Posts Tagged ‘Recruiting Posters’

Radical Journalist Chris Hedges and Cartoonist Dwanyne Booth on the True Horror of War

September 2, 2017

I see that the government have started running recruiting ads for the armed forces again. It was the navy a few months ago. Now it seems to be the army. The ads show a greasy, disheveled man, who clearly represents some kind of Latin American Fascist or other butcher, being hunted down and snatched by our brave boys, who then whisk him over the sea in the motorized dinghy to a waiting British warship and justice.

Oh, if that were the reality!

It ain’t, of course. Like the Americans, we seem to have spent the last seventy odd years since the end of the Second World War propping up every Fascist mass murderer we could, so long as he would protect British interests from Communism or local nationalist movements. In 1958 we and the Americans organized a coup against the Iranian prime minister, Mossadeq, because he dared to nationalize the Iranian oil industry, which included the equipment and complexes owned by Anglo-Persian Oil, which later became British Petroleum, now BP. Then there was Nasser and Suez, and Mrs. Thatcher’s fave South American buddy, General Pinochet. Quite apart from one of the Libertarian organisations that form part of the Tory party inviting the head of one of the South American death squads over as guest of honour at their annual dinner one year.

As for snatch squads, this ad looks inoffensive over here, but if it was shown on American TV it would actually be very sinister. One of the tactics the American military used to terrorise the Vietnamese during the war there was to use snatch squads to catch Vietnamese peasant farmers during nighttime raids. The farmers would then be killed and their bodies left as a mute message to their compatriots.

Britain’s invasion of Iraq with George Bush, in contravention of the UN legislation against pre-emptive war, and the continuing occupation of Afghanistan, have done precious little except create even more carnage and bloodshed in the Middle East. And these wars were not fought to defend America and the West against evil dictators. In the case of Iraq they were fought so that the oil industry and other western countries could loot whatever they thought was profitable in the country’s economic infrastructure. They also managed to wreck the economy by lowering trade tariffs in order to create the magical free trade utopia fantasised about by the Libertarians and Neo-Cons. Added to this was the ethnic and sectarian bloodshed unleashed by the occupation, and the use of mercenaries and Shi’a militias as death squads by the American overlords.

This makes this next video all the more urgently important. It’s not short – over fifty minutes long. It seems to be a film of the American radical journalist Chris Hedges speaking at an American university gathering about his experiences as a war reporter, and the anti-war cartoonist Dwanyne Booth, alias ‘Mr. Fish’, talking about his work. And it’s strong stuff, which doesn’t pull its punches.

Hedges has a degree in Divinity from Harvard. His father was a Presbyterian priest with radical political beliefs, who was strongly involved in the Civil and gay rights movements. Hedges trained in a seminary, but didn’t joint the clergy. After graduating, he joined the New York Times and served as a war journalist in South America in the 1980s, when Reagan was funding Fascists dictators and their death squads, like Contras in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. After that, he then covered the war in Iraq.

And he presents the unvarnished truth about war and the dehumanizing effect it has on those who are involved, whether as combatants or observers. It’s bloody and horrible, and he states that being in a firefight is terrifying beyond imagination. In fact, terror really doesn’t describe the sheer fear felt during these encounters. These are wars fought for the benefit of big business, and the images and stories about it that we are brought up on are lies.

He describes some of the battles in which he was personally involved, and the times he was captured by hostile forces, like Contras in Nicaragua and the Iraqi Republican Army in Iraq, when he really thought they were going to kill him and his companions. He states that before going into battle, everyone, with himself excepted, used to get drunk or high. Particularly the photographers, as they had to do what you really shouldn’t do in a gun battle and stand up. He states he knew many of them, who lost their lives doing their job. He also states that it is not like the movies. He praises Oliver Stone and his movie about Vietnam, Platoon, but says that the battle in that film is not like real firefights. It’s choreographed. Real battles are just chaos, in which you don’t know what’s going or who’s firing. In all the very many battles in which he was personally involved, he only once saw someone firing in his direction.

He describes how the Contras in Nicaragua called the Sandinistas and forces allied or sympathetic to them ‘periacuas’, a Latin American term meaning ‘motherf***er’. The Contras especially despised the press and media as being allied to the Sandinistas, which made his job even more dangerous. They also used to launch night raids, in which they’d murder a couple of peasant farmers. These people, would have had nothing to do with the war or the Sandinistas, but they were killed and a message left for the ‘periacuas’ on their bodies telling them that this was what was going to be done to them next.

They captured Hedges and his team, when he went looking for a group of them, who had gone underground. He found them, and they really weren’t happy. After capturing him, they radioed their headquarters to ask them whether they should kill them. Fortunately, the answer was, ‘No.’ But they were told to release them and say that if they caught them again, they would kill them and burn their jeep. As if they cared what would happen to the vehicle when they themselves were facing death!

