreas before and after the Korean War (1950-1953) and, as we can imagine, reunification is blocked by powerful political interests whose motivations (power, control, private profit) do not serve the greater common interest of the Korean people (north and south) or the rest of us.  Further, South Korean militarization has benefited US, UK, Canadian, EU and Israeli corporations — further wagging the dog of war and serving the powerful interests that will never move toward a peaceful equitable reunification serving the interests the people (north and south).

South Korea is effectively run by an organized crime syndicate with deep ties to the United States power structure (see, for example, the notes on The Cohen Group below).  Beyond a repressive security apparatus and pro-imperialist international foreign policy, South Korea suffers very high and increasing rates of suicides, alcoholism, sexual and domestic violence.

South Korean corporations have also run roughshod over the environment domestically and abroad and slavery conditions have historically prevailed for their labor forces while sweatshop conditions still do.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Riot police occupied all major subway stations and train stations in the search for demonstrators. (Keith Harmon Snow)

While the South Korean government has offered an “aggressive” public face to the issue of “calling for reunification”, this is mere lip service as they have simultaneously increased military spending, maintained a compulsory draft (with severe penalties for any conscientious objector), and moved to the front of the line as a leading arms exporter.  In recent years South Korea has purchased scores of billions of dollars worth of warplanes, anti-missile systems and other weapons (of mass destruction), and the ROK has annual defense budgets of over $30 Billion.

Meanwhile, South Korea and its western allies (including Japan) have escalated aggressive military posturing and rhetoric targeting North Korea, including deployments of troops and weaponry (e.g. battleships) in “joint military exercises” within striking distance of North Korea. The escalation of tensions and probability of war — on the Korean peninsula — are due to the duplicitous and sociopathic criminal hegemony and aggression by the United States *government* and its closest allies and their *leaders*.

South Korea – Seoul 10 May 1990: Riot police search shops and restaurants for demonstartors. (Keith Harmon Snow)

South Korea sealed its biggest-ever — until then — arms purchase in September 2015 with a U.S. $7.04 billion deal for 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.  South Korea has also been stocking up on spy satellites and drones — courtesy of US weapons manufacturers like Northrup Grumman.  South Korea also sports a large number of Apache Attack helicopters, and it has more than “capable” air force and navy.

Who benefits from all this war making? Who are the directors of Lockheed Martin? Northrup Grumman? Don’t miss that retired US Air Force General and former director of the profoundly secretive National Reconnaissance Office on Lockheed’s board.  The NRO plans, builds and operates North America’s spy satellites, and they specialize in intelligence-gathering and information warfare — and the NRO coordinates the analysis of aerial surveillance and satellite imagery from several intelligence and military agencies, including the Defense Investigative Agency (DIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Oh, and don’t miss that retired US Admiral and Commander of the US Strategic Command, also on Lockheed’s board, who is also a director of the highly dishonest and destructive Institute for Nuclear Power (INPO).

Oh, and don’t miss the Lockheed directors that are also directors of The Cohen Group — founded and run by former U.S. Secretary of War (1997-2001) and bona fide war criminal William S. Cohen.  According to his own The Cohen Group web site: “Under his leadership, the US military conducted the largest air warfare campaign since World War II, in Serbia and Kosovo, and conducted other military operations on every continent” — including the U.S. proxy wars in Congo and Sudan — and “The Cohen Group principals have decades of experience working with The Republic of Korea (ROK) government and military and with ROK industry.”

I bet they do!

Now, let’s talk about North Korea.

Imagine, a country like North Korea, which, in fact, there is no other country like, that does not have the stellar record of committing massive war crimes that the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan or Israel do, and that had the audacity to develop a missile (capability) of their own…to defend themselves against the world’s leading military aggressor(s), one(s) with long and unpretty records of massacres, tortures, double-dealing and back-stabbing, amounting to a lot more than just massive and gross war crimes, crimes against humanity and mass murder in one country after the next.

Will the real war criminals please stand up?  If you are reading the New York Times, you are contributing to your own mental illness.

South Korea – May 1990: Scores of military vehicles (background) at a military base in the north of South Korea a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

P.S. I have also provided some (amateur) photos of the South Korea’s northern zone — where I was able to use my mountain bicycle to gain access to the area just south of the DMZ.  At the time (May 1990) it was highly militarized and I used my camera judiciously, though I always suspected that the ROK patrols that saw me assumed I was US military and gave me a certain carte blanche to bike freely.  The landscape there, it seems to me, was highly “manicured” devoid of almost all wildness. Other than the soldiers and police, the only people I saw were universally lower class farmers — warm, kind and friendly. I imagine that this northern region has been substantially more militarized since 1990, but really I have no idea.

South Korea – May 1990: Camouflaged cement structures ready to deployed as barricades on the roads in northern South Korea, a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

NDP Leadership Debate Fails to Mention Canadian Foreign Policy

Is the NDP establishment scared to have party members discuss Canada’s international posture?

At the party’s first leadership debate last weekend there wasn’t a single foreign policy question despite a host of contentious recent party positions on international affairs.

Certainly at a time when the mainstream media is giving prominence to militarist voices, many members would be keen to hear the four candidates’ positions on military spending. The party’s 2015 platform said an NDP government would “meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations.” In addition to backing Stephen Harper’s budget allocations, the NDP aggressively promoted the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $40 billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades (over its lifespan the cost is expected to top $100 billion). Defence critic Jack Harris bemoaned “Conservative delays” undermining “our navy from getting wanted equipment” and the platform said the NDP would “carry forward the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy to ensure Canada has the ships we need” even if this naval build-up strengthens Canadian officials’ capacity to bully weaker countries.

It would also be good to know the candidates’ views on the Trudeau government repeatedly isolating Canada from world opinion regarding Palestinian rights. In November, for instance, Canada joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau in opposing UN motions titled “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan” and “persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities.” One hundred and fifty-six countries voted in favour of the motions, but the NDP stayed silent on the UN votes.

During the 2015 federal election the NDP responded to Conservative party pressure by ousting as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations because they defended Palestinian rights on social media. In the most high profile incident, Morgan Wheeldon was dismissed as the party’s candidate in a Nova Scotia riding because he accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza, when it killed 2,200 mostly civilians in the summer of 2014. Do leadership candidates plan to continue purging critics of Israel?

The grassroots would also be interested to know the candidates’ views on Ottawa ramping up its military presence on Russia’s doorstep. The NDP backed the 2014 coup in Kiev, war in eastern Ukraine and NATO military buildup in Eastern Europe. During a 2015 election debate party leader Tom Mulcair called for stronger sanctions against Russian officials and last summer NDP defence critic Randall Garrison expressed support for Canada leading a NATO battle group to Latvia as part of ratcheting up tensions with Russia. Alongside ongoing deployments in Poland and Ukraine, 450 Canadian troops will soon be deployed to Latvia while the US, Britain and Germany head missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.

