Young men as killing machines
We’ve been here before. The killing of at least 16 Afghan civilians – nine of them children – in Kandahar province on Saturday night evokes memories of another atrocity committed by US troops some 44 years ago.
On 16 March 1968, 150 US soldiers in a unit called Charlie Company, led by 24 year-old Lieutenant William Calley, marched into a hamlet called My Lai in Vietnam and massacred 500 unarmed civilians.
Charlie Company’s murder binge was witnessed by a US helicopter crew circling above who tried to stop the killings and rescue survivors. Calley was eventually brought to justice and found guilty of murder. But his life sentence was reduced to three years and he was paroled in 1974. He was pardoned by President Nixon.
Therefore the US authorities’ promise of “a rapid and thorough investigation” into the Kandahar killings must be taken with a huge pinch of salt – let alone the notion that serious punishment will follow.
US officials claim that only one soldier was involved, but several survivors have given conflicting accounts. Residents heard aircraft and helicopters were overhead after midnight on Sunday morning. And 20-year-old Jan Agha, who survived the murder spree by pretending to be dead, said that more than one soldier entered his home.
In February US troops burned copies of the Koran and in January videos of Marines urinating on the bodies of Taliban were circulated. Similar incidents are well-known from Iraq. So is this really the case of a demented rogue? The truth is that holding civilians in contempt and losing all sense of humanity is what happens to the young men trained to be killing machines in countries whose culture, religion and traditions are totally alien to them.
The mother of one of the 404 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan said she only realised this when visiting the country after her son’s death.
The US-British-NATO operations are being conducted by governments who have increasingly lost legitimacy in the eyes of their electorates. Everyone knows they have no solution to the economic and financial crises except to impose intolerable burdens on ordinary people.
It’s not by chance that the six young British soldiers killed in last week’s attack were from unemployment black spots in Yorkshire.
The claims in parliament by David Cameron and Ed Miliband that the British are in Afghanistan to keep the streets of London safe are risible. Al Qaeda is no longer a force in Afghanistan and the Taliban have no intention of coming to Britain any time soon. British troops are no more than cannon fodder for other interests which include protecting the oil pipelines that criss-cross the region.
Journalist and author Simon Jenkins is on the button when he denounces military and political leaders as having lost all contact with reality. Jenkins is hardly a revolutionary, but could be accused of giving solace to the enemy when he writes: “The war the Taliban fighters are waging with vigour and success is to regain the integrity of Afghanistan, no more or less”.
Eventually, seven years after the My Lai massacre, the United States had to pull out of Vietnam, having spent around $770 billion and killed and maimed countless Vietnamese as well as losing nearly 60,000 US troops. The decade-long conflict left a trail of long-term devastation in its wake.
It’s the same in Afghanistan. Service widow Wendy Rayner has noted that after the war in Afghanistan is over, "the poor people who are left will go back to the same crappy lifestyle that they had before our lot went in".
With the US and Britain now turning their attentions towards Iran, the challenge of ending Nato-led wars is an urgent one. That means facing up to the historical fact that war, profits and capitalism are tied in to each other. Ending atrocities like those visited on the people of Afghanistan at the weekend surely means terminating a social system for which war is an extension of its rotten politics.
A World to Win secretary
12 March 2012