The great tragedy of our time


The Beirut-based journalist Robert Fisk once said, “War is the total failure of the human spirit”.

I know what he is trying to say. War brings out the worst in human nature. Bloodbaths. Torture. Senseless killing. Indiscriminate bombing. Rape.

Then again, I am not sure if it is fair to blame the human spirit as a whole. After all, the decision to proceed with war is often made by a small group of political leaders, often after whipping up patriotic fervour and manipulating their populations into throwing their support for war with the help of a compliant or servile media. Often war is fought to seize control of territory for strategic or economic interests. These wars are planned by the rich, while the victims are largely young soldiers who, for the most part, do not know the real reasons they are waging war. Moreover, in recent times, millions of people have protested against war.

Unfortunately, despite the impressive numbers on the streets, notably in 2003, they have not been able to prevent war.

Iraq is the great tragedy of our time. It is crystal clear that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was to further the economic interests of the United States and its allies. In particular, to seize strategic control of the stupendous reserves of oil in West Asia.

Since World War Two, the world has witnessed several great tragedies. Think of the occupation of Palestine and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians after the formation of Israel. The misery from this displacement and occupation continues to this day.

From October 1965 to January 1966, the Suharto-regime massacred close to half a million “suspected communists” in Indonesia. The ‘helpful’ Americans supplied up to 5,000 names from a hit list to Indonesian army generals. And from 1975, the year Indonesia invaded East Timor with a nod and a wink from the US and Australian governments, some 200,000 Timorese – a third of the population – were killed.

In the 1960s and 70s, the killing fields of Vietnam and Cambodia claimed millions more lives. For a decade in the 1960s and 70s, the American military’s operations in Vietnam – through a massive land army, tonnes of bombs and chemical agents – resulted in more than 3 million dead Vietnamese. Then, in the early 1970s, the American bombing of Cambodia killed 600,000 people, raising the curtain for the genocidal Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot to emerge.

Thousands more were tortured and killed in Latin America at the hands of US-trained death squads during the Reagan years in particular. All this to pave the way for neo-liberal economic policies in the continent.

Then, in 1994, as the United Nations dithered and debated, between 800,000 to a million people were killed in a bloody genocide in Rwanda.

More recently, the brutal violence between the Sudanese-backed Janjaweed (“devils on horseback”) militia and the land-tilling tribes in Darfur has led to the loss of 400,000 lives.

But perhaps no other nation has suffered more in recent times from war than the people of Iraq. If you take the deaths from the US-driven sanctions imposed in the 1990s and those following the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the figure easily surpasses one million and could well be reaching two million by now. That’s not counting the couple of million others who have been displaced by the war. And that’s also not counting the dead and wounded Iraqis and Iranians – close to a million in all –  during the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s, when Iraq was backed by the United States.

Indeed, Iraq is the tragedy of our time. A war based on lies and deception whose perpetrators – Bush and Blair and Howard – are nothing less than war criminals.

This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the Malaysian Herald last October:

If Saddam was the Butcher of Baghdad, what do you call American and British leaders who were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis since the 1990s? Think of the first Gulf War, when ‘coalition forces’ took part in a turkey shoot of retreating Iraqi soldiers, even burying some of them alive.

And think of the genocidal sanctions imposed on Iraq under a UN blockade, devised and controlled by the United States and Britain, during the 1990s, which were responsible for more than half of million ‘excess deaths’ involving children. Humanitarian relief that should have gone to Iraq was held back.

When the then US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was questioned in 1996 about the loss of so many lives, she callously and infamously replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price– we think the price is worth it.”

Think of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which according to the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, has resulted in 650,000 excess deaths since 2003. Every day, dozens of people in Iraq continue to be killed. Think of Fallujah (and the assault and capture of the hospital there) and the torture at Abu Ghraib… and the use of horrific weapons such as depleted uranium (DU) only adds to the crimes against humanity. The use of DU has led to a massive increase in birth defects and cancer among Iraqis.

And don’t forget the 20,000 people killed in Afghanistan, in retaliation for the 3,000 killed on Sept 11. So all in, more than one million dead in recent times.

While all this is going on, people are forgetting the daily Palestinian suffering and the rising death toll in the vast prison camp of Gaza at the hands of Israel, a US ally.

The United States never faced a threat of attack from Iraq. Thus, the US-UK invasion of Iraq was outright aggression. Such a crime was referred to during the Nuremberg trials after World War II as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”. And 650,000 dead Iraqis is the result of the accumulated evil unleashed in Iraq by the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of the country.

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