Are the candidates troubled by the protracted civil war in Libya that grew out of NATO’s bombing? In 2011 the NDP supported two House of Commons votes endorsing the bombing of Libya, which was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime’s human rights violations (see my The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy for details). Additionally, the NATO forces explicitly contravened the UN resolutions sanctioning a no-fly zone by dispatching troops and expanding the bombing far beyond protecting civilians, while Ottawa directly defied the two Libya-related UN resolutions by selling drones to the rebels.

It would also be good to hear the candidates speak out against diplomatic efforts to promote mining interests abroad or Ottawa signing Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (FIPAs) to protect mineral corporations in Africa.

But party insiders likely don’t want to discuss foreign policy because there is a substantial gap between members’ views on the issues and what the dominant media considers acceptable. The party’s grassroots would be open to reducing the $20 billion (plus) military budget and withdrawing from NATO. A good number would also be concerned about stoking tension with Russia and a new poll confirms that NDP members — and most Canadians — are critical of Israel and open to the Palestinian civil society’s call to boycott that country.

Fundamentally, party insiders do not want to rock the foreign policy status quo boat. The media backlash that would result from adopting progressive foreign policy positions terrifies the NDP establishment. Even debating the subjects mentioned above would drop the party’s stock in the eyes of the dominant media.

But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe being perceived as outside the mainstream political consensus — fresh ideas and promoters of open debate — is exactly what the NDP needs.

If a leadership campaign is not a time for a rigorous foreign policy debate, when is?

“Afghanistan: As Only Love Could Hurt”

Winter

It is now winter in Kabul, end of February 2017. At night the temperature gets near zero. The mountains surrounding the city are covered by snow.

It feels much chillier than it really is.

Soon it will be 16 years since the US/UK invasion of the country, and 16 years since the Bonn Conference, during which Hamid Karzai was “selected” to head the Afghan Interim Administration.

Almost everyone I spoke to in Afghanistan agrees that things are rapidly moving from bad to rock bottom.

Afghans, at home and abroad, are deeply pessimistic. With hefty allowances and privileges, at least some foreigners based in Kabul are much more upbeat, but ‘positive thinking’ is what they are paid to demonstrate.

Historically one of the greatest cultures on Earth, Afghanistan is now nearing breaking point, with the lowest Human Development Index (2015, HDI, compiled by the UNDP) of all Asian nations, and the 18th lowest in the entire world (all 17 countries below it are located in Sub-Saharan Africa). Afghanistan has also the lowest life expectancy in Asia (WHO, 2015).

While officially, the literacy rate stands at around 60%, I was told by two prominent educationalists in Kabul that in reality it is well below 50%, while it is stubbornly stuck under 20% for women and girls.

Statistics are awful, but what is behind the numbers? What has been done to this ancient and distinct civilization, once standing proudly at the crossroad of major trade routes, influencing culturally a great chunk of Asia, connecting East and West, North and South?

How deep, how permanent is the damage?

During my visit, I was offered but I refused to travel in an armored, bulletproof vehicle. My ageing “horse” became a beat-up Corolla, my driver and translator a brave, decent family man in possession of a wonderful sense of humor. Although we became good friends, I never asked him to what ethnic group he belonged. He never told me. I simply didn’t want to know, and he didn’t find it important to address the topic. Everyone knows that Afghanistan is deeply divided ‘along its ethnic lines’. As an internationalist, I refuse to pay attention to anything related to ‘blood’, finding all such divisions, anywhere in the world, unnatural and thoroughly unfortunate. Call it my little stubbornness; both my driver and me were stubbornly refusing to acknowledge ethnic divisions in Afghanistan, at least inside the car, while driving through this marvelous but scarred, stunning but endlessly sad land.

Kabul

One day you and your driver, who is by then your dear friend, are driving slowly over the bridge. Your car stops. You get out in the middle of the bridge, and begin photographing the clogged river below, with garbage floating and covering its banks. Children are begging, and you soon notice that they are operating in a compact pack, almost resembling some small military unit. In Kabul, as in so many places on earth, there is a rigid structure to begging.

After a while, you continue driving on, towards the Softa Bridge, which is located in District 6.

Explosion in District 6

Where you are appears to be all messed up, endlessly fucked up.

You were told to come to this neighborhood, to witness a war zone inside the city, to see ‘what the West has done to the country’. There are no bullets flying here, and no loud explosions. In fact, you hear almost nothing. You actually don’t see any war near the Softa Bridge; you only see Death, her horrid gangrenous face, her scythe cutting all that is still standing around her, cutting and cutting, working in extremely slow motion.

Again, as so many times before, you are scared. You were scared like this several times before: in Haiti, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, Iraq, and Peru, to name just a few countries. In those places, as well as here in Kabul, you are not frightened because you could easily lose your life any moment, or because your safety might be in danger. What dismays you, what you really cannot stomach, are the images of despair, those of ‘no way out’, of absolute hopelessness. Lack of hope is killing you, it horrifies you; everything else can always be dealt with.

Drug users living in the holes

People you see all around can hardly stand on their feet. Many cannot stand at all. Most of them are stoned, laying around in rags, sitting in embryonic positions, or moving aimlessly back and forth, staring emptily into the distance. Some are urinating publicly. Syringes are everywhere.

There are holes, deep and wide, filled with motionless human bodies.

First you drive around, photographing through the cracked glass, then you roll down the window, and at the end, you get out and begin working, totally exposed. You have no idea what may happen in the next few seconds. Someone begins shouting at you, others are throwing stones, but they are too weak and the stones just hit your shoulder and legs, softly, without causing any harm.

Then a bomb goes off, not far from where you are. There is an explosion in the 6th District, right in front of a police station. You cannot see it, but you can clearly hear the blast. It is a muffled yet powerful bang. You look at your phone.

It is March 1st, 2017, Kabul. Later you learn that several people died just a few hundred meters from where you were working, while several others perished in the 12th District, another few kilometers away.

The smoke begins rising towards the sky. Sirens are howling and several ambulances are rushing towards the site. Then countless military Humvees begin shooting one after another in the same direction, followed by heavier and much clumsier armored vehicles. You are taking all this in, slowly; photographing the scene, and then snapping from some distance a monumental but still semi-destroyed Darul Aman Palace.

And so it goes.

*****

Tall concrete walls are scarring, fragmenting the city. In Kabul, almost anything worth protecting is now fenced. Some partitions and barriers are simply enormous, almost unreal. There are walls sheltering all foreign embassies and government buildings, palaces, military bases, police stations and banks, as well as the United Nations compounds, even most of the private schools and hotels. The Hamid Karzai international airport is encompassed by perimeters that could put to shame most of the Cold War lines: from the parking area one has to walk almost one kilometer to the entrance of the international terminal, with luggage and through the countless security checks.

Of course, Western institutions and organizations have the most impressive fences, as well as the Afghan military and military bases and government offices.

Enormous surveillance drone-zeppelins are levitating above the city.

