Skip navigation

Category Archives: War

Nuclear Chess

“It’s a proxy war by happenstance,” says Jeff White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy about the situation in Syria. As if there ever was a pre-arranged proxy war.

This was a chess game for two, and had been so for almost half a century. Pawns were being traded between them, but the kings were hiding safely behind their wall of nuclear missiles. Neither would risk open conflict, especially after the crisis of 1962. And the entire world is thankful for that. Except for the countries which played the part of the chessboard in these seven decades.

The game is always played in turns. One side intervenes, directly or indirectly, in the affairs of another country. The other side responds accordingly. As long as no more than one side is directly involved, it’s a proxy war and as a friend points out, World War III has already happened, silently, in battlefields all over the world: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq and so on. The casualty count of the Cold War rivals, or might even surpass, that of the two formally declared World Wars.

Most do not know that immediately following the end of World War II, Churchill had formulated a plan for an Allied attack on the Soviet Union. Thankfully, the rest of the Allies were not keen to continue the bloodshed. The world was divided, the war went on, but in small doses and with various degrees and forms of engagement. And finally, with the collapse of the USSR we thought that the threat of total war was behind us.

Until now, that the Cold War seems to be rekindled. But you can only play with fire so much before you risk getting burned. Even by proxy.

What Mr. White means is that when the CIA initiated the programme to train and equip the rebels to destabilize Assad, they did not expect that Russia would be directly involved. Is he naive or does he think that the rest of us are? The West is systematically undermining Russia’s allies: first Ukraine and now Syria. Putin was slow or reluctant to act the first time and he could not save the regime in Ukraine. He is obviously not going to let this happen again. Should he let his penultimate ally in the Middle East fall? Would the US do that in his shoes?

Assad is a despot, no doubt about it. But so are the Saudis, which are in the habit of crucifying and beheading dissidents. Not terrorists or armed rebels, mind you. Just bloggers. Never mind that, Cameron was all too happy to vote Saudi Arabia for the UN Human Rights Council in exchange for their vote.

What we now have is, essentially, an admission that the US and Russia are fighting another proxy war, even if by “happenstance”. Even worse, this “happenstance” is going to continue happening, since the US apparently does not intend to stem the flow of equipment to the “Syrian rebels”, a blanket term that covers also mercenaries, terrorists, and US-trained and armed Arabs from most countries in the region. Continued support of the US to the rebels means, at this point, that the war in Syria will cease to be a coincidental proxy war and will become an intentional one.

But what the US fails to realize or purposefully ignores is that the game is no longer played by two. There are many players crowding the board now, controlling different pieces: rebel forces, Assad’s regime, the abortive child of US policy in the Middle East (ISIS), Iran, Israel (which has been itching to attack Iran for years), Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Kurds, Hezbollah, the US (and allies), Russia and even China. This is no longer a game of chess. It is more like children playing with matches in a gunpowder magazine.

If ever there was a strong possibility for World War III (IV, if you prefer) to happen since the Cuban missile crisis, this is it.

The most alarming fact is that the US defends its policy and intends to continue pursuing it. It insists that the flow of arms is controlled, and it even claims that the plan was to supply the rebels with enough weapons to force Assad to step down, but not for his regime to collapse. So, what is the cut-off point? 100 TOWs? 300? How many rockets stand between Assad’s abdication and his total collapse? How can the US guarantee that the rebels will actually stop fighting, even if Assad does promise to step down? And what if the “moderates” stop and the fanatics continue? How many times does it have to repeat this strategy before it is forced to admit that it never works as intended?

Even in cases where the undesirable regime is toppled in a controlled manner, the one that follows is never stable enough to function without support: Iraq and Afghanistan should have proven this point by now. However, Libya is a more likely example for the future of Syria and this scenario is, sadly, the optimistic one.

The pessimistic scenario is a large scale, global conflict that will plunge the Middle East and Europe in chaos. If push comes to shove, even the use of nuclear weapons is not out of the question and then the repercussions will be unthinkable. Is this purely a result of short-sighted politics? Is it part of some bigger plan? It doesn’t matter much. What matters is that humanity stands on the brink.

