1980s >> 1987 >> no-995-july-1987


Every day wars are fought. Every day the pressures inside this society erupt as

USS Stark

some new battleground opens somewhere in the world. Every day capitalism puts new lives on the line to fight over land or minerals or markets. Or, as Ronald Reagan recently put it after the “accidental” rocket attack on a US frigate in the Gulf, “safeguarding the interests of the US and the free world in the Gulf, remains crucial to our national security and to the security of our friends throughout the world”.


That sounds unequivocal but friends and relatives of the 37 American sailors who died on the USS Stark will be confused to find out that after the Iraqi Exocet attack, the US administration is portraying Iran, not Iraq, as the villain of the piece. As one Arab diplomat put it.

  the US said it was a mistake to sell arms to Iran, and now Iraq says it was a mistake that the frigate was attacked. Now the two sides are even. It’s ironic but the only major consequence of this incident may be a warming of relations between Washington and Baghdad.

The lives were not lost in vain, however — the US armed presence in the Gulf exists (just as for any other country) in order to protect the small number of American-flagged vessels (owned by a small number of Americans) that need to use the Gulf.


There won’t be a small number for much longer, hence the build-up in the US state’s pressure. By mid-July, eleven oil tankers owned by the Kuwaiti Oil Tanker Company will be transferred to a Delaware-based corporation, putting them under US registration, under the US flag and. more importantly, entitled to the protection of the US navy. While the oil barons and their class shift from nation to nation, flying the flag of greatest convenience, workers of the world are expected to put up with the rhetoric of “the national interest” and to put down their lives, if necessary. In Mexico, lives are risked in trying to cross the border into Texas; in Ireland, workers have to enter a lottery to get a visa to work in the US; in America, Reagan announces the plan to test all immigrants for the HIV virus. At the same time as people are being barred from access to parts of the world, there’s no problem, about becoming American if you are an oil tanker.


Of course, it’s not just about oil. Capitalism produces many conflicts between nations. It produces many strategies, alliances and rivalries which cannot be ignored. Last December, Washington turned down a Kuwaiti request for help but following the news that the Russians were preparing to provide the naval escort, Washington quickly offered their help. Oil is just one example but it is part of a much bigger ballgame. and such small apparently insignificant disputes can easily turn into something much worse within days. Remember the Falklands War? But do you remember the almost comical news that preceded it, about the scrap-metal merchants from Argentina who had landed on something called South Georgia. Similarly, some small item on tonight’s news about some far-off battle in some far-off place with a funny name could be the first kicks, the labour pains for the Third World War.


But whatever the battles are fought over, it’s not in the interests of the vast majority that are at stake. There’s only a few people who stand to win or lose in times of war. The business pages of the papers make that quite clear:

 Shell, up 10p at 1011p. and BP. 11p ahead at 749. were the hot favourites as word filtered through that 2.000 lraquis had been killed in a new Iranian offensive. . .

(London Evening Standard. 9 January 1987)


Offensive is the word. And of course it’s not the shareholders or the politicians who do the fighting. They stay safe in their offices rattling their sabres and letting others do the dying. According to diplomats in Washington, the deaths on the USS Stark, “provided President Reagan with a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the ‘Gulf Cooperation Council’ the US’s determination to pay with its own lives to protect the oil lanes, despite the cooling in relations because of the American arms sales to Iran”. (Guardian, 19 May 1987)


Where, for that matter, was Reagan when American teenagers were dying “to safeguard the interests of the US and the free world”, during the Second World War? As someone who sometimes appears to welcome the prospect of a Third World War, he was in no hurry to appear in the last one — Reagan spent the war working for the FBI spying on any suspect communist subversives in Hollywood. One actor that he’d never need to worry about is Sylvester Stallone who has made millions out of encouraging American children to hate Russians in Rocky IV (like I-III). and to kill Vietnamese in Rambo (Rocky without boxing gloves). The actor though, doesn’t quite match up to the wide range of characters he portrays: would Rambo have refused (as Stallone did last year) to travel to Cannes for the Film Festival, for fear of attacks from terrorists (or at least film critics)?


Recently our hero has been in Israel looking for a new location for an old script, as Rambo turns his attention to the Gulf after having finished off anyone with slanty-eyes in his previous film. But where was Stallone when the real Vietnam War was on, the one without the make-up and the blanks? Apparently Stallone saw out the war as a Physical Education instructor at a finishing school for rich young women in the jungles of Switzerland. Of course we’ve nothing against draft dodgers, quite the opposite in fact. But these are the people (and Stallone is just one of the more obvious) who encourage nationalism, who profit from warmongering, and who are all for dying for their country, just so long as it doesn’t include them. But what of the sailors who did die in USS Stark? They died for precisely nothing — to help save Reagan’s face after Irangate, to defend the American Oil Corporations.


There’ll be another conflict in the Gulf, sooner or later. More names to be chiselled into the war memorial. But if the next conflict escalates, it won’t just be the soldiers and sailors who suffer. We’ll all be in the front line. If you put your trust in leaders, give up your power to politicians, and give up your imagination to film stars, the next thing you could find yourself giving up is your life.