Category Archives: War

The Super Bowl and Paid For Patriotism

For a truly mainstream American experience I would certainly recommend dropping yourself down on a swivelling stool in a Dallas bar, watching the Super Bowl, eating buffalo wings and chatting to an off duty Texan Cop. It’s how I spent Super Bowl Day 2014.

Should you just happen to tune in to the game at home somewhere in the UK don’t fret; you’ll be able to get the full flavour. You will still see the finale of the American Football season unfurl to review an onslaught of pageantry and paid for patriotism. Sit at home and gorge on the overt militarisation where pageantry is used to blur the lines between the football field and the battlefield. You will see a contest for sure: the battle for the continued blood thirst of citizens of the largest of the western imperialist states.

The essence of the show wasn’t so obvious to me back in January 2014 as we crossed the southern states. We had been following the sporting hype around the Super Bowl and we’d watched a playoff game in Philadelphia. We knew it was going to be a total cliche to find the local sports bar for the big game, but we were here for the American experience! Hailing a cab we were genuinely excited to be heading down to watch the game in a Texan bar.

Of course the bar was packed but we arrived just in time to find a little space next to a large Hispanic couple who were sat on stools way too small. Within a minute or so, as happened on almost every occasion while in the States, a local was quick to welcome us to their Bar / Borough / City / State / Nation. Our off duty Cop hit us with a “hi y’all welcome to Dallas, Texas” And we of course responded with a typically clean and crisp very British reply.

As we led up to the start of the game we had that chat about the differences between the USA (and in this case the very particular differences between Texas) and the UK. We spoke about British roads, no wider than aisles in an American supermarket. Of $20 cocktails in London; a price that would supply a Cop in beer and buffalo wings (some 40 or so) from this particular bar for the whole evening.

We covered crime and guns with our polar opposite views of the relationship between them. The Dallas Cop tried to comprehend a UK Police Officer walking the beat gunless. I waved my finger side to side and tutted loudly in response to his question “how in hell do they keep the peace with no weapon?”

We were the charming, quirky and inquisitive British couple and they were the very personification of gregarious, warm and welcoming Southern American hospitality. Despite the distance across their land and the Atlantic Ocean our shared cultural connections and a common language made us feel part of that mass of raw Texan meat ready to sizzle at the start of the Super Bowl.

All eyes fixed on the dozen screens reflecting the same snowy scene from the stadium in New Jersey.

Like all American sporting (and of course many other occasions) The Star Spangled Banner was sung before the main event: it boomed from the TV screens and from the mouths of most of the patriotic patrons.

We stayed seated and smiled while trying to look serious. We maintained a dignified exterior while cringing slightly inside. We were miles from Waco, Texas but this seemed like an automatic and mass response to rise: almost cult like. And when representatives from the military took to the sporting field our bar, no doubt like thousands of other bars in the States, shook with emotion. Another link in the cultural chain that connects American Sport and war had been welded together.

What places the Super Bowl – and all the matches played under the National Football League more widely – apart from many other mass gatherings in the US is the presence front and foremost of the military. The differences between the battlefield and the sporting field seem to have been steadily broken down by pageantry and this is no simply coincidence. 

This overt militarisation of Football recently led two Arizona Senators to uncover almost $7 million in “paid for patriotism” at sporting events, with 18 NFL teams receiving more than $5.6 million over four years. Blurring the lines between sport and war is a concern for some Americans. 

During the Super Bowl there is no respite from the “paid for patriotism”, not even during the ad breaks. In fact, this medium supports an amplification of the solider / player, sporting field / battle field connection.

During Super Bowl Week there is only one thing that’s more anticipated than the game, and that’s the commercials. In Budweiser’s “Coming Home” commercial a returning solider receives a Bud sponsored Heroes Welcome.