War is not a game. It is truly the last resort and by this time in our course as rational beings it should not even be an option at all. The consequences of a modern global conflict are too terrible to imagine. In fact, there is no real need for imagination, as there are plenty of books, films, simulations and videogames that have explored these scenarios. No ideology is worth this. No religion and certainly no economic or geopolitical agenda is worth placing the fate of our entire race in the balance. Not global unification, nor population control. Even putting all sense of compassion and humanity aside, the gamble is too big and the stakes way too high.

There is a better way.

Intermission #22

Advertisements

European dissolution

June 6th marked the 70th anniversary of the famous D-Day of World War II. It was the largest seaborne military operation in history and it marked the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.

Despite all the grand celebrations, though, despite the speeches and the moving stories of the last remaining veterans, one need to go no further than the results of the recent European Parliament elections to realise that something is wrong.

We might honour history, but we fail to learn from it.

As troops and ships from Great Britain and the Commonwealth, USA and many other countries gained the beaches of Normandy, the Red Army was marching from the East. The frantic race to Berlin, a race not only to end the most destructive conflict in the history of mankind, but to gain the prestige and possible technological spoils from the conquest of the German capital, would end almost a year later.

The World War was replaced by a Cold War, lines were drawn, walls were erected, curtains were raised, nuclear weapons were constructed and mankind came closer to extinction than ever before.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were no more enemies to be afraid of. As the spectre of another global conflict started to dissolve, political power shifted away from governments and into the hands of banks and financial institutions.

The same ills that brought about the Great Depression of the 1930s now threaten us again with a new financial crisis the remedy for which, we are told, is to be found into austerity for people of low to average income, while banks increase their profits and golden boys give themselves huge bonuses and pat each other on the back.

At the same time, however, extreme right parties gain more voters every day.

What we ought to remember is that Hitler was not some random madman who suddenly seized power and hypnotized an entire nation into Nazism. Adolph Hitler was elected into power. It was a slow process, that took both the defeat of Germany in World War I and the toxic financial environment of the late ’20s and early ’30s to grow into fascism.

In the end, slowly but surely, it drove several peoples into the hands of fanatics. Leaders in other countries seemed to worry about the situation in Germany and Italy, but they did little more than watch, until Nazi tanks crossed their borders.

Today, neo-nazi, racist and nationalist parties are growing all over Europe. In France, the United Kingdom and Denmark, anti-immigration parties have won the elections with 25, 27 and 26.6 percent respectively. Meanwhile, in Greece the neo-nazi party of Golden Dawn came very close to double digits, even though several of its MPs (including the party’s leader) have been imprisoned facing trial for planning and participation in various crimes and racist assaults up to and including murder. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a European country where the popularity of the far-right parties was reduced. Even in the generally more prosperous Scandinavian region.

If we do not wish for history to repeat itself, we ought to do more than deliver empty speeches on national holidays. Fascism is not some monster hiding under our beds, nor some kind of disease that you might catch while riding the train to work.

In fact, it is an idea that is most likely to take root where there is no work, where there is social inequality, where democracy is weakened and manipulated. Like the Weimar Republic of the 1920s. Like our democracies, today.

 

Intermission #20

rocktur_roger_waters_the_wall

I had the good fortune to be able to afford a front row ticket to what I think was the most important rock concert I will ever attend. Many in Greece couldn’t, and the company responsible for the event shamelessly denied Roger Waters’ request that people be allowed to attend with a low price ticket of 18 Euros.

If you are unemployed, like 1.6 million Greeks (or more) are right now, even 18 Euros is not a trivial amount.

After watching The Wall again all these years later, I can safely say that today it is more relevant than ever, more relevant than all the works of all other modern rock groups put together, at least in a political sense. It is as if the unmistakable rise of totalitarianism in the world today is accompanied by the steady muting of voices who argue, the dulling of modern music’s edge, the lapse of the collective artistic conciousness into an iStore-induced coma.

