Editorial: Counting bodies
Just as the Iraqi oil permits and contracts are starting to get signed off, so the numbers of “coalition” (UK and US) troops stationed there are being scaled down. As authority for the stable management of capitalism is handed back to a new Iraqi authority that can be trusted by the likes of Exxon, BP and Shell, so attention turns to the other theatre in the so-called “war against terror”, that of Afghanistan.
Last month the total UK military deaths in Afghanistan to date surpassed those in the Iraq conflict (179). When the UK forces ceremonially handed authority to the Iraq state, the name of every UK soldier killed was solemnly read out. The names of Iraqis killed during the same period were not read out, for obvious reasons: it would take 2-3 weeks to complete. No one is keeping much of a score it would seem however. As US General Tommy Franks indicated: “we don’t do body counts”.
As attention turns to Afghanistan, and to the coffins driven through silenced town centres, there has been renewed debate about what “we” (the UK state) are actually doing there. The idea that “we” are trying to hunt down bin Laden has been quietly shelved. Instead the line we are given is that the British state is “fighting terrorists there in order to ensure we don’t have to fight them over here”. Stripping away all the state propaganda, the real issue remains clear: they are fighting over there to prop up a friendly government in a country strategically placed to control oil from the Caspian Region. If the Iraq conflict was about extracting the stuff from the ground, the Afghanistan war is about securing an alternative route to get it to market.
Tempting though it may be, you don’t need to select between the false options offered by capitalism. You don’t have to choose between, on the one hand, supporting the British state’s bloody efforts in Afghanistan, and, on the other hand, supporting those unlikeliest of freedom fighters that make up the Taliban. You don’t have to choose between the old-fashioned barbarism of the semi-feudal Taliban tribal leaders and war lords, and the modern barbarism of capitalism. World socialists reject that choice. We support neither side. We denounce as obscene the calls to send more weapons to the UK troops in Afghanistan so they can kill more of the tribesmen they are fighting. More crucially, we express a clear and consistent opposition to war, based not merely on emotion or morals, but on recognition that no working class interests are ever at stake in the battles of our leaders or our employers.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain and the parties of the World Socialist Movement have never taken sides in capitalism’s wars. Almost 100 years ago, according to the propaganda, the “coalition forces” (allies) went to war (the First World War) in order to “end war”. Nowadays the objective is supposedly much the same: to prosecute a war in order to put an end to “terror”. But this is similarly doomed. Wars are just a normal part of the mechanism of capitalism, as a means of resolving disputed ownership rights. It is the global working class who overwhelmingly find themselves in the front line and in the crosshairs. While a majority of this class continue to choose to retain capitalism, then war – and the terror it brings – will continue around the globe, and the coffins will keep coming home.