2010s >> 2011 >> no-1284-august-2011
Voice from the Back
The realities of war
War is often depicted in films, books and TV as a heroic endeavour, that brings out the best in human beings. We are taught to believe that war produces heroic bravery and sacrifice, but the realities of war are far from noble. When President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan the cost of that conflict – $2 billion (£1.2 billion) a week must have figured large in his decision. “Much less discussed are the invisible costs such as the psychological strain on soldiers who have served repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan. One in five returning troops is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Suicides in the US military are at unprecedented level – an average of five troops attempt suicide every day, says the PTSD Foundation of America, based in Houston. Last year a record 301 soldiers committed suicide” (Sunday Times, 3 July). War is not heroic it is just another tragedy of capitalism.
One of the illusions that capitalist governments like to foster is the notion that although war may be awful and inhumane at least their side always behave impeccably. A recently published book Scorched Earth, Black Snow: Britain and Australia in the Korean War, 1950 by Andrew Salmon seems to explode that myth. “British and Commonwealth soldiers fighting in the Korean War looted and burnt villages, shot dead wounded enemy soldiers, and killed Korean civilians and prisoners of war in cold blood according to new accounts by veterans of the conflict” (Times, 17 June). The war which took place from June 1950 until July 1953 was a particularly bloody affair. It is estimated that 1,078 British, 40,000 American, 46,000 South Koreans, 215,000 North Koreans and 400,000 Chinese were killed. The idea that capitalism’s conflicts can be carried out in a humane, decent fashion is of course a fallacy.
The wasteful society
One of the illusions beloved of supporters of capitalism is that while it may have problems it is the most efficient way to run society. So what do those lovers of capitalism make of the following news item? The Indian government fearing a potential shortage of grain banned its export in 2007 and this combined with a bumper crop this year has left them with a bizarre problem. “Millions of tons of grain – enough to feed more than 100 million for a year – are at risk of rotting because India’s stockpile is too big to be held in government warehouses. …Prakash Michael, who works for Spandan, a non-governmental organisation in Madhya Pradesh, said: ‘On the one hand, they have grain rotting in stockpiles and, on the other, people are still dying of starvation in India’” (Times, 30 June). That is capitalism’s efficiency in action for you.
Some chilling facts
Politicians are fond of painting a picture of social improvement. They love to tell us how lucky we are to live in a modern progressive Britain. The latest figures about the plight of the old and poor show what a piece of fiction this will prove to be this winter. “One in five households in fuel poverty as energy prices soar. 5.5m homes spend over 10% of income on fuel, and bills will rise further to fund new power networks. Figures show a huge rise in UK households in fuel poverty, even before expected rises in the price of gas and electricity, and charities predicted that this winter would see millions more people struggling to keep warm at home. The Department of Energy and Climate Change statistics show 700,000 more UK families fell into fuel poverty in 2009, bringing the total to 5.5 million – one in five of all households” (Guardian, 15 July).
Same page, different worlds
That we live in an ugly class-divided society was well summed up on one page of a recent issue of the Times. There on page 41 was an advert for Medicins Sans Frontieres begging for funds to deal with the awful threat of millions dying on the frontiers of Somalia and Kenya of malnutrition and lack of clean water. On the same page we could read of the lavish preparations for the 40th birthday party of Nat Rothschild that is taking place in Porto Negro and is expected to cost £1 million pounds. “Set to inherit £500 million, Mr Rothschild has already notched up a fortune of $1 billion (£620 million) on his own account” (Times, 9 July).