He describes how he and another group of journalists were caught in Iraq by the Republican Army, thrown in the back of a jeep, and had guns pointed at their heads. They were then driven out of the city, and were afraid that their captors would stop somewhere in the desert and shoot them. Fortunately, this didn’t happen, and they were captured by proper, regular soldiers rather than the various militias that had sprung up, including companies formed of 14 year old Shi’a boys, who’d been given guns by Iran.

He also talks about the numbing effect war has on its participants, and the way it becomes a drug. Nothing can beat the high experienced by actually surviving a battle. And so he, like the soldiers he covered, became addicted to combat, playing a weird game with God to see if he could survive ever increasingly dangerous situations and battles.

He also talks about the immense alienation former soldiers feel, an alienation that prevents them from fitting back into society when they’ve returned from combat. He describes them as speaking a language no-one can understand, and makes the point that no-one wants to hear what they’re saying. He makes the point that when you find yourself in a war, you realise that everyone, from your government, the media and your educators, has lied to you. He discusses how old soldiers hate being told how well they’ve served their country, and how no-one wants to hear from them what war is really like. Of the troopers who took Iwo Jima, for example, several took their own lives, while a couple of others drank themselves to death. Hedges himself states proudly that he concentrated on talking to ordinary soldiers. He didn’t talk to anyone above the level of lance corporal, because he wanted to get the truth from them, rather than get caught up in the propaganda spouted by the generals and commanding officers. And he was unique in this. Most journalists wanted to see the top people, and so when he went for the job with the Times, he was told that the queue for the job began and ended with him.

As for the brutal reality of war, it is not like it is portrayed on television on the nightly news. He describes how, when he was in Iraq, in one area they visited the Iraqi army had been without water for three days. Dying of thirst, they tried to cross a minefield in the hope that Hedges and the squaddies he was with would give them some. One of the Iraqi troopers had both legs blown off by a mine. It took him six hours to bleed to death.

Hedges says that it’s quite possible now to show incidents like that using a satellite feed, so you can see in real time real soldiers suffering and dying. But no-one wants to see it, or broadcast it, because if they did, there’d never be another war.

Booth in his work is also angry and bitter about war, and the corporations and individuals standing behind it. One of his cartoons shows a little boy pointing into the camera in the classic Uncle Sam/ Lord Kitchener pose in the war recruiting posters. The legend below reads

I want YOU to give me a future not f*cked up by all your crazy bullsh*t about how moral and just the United States of America is when it invades and occupies other countries and how heroic and brave I’d be to kill for you because you’re too f*cking lazy and bigoted and unimaginative to prefer peace to hegemony and terrorism.

Another of his cartoons shows a child’s body in its grave, with corporate logos covering the shroud.

After speaking, there’s also a question and answer session with members of the audience, who include staff at the university. Some of these link the military action of the American empire to the destruction of the environment and other issues.

This is hard-hitting stuff, and it needs to be heard. We still have our politicians telling us lies about Iraq, and the other interventions in the Middle East, like Libya and Syria. And we haven’t been told the whole truth about Afghanistan – that the Taliban were utterly defeated, but the allied occupation was so terrible, and created so much chaos, that they were able to return and actually be welcomed by the people, they’d formerly oppressed.

Despite the fact that he’s a war criminal, Tony Blair’s still at large and desperate to get back into politics.

We need journos like Hedges. But the corporate media aren’t going to allow them to speak. In fact, the New York Times did its best to suppress the truth about what was going on in Iraq. And tens of journalists have died out there in highly suspicious circumstances, which suggests that the American army might have been killing those members of the media, who didn’t follow the approved line and described what they saw, rather than what the military wanted them to.

Don’t believe the corporate claptrap and the rubbish put out in the recruiting films. Support the independent media that dares to say what they won’t. And for heaven’s sake let’s get our young men and women out of the Middle East. Let’s stop wasting the precious lives of courageous people, who are being butchered simply so Haliburton and Aramco can make even bigger, more obscene profits.

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The Grim Reality Behind First World War Enlistment

April 4, 2014

WWI Poster

World War I Recruitment Poster, playing on the British love of sport

Yesterday I posted a sample of the great artwork from the strip, ‘The Coward’s War’, from the anti-First World War graphic novel anthology, To End All Wars. I also criticised Jeremy Paxman’s comments made a few weeks ago during his recent tour of the Gulf State. Newsnight’s long-running anchor had complained that today’s young people lacked the idealism and patriotism that had moved their great-grandfathers to volunteer for the War. He declared that most of today’s kids wouldn’t know what to do if they were put in trench. In his opinion, they’d probably just photograph it with their mobiles rather than do anything useful. I argued in the piece that if today’s young people don’t have the ideals of the Victorian and Edwardian predecessors, it’s because history has shown that all too often those ideals merely resulted in imperialist wars of oppression and exploitation.

