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A B-52H Stratofortress making a bomb drop in 1995. Photo: US National Archives/Richard Kemp

A B-52H Stratofortress making a bomb drop in 1995. Photo: US National Archives/Richard Kemp

Lindsey German on anti-imperialism and the War on Terror

The day the Twin Towers in New York were attacked we all knew that this was a world changing event. Like wars and other major upheavals it was going to alter the lives of many, to change the whole of politics, and to create a new series of conflicts.

We have heard much this weekend about the suffering, the terrible deaths, the grief of families and survivors - all of it highly poignant and moving. There has been little comparable reporting about the victims of wars launched in the name of avenging 9/11, even though those wars are still going on. The 3000 who died on that day 20 years ago are rightly mourned. But there are few stories about the tens of thousands of civilians dead in Afghanistan, victims of two decades of war and many of them killed by the 300,000 US bombs dropped on one of the poorest countries during this time.

The defeat of US imperialism in that war - brought home so graphically by the Taliban’s rapid victory over the whole country last month - should have led to many questions being asked about the nature of the war and what it has achieved. But such questions, let alone answers, come there none.  The reason for this is that honest answers would require all those who promoted these wars to admit that they were wrong.

The response to 9/11 by the US and its allies was to declare war. George Bush made it abundantly clear that the act was regarded as one of war, not terrorism, and would be met with a commensurate response. The bombing and invasion of Afghanistan was swiftly followed by the ramping up of war with Iraq. It was also matched by an increase in racism against Muslims who were now the target of scapegoating on a large scale, and an increasing willingness of governments to abandon civil liberties, including the establishment of imprisonment without trial, most notoriously in Guantanamo Bay.

Explanation of the failures in Afghanistan and Iraq (and the later wars in Libya and Syria) was always couched in terms of ‘mistakes’. But the various incidents so designated, whether looting, corruption, bombing of civilians, abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, use of white phosphorus in Fallujah, or killing of wedding guests, all had their roots in the nature of the wars and occupations themselves. These were brutal military interventions which did not succeed in stopping the horrors with which they were supposedly dealing.

In fact, the opposite was often true. ISIS was formed in the prisons of occupied Iraq. It has also grown in Afghanistan. The Taliban was able to regroup and eventually claim victory in Afghanistan. And military conflict abroad has a nasty habit of coming home. Here in Britain we first saw the terrorist attacks in London in 2005, followed by a number of suicide bombings and knife attacks. Far from making the country safe, the wars actually made these attacks more prevalent. The general instability around war from Kenya to Afghanistan also helps to create fertile ground for terrorist organisation.

It has also created a mass exodus of refugees from war zones, very few of whom get to the US, Britain or western Europe. When they do they are scapegoated in the most appalling way, treated as criminals, housed in terrible conditions and subjected to racist abuse. The latest moves by Priti Patel to send refugees who arrive by boat back to France displays a level of inhumanity and racism which is hard to contemplate.

The war on terror has poisoned our politics and society. It has helped fuel racism and the far right, has increased the criminalisation of protest and has created greater instability across large parts of the world.  It has fuelled militarism and warmongering. The US dropped 300,000 bombs on Afghanistan alone in the past 20 years – that is a lot of profit for the arms manufacturers.

Yet there has been not one word of apology for the war, not one word of admission that the politicians and the military got it so wrong, no humility from any of the drivers of the war. The major defeat in Afghanistan for the US is shrugged off, as is the hideous cost of these wars.

I reflected on this when I travelled to Liverpool to join a demonstration against the projected arms fair to be held there next month. One of the highly profitable by products of the wars has been the worldwide increase in weaponry for war. The imperialist project of the past two decades has allowed the testing and marketing of weapons
on an undreamt of scale. These companies – heavily subsidised and aided by the British and other governments - profit from war and repression. The huge costs of war are paid for by public spending, much of it going into the coffers of the arms dealers.

The demo was a big success and great credit to the organisers. Shame on the Labour council for allowing the arms fair to take place – but there is still time to stop it. And there are plenty of people in Liverpool who want to make that happen.

The 20th anniversary of Stop the War Coalition, founded after the events of 9/11, is also this month. It’s clear from the continued justifications for war and militarism from our politicians that none of this is over.

Our own shameless and corrupt government is cutting wages and pensions while also ending the uplift on Universal Credit which will impoverish still further many people. At the same time Boris Johnson has guaranteed above inflation increases and extra funding for the military. Sickening.  

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Lindsey German

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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