I am not talking about anger. Rage Against the Machine did that very well 20 years ago, but what did it amount to, when all is said and done? More on this later.

Darkness. A few eerie notes are heard in the distance and then the bass shatters the silence. Every notes strikes your chest, as if from inside. Somehow, the sound feels like it reverberates from your heart. Light, music, singing, screaming. A plane crashes above in a shower of sparks as a father dies and a baby is born.

And thus begins the journey of Pink into life. All the major actors in his life, his over-protective mother who guides and comforts, his teacher who punishes and conditions, his girlfriend which betrays (and is betrayed), all help him build the Wall.

The Teacher (Photo by S.M.)

The Teacher (Photo by S.M.)

Eventually, he becomes a rock star. By that time, however, the Wall has alienated him from everyone and everything around him, making him comfortably numb. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll try to fill in the gaping holes in his life, to no avail. Pink becomes violent and delusional. Finally, he loses all contact with reality, imagining that he is a dictator with absolute power over his audience, shooting anyone whom he finds unworthy.

Delusions of Fascism

Riddled with guilt, he puts himself on trial, with all the key figures in his life acting as witnesses against him. He is reduced from a man to a fleshy, faceless doll, waiting pathetically in a corner for his inescapable condemnation.

The human puppet (Photo by O.N.G.)

But the judge does not sentence him to death. Instead, he orders him to tear down the Wall and he does so, finally freeing himself as an eerily happy music fades in the distance.

The basics of the story are unchanged and still, 34 years later, they are all too relevant, as education deteriorates, people turn away from meaningful relationships, governments turn away from democracy, religious and racial hatred flourishes and war continues to thrive. The story is not just about one man, but also about the way each individual Wall becomes another brick in a huge structure representing our entire society.

The Wall

Waters enriched the original vision of Pink Floyd with modern elements, as the Wall is “painted” with graffiti inspired by Apple’s iDolizing marketing. iNeed, iBelieve, iTeach, iKill. Cleverly placed amongst them is iResist with the image of a protester tossing a molotov. In the end, this kind of resistance is another marketed product, aimed at the (rightfully) frustrated people but offering nothing more than a justification of violent suppression by the government. Experience has shown that massive, peaceful demonstrations are much more effective than setting the instruments of a government on fire.

The writing on The Wall

Other lines of graffiti on the Wall were no less insightful. “Enjoy Capitalism” styled as the Coca-Cola logo. And “if at first you don’t succeed, call an airstrike”.

Another striking image, shocking in its simplicity and truth, is that of the endless line of bombers dropping symbols: the dollar sign, the hammer-and-sickle, the Christian cross, the crescent moon and star of Islam, the star of David, the Mercedes sign, the McDonald’s logo and that of Shell falling like bombs and covering everything in red. All of them symbols used and misused to separate people with walls of greed, bigotry, fanaticism and hollow ambition.

And, of course, the image of the hammers doing the duck march in oppressively perfect rows of red and black. Today, 31 years after their appearance in the iconic film by Alan Parker they are reminding us not of the past, but of the possible and very likely future.

Another new concept was that of the wall depicting victims of war, terrorism and state violence from WWI to the Gezi park protests. Famous politicians, well-known activists together with largely “unknown”, but named soldiers of every war in between, civilian casualties, rescuers from the 9/11 Ground Zero, amongst them a Greek soldier who died in the Albanian mountains in 1940.

The Wall of the fallen

The Wall of the fallen

One could be tempted to turn criticism against the work itself, with all its special effects and high tech sound and imagery, the last g(r)asp of an ageing rock star for a few more dollars. Or Euros, as it were. But the essence of the work remains, regardless of any intention, selfish or not, of one of its main creators. I was reminded of my student years, when I used to mock my left-wing colleagues, most of whom had the latest cell phones of the time, while I still didn’t have one (and didn’t want one). Their half-serious answer was that “they used the system to fight the system”.

Well, “comrades”, if I ever saw anyone using the system to speak up against it, that would be Roger Waters.

Intermission #19

The intro

Malala

The world is a boiling pot. In Turkey, Brazil and Egypt there are continued demonstrations despite the extreme police violence used to deter protesters. In Greece, anger is simmering beneath the relatively quiet surface.

If there was any doubt of this, the Greek justice system backing down in the face of the imminent death of hunger striker Kostas Sakkas should convince even the most skeptical observer that the Greek government fears a similar uprising. Do not think for a moment that the judges somehow realised their “mistake”, because they knew full well that they were breaking the law when they last extended Sakkas’ incarceration for another six months.

Kostas Sakkas

If Sakkas, unlawfully imprisoned  for 31 months without being convicted, were to die, the backlash would be completely unpredictable. There are people in Greece from every corner of the political spectrum (except the extreme right, of course) who recognize that this case was never a matter of a single anarchist’s prosecution, but a violation of justice, one more link in a long chain of such violations in modern Greece.

The decision to defy death in the struggle to defend one’s rights and freedoms is the ultimate form of courage. Even more so when the one making the stand is just an adolescent girl. A girl making a stand against an entire society’s cultural perceptions.

Malala Yousafzai became a public figure before even the fateful event that almost cost her her life. In the tender age of 11 she was already blogging under a pseudonym on behalf of the BBC about life under the encroaching shadow of the Taliban.

She later actively campaigned for the right of women to receive an education and was honoured by the government of Pakistan and the international community for her efforts, becoming the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Last October she was shot in the head and neck in a targeted assassination attempt against her in a school bus full of children. Yesterday, fully recovered, she delivered a moving speech before the United Nations Youth Assembly. On the day of her 16th birthday, wearing a shawl once worn by the murdered Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto, the first female leader of a Muslim state.

Malala Yousafzai addresses United Nations Youth Assembly

Malala Yousafzai addresses United Nations Youth Assembly

It is difficult to imagine how a girl of 12 would even dare to openly speak out against oppression in a society which believes in the inferiority of women. It is even harder to fathom that she would find the strength to recover so fast after a near fatal assault, and yet speak of forgiveness.

How can one so young find so much courage?

There is another side to this story, of course. Malala is being used as a poster child by Western powers, spearheaded by Gordon Brown, to widen the growing rift between (developed) Christian and (developing) Muslim countries.

She is being used to showcase how “evil Muslims” oppress women to justify and escalate the War on Terror. Ironically, at the same time the ineffectual austerity measures used to combat the economic crisis, measures which are supported by the majority of Western governments, often have education and healthcare as prime targets.

Even worse the crisis, which shows no signs of improvement, fuels our own Western brand of extremism, in the form of racism and neo-nazism.

Yet Malala did not only speak of education; almost every mention of education was accompanied by the notion of peace. War and conflict are keeping children out of school. And the artificially perpetuated “War on Terror” is no exception. Malala spoke about Martin Luther King and Ghandhi, about non-violence, about togetherness and about forgiving even the Talib who shot her.

The Taliban are not the only ones who fear educated people. Most governments are not much different. Our own, modern, democratic governments, would rather strip education of anything not useful to employment and thus limit our ability to question them. Most states would prefer obedient drones to thinking citizens. Programmed, rather than truly educated.

There is much to be learned by the example of this teenage girl. The courage to stand up for one’s rights against fear and aggression, especially in a peaceful manner, cannot and should not be ignored. Even if greedy politicians would try to use her to justify their own agendas. But we do not need them. Not them, nor their wars.

“Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons.”

 The contempt of the powers-that-be towards the average citizen and their perceived intelligence becomes increasingly obvious today from the quality of the excuses which they use to justify war.

Once upon a time, on the eve of World War II, Nazi Germany elaborately staged an attack by Polish forces on a German radio station close to the border with Poland. SS troops dressed up in Polish uniforms attacked the station and transmitted a short anti-German message in Polish.

They even dragged along a prisoner, also dressed in a Polish army uniform, to shoot so that they would have some hard evidence to present to the Press. This was the culmination of a campaign of similar events, 21 in total, which led to the supposedly defensive invasion of Poland by the Nazis.

65 years later, only the vague accusation from the US and Britain about the possession of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq was enough to start an invasion whose death toll is still counting, and will continue to do so for years to come.

Now, the shelling of a Turkish village close to the border with Syria by a position within Syria is apparently enough to trigger an armed response from Turkey, which could very quickly escalate to a large scale conflict in the Middle East and beyond.

The innocent victims “were struck by a mortar round fired from inside Syria and thought to be aimed from the military base at the Tal al-Abyad border post, which fell into Syrian rebel hands last month.” The response from the Pentagon was the following: “This is yet another example of the depraved behaviour of the Syrian regime, and why it must go. We regret the loss of life in Turkey, a strong ally.”

It is remarkable how quickly the US and Turkey became strong allies again, since in this particular case the Turkish government’s expansionist policy serves US interests in the region.

Reports at this point are inconsistent. Even within the same article it is unclear whether the mortar shell was fired against or from a rebel occupied border post. This whole incident brings to mind the shellings of Muslim graveyards during the Bosnian War, which often originated from friendly positions.

Even supposing that this attack actually came from the Syrian Army, to claim that it was not accidental defies all reason. What could the Syrian government possibly stand to gain from shelling a small village and killing innocent people? When faced with an 18-month insurrection in your country the last thing you wish to do is to anger your neighbours and drag them into it on the side of the rebels.

Need I remind my readers of the countless reports and incidents, some of them even recorded on video, of US army attacks (accidental or targeted) against unarmed civilians and journalists, embassies, hospitals, even school buses?

I am not in any way a supporter of totalitarian regimes, such as that of Bashar al-Assad. However, most countries in the Middle East are not democracies. It becomes interesting, then, to note which countries are picked by the West as targets for subversion and, most importantly, why.

In the case of Syria, the most likely reason would be that it is merely the doorstep to Iran, the next target in line for “liberation”. It should be clear by now that this kind of intervention does not and will not result in a transition to a stable, democratic state. It failed in Afghanistan, it failed in Iraq and, so far, it doesn’t seem to be succeeding in Libya either.

It is almost certain that Syria will not be any different, but that is irrelevant to the decision makers. They do not care about democracy, because if they did they would try to reinforce it in their respective countries, instead of attempting to enforce it in the ruins of “liberated” regions.

It is a sure sign of arrogance and hypocrisy when the West is professing to teach the East democratic values which it no longer respects, and preaches peace while it constantly breeds war.

People in most of these countries are not ready for democracy of the “instant” type. People in the developed world have grown complacent in the “fast food” democracy of their own. We all have to fight for true democracy, but (hopefully) not with weapons and not as invaders in foreign lands. It seems, though, that any attempt at reason is going to be drowned once again by the sound of bombs dropping and the televised green flares of missile launches as the “fight for freedom” show will go on.

Intermission #15

WAR

What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing.

I was digging up some old files tonight, and I found something I wrote some time ago as an experiment of sorts. With tensions mounting in Syria and Iran, I was thinking again if we will ever manage to have peace on this planet. Or, perhaps, the planet will know peace when we are no more?

When people no longer think for themselves,
But blindly stick to their beliefs,
Frozen in time, forgotten by Reason,
Disconnected from Truth, forming a reality of their own.

We own nothing.
Nothing is endless.
Endless waves in a churning sea of knowledge? No, information.
Information is not power.
Power is choice.

Choice not guided by knowledge is random and erratic, possibly erroneous.
Erroneous decisions and misguided principles lead to conformity.
Conform with the norm is what they tell you to do.
Do. Not think.

Never think.
Thought is an overrated process, holding hands with Reason.
My reason to be is my ability to reason.
Without it, I am nothing.

Nothing, no reason to be, but consume: air, water, wealth, souls.
Commercial commodities in a stock market of self-destruction.
Self-destruction is what we call civilization these days.
Days numbering in the billions have brought us no closer.

No closer to the Truth than apes are we. Or less so.
So blindly we stumble to the precipice of time.
And time will bring our oblivion.
And with it, peace.