Saturday, July 16, 2005

No morality or equivalence

In March 2003, Australia joined Britain and the United States in a campaign of violence that would result in large scale destruction of civilian infrastructure and untold thousands of casualties. On the first day of “shock and awe”, coalition forces dropped several hundred tons of high explosives on Iraq.

The mainstream media gloated over this display of hi tech savagery as if it were a New Year’s Eve fireworks spectacle. Armchair generals and pro-war commentators waxed lyrical about the sophistication of US military power, seemingly indifferent to the carnage and human misery unfolding before them.

The politicians responsible for inciting this callous act of aggression assured us that civilian casualties would be minimal, thanks to the exquisite precision of satellite guided munitions. The people of Iraq, we were told, would greet us as liberators and shower us with flowers.

Toward the end of May 2003, Alexander Downer stood atop the newly “liberated” roof of Saddam International Airport and marvelled at the smouldering ruins of Baghdad. “It feels good” he told his entourage of reporters, “to look out upon a liberated city”.

That night, millions of Iraqis went to bed fearful, hungry and cold. Their city had been shattered, telephone and power lines were down, water and sewage pipes were broken, medical supplies were scarce and security was nonexistent. Thousands of Iraqis had lost jobs, friends, family, limbs and lives.

Not many politicians spoke out against this illegal, unjustified aggression. Very few journalist dared condemn this atrocity or admonish its architects. Nor did they show much concern for the innocent victims of our violence.

But when a few pounds of high explosives were detonated in the London subway, journalists and politicians recoiled in horror, declaring it an evil and barbaric attack by “sub-human filth who must be captured and eliminated”, as Kim Beazley so eloquently put it.

Predictable outrage and hypocritical rhetoric spread like wildfire, “terrorists hate us because of who we are, not what we do... they hate our values, they hate our freedom.” Any suggestion that “terrorist attacks” are inspired by our own acts of violence is vehemently denounced as “moral equivalence”.

There can be no justification for such terrible violence, our politicians declare with an air of righteous indignation. But justifying violence is what our governments and pro-war pundits do all the time, they seek to justify our violence in terms of “defending our values”, “responding to acts of terrorism”, “liberating oppressed peoples”.

The truth is that our violence is all about imposing the neoliberal ideology of  “free market” capitalism, controlling resources vital to the advanced industrial economies of the world and asserting authority via military force.

Indeed, there is no morality here, nor is there any equivalence. A thousand tons of high explosives used in Iraq, a few kilos in London. Whole cities smashed in Iraq, minor structural damage in London. Ten thousand deaths in Iraq, less than a hundred in London. Simply no comparison.

Our tough talking politicians seem to think the best way to deal with “terrorism” is to up the ante, escalate the violence, bomb more towns, level more homes, kill more individuals. The pro-war moralists want to believe that our violence is noble and legitimate. They talk about spreading freedom and democracy as a justification for mass murder. Collateral damage is unfortunate, they say, but not morally wrong, because our intentions are good.

Of course, such distinctions are academic. It is the type and quantity of explosives that determines a bomb’s lethality, not the intentions of the bomber. Our bombs cause more harm than “terrorist” bombs, because ours are bigger and far more numerous. Our “values” and “intentions” do not in anyway ameliorate the harm done by our bombs.

It is about time our warmongering politicians and their media hacks realized this fact. Their turgid love of military force is reaping conflict and provoking hostility. Their reckless, ill-conceived “War on Terror” is undermining international security and exposing our social and economic systems to the vagaries of fourth generation warfare.

We cannot hope to protect our way of life by escalating violence without regard for the human cost on both sides of the conflict. If we are a civilised democracy, as we claim to be, it really is our collective responsibility to demand an end to our part in this spiral of violence.

And if we fail to challenge our governments and hold them to account, if we continue to ignore the effect of our violent and predatory foreign policy, then we can expect evermore “terrorist” violence.

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