It could all be seen as thoroughly grotesque, even laughable, but no one is amused. It is all very serious, damn serious here.

Afghanistan has been gradually overtaken by something absolutely foreign: by the Western-style security apparatus. Tens of thousands of highly paid North American and European ‘experts’ have been getting extremely busy, fulfilling their secret wet dream: fencing everything in sight, monitoring each and every movement in the capital city, building taller and taller barriers, while installing the latest hi-tech cameras at almost every intersection, and above each gate.

*****

Not far from the Embassy of the United States of America (or more precisely, not far from the Great Chinese Wall-size fence encompassing it), I noticed a familiar complex of buildings, reminding me of those that used to be constructed in all corners of Eastern Europe and Cuba. I asked my friend to drive into one of the compounds.

This is how I entered “Makroyan”.  We killed the engine, and everything around us was suddenly quiet, almost dormant. Time stopped here. There was a certain mild decay detectable all around the area, but upon a closer look, those old apartment buildings were still looking decent and strong, with very impressive public spaces in between them. Here I felt that I was allowed a rare glimpse of an old, socialist Afghanistan.

I stopped in between two entrances of Block 21: No.2 and No.3. I looked up to the 4th floor. Who is living there now? Who used to live here before, some 25, even 30 years ago?

A destroyed office chair was standing aimlessly in the middle of a parking lot, and an old, disabled man was crawling desolately on all fours, moving away from the block. There was a Soviet-built school right next to Block 21. It used to be known as Dosti primary school, and I was told that during the war, it was bombed a couple of times and lots of kids died inside it. Now the school is private and it has a new name – it is ‘Alfath’, a high school.

Apart from a few loose, rusty wires and fences, everything looks decent and semi-neat. This is where many members of the diminishing Kabul middle class still prefer to live. Blocks of Makroyan are reassuring; they radiate safety and permanency, while being surrounded by a volatile and frightening universe.

All of a sudden, I imagined a boy and a girl, who perhaps used to live here, so many years ago. As children in all other parts of the world do at that age, they were just slowly beginning to discover life, starting to formulate their dreams and expectations. In those days, the new leafy neighborhood would have been like a promise of a brighter future, of a much better country.

Then suddenly, full stop.

A war. A sudden end to all that the future was promising. Collapse of optimism, or enthusiasm, of confidence. Only death and destruction, and shattered dreams, remained. For those who were at least somehow lucky: a bitterness and then a hasty flight, instead of ultimate misery and death. Full stop. Total reset. Everything collapsed. But life never stops, it goes on, it always does. Things re-composed, somehow, not idyllically, but they did.

For a long time, I kept staring at Block 21. Memories kept coming, as if I used to live there myself, many years ago, when I was a child. I hardly noticed that it was getting very cold. I began to shiver. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to. Fresh pomegranate juice at a local street stall brought me back to reality, it woke me, but it didn’t managed to warm me up.

Great History, Changing Culture, An On-going Occupation and Fear

A renowned Afghan intellectual, Dr. Omara Khan Masoudi, who used to be, among many other things, the former head of the National Museum, is now bitter about the changes invading the culture of his country:

In the past, we had also many ethnic groups living in this country, but they used to coexist in harmony. Then, our culture got influenced by conflicts and violence.

Before the war, it was the culture that used to represent us in the world. However, during and after the war, our cultures were used to justify the conflict.

Dr. Masoudi told me that he thinks it is wrong when culture falls into the hands of divisive politicians. “If culture is politicized, it loses its essence”, he declared.

I asked him whether he thinks it also applies to Latin America, to the former Soviet Union and China, where (at least to a great extent) ‘politicized culture’ has been playing an extremely important role, determining the course of development. He smiled, replying:

To be precise, politicizing cultures is not always such a bad thing… When it’s done, for instance, in order to achieve social progress or equality, I have nothing against it. But I am outraged when people like some religious leaders; Shia, Sunni or even some extremists, do it… Culture is very broad, and religions are only a part of it. But in Afghanistan, religious leaders have been using the culture for their narrow-minded interests.

In a coffee shop, which is lost somewhere inside the wilderness of an international and United Nations compound called ‘The Green Village’, my Japanese friend and Head of the Culture Unit of UNESCO, Mr. Masanori Nagaoka, explained:

Afghanistan or Ancient Ariana, as many ancient Greek and Roman authors referred to the region in antiquity, can be acknowledged as the multi-cultural cradle of Central Asia, linking East and West via historically significant trade conduits that also conveyed ideas, concepts and languages as a cultural by-product of fledgling international commerce. As a result, contemporary Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society with a complex history stretching back many millennia. The numerous civilizations are attested to in the archaeological record, both indigenous and foreign….

However, he is well aware of the complexities faced by the country and the culture torn apart by lethal conflicts of the last decades and centuries.

Afghanistan is unfortunately also a nation fragmented by a history of protracted conflict, exacerbated by geographic isolation for many communities and limited or unequal access to infrastructure and resources, both regionally and demographically. As a nominal starting point, the ongoing rehabilitation process in Afghanistan needs to address these issues if the nation is to unify under a common objective, fostering a veracious society free from conflict and where ethnic diversity is recognized for its social, cultural and economic benefits rather than, as is often the case, seen as a hindrance to particular developmental objectives. Part of the solution to this problem lies in the campaign of a positive public discussion to promote inter-cultural understanding and to raise awareness of the potential that such discourse has to contribute to the broader goals of rapprochement, peace-building and economic development in Afghanistan.

I flew to the city of Herat, where I witnessed tremendous masterpieces of architecture, from the marvelous and recently restored Citadel (as valuable as the citadels of Aleppo and Erbil), to the Friday Mosque and amazing, unique minarets rising proudly towards the sky.

How familiar all those architectural treasures appeared! On several occasions I approached Nasir, my local friend who was always eager to share the impressive history of his region: “Look, this could be in Delhi… and this in Samarkand!”

Sure enough, the most visited world heritage site in India, Qutub Minar, situated right outside New Delhi, is perhaps the greatest symbol of the Indo-Islamic Afghan architecture, while both Herat and Samarkand were connected by the Silk Road and historically kept influencing each other.

In Afghanistan, the history, the occupation and the on-going conflict: everything seems to be thoroughly intertwined.

During my work there, the Citadel of Herat was literally taken over by Italian troops. I was told that some high-ranking NATO officer was visiting the site, and with no shame, a fully armed Italian commando was roaming around, “securing” every corner of the vast courtyard. As if Afghans had lost control of their own country!

De-mining work in Herat

On closer examination, the madrassa of Hussein Baiqara is, in reality, still a minefield. In between four stunning minarets, a de-mining team from local “Halo Trust” was manually searching for unexploded ordinances. I was allowed to enter, but only as a war correspondent and at my own risk, definitely not as a ‘tourist’.

“On this site, we already found two mines and 10 unexploded ordinances”, I was told by one of the Halo Trust experts. “Now this entire area is off-limits to the public. Not long ago, one child was badly injured here; he lost his leg.”

