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Entries in war (24)


Birth of a nation

Kosovo is one of the youngest countries in the world, born in 2008 by unilateral declaration and still seeking global recognition of its status. 

US President Bill Clinton gets a lot of credit within Kosovo for NATO's role in stopping the ethnic cleansing of the country by Serbian forces, allowing it to later become an independent nation. Clinton had a major boulevard renamed in his honour and a large statue erected. Tony Blair, the force behind NATO acting, also has a boulevard renamed in his honour.  

The graffiti behind Clinton reads "No negotiation. Independence!"


Sarajevo scars

Sarajevo is a beautiful city to visit. It is high summer and the middle of Ramadan; the city holds it breathe during the day, fasting and escaping the blazing heat. At sunset a canon rings out over the city announcing the end of the fast and the streets flood with families out to enjoy a meal together, talking deep into the night before heading home. The city oscillates between languid and vibrant, but always feels interesting.

But Sarajevo is not just another European capital. Even without its unique bleed of Ottoman and Austrian influence, an Islamic European capital, Sarajevo would stand out for the scars it bears from war. The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a major city in modern history, with the city under bombardment for four years. Unlike the wounds from the World Wars, Sarajevo's are still fresh - the city was only relieved in 1996. This is not ancient history. Every adult today was alive during the siege. The soldiers who took part are still in their 30s. The Spice Girls were at #1 on the charts at the time.

Across the city people live in apartment blocks still scarred by grenade attacks and machine gun fire. Most of the residents still remember the days when their building was shaken by mortar. 

The sidewalk craters are much more sinister than mere pot-holes, being the impact site of grenades. Rather than replacing the shattered stone, the city filled the wounds with red concrete, the "Sarajevo roses" once filled with the blood of those torn apart by war.

And surrounding the city lie the dead, more than 10,000 graves. 

Does the Sarajevo war condemn the world? We watched on live television as a city was shattered. It was not a momentary lapse, the chance to end the tragedy dragged on for four long years. We cannot plead ignorance - many residents had video cameras, the internet was live and international journalists watched the events from the local Holiday Inn. Even in the aftermath of the war, only the smallest handful of violators have been convicted for the war crimes they committed, typically on the grounds of "insufficient evidence". The briefest walk through the city will have you shaking your head like the locals at the idea that there is insufficient evidence for the crimes committed during the world; the epithet given to the United Nations by the locals, "United of Nothing", is understandable.

And yet. Could the international response be considered a success, simply by the repugnant standards of all prior efforts? In a city of 500,000, surrounded for four years by an army bent on genocide, how much greater would the death toll have been without the UN presence keeping the boil down to a simmer? Ultimately the war was ended without a major invasion, a peace was negotiated and today the relationship is still being negotiated at the political, rather than military, level. It would have been too easy to dismiss the war as "ethnic tension" and leave it to burn out by battle. There was no real geopolitical or economic imperative, and yet something did (eventually) happen. The fact that it is hard to find a better prior example of international intervention is ultimately more an indictment on the the international community than the evident failures of Sarajevo. But perhaps contemplation on the Siege of Sarajevo needs to invoke both the guilt of 10,000+ needless deaths on our conscience, and also the glimmers of hope that we can do something if there is just the will to do so.

Or maybe that is the overly optimistic view of someone who was playing Warcraft while other teenagers were being bombarded nightly by the machines of modern war.


Obama declares war on Christians, and rightfully so

The Lord's Resistance Army is one of the most horrific terrorist organisations on the planet. In Uganda, Sudan, the Congo and the Central African Republic they have massacared thousands and tortured, raped, disfigured or attacked hundreds of thousands more. And they have done it all in the name of Jesus and the Ten Commandments. For years nothing has been done about the LRA, because 1) we are not meant to speak about terrorist Christians, and 2) the media barely blinks when it is Africans that are being slaughtered. Now Obama is sending in military advisors to help the local governments deal with one of the worst evils rampant today.

Guess the response of the Republicans? From the words of Rush Limbaugh:

Lord's Resistance Army are Christians.  It means God.  I was only kidding.  Lord's Resistance Army are Christians.  They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan.  And Obama has sent troops, United States troops to remove them from the battlefield, which means kill them.  That's what the lingo means, "to help regional forces remove from the battlefield," meaning capture or kill. 

So that's a new war, a hundred troops to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda, and -- (interruption) no, I'm not kidding.  Jacob Tapper just reported it.  Now, are we gonna help the Egyptians wipe out the Christians?  Wouldn't you say that we are?  I mean the Coptic Christians are being wiped out, but it wasn't just Obama that supported that.  The conservative intelligentsia thought it was an outbreak of democracy.  Now they've done a 180 on that, but they forgot that they supported it in the first place.  Now they're criticizing it. 

