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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 16, 2009 @ 10:38 am

    Wars and Rumours of Wars

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Your Humble Scribe was asked to chair a debate on Afghanistan last night at a Dublin hotel. Unfortunately, due to pressure of work (reporting on the Greens’ row with Dermot Ahern), most of the speeches were over by the time he got to the meeting.


     There’s more of this in store if the Taliban win (Photograph by Brenda Fitzsimons) 

    Switching back to the first person, I have no dogmatic views myself on the War in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of 9/11 there was broad public support, as I recall, for the invasion. Even Bruce Springsteen supported it

    The logic was that the ruling Taliban regime was providing training facilities for those who carried out the 9/11 attacks and for others like them. There are suggestions also the Afghanistan was a curtain-raiser for the Iraq War.

    The new order that took over when the Taliban was founded seems to be better when it comes to women’s rights but otherwise flawed and lacking in authority. The drugs trade is said to be flourishing again, with Afghanistan once more a major source of supply. You see stories of corruption and warlords.

     An interesting speaker called Jonathan Neale said the reality was that if the US and its allies pulled out of Afghanistan, then a pretty awful regime would take over, at least in the short term. But he said this was preferable to the current situation.

    Some contributors recalled the anti-Vietnam War agitations of the late Sixties and early Seventies. Looking back on it now, were we as right as we believed ourselves to be at the time?

    True, the US was using the likes of Agent Orange, the defoliant chemical which appears to have been utterly horrific in its effects. Likewise Napalm was a particularly inhuman and dehumanising form of explosive. The other side had no airpower although they had very effective armed forces.

    The thinking at the time was that, if Vietnam fell to the Communists then other countries would fall in their turn – the so-called “Domino Effect”. This was essentially an unfounded fear.

    Ironically the “communist” regime which took over Vietnam eventually adopted ultra-capitalist economic policies, with considerable success. The victory of the Communists probably did serve to prolong the life of the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes but not for very long.

    There was always a suspicion that, if there had been no draft in the US, the anti-war movement would have been much feebler. I don’t think that can be disputed.

    Visting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC is a moving experience. Some 58,000 US military personnel died in the war. It would be nice to see a memorial also to the 1.5 million Vietnamese who died in the conflict, many of them civilians.

    Looking back on it, we were right to oppose the use of inhuman weaponry and other devices. Some protesters were very naive in their assessment of the Viet Cong/NLF. Ho Chi Minh had shown in the past that he had a short way with dissenters on his own side.

    If it were 1969 again and, knowing what I know now, would I go on an anti-Vietnam War march? Probably, but with a more focused approach highlighting such matters as human rights and the Geneva Convention. I would put greater stress on the failings on the other side, e.g., in terms of democratic rights. It was alarming  how quickly some students at the time turned from opponents of right-wing authoritarianism into proponents of the left-wing version, e.g., in Mao’s China. There is something in the human psyche that craves dogma.

    The anti-Vietnam War movement was, of course, part of a wider cultural revolution with the “baby-boomers”, the first generation for a long time that had not known war, rebelling against the stuffiness of their elders. Smoking marijuana, sexual permissiveness, hippy clothing, rock music, were all part of the new order, as everyone knows. Students from the London School of Economics carried a banner, “Revolution is the festival of the oppressed.” But what  was really going on was a festival of the protesters. It was all great fun for the participants of course but were the seeds of our current drug epidemic sown at that time?

    • robespierre says:

      Afghanistan is a region that contains several tribes and ethnicities from the Pashtun West to the Urdu South and East and the Tajik North. Within these hilly regions, tribal politics prevails and warlords rule in much the same way as clans did in Ireland. Irish clans participated in piracy, theft and thuggish brutality including the raiding of peaceful settlements like monasteries which they saw as land-grabbers.

      Afghanistan supplies drugs and is part of the human trafficking chain. Irish clans kept and used prisoners as slaves. It is easy to isolate people in other regions and spot differences in the here and now rather than where we came from.

      Evolution is not linear and never will be. All regions have the right within their own borders to evolve within the bounds of the culture. The real tragedy at the moment is that the great hope for reducing the poppy crop, the pomegranate crop – a super food with benefits for cancer, heart disease and Alzheimers is being affected by air raids. It is expensive and time-consuming to cultivate pomegranate groves. It is cheap and easy to sow poppies if your fields keep getting blasted.

      Afghans will make more money from Pomegranate but it is the farmer that benefits. The status quo (war lords) benefit disproportionately to farmers from the drugs trade. Guess who will win this argument.

      The truth is that there is very little difference between any of the sides politically in Afghanistan and Karzai is an American stooge with no mandate – not even in Kabul.

      Afghanistan will not be fixed by a surge or anything other than sustained, gentle, respectful international support over the decades to come. Pakistan is the country we should all be very nervous about. There is no real difference betwen Baluchistan, Waziristan and North Frontier Provice in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

      Pakistan has got nuclear weapons and that should be enough for everyone to worry.

    • dealga says:

      “the pomegranate crop – a super food with benefits for cancer, heart disease and Alzheimers…”

      I’ve got to stop you right there.

      No genuine, balanced appraisal of the relevant scientific research draws that conclusion about pomegranates or any other so-called ‘super foods’. The nonsense world we live in means that errors (often deliberate) in interpreting scientific data result in various nutritionist fads becoming the BS du jour.

      Now I won’t suggest that pomegranates are less healthy than heroin or anything, and I know that wasn’t the point of your comment, but still…

    • robespierre says:

      I submit I have not personally interrogated the medical benefits of the humble pomegranate but my father suffers from Alzheimers and sage, broccolli, promegranite juice and blueberries along with Omega rich fish are recommended for dementia sufferers by the Alzheimers institute based on work from the (Celera) institute which brought you the genome project.

      Vitamin C is often placed at the centre of certain diets post debilitating treatments like chemotherapy.

      I was basing my assertion on articles I have read in the NY Times, Sunday Times, Jason Bourke’s work in the Guardian/Observer and in the Economist among other places.

      Lazy I know but I have a day job.

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