Nothing is peaceful in Afghanistan, not even ancient historic sites.

*****

Not much is questioned here.

Positive talk about the ancient history and culture is generally encouraged, but to discuss dramatic changes in modern Afghan culture, those that occurred as a result of the US/UK invasion and the present on-going NATO occupation of the country, is almost entirely off-limits. In fact, even the word itself – ‘occupation’ – could hardly be heard. Instead, such jargons as ‘protection’, ‘defense’ and ‘international help’ have been implanted deeply and systematically into the psyche of most Afghan people.

The culture that was known for long centuries for its passion for freedom and independence seems broken. While Afghans resisted heroically against all past British invasions, while some of them fought the Soviet incursion, there is presently no organized and united (national, not religious) opposition against the Western occupation of the country.

I met academic Jawid Amin, from the Academy of Social Sciences of Afghanistan, in a small guardroom in front of the Museum of Modern Arts in Kabul.

I asked him whether there is any art or any group of intellectuals openly critical of the United States, and of the occupation. He replied, sincerely:

We don’t have anyone openly critical of the US or the West here, because it is simply not allowed by the government. I personally don’t like the Americans, but I can’t say more… Even I work for the government. My brother and sister are living in the United States. And about critical arts: nothing could be exhibited here without permission from the government and since Karzai, the government is controlled by the West…

A prominent Afghan intellectual, Omaid Sharifi, explained over the phone: “In the provinces, you can still see paintings depicting killing of civilians by the US drones… but not in Kabul.”

I’m trying to work as fast as possible, meeting people who are helping to shed light on the situation. Eventually, a dire picture begins to form.

I met a Japanese reporter who has been living in Afghanistan for almost a quarter of a century. Her assessment of the situation was to a large extent pessimistic:

Afghans had very little choice… It is 100% true that behind Karzai’s government was the US… Afghans didn’t want to accept foreign intervention, but soon they learned how money plays an important role.  The entire Afghan culture is now changing, even some essential elements of it like hospitality: people don’t want to spend money on it, or they don’t have any that they can spare…

I asked Dr. Masoudi why Afghan culture did not accept Soviets and their egalitarian, socially oriented ideals, while it seems to be tolerating the Western invasion, which is spreading inequality, desperation and subservience. He replied, passionately:

The biggest mistake the Soviet Union made here was to attack religion out rightly. If they’d first stick to equal rights, and slowly work it up towards the contradictions of religion, it could perhaps work… But they began blaming religion for our backwardness, in fact for everything. Or at least this is how it was interpreted by the coalition of their enemies, and of course by the West.

Now, why is the Western invasion ‘successful’? Look at the Karzai regime… During his rule, the US convinced people that Western intervention was ‘positive’, ‘respectful of their religion and cultures’. They kept repeating ‘under this and that UN convention’, and again ‘as decided by the UN’… They used NATO, a huge group of countries, as an umbrella. There was a ‘brilliantly effective’ protocol that they developed… According to them, they never did anything unilaterally, always by ‘international consensus’ and in order to ‘help Afghan people’. On the other hand, the Soviet Union had never slightest chance to explain itself. It was attacked immediately, and on all fronts.

“Opposition to Western occupation? Anti-Western art?” A Russian cultural expert in Kabul was clearly surprised by my question.

First of all, the Taliban destroyed most artistic traditions of this country. But also, the economic and social situation in this country is so desperate, that hardly anyone has time to think about some larger picture. More than 60% of Afghans are jobless. One thing you also should remember: Afghan people are very proud and very freedom loving, as the history illustrated, but they are also extremely patient. Go and see The British Cemetery. It was built in 1879 to hold the dead of the second Anglo-Afghan War, but despite all that the UK did to this country, and despite all recent wars and conflicts, it was never attacked, never damaged.

It is true. I never heard anyone discussing this topic. All horrid British crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan seem to be forgotten, at least for now.

But that’s not all: nobody here seems to have any appetite for recalling those horrors of the last decades, triggered by Western imperialism. Not once I observed any discussion addressing the main topic of modern Afghan history: how the West managed to trick the Soviets into invading Afghanistan in 1979, and how it created and then armed the vilest bunch of religious fanatics – the Mujahedeen. And how, subsequently, both countries – Afghanistan and the Soviet Union – were thoroughly destroyed in the process.

All was done, of course, with “great respect” for the Afghan nation, for its culture and traditions, as well as (how else) religion.

I’d love to be an invisible witness in a modern history class at the American University of Afghanistan, a ‘famed’ institution that is literally regurgitating thousands of collaborators, manufacturing a new breed of obedient pro-Western ‘elites’.

10 story Chinese hospital wing in Kabul

As we drive past Jamhuriat Hospital (Republic Hospital), which had a new 10-story building, with capacity for 350 patients, constructed by China in 2004, my driver, Mr. Tahir, sighs: “This was really a great gift from China to us… the Chinese really work hard, don’t they?”

“They have plenty of zeal and enthusiasm”, I uttered carefully. “Socialist fervor, you know. They sincerely believe in building, improving their country and the world. It is quite contrary to Western nihilism and extreme individualism…”

“They must love their country…”

“They do.”

“Afghanistan is poor”, Mr. Tahir’s face became suddenly sad. “Our people don’t love their country, anymore. They don’t work to improve it. They only work for themselves now, for their families…”

“Was it different before? You know…” I made an abstract gesture with my hand. “Before all this…”

“Of course it used to be very different”, he replied, grinning again.

Nothing Social Left, Nothing Socialist Wanted

I stopped several people who were just walking down the street, in various parts of Kabul. I wanted to understand some basics: was there anything social left in Afghanistan? Did Western ‘liberation’ bring at least some progress, social development and improved standards of living?

Most answers were thoroughly gloomy. Only those people who were working or moonlighting for the Western military, for the embassies, the NGOs or other ‘international contractors’, were to some extent optimistic.

I was explained that almost everyone in the countryside and provincial cities were out off work. Unemployment among university graduates stood at over 80%.

In Herat, a city of almost half a million inhabitants, a long and depressing line was winding in front of the Iranian embassy. I was told that tens of thousands have already migrated to the other side of the border. Now Afghans who were attempting to visit their relatives living in Iran were told to leave a 300-euro deposit, in case they decide not to return.

I asked what Herat is producing, and was told, without any irony: “mainly just some washing powder and biscuits”. Tourism from Iran stood at only about 150 people a year! The area between the city and the border has been dangerous, and there are frequent kidnappings.

In most provincial cities, a regular family has to get by on 2.300 – 2.500 Afghanis per month, which is not much more than US$30.

Government supplies run water mainly to the government housing projects. People living elsewhere have to dig their own wells.

Electricity is expensive, and an average family in Kabul is now expected to pay around US$35 per month. Even in the capital, many people have to get by without electricity. Indian ‘investors’ are in partnership with the government. Electricity supplies, and even water, are perceived as ‘business ventures’, not as basic social services.