Lord's Resistance Army objectives.  I have them here.  "To remove dictatorship and stop the oppression of our people." Now, again Lord's Resistance Army is who Obama sent troops to help nations wipe out.  The objectives of the Lord's Resistance Army, what they're trying to accomplish with their military action in these countries is the following:  "To remove dictatorship and stop the oppression of our people; to fight for the immediate restoration of the competitive multiparty democracy in Uganda; to see an end to gross violation of human rights and dignity of Ugandans; to ensure the restoration of peace and security in Uganda, to ensure unity, sovereignty, and economic prosperity beneficial to all Ugandans, and to bring to an end the repressive policy of deliberate marginalization of groups of people who may not agree with the LRA ideology."  Those are the objectives of the group that we are fighting, or who are being fought and we are joining in the effort to remove them from the battlefield. 

Yes, you heard it. Obama puts a small effort into stopping a hideous army who has laid waste to half a country, enslaved children into their army and used the most vile forms of torture imaginable, and Rush Limbaugh attacks Obama simply because the LRA is Christian. Yes, the LRA is Christian, but Obama is right to attack them. Rarely do I support military action, but the LRA is an evil that can be stopped in no other way. I only wish military intervention had started a decade earlier and far more forcefully.


The legacy of war

From an Australian perspective, the wealth of modern Europe has been built up over centuries of development. Any tourist visit will only accentuate that impression, with grand buildings a thousand years old and art and technology dating back from before the "discovery" of Australia.

In one way, of course, this impression is absolutely true - regions like Flanders and northern Italy were economic powerhouses 600 years ago, and the slow accumulation of wealth over decades and centuries gives nations (and individuals) an unassailable advantage. This is why Black Americans have less wealth than white Americans after normalising for current income - even modern equality (if it were ever to exist) would not, by itself, wipe out the legacy of historical inequality.

In another way, however, this impression is quite misleading. Sure, you can walk around Brussels and see the 600 year-old city hall, and the Royal family has certainly built up its collection of palaces over the past 200 years. But these legacies of the past are the exception more than the rule. Modern Belgium has been built almost entirely over the past 60 years, on the rubble of the past. A very rich rubble, to be sure, but rubble nevertheless. Over 1% of the population of Belgium died in each of the two world wars (not unusual in western Europe, in central and eastern Europe figures over 10% are common), and the destruction of houses and infrastructure was much greater. Over 30,000 million tonnes of explosives fell upon Belgium during the wars, equivalent to more than a tonne of munitions per square metre of Belgian territory. Around a quarter did not explode, so even today ~200 tonnes of munitions are uncovered yearly by farmers and disposed of by the Belgian army.

This is the legacy of war, not only does it destroy what may have taken centuries to build, but it has the capacity to keep up the killing, long after the initiators have died. Even today Cambodia has 5 million unexploded landmines and hundreds of deaths every year. Anyone who advocates a war should first meet just a few of the 40 000 childhood amputees in Cambodia, who live today with the consequences of past decisions.


Letting fools make anti-terrorism policy

If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy
- US President James Madison

For some unknown reason, much of the world has given utter fools a near monolopy in making anti-terrorism policy. Terrorism is hardly new and we have known how to deal with terrorists for hundreds of years. In Malaysia young men used to "run amok" - they would go psycotic, grab a knife and run around stabbing as many people as they could until they were killed. The solution found by the British colonists was remarkably simple - stop treating the suicide attacks as some type of special class of person, an existential threat that needs to be taken down, and instead disarm them, put them on trial and give them life in prison. After this policy was put in place the number of men "running amok" dropped rapidly. 

The modern equivalent to this solution is also relatively simple:

1. Stop treating terrorists like they are super villians and start treating them like you would any other common murderer. No more of this "oh no, we can't let terrorists be kept in prison on American soil because they will burst out of prison and kill everyone". It is bollocks and it just feeds into their own delusions of grandeur.

2. Actively engage at the political level. Why do issues like Palestine create violent protest? Because non-violent protests are not seen to get anywhere. As long as you use terrorism as an excuse not to engage politically it makes terrorism the only way to protest. As soon as you allow political engagement people rapidly see that political change is more effective and violent protest dies away - just as in Northern Ireland.

3. Do not legitimise hate speech. The dangerous people are the ones who stir up hatred - they are untouchable if the stop slightly short of directing violence, yet they spawn terrorists among those who feed off their words. Whether the spokesman of hate is an extremist Islamic iman or a far-right European politician, we have to reduce the power of their words by condemning their hate. At both the political and public level we can't let them have oxygen, just shut them out of the debate and only deal with moderates.