I also received two comments on the post from Ulysses and Jess pointing out that the men, who volunteered to fight were hardly motivated by patriotism. The reason instead was to escape the grinding poverty and harsh unemployment conditions of Britain a century ago.

Ulysses stated

After reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, i seriously doubt Patriotism was the main reason for the majority of British working class men signed up.
I gather, from reading that account, conditions on the front were immeasurably better than the struggle at home to keep body and soul together by prostituting yourself to the tender mercies of employers or the poor laws, charities and Churches of the time.
The Army gave you 3 square meals, a pair of boots that reasonably fit and weren’t 4th or 5th hand when issued, and reasonable clothing that needn’t be pawned and clawed back by hook or crook between bouts of unemployment and the choice was eat, or sell the clothes off your back.
The description of Town Councillors of that time, I could easily put contemporary names to the characters in the book the parallels are so striking, it seems as though the Local Authority have taken that work of semi fiction as a working plan on how to run a town for the last 100 years.

And as for Paxo and his views on the youth of today?
I seriously hope they’d all have more sense than to spill their blood for the ideology of the ruling classes.

Jess also commented that there was no mass voluntary enlistment, and that the soldiers who did join the army did so to escape hardship and deprivation at home.

” volunteer en masse as they did for the War”
This is an old canard beast.

Quite simply, people didn’t ‘volunteer en masse’ for WW1

No ‘reputable’ historian would still suggest they did.

There were many things that caused people to enlist….over the course of the war….But the BEF that went to France in 1914 was a professional army

It would take too long, and too much space to go into detail, but , as one example, single men, thrown out of work by the outbreak of war, were denied Unemployment Assistance unless they (guess what?)

And workhouses and labour colonies were toured by recruiting sergeants looking for ‘suitable’ recruits, until a magistrates court put a stop to that…

The fact that the myth of the British volunteering en masse for service in the War is still believed, despite being discredited by historians, shows just how desperately we do need popular treatments of the War, like the To End All Wars volume above.

I don’t really know much about the First World War, and so rely on those who know more about it than me. But Ulysses’ and Jess’ comments corroborate some of the other pieces of information I’ve also come across about the reasons men volunteered for the armed forces in Britain’s imperial heyday.

Way back in the 1980s a radical historian from South Africa or Zimbabwe – I’m afraid I’ve forgotten which – presented a controversial piece on the BBC’s history programme, Timewatch. He compared the miserably malnourished British squaddies of the time of the Zulu War, with their Zulu opponents. The average British soldier joined up to avoid starvation due to unemployment, and the lack of nourishment showed itself in their poor physiques. The army had to reduce the minimum height requirement several times until it was gradually reaching four feet simply because of the poor physical standards of the men, who were volunteering for service. He also argued that they were held in contempt by the rest of British society, as Kipling depicted in his Barrack Room Ballads with the lines

‘An’ it’s Tommy this, and Tommy that,
An’ throw him out, the brute,
But it’s the thin red line of England
When the drums begin to beat.’

Their Zulu opponents, on the other hand, were the fit, well-fed elite of their society.

This caused a storm amongst the patriotic, and the BBC said they’d received a number of angry letters in response to the programme. Nevertheless, the poor physical standard of British troops was a major concern to the late Victorian and Edwardian establishment. These years saw the emergence of the Campaign for National Efficiency, which sought to make Britain and her empire better governed, and which sought improvements throughout society. And one of its aims was to improve health and physical fitness of the British people in order to raise the physical quality of the army’s recruits. The army had been alarmed at how the Afrikaaner farmers had been able to hold off the British until defeated through sheer force of numbers and superior military equipment during the Anglo-South African War. And, it should be added, other, horrific tactics such as the imprisonment of Afrikaaner women and children in concentration camps, which has created a bitter legacy amongst some Afrikaaners towards their Anglo-South African fellow countrymen.

Back to the sample artwork from To End All Wars, it struck me that the pose adopted by firing squad at the bottom of the panel mimics the pointing finger gesture in the recruiting post at the top of the page.

Coward's War pic

Sample page from To End All Wars printed in Wednesday’s I newspaper.

It’s probably me reading too much into it – after all, this is the natural posture used to sight down a gun. Nevertheless, it seems a bitter comment on the patriotic posters like that above urging the young and idealistic to sign up for death, pain, fear and mutilation.