Counting on a decent public transportation in the past, Kabul is now forced to rely on private vehicles, and on those few ‘city buses’ that are ‘pro-profit’ and mainly privately owned and operated.

There are government schools in Afghanistan, and in theory they are free, but books, pencils, uniforms and other basics are not.

In fact, perhaps the most impressive modern structure in Kabul, is actually the 10-story building to Jamhuriat Hospital, a gift from the People’s Republic of China, not from the West.

One wonders where is that fabled great ‘assistance’ from the United States and Europe really going? Perhaps to the millions of tons of concrete, used for construction of the massive fences? Perhaps money sponsors’ purchases of high-tech cameras and surveillance systems, as well as the high-life of thousands of Western ‘contractors’ and ‘security experts’?

I spoke to more than hundreds of Afghan people. Almost no one was ready to mention socialism. As if this wonderful word disappeared, was erased from the local lexicon.

“They actually remember socialism very fondly”, my Japanese acquaintance based in Kabul once told me. “However, talking about it is not encouraged. It may cause all sorts of problems.”

Western (Temporary) Victory

While in Kabul, I was told by one of the local experts working for an international organization:

The National Education Strategic Plan (NESP) for Afghanistan was just drafted… The funding came from the West. Many meetings were held directly at the US embassy and at the offices of the World Bank. The Afghan Ministry of Education had very little say about the curriculum, which was basically dictated by the Western countries…

I cannot quote the source of this information, as she would most probably lose her position for expressing such views.

She later clarified further:

The policy decisions on education are proposed by donor parties, which are mostly Western countries. The Ministry of Education, with limited capacity, has a lesser role in drafting the NESP III policy. Instead of building the capacity of the government, donor countries are taking the leading role in changing the education system and this does not ensure a sustainable education for Afghanistan whatsoever.

As in all client states of the West, education in Afghanistan is manipulated and geared to serve the interests of the West. It is expected to produce obedient and unquestioning masses. Instead of determined and productive patriots, it is regurgitating butlers of the regime, which is in turn serving predominately foreign interests.

Almost all information flows through the channels that are at least to some extent influenced from abroad: social media, television networks as well as the printed media.

The fabled Afghan spirit of resistance and courage has been (hopefully only temporarily) brutally broken, under the supervision of highly professional foreign indoctrinators and propagandists.

Those who are willing to collaborate with the occupation forces are suddenly not even hiding it, carrying their condition proudly as if a coat of arms, not as a shame. Many are now delighted to be associated with the West and its institutions.

In fact, the occupation is not even called occupation anymore, at least not by the elites who are well rewarded by the system for their linguistic and intellectual somersaults and pirouettes.

And Afghan people keep leaving.

Afghanistan is shedding its most talented sons and daughters, every day, every month, irreversibly.

Ms. Yukiko Matsuyoshi, a former Japanese diplomat, presently a UN education expert, is worried about the current trends in Afghanistan, a country where she spent several years:

Now the social classes have been re-created after the fall of Taliban, but the country seems to have no ideology. People just follow trends that are thrown their way. There is corruption, there is that huge poppy business, and there are palaces. And there is misery in the countryside, hardly any access to information. Afghans are leaving their country. Whoever can, goes: good people, government people…it seems like everyone tries to escape.

All of a sudden, the West is perceived like some Promised Land. Those who make it there are bragging about their new ‘home’, sending colorful images through social media: Disneyland, Hollywood, German castles…

I have seen the other side of the coin, in terrible refugee camps in Greece, in the French Calais camps; people drowning while attempting to cross the sea from Turkey to the European Union.

There is no discussion whether Afghanistan should be capitalist or socialist, anymore. Debate has stopped. the decision has been made, somewhere else, obviously.

The faces of Northern Alliance leaders are ‘decorating’ (or some would say, ‘scarring’) all major roads on which I drove. Ahmad Shah Massoud became a national hero, during the Karzai regime.

I travelled more than 100 kilometers north, to see Massoud’s grave, or a thumb, or whatever that monstrosity they erected above the splendid Panjshir Valley really is. Hordes of people drive there on weekends, some all the way from Kabul, and there are even those who pray to the ‘leader’.

The former “anti-Soviet” and anti-Communist fighter, he is certainly a perfect ‘hero’, whose memory is groomed by the pro-Western regime.

Driving through the Panjshir Valley, I saw several Soviet tanks and armored vehicles, rotting by the side of the road. I also saw a destroyed village, an eerie reminder of the war. It is called Dashtak. Clay houses look like a cemetery, like a horrid monument.

Village in the North destroyed by war

I took photos and sent them to Kabul, to my friends, for identification. I want to know, I felt that I had to know, who razed this town by the river, surrounded by such stunning mountains.

The answer came in a just few minutes: “I think it was in 1984, by the Soviet Union”. What followed was a link leading to a book published in the West, quoting some former Ukrainian, Soviet adviser to an Afghan battalion commander. The name of the book was “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”.

The quote did not sound too convincing. “Let’s go back”, I asked my driver and translator. “Let’s talk to people on the other side of the river’.

We found three inhabitants, in three different parts of the village; three people old enough to remember what took place here, some 30 years ago. All three testimonies coincided: Massoud’s forces brought refugees from several other parts of the valley. Before the battle began, all of them left. During the combat, clay houses were destroyed, but no civilians died inside.

There are always many different interpretations of the historic events. However, the analyses of modern Afghan history disseminated by the West and the Afghan regime among the Afghan people, are suspiciously unanimous and frighteningly one-sided. I am definitely planning to revisit this point during my next trip to the country. I see it as essential. The future of Afghanistan certainly depends on understanding the past.

*****

There are huge zeppelin-drones, vile-looking airborne surveillance stuff, hovering over the US air force base near Bagram. The same drones could be seen levitating over Kabul, but in the Bagram area, with the dramatic backdrop of the mountains, they look particularly dreadful.

Bagram US Airforce Base at Sunset

The air force base is huge. It appears even bigger than Incerlik near Adana in Turkey. It is an absolute masterpiece of military vulgarity, with watch towers everywhere, with barbed wire, several layers of concrete walls, surveillance cameras and powerful lights. If this is not an occupation, then what really is?

Again, my driver is totally cool. I want to photograph this monstrosity, and he drives me around, so we can identify a truly good spot. I’m ‘calculating light’, looking for the correct angle, so during the sunset, those who would be observing us from inside the ‘castle’, would be blinded, and we could get at least a few decent images.

I’m aware of the fact that in Afghanistan, the Empire often kills anything that moves, at the slightest suspicion or without any suspicion at all, as for them human lives of the local people count for almost nothing.

Once the sun goes down, I begin working fast.

Somehow I feel that my visit to Afghanistan would be incomplete, without getting at least some images of the base – one of the most expressive symbols of the occupation.