Connecting the theatre of sport and the theatre of war will of course be aided by multinational companies thirsty for “profit from patriotism” and back in our bar it is no exaggeration to say this advert brought 300 or so patrons once again to their feet. The majority brought to either cheers or tears. The passion led some of the biggest guys to bear hug fellow big guys, as well as of course, the tiny barmaids. Two Brits sat detached and stupefied, and increasingly many more American eyes are being opened to the dangers of this paid for patriotism.

Senators McCain and Flake’s investigation found that linking military propaganda with sporting prowess was obviously money well spent: the Pentagon had been doing it for years. But what is the purpose of linking American sport so closely with the military and American foreign policy? Why does the Pentagon rate it so highly?

An army is of course a miniature of the society that produces it and if society sees war in terms of the field of sport it perhaps sees contests that end; with a clear winner and loser; a score on one side always lower than that of the other.

We know and we are continually told that ISIS are hell bent on bringing civilians – across the Middle East as much as Western Europe – onto the battlefield. We are disgusted at their approach and their aims. Yet Western Governments – by placing the military at the heart of their institutions – do little to draw what should be a clear and profound distinction between civilian and military life. It is past the time for the west to draw this line and stick to it.

The Super Bowl has morphed to appear almost as much about the role of the military and the love of America as the celebration of a season long sporting journey for two teams. Paid for Patriotism is clearly state sponsored big business.

This year, in the UK, as the debate continues around the renewing of Trident Nuclear Weapons System keep your eyes open for our own homegrown versions of paid for patriotism. It will be coming to a stadium or bar near you. The power of imagery is not to be underestimated.

 

Political timing or base opportunism?

The one defining skill of this Conservative Party leadership is its unmatched gift for political timing.

Political timing or base opportunism?

In politics timing is everything and right on queue enter our ever opportunist Prime Minister. If the Paris tragedies were the final pieces in the war making puzzle the first were dropped out of the box and placed on the table at the onset of summer.

But summer seems like a long time ago. So shocking was the carnage in Paris in November that it is hard to cast our minds back to the political landscape that preceded them. But should we take a moment we can see that the summer soundtrack was a monotonous Tory megamix with the aim to make us all dance to a particularly bloodthirsty tune.

The march to war started back in July

At the end of July Mr Cameron made, what was billed as, his first major UK speech on tackling extremist ideology. In that speech he set out the Government’s “five-year strategy” to deal with extremist ideology. With this speech and the anticipated media coverage he was of course building the narrative that may well lead to an increase in hostilities in Syria. Extremist ideology so the speech goes has to be dealt with at home and abroad.

The content was the focus for most but as this speech was just a rehash of one he made ten years ago I focus on the timing. The horrific massacre of tourists on a Tunisian beach at the end of June allowed Mr Cameron an opportunity he couldn’t miss to support his grand narrative: that to root out and end terror we must heap more terror on far away lands.

The echo of that last gun shot in North Africa was the sound of an increased march to war in the UK. David Cameron placed a direct link connecting those beaches – where the Foreign Office has withdrawn tourists – to the battlefields in Syria where the Ministry of Defence is already – on a small scale – engaging our military hardware.

Another piece of “good timing” over the summer came when it was “leaked” that UK armed service personal were already involved in attacks on the sovereign state of Syria. This revelation was a very useful test of likely public and parliamentary opposition to a new campaign. This “leak” approach to policy follows on from years of Labour Party spin. Every successive Government has built on the experience and knowledge of the last to become peerless in the management of the dissemination of information. The media is the first theatre of any war. Victory on that battlefield is of profound strategic importance.

Simply judging by David Cameron’s actions over the summer there was never any doubt that the aftermath of Paris would lead to more opportunist warmongering in the UK. We knew this would happen because the Government had recent form. Using the humanitarian crisis over the European summer months to propagate war Cameron and Osborne, et al, have shown beyond all doubt that they will never balk at any opportunity that comes their way.