Instead of this, what do we have? Useless policies at airports, ostracising bans on religious headwear, hate speech directed at moderates, the generation of new terrorist causes through invasion and calls to stop domestic terrorism by increasing spending on tanks. These people are idiots, and yet for some reason we listen to them. If an attack happens on their watch they use it as an excuse to double down on their idiocy, if they go a year without attacks they use it as validation of their policies. These people have their priorities so screwed up that they used a vaccination campaign as cover for their search for Bin Laden. 150 000 children die every year in Pakistan alone from vaccine-preventable diseases, and yet the CIA thought it would be smart to use a fake vaccination program to take DNA samples in a search for Bin Laden. Bravo cold war warriors, you just took away the political neutrality of a program that saves millions of lives a year in a fruitless effort to find a doddering criminal.


NATO accuses Muslim terrorists of using human shields

NATO has accused Muammar Gaddafi of using mosques as shields as his forces "systematically and brutally" attack the Libyan people. A NATO spokeswoman read out a statement of condemnation: "We are conducting operations with utmost care to avoid civilian casualties, but don't the terrorists realise that we have to bomb them if they attend Mosque". A NATO insider claims that they have seen this tactic before, "In Iraq the terrorists were inconsiderate enough to go home at night, forcing us to bomb residential neighbourhoods indiscriminately".

"These terrorists are such cowards, why don't they stand up like men and cluster in a nice open field so that our unmanned drones can bomb them?", one NATO General pondered. "These are evil terrorists, who kill innocent civilians during their crude attacks on our forces. This callous disregard for life justifies every response against them, even if it kills innocent civilians in the process."

A senior NATO official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that worrying reports were coming out of Libya that Gaddafi was using torture to extract information from the rebel forces. "Fortuntately we have captured several members of the Libyan army and are currently torturing them to extract information on whether these vile allegations are true."


A post-apocalyptic world

No, these are not pictures of Detriot, they are from the Maras/Varosha district in Famagusta.


Famagusta was once the economic hub of a unified Cyprus, being the centre of the tourist trade and the key port for industry. During the Turkish invasion/liberation (depending on your allegiance) on the 15th of August, 1974, the Turkish Army advanced towards the city. With a battle between the Greek Cypriot Army and the Turkish Army, the civilian population fled. With the Turkish Army victorious, the Turkish Cypriot residents returned, while the Greek Cypriots stayed on the south side of the island.

While most of the land occupied by the Turkish Army was returned to civilian ownership, the Maras/Varosha district of Famagusta was fenced off and restricted. The neighbourhood was mainly owned by Greek Cypriots and was a bustling tourist area, one of the international hot-spots of the time. While everyone expected the situation to be soon normalized, 35+ years after the evacuation the neighbourhood still lies desolate, abandoned behind barbed wire. Buildings have decayed, roads are being overgrown with grasses and the pavement is littered with shattered glass. Nearby residents claim to see the flickering lightbulbs, left on 30 years ago and still connected to the mains.

The 2004 Cyprus Peace Plan, negotiated by Kofi Annan, would have returned the Varosha district to Greek Cypriot rule. The plan proposed to reunify Northern Cyprus with Southern Cyprus in a Switzerland-style Federation, giving a large deal of autonomy to the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. In a referendum across Cyprus, the peace plan had overwhelming support in the north and overwhelming animosity in the south, and so fell through. The situation is slowly being repaired, but ironically enough there would be more integration if the EU just recognised the north and accepted it into the EU - with a common currency and open borders, the regions would be better integrated as formally separate EU nations, rather than the current formal unification with de facto seperation.


This is an article well worth reading on the effects of the 2010 US election on the Israel-Palestine situation.


Wikileaks give us the first accurate picture of Iraq

What is democracy in the absence of information? How can the public keep the executive accountable for its actions, when the executive has the power to keep its actions secret? The whole world owes wikileaks a debt of gratitude for doing something our governments refuse to do - letting us know how many innocent civilians they are killing in our name.

When our governments were not refusing to give us information, they were actively telling us lies. "We do not do body-counts". Lie. We now know that they do have a body count in Iraq - 109,032 violent deaths, made up on 66,081 civilians, 23,984 "enemy combatants", 15,196 members of the Iraqi security forces and 3,771 US and allied soldiers. Of course, these figures are suspect, there are clear cases of civilians being lumped in with enemy combatants, and deaths caused by the indirect effects of the invasion (eg through the general break-down in infrastructure and law) are not included. We now know that 700 civilians died simply for coming too close to checkpoints, including pregnant women trying to rush to hospital. We just have so many cases of the military blatently lying to us, such as trying to sell Pat Tillman as a hero who was killed by Iraqi insurgents when they knew he was the victim of "friendly fire". How many cover-ups like the rape and murder of 14-year old Abeer Qassim Hamzeh and her family were successful, and have never seen the light of day?

It is only thanks to wikileaks that we have even the faintest idea of what is happening in Iraq.