So this is what Afghanistan became under the Western ‘liberating’ boots! Barbed wires, foreign jet fighters, concrete walls everywhere, battles with the religious fundamentalist elements (invented and manufactured by the West), grotesque savage capitalism, ignorant or shameless collaboration, and guns, guns and guns, as well as misery in almost every corner, and one of the lowest life expectancies and standards of living on Earth! And, of course, people escaping, leaving this beautiful country behind – a country, which is suddenly unloved, humiliated, abandoned by so many!

This is all happening only roughly four decades after the heroic attempts to build some great social housing projects, after the implementation of a well-functioning public transportation network, public education and medical care, as well as an attempt to introduce secularism, while building a decent, egalitarian society.

The glorious victory of Western imperialism over one of the oldest and greatest cultures seems to be complete. The Brits tried, on several occasions; they murdered and tortured, but were defeated. They never forgave. They waited for decades, and then returned with their muscular and aggressive offspring. And here they are, all of them, now!

Afghanistan appears to be exhausted and defeated. It is badly injured, and it has been dragged through unimaginable dirt.

But I don’t think it is crushed by the West or by the religious fundamentalists, or by these two historical allies.

Deep inside, Afghanistan knows better. It already experienced many years of hope; it knows the taste of it. During long centuries and millennia of its existence, it survived several dreadful moments, but it always stood up again, undefeated and proud. I’m certain that it will rise again.

Flying, driving or walking through its magnificent mountains, I often felt that Afghanistan is like a living organism, it was winking at me, letting me know that it is alive, that it sees everything that goes on, that it is not futile at all to struggle for its future.

*****

I watched the stubs of the electric contacts that used to hold, some decades ago, those long wires used by the legendary Kabul trolley bus network.

“Those beautiful vehicles came from former Czechoslovakia”, a man, an office worker, whom I stopped in the center of the city, told me. “They were beautiful, and do you know who used to drive them? Some young girls; optimistic women who were for some reason always in a good mood.”

Apparently Kabul had three trolleybus lines, one of them originating (or ending) at the ‘Cinema Pamir’. What color were Kabul trolleybuses? I saw some photos, but those I could find were black and white. When I was a child, growing up in Czechoslovakia, ours were red. The ones in Leningrad, the city where I was born, were blue and green, some red as well. When they were accelerating, it was as if they’d be singing a simple song, or whining, complaining mockingly about their hard life.

I imagined a strong-minded, professional woman, boarding these trolleybuses. Perhaps eager to catch one of those old great Soviet movies at the Cinema Pamir, perhaps “the Dawns are Quiet Here”, or going to work or to visit different parts of the city.  She would snuggle into a comfortable seat in the electric vehicle. It was getting dark, but the city was safe. A woman behind the wheel was really smiling. There were flags flying all around the city. There was hope. There was a future. There was a country to build and to love.

I had suspected that the Kabul trolley buses were actually light blue. I have no idea why. It was just my intuition.

*****

Suddenly I heard a loud bang, and then the squeaking of brakes.

“Roll up the window!” my driver was shouting. We were getting into a slum inhabited by IDPs. We left the road. Dust everywhere, absolute misery. Bagrani town, now Bagrani slums, just a few kilometers east from Kabul, on the Jalalabad Highway.

Tough kid from slums

I grasped the heavy metal body of my professional Nikon.

My dream about Afghanistan of the 70’s, a gentle and enthusiastic country, abruptly ended. Now all around me were children suffering from malnutrition. I heard excited, accusatory voices of men and women who were forced to come from all corners of Afghanistan. We drove on a bumpy road, towards numerous half-collapsed clay structures and dirty tents.

“We escaped fighting in Shinwar, Helmand Province, from around Jalalabad and Kandahar”, several internally displaced persons living in Bagrani were shouting at me:

We have 1.000 families from Helmand and more than 1.000 families from Kandahar, living here. We lost our houses back in our villages and towns… People around Jalalabad lost their homes, too. Daesh (ISIS) is operating in several parts of the country… Taliban fighters are frequently changing sides, joining Daesh. There is fighting going on everywhere: Daesh, Taliban and the government forces confronting each other.

How involved is NATO in general and the US in particular, I ask, through my interpreter.

“Americans are there, of course. Mostly they are fighting from the air, but sometimes they are on the ground, too.”

“Do they kill civilians?”

“Yes, they do… Our sons, our husbands are regularly murdered by them”, shouts a woman clothed in a blue burqa, holding a small child in her arms.

Misery is everywhere, destroying the country, I’m told. And there is almost no help coming from the corrupt and the near bankrupt state.

Ms. Sidiqah, an elderly lady, is shouting in desperation and anger: “We have nothing left, but no one helps us! We don’t know what to do.”

As I photograph, a small cluster of people begin to rock the car. Things are getting tense, but I don’t feel that we are facing any immediate danger. I continue working. This is all becoming very personal. I don’t understand why, but it is…

Girl without arm

Her face is striking. She stares directly into my camera, and when I lower the lens, I feel her eyes begin to pierce mine. Without one single word uttered, I sense clearly what she is trying to convey:

“What have you done to me?”

I try to hold her glance for at least a few seconds, but then I lower my eyes. Now I‘m in panic. I want to embrace her, hold her, take her away from here, somewhere, somehow; to adopt her, airlift her from here, give her a home, but I know that there is no way I would be allowed to do it. My glasses get very foggy. I mumble something incoherent. I am tough, I witnessed dozens of wars, I faced death on various occasions. I try to keep calm whenever I’m in places like this; whenever working. What is happening to me here and now happens very rarely, but it does happen.

It is March 4th 2017, Afghanistan. My flight is scheduled to depart the next day, late in the afternoon. I know that I will take it. But I also realize, and I silently make my pledge to this tiny girl with the cute mice and an empty sleeve, that I will never fully leave her country.

*****

What will happen later is predicable: yet another sleepless night. Everything will be back, play itself like a film inside my brain. Bagrani provisional camp, another camp that is housing evacuees from Kunduz, some active mine fields in the middle of Herat, those hundreds of living corpses vegetating in the middle of District 6 in Kabul, then several explosions, innumerable rotting carcasses of Soviet tanks, the eerie and enormous US air force base near Bagram, Massoud’s bizarre grave, white zeppelin-drones, concrete walls, watch towers, security checks, and hollow muzzles of various types of guns pointing in all directions.

I’ll be tired, exhausted, but I’ll be well aware that I have no right to rest, not now, not anytime soon.

I’ll keep thinking about Cinema Pamir, about Kabul trolley buses, and Block 21 in the socialist-style neighborhood of Makroyan … 4th floor, entrance 2 or perhaps 3… I’ll keep imagining what could have taken place there, if life had not been so abruptly and so brutally interrupted.

Afghanistan, a stunning but terribly scarred and injured land, has been suffering from a concussion. It has been dizzy and disoriented. It can hardly walk. Still it being Afghanistan, it has been walking anyway, against all odds!