Over the coming days, weeks and months – depending on the resilience of Labour MPs moral fibre – they will continue to skillfully and munipilatively push towards war: somehow shielding from the media spotlight that their cure is in fact the cause.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria spilling over into Europe could not have come at a more opportune time for a Government hell bent on war

As the end of summer approached The Establishment’s vile mouth piece The Sun was already depicting those against increased military action – including Labour’s new leader Jeremy Corbin – in Syria as “Cowards”. Not to be outdone by the Government in the Shakespearean duplicity The Sun told its readers that going to war in Syria is the best way to show anger and frustration at the death of Aylan Kurdi.

No coincidence that Parliament was in recess at the start of this propaganda war

As MPs headed for a break from Parliament over the summer the Tory Party had a couple of months to lobby MPs to back a fresh military campaign in Syria.

Strengthening your position while your opposition was weak was too good an invitation to miss for the opportunist PM. Labour as the main parliamentary opposition – if only numerically speaking –  welcomed their new leader in September. With the entire party focused on internal matters over the summer the timing, once again, from the Tory party perspective was priceless. With Labour electing a leader who was exceptionally unlikely to vote for military action in Syria the Tories took full advantage to split the opposition.

Mr Cameron has a well respected and recognised gift for rolling the political dice at just the right time. There is an accepted narrative that we admire his astuteness and adroitness. It is more correct of course to rile at our Prime Minister for being a callus opportunist who used the death of 130 civilians in France and 30 civilians in Tunisia to catapult his argument that we need to be at war into every home. But that is what Warmongers do; there is no level that they will not sink to bolster the blood thirst.

The power of imagery is not to be underestimated

On the political battlefield imagery is almost as important as timing. The militarisation of the return of those murder victims from Tunisia, emerging as they did from an RAF aircraft, to be carried slowly and solemnly by military personal, seemed rather incongruous for the repatriation of murdered plumbers, post office and factory workers who had tragically but simply set out on holiday. They were and remain civilians caught up in horrific tragedy.

President François Hollande’s choice of Les Invalides – the home of the military museum of France – to commemorate the victims of November’s attacks in Paris come straight from the Warmongers Handbook. Theses subtle decisions are important, deliberate and meaningful steps in the abhorrent process of militarising the civilian population.

We know and we are continuously told that ISIS are hell bent on bringing civilians – across the Middle East as much as Western Europe – onto the battlefield. We are disgusted at their approach and their aims. Yet our politicians – by honouring the dead in such overt militarised style – do little to draw what should be a clear and profound distinction. Civilians even when they are targets are not military personnel. It is past the time for the west to draw this line and stick to it. To remove all military connotations from civilian tragedy.

It is time to say no to increased military action by the UK in Syria.

Neoliberals – the real fundamentalists

Last weeks speech by David Cameron was not the first time he had a speech written for him around the hook of the “struggle of our generation”.  He used this back in 2005 while he was Shadow Education Secretary. The struggle then as now is against fundamentalism and I couldn’t agree more. However.

He focused on the evil of islamic fundamentalism. I have another view on the vilest form of extremism affecting the globe. So in that speech I replacing the following:

– Islamist terrorism
– Global terror
– Terrorists
– Islamist
– Jihadist

With “Neoliberalism”. It’s a vast improvement.

Neoliberals – the real fundamentalists

Here’s my highlights.

“And there’s no better example than the subject I would like to focus on today: the threat from extremist Neoliberalism. In recent weeks I have been outlining some of the challenges I believe we face as country – and the need to foster a new sense of shared responsibility to deal with them.”

“The challenges of Neoliberalism require exactly that kind of response. We’re all in this together, and we must act together to defend our security.”

Anti Extremist March in Edinburgh
Anti Extremist March in Edinburgh

The global threat

“Britain has joined the long list of nations to be directly targeted by Neoliberalism: Indonesia, India, Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Russia, Kenya, Tanzania and the United States of America.”

“The range of nations targeted by Neoliberalism underlines the global nature of the threat – as does the background of the attackers.
It is profoundly shocking to learn that those responsible were British citizens.”

“It is clearly right to say that there is no list of demands we can accept and no group of Neoliberalism we could meet and negotiate with – even if we wanted to – to stop the attacks.”

“But we can and should try to understand the nature of the force that we need to defeat. The driving force behind today’s threat is Neoliberalism. The struggle we are engaged in is, at root, ideological.”

“During the last century a strain of Neoliberalism thinking has developed which, like other totalitarianisms, such as Nazism and Communism, offers its followers a form of redemption through violence. The seeds of this ideology are various.”

“But the Neoliberalism programme is not limited to these goals. They work, like Trotskyist “transitional demands”, to rally support among the disaffected and radicalise them for the greater struggle”
“This is the establishment of a single, puritan, fundamentalist strain of Neoliberalism across the world, and the eventual advance of Neoliberalism influence across the globe.”

“Neoliberalism feeds into the bewilderment, alienation and lack of progress felt by many in the world. The corruption of many states. The lack of democracy. The concentration of power in the hands of elites whose lifestyles. All these things create resentments.”

And my personal favourite: “Those resentments are very far from being restricted to the poor. Neoliberalism, like Nazism and Communism before it, often bewitches the minds of gifted and educated young men.”

I think his latest speech could do with the same treatment.

Where does the power lie?

So there we are being all powerful again. There we go showing the world that the UK is an almighty important country. War. That’s what power means to people. The decision to bomb other countries and to kill foreigners has been passed in the UK parliament. Not in my name.

Our standing as part of the UK – devalued and discoloured

One of the main tenants of the No Campaign was this idea that the UK would lose its international standing if Scotland left the union. This was to presume of course that our “standing” in the world was something worth keeping: surely it depends what you stand for rather than how high you stand?

The westminster parties, through the fog of war and the mist of time, see that the UK is somehow worthy of this status as a world power. This belief has come to the fore again with the UK parliament backing the UK’s involvement in the conflict in Iraq. At the moment, at least some small saving grace, is that Syria is a step too far.

This lust and desire for power is what lies at the heart of every modern day decision to send troops to war.  Make no bones about it. The UK establishment is still power hungry, searching for it at every turn. To stand “shoulder to shoulder” with great powers must mean they are powerful too.

The Scottish nuclear question

This need for power goes a long way to explaining the blind westminster panic at the idea of losing a base for their weapons of mass destruction in Scotland.

A friend and fine journalist wrote an article in El Pias in which my opposition to nuclear weapons was mentioned. I stand by it and with every decision to go to war it is strengthened. The decision to rid Scotland of Europe’s largest nuclear arsenal was reason enough for me to support the yes campaign.

Power is defined by military might. 21st century power is linked to the ownership of nuclear weapons.  It’s the power of fear. It’s the skinny kid in the play ground who has the big beefy brothers.

The decision to go to war is I believe for most, including even politicians, a moral one. Everyone should be entitled to their view. Reasons will be explained why “we have to go to war” but I don’t buy any of them. We can take  a purely humanitarian role. We can use the diplomatic corridors. We can do all we can not to compound the problems with force.

I.S, ISIS, Islamic State or ISIL appear to be the most brutal of regimes.  But a real, substantial, direct and sizeable threat for the UK? I really can’t see it. How many more OAPs will die of hypothermia in Scotland this winter than those UK citiznes directly or indirectly linked to ISIS? We have clear and present dangers affecting this land, ones that we can address, ones that we can solve. How about directing some of the spoils of power to target those ills?

The yes coalition parties in westminster voted against force.

“MPs voted by 524 to 43 to sanction the UK air strikes, limited to Iraq, with 69 MPs not voting. A total of 23 Labour MPs, five Tories and two Lib Dem MPs voted against UK action along with the SNP MPs and the Green MP Caroline Lucas” – The Guardian