Deaths in IraqDeaths in Bagdad


The occupation of Gori

We caught the train down from Bakuriani to Gori, to visit the Stalin Museum. As the birthplace of Stalin, the city abounds with Stalin’s presence – the main street is Stalin Street, the Stalin Museum is almost the only tourist site and until 24 hours before we arrived a giant statue of Stalin stood in front of the town hall. This statue, one of the few giant Stalin statues that survived Krushchev’s de-Stalinsation program, was taken down in secret in the early hours of the morning, to prevent the outcry that occurred when the newly independent Georgia tried to pull it down in 1991. The Stalin Museum is really one of memorabilia, rather than an objective look at the man who turned rural poverty-stricken Russia into an industrial powerhouse and murdered millions of people in designed famines and the Gulags. The museum was built just outside the house where Stalin was born, which now stands beneath what could best be described as a shrine. Next to the museum stands Stalin’s personal plate-armoured train carriage, his sole form transport (as he refused to fly).

Gori is not only famous for producing one of the largest mass-murderers of all time, paranoid Stalin, but also as an epicentre of the recent South Ossetian War between Georgia and Russia. Despite the reflexively anti-Russian assumptions of the Western media, the situation in South Ossetia does not paint Georgia in a good light. Before the break-up of the USSR, South Ossetia operated as the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast, an autonomous region within the Georgian SSR. Despite different ethnicities, cultures and languages, Georgians and Ossetians lived rather peacefully side-by-side during Soviet times, with a high rate of interactions and intermarriages (interestingly, the same can be said of most large empires, where a shared nationality blurs the boundaries of ethnicity). Unfortunately, when the USSR dissolved, ethnic tensions throughout the Caucuses flared, as smaller ethnic groups wanted to take the opportunity to gain independence, and resisted being incorporated as minority regions within the newly formed states. Within months of Georgia declaring itself independent in 1991, South Ossetia declared itself an independent identity. With a much closer relationship with Russia (especially with the North Ossetians living just over the Russian border), ex-Soviet military units aided the South Ossetian separatists, allowing the region to become de-facto independent, although officially still a part of Georgia. A large exchange of population made both Georgia and South Ossetian more ethnically homogenous, entrenching positions and reducing any chance for future reintegration.

This situation was maintained for the best part of twenty years. In 2006, South Ossetians had a referendum on independence, where 99% of voters supported full independence from Georgia. More than 85% of South Ossetians acquired Russian citizenship, allowing closer ties with North Ossetia in Russia, and Russian became the predominant second language of the region, far ahead of Georgian.

Everything changed on the night of the 7th of August 2008, when Georgia launched a large-scale military attack against South Ossetia. It still isn’t clear why President Saakashvili decided to try to reclaim territory long-lost, but perhaps he was emboldened by his success in facing down the President of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, when Russia did not intervene. For whatever reason, Saakashvili not only authorised Georgian troops to attack the position of the combined South Ossetian militia and Russian troops, but he personally commanded troops in battle, despite having no military experience.

Predictably, the Georgian military were outclassed, and the Russian troops defeated the attack and countered on the 8th of August, occupying Gori and destroyed a substantial proportion of the Georgian military’s offensive hardware. Just as predictably, the response of Western media and government was superficial. Saakashvili, skilled at media manipulation, presented himself as David battling Goliath, even though he was the aggressor in the war and anti-democratic at home – during Saakashvili’s rule, Freedom House downgraded Georgia’s democracy ranking. George W. Bush even toyed with the idea of starting WWIII, considering launching air strikes on the Russian military, before settling on issuing a laughably ironic statement: “Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century.” A year later, the independent report commissioned by the Council of the European Union (prepared by a group of 30 military, legal and history experts), analysed all the evidence and found that the Georgian strike into South Ossetia “was not justified by international law” and that there was no evidence for the Georgian claim that Russia struck first. To be fair, the report also found that the Russian reaction to the Georgian attack was disproportionate. Unfortunately, the report did not also assess the hysterical response of Western media and governments, who happily parroted Georgian misinformation at the time.

The effect of that ill-advised venture can be seen across Georgia today. On the road between Tbilisi and Kutaisi we passed the refugee village from Georgians who fled Gori and the border region. Row upon row of identical small houses laid out on a grid pattern, covering a vast area. No roads, shops or employment opportunities, not a real city, just a holding area for displaced people. And yet, while many Georgian people can see the stupidity of Saakashvili in attacking South Ossetia, they do not see a resolution of the war, insisting that South Ossetia should be part of Georgia. I really can’t stand to see historical claims to be used as justification for war. Yes, for a period of time a few hundred years ago, people in Georgia ruled over people in South Ossetia. Why should this give the President of Georgia today the right to cause death and mayhem in order to control South Ossetia today?