Later that night, I’ll recall what one great Cuban poet and singer Silvio Rodriquez once wrote about Nicaragua. And at one point, only a few moments before the dawn would begin returning bright colors to the world, I’ll replace Nicaragua with Afghanistan, and suddenly realize that it is exactly what I feel towards this beautiful and shattered nation: “Afghanistan hurts, as only love does.”

It hurts like love…

It hurts… terribly. Therefore, it is love.

All that would happen later, hours later. At the end I’ll stop fighting it, and simply accept.

But now, the old Toyota climbs back on the paved road. I can hardly keep my eyes open. The last several days I slept very little.

Mr. Tahir, my driver and now my comrade, looks surprisingly composed and unworried. After all this time working with me, he is clearly ready for any adventure, or any nightmare.

He hands me a bunch of tissues. My left wrist is bleeding, although not too badly. Most likely I hit or scratched something in the slums, without realizing it. My cameras feel increasingly heavy and my notebook looks filthy; I keep dropping it on the floor. My clothes look dirty, too. But we are going, we are moving forward, and that is good!

“It is all fucked up, Mr. Tahir”, I inform him, politely.

“Yes, Sir”, he replies, with an equal doze of respect. We are a good team.

“But we are going”, I remind him and myself.

“We are going, sir.”

Again my head drops on my chest. I open my eyes just a few minutes later. It is already very dark. Kabul all around me; Afghanistan. It feels good to be here. I’m glad I came.

“Where to now, sir?”

“Jalalabad, Mr. Tahir.”

“Sir? Jalalabad is behind… And at this hour…”

He is not saying no. He never says ‘no’ to any of my requests, during all those days. He is just informing me. If I was really crazy enough and insisted, he’d just take me. He knows we’d get fucked, perhaps even killed, but he would not refuse. He’s my comrade and I feel safe with him.

“Sorry, I fell asleep… What I mean: we’ll go to Jalalabad soon, when I return to Afghanistan.”

I am thinking for a few seconds. This drive, just being here, all of it feels right, exactly as it is supposed to be. I’m not certain where exactly I want to go right now, but one thing I know for sure: I have to keep going.

“Please, just drive, Mr. Tahir.”

“Forward?” He asks intuitively. I know that he knows. We both know, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

“Yes, please. Drive forward. Always forward!”

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Why is the Trudeau Government Escalating its Belligerence Towards Russia?

Yesterday it was confirmed that 200 Canadian troops would remain in the Ukraine for at least two more years. This “training” mission in the Ukraine is on top of two hundred troops in Poland, a naval frigate in the Mediterranean and Black Sea and a half dozen CF-18 fighter jets on their way to locations near Russia’s border. Alongside Britain, Germany and the US, Canada will soon lead a NATO battle group supposed to defend Eastern Europe from Moscow. About 450 Canadian troops are headed to Latvia while the three other NATO countries lead missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.

From the Russian point of view it must certainly look like NATO is massing troops at its border.

Canada’s military buildup in Eastern Europe is the direct outgrowth of a coup in Kiev. In 2014 the right-wing nationalist EuroMaidan movement ousted Viktor Yanukovych who was oscillating between the European Union and Russia. The US-backed coup divided the Ukraine politically, geographically and linguistically (Russian is the mother tongue of 30% of Ukrainians).

While we hear a great deal about Russia’s nefarious influence in the Ukraine, there’s little attention given to Canada’s role in stoking tensions there. In July 2015 the Canadian Press reported that opposition protesters were camped in the Canadian Embassy for a week during the February 2014 rebellion against Yanukovich. “Canada’s embassy in Kyiv was used as a haven for several days by anti-government protesters during the uprising that toppled the regime of former president Viktor Yanukovych,” the story noted.

Since the mid-2000s Ottawa has actively supported opponents of Russia in the Ukraine. Federal government documents from 2007 explain that Ottawa was trying to be “a visible and effective partner of the United States in Russia, Ukraine and zones of instability in Eastern Europe.” During a visit to the Ukraine that year, Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said Canada would help provide a “counterbalance” to Russia. “There are outside pressures [on Ukraine], from Russia most notably. … We want to make sure they feel the support that is there for them in the international community.” As part of Canada’s “counterbalance” to Russia, MacKay announced $16 million in aid to support “democratic reform” in the Ukraine.

Ottawa played a part in Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution”. In “Agent Orange: Our secret role in Ukraine” Globe and Mail reporter Mark MacKinnon detailed how Canada funded a leading civil society opposition group and promised Ukraine’s lead electoral commissioner Canadian citizenship if he did “the right thing”. Ottawa also paid for 500 Canadians of Ukrainian descent to observe the 2004-05 elections. “[Canadian ambassador to the Ukraine, Andrew Robinson] began to organize secret monthly meetings of western ambassadors, presiding over what he called ‘donor coordination’ sessions among 20 countries interested in seeing Mr. [presidential candidate Viktor] Yushchenko succeed. Eventually, he acted as the group’s spokesman and became a prominent critic of the Kuchma government’s heavy-handed media control. Canada also invested in a controversial exit poll, carried out on election day by Ukraine’s Razumkov Centre and other groups that contradicted the official results showing Mr. Yanukovich [winning].”

For Washington and Ottawa the Ukraine is a proxy to weaken Russia, which blocked western plans to topple the Assad regime in Syria. As part of this campaign, 1,000 Canadian military personnel, a naval vessel and fighter jets will soon be on Russia’s border.

Where will this lead? A new cold war against a capitalist Russia? Or a much hotter war involving direct confrontation between Canadian and Russian troops?

What would the US response be to Russian troops massed on its border? The last time Russian missiles came within 90 miles of American soil, the world came very close to nuclear war.

Canada is participating in a “game” of brinksmanship that could end very badly.

Turkey and Syria: Blood, Tears, and Walls

A Turkish poet, Mustafa Goren, is standing in the middle of a street in the border town of Karkamış. He raises his index finger towards the sky prophetically, then shouts at me, with his powerful voice:

I’m against the invasion into Syria! Is this another game of the West? These are our children, our boys that are dying there. These are innocent children of Syria that are being blown to pieces. Why do Syrian people have to run to Europe; tell me why? Why do they have to humiliate themselves, to suffer? Syria used to be rich. Those people are even more cultured than we are, more cultured than the West. How did this conflict begin?

Mustafa Goren then strikes a dramatic pose. Suddenly he looks like the great Soviet poet Mayakovski, spitting out his verses full of anger. This is not just poetry, but a desperate j’accuse?

Mustafa Goren, Turkish Poet (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

As if mocking him, behind his back, Turkish military trucks are moving towards the border, passing through the streets where almost all shops have been shut down, sad victims of the conflict that keeps devastating further and further an already desperate Turkish economy.

I speak to Europe now: You will soon be drowning in the water that you are now drinking. You will pay for what you are doing to Syria and to other countries. It is entirely your fault, Europe! It is entirely your fault the West! One day, true leaders of the world will come, and they’ll cut off all the gas and petrol supplies to you, and you’ll find yourself in even deeper shit the one into which you threw this part of the world! You’ll have to burn your designer clothes and shoes, just to stay warm. You forgot, but you will soon be reminded, Europe: we are all human beings!

Mr Goren recites in front of a humble stall, which is selling cigarettes. It is adorned with historic photographs of Kemal Ataturk. A few meters from there, an enormous watchtower is rising towards the dark, cloudy sky.

Border Wall (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

The border is right there, defined by a tall, gray, melancholic concrete wall, and by several watchtowers. Right next to the gate, a mobile medical unit and several ambulances are standing by. They are ready to cross the frontier, to move into Syria, where the Turkish military is officially fighting the terrorists, but in reality undermining the Syrian forces. The operation is called “Euphrates Shield”.

Medical units at the border ready to move in (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

“ISIS came all the way here, to the Syrian town of Jarabulu, right across the border”, explained Bulent Polat, a trader whose shop is now half empty, due to the war. “Jarabulus is under the control of the Turkish military. Just imagine: the Turkish government doesn’t allow Syrian President Assad to send fighter jets nearer than 3 kilometers to the border, but it allows ISIS to come as close as 3 meters. We should have never interfered with the domestic policy of Syria, and there would be peace!”

Mr. Polat is from the opposition ‘The Republican People’s Party’. He’s a Kemalist. For years he worked in both sides of the border. Now he recalls, in disgust:

To mobilize people against Assad, the anti-government militants supported by Turkey and the West, have been dressing in official Syrian military uniforms, then shoot at the civilians, killing many. Then they say: ‘Assad did it!’ It has been happening all over Syria.

*****

Now Turkey is building a 900-kilometers long wall, which is supposed to seal hermetically its border with Syria. Express.co.uk quoted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “The problem of terrorism and the refugee problem will be resolved when we secure Syrian soil step by step”.

The Kurdish population on both sides of the border is clearly outraged about the wall. The tall ugly structure is dividing communities and marks the region like an ugly scar. Now Turkish forces can always enter Syria, using tanks and armored vehicles, while Syrians are being kept out.

New military installation near the border (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

We left Karkamış and drove to an ancient graveyard, from where we photographed the wall and the lazy waters of the river Euphrates. The Syrian town of Jarabulus was right in front of us.

People were tense. A local farmer recalled:

Injection of the militants began from the Turkish territory. Assad had to launch a defensive security operation. That’s how the war began.

I knew precisely what he was saying. Back in 2012 I worked around Antakya, discovering that while officially listed as a ‘refugee facility’, Apaydin camp was, in fact, a training facility for the anti-Syrian jihadi cadres. The NATO facility – Incirlik air force base near the city of Adana – was allegedly training several other groups. In 2013 I returned to Antakya, making a documentary film for the South American television channel Telesur. The entire area was converted into a security zone, and my team was repeatedly stopped and intimidated. We managed to track the militants who were armed in Turkey. Those wounded in Syria were treated in Antakya.

Now from Gaziantep to Kilis, the entire area is flooded with refugees and its economy is destroyed.

Syrian girl street vendor in Gaziantep (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

We drove through villages like Ikizkaya, consisting mainly of clay houses, many of them abandoned.

Fear is everywhere. In Kalbursait Village near Karkamış, a Syrian refugee explained that he has lived here, with his animals, for four years.

If the war stops, would he go back? He doesn’t know, he replied.

“Who is to blame for the war?” I asked.

“I don’t know…” came an immediate reply.

“Let’s go”, my interpreter insisted. “This man is petrified.”

*****

Everybody appears to be frightened.

One night I was taken by my friends from the TKP near the back entrance of Dr. Ersin Arslan State Hospital in Gaziantep. This is where wounded Free Syria Army and other militants are brought to at night. We ordered tea at a local eatery, and began conversing with the staff. Suddenly, there was a loud shout from outside:

“Allahu Akbar – bum!”

Cafe guests ran for a cover. We got out to investigate. A bearded man, obviously an Arab speaker, was leaning against the wall. He had two bullet wounds in his foot. The wounds were infected. The man was clearly distressed. He was mumbling something about jihad.

Gaziantep is a recruitment center for militant cadres and for the Free Syrian Army; so are towns and cities like Kilis and Antakya.

At night, I was taken to a bakery near a mosque in Gaziantep, where recruitment and indoctrination of the militants takes place.

I was given photos of bodies torn apart by powerful explosions. I was shown images of dead children, of morgues and of people in total desperation.

Mr. Kutay Sirikli from the opposition TKP pointed an accusative finger at both the West and Ankara:

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of the founding fathers of the so-called ‘Great Middle East Project’. He’s trying to politicize the entire Middle East. His dream is a New Ottoman Empire. Of course if there is any novel formation in this part of the world, it is always connected to the West. However, from time to time, Erdoğan takes his own initiative. And he makes profit: petrol that is stolen by ISIS from the Syrian regions goes through Turkey to the West. They refine it here.

*****

Syrian refugees get work permits now, and there is talk that soon they would be able to apply for Turkish citizenship if they pass the language test. Syrian children get one-year intensive language course, and then they can attend local schools. Some refugees get even the equivalent of the Turkish minimal wage as a support – 1.400 liras per month (almost US$400).

Turkey is demonstrating simultaneously great compassion and inordinate brutality.

In Istanbul, the historian Yiğit Günay, clarified this contradiction:

Many people believe that this government has some integrated plan. The truth is, there is nothing like that – not even some two-year plan. Nobody trusts anybody, anymore, and things keep changing overnight.

*****

As we are driving towards the airport in Adana, my friend and interpreter looks suddenly tired:

As a person who visited Aleppo before the invasion I am devastated because of what happened to that ancient and stunning city… It was a thriving business hub with incredibly beautiful archeological and historical sites when I was there…. now it is a city that will need decades to recover, and most of the damage is irretrievable. The whole area is now a total disaster…

Before entering the city of Adana, the bright runway lights of Incirlik air force base suddenly emerge from the darkness. This airport is perhaps the most vivid symbol of NATO war games in this part of the world. One cannot just pass – almost all cars are being stopped and checked.

Fear is engulfing Southeast Turkey. When several hours earlier we drove into the Elbeyli border town, (a crossing on the way to the embattled Syrian city of Al Bab) what we faced were new mighty walls and fences, as well as high-tech security cameras. From here, the Turkish army is periodically invading Syria.

I decided to get my hair cut here, so I could chat with the locals. Just a few minutes and my barber whispered: “They are surrounding you.” Police and plain clothed security cadres were looking at us through the window, taking notes, calling somewhere. We paid and drove away from this dismal town, at neck breaking speed.

We wouldn’t be able last long here, nobody would. This cat and mouse game is exhausting and truly dangerous. But what is Turkey really trying to hide? It is a well-known fact that it is training the militants, and invading Syria. All this is not a secret. So what is?

Perhaps the true ‘secret’ is that many of its own citizens are actually against the war. And that not Syria only, but to some extent Turkey too, is now suffering and bleeding.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook