The 1989 US war against Panama set the template for future US invasions

In May this year, former Panamanian military strongman and long-term CIA asset, General Manuel Noriega, passed away after brain surgery. He was 83 years old. The death of General Noriega, the former ruler of Panama unseated by the 1989 US invasion, was announced by current Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela. The latter, referring to Noriega’s passing, made the pointed comment that Noriega’s death closes a particular chapter in Panama’s history.

In a way, President Varela is right – there are events that serve as bookends if you will, closing off a chapter of history. Noriega’s death received minimal attention in the corporate press, and the events leading up to the 1989 US invasion have faded from collective memory. However, this is an unfortunate situation, because the issues of the 1989 attack on Panama have contemporary relevance. The political and economic causes of the US intervention – named “Operation Just Cause” – require careful consideration in order to understand the pattern of US invasions over the last 28 years.

Writing in Jacobin magazine, Jonah Walters states that the 1989 American invasion of Panama set the template for imperialist wars; unilateral military intervention became an accepted measure not only on the conservative side of US politics, but also on the supposedly softer, liberal side. He writes that:

The invasion of Panama inaugurated a new period of American empire-building. The worst of the Cold War tension finally relieved, conservatives and liberals alike accepted unilateral military intervention as a core feature of American foreign policy, deploying specious appeals to humanitarianism to override historical claims to sovereignty.

As Walters elaborates, perhaps the current President of Panama can close the chapter on that particular turbulent episode in Panama’s history. However, the targets of US interventions and victims of the US military-industrial complex, must regard the 1989 invasion as the opening salvo in an ongoing story. It is interesting to note that the US incursion into Panama occurred just as the rival superpower, the Soviet Union, was withdrawing from its traditional ‘buffer zone’ of Eastern Europe. This change in international relations allowed US imperialism to go on an ideological and military offensive.

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Let us be clear – there are no tears for the passing of the former general. Noriega began his career under the tutelage of the United States – or more correctly, the American military-intelligence apparatus. Informing on leftist students in the 1950s, Noriega went on to attend the US Army School of the Americas – the academy that has churned out murderous despots, criminal officers and uniformed thugs throughout Latin America.

Noriega’s rule in Panama was characterised by the repression and torture of dissidents. He closely aligned his administration with the objectives of US foreign policy in the Central American region. When, in 1979, the Nicaraguan Sandinista revolution toppled the hated rule of the pro-American dictator Somoza, Noriega did not hesitate to come to the aid of the Nicaraguan Contras, the collection of former Somoza regime rebels, killers, torturers and drug traffickers.

Noriega was one of many players embedded in the clandestine network that helped to carry out the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra affair – the political scandal that involved the secret funnelling of American arms to Iran, and the use of the proceeds to surreptitiously fund the Contras. General Noriega’s abuses of human rights did not trouble his American patrons. Noriega’s Panama was a necessary and valuable conduit for American money, armaments and military personnel.

Noriega’s value as an unswervingly loyal American asset began to change in the late 1980s – he became the man who knew too much. He asserted that the Panama Canal zone, an important arterial waterway in Central America, should revert to the control of the Panamanian authorities. The dutiful servant began to make demands of his own – and this political disloyalty had to be punished. Increasingly bombastic, Noriega’s paymasters decided to take action against their wayward asset.

The invasion and subsequent war were reasonably short – and the Bush Senior administration had domestic political considerations on their mind when conducting this war. In the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States now had a chance to vanquish the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’– namely, the reluctance of the financial-military oligarchy to launch wars overseas. This military intervention was meant to demonstrate an unmistakable change in America’s view of the world – that it was no longer constrained by anti-war opinion at home.

The 1989 invasion was intended to reverse the series of military defeats and debacles that the US military had suffered in the 1970s and 1980s, namely in Vietnam, but also the defeats of US-backed regimes in Central America, and the withdrawal of US Marines from Lebanon. The assault on Panama set the template for subsequent US invasions around the world. The attack on Panama was promoted by the United States as a reluctantly undertaken but necessary military action to stop a regime engaged in narco-trafficking and criminal activities.

The Panama attack was the earliest contemporary example of a ‘television war’; the main American media outlets basically served as adjuncts of the US military and administration. Churning out images and pretexts uncritical of the invasion, it was an exercise in corporate propaganda – and we will come back to that later in this article. The corporate media invited its audience to marvel at the new range of high-tech weaponry deployed by the US military.

One American general quipped that his soldiers were mesmerised by firepower – all these computer-software guided missiles and stealth fighters were required to minimise the chances of civilian casualties. The 1989 Panama invasion was almost the first real-life computer-game war, with the audience bedazzled with the supposedly sophisticated weaponry mimicking the fictitious counterparts in computer games of the time.

Greg Grandin explained in his article about the Panama invasion that high-tech weapons or not, Panamanian casualties amounted to between 300-500 combatants. For the United States, 20 soldiers died. Until today, the civilian death toll is unconfirmed, because the US military did not bother to count the civilian casualties.

What is known is that the US air force indiscriminately bombed the Panamanian barrio of El Chorrillo, a predominately poor area. The University of Panama, using their seismographic equipment, monitored 442 explosions in the first 12 hours of the invasion. Fires engulfed the barrio, and countless civilians were burned. Bulldozers were deployed after the invasion to bury the corpses in mass graves.

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The defeat of Noriega was a foregone conclusion; with his defeat, a more compliant Panamanian financial kleptocracy has been installed – compliant with the aims of the United States that is. If Operation Just Cause was undertaken to stop a regime from carrying out criminal activities, then that invasion must be judged to be a failure. The recent revelations of the Panama Papers reveal the extensive and clandestine network of financial crimes and corporate conspiracies that have found a safe haven – a tax haven – in Panama after the overthrow of Noriega. Panama was, and is, a suitable location for money laundering – one of the principal practices of capitalist neoliberalism.

Earlier in the article, we used the word propaganda to describe the ideological leadup to the Panama invasion. This word has ugly connotations – something that happens exclusively in Communist countries, or in totalitarian dictatorships where the state controls the media outlets and the flow of information. This definition is too narrow in scope and simplistic.

Propaganda is deployed very effectively in capitalist societies – only it is not called by that name. Public relations, advertising and perception management are the tools of the corporate propagandist, the financial speculator and militarist war-maker. This propaganda is subsidised by the private sector, and engulfs public space with images and messages designed to disguise the financial motives of the sponsor.

John Pilger has written that much of what masquerades as journalism today can be accurately described as propaganda; the so-called ‘information age’ has truly become warfare by media. The US invasion of Panama, cloaked by noble intentions, was an exercise in super-charged militarism. We must dig deep into contemporary history to uncover the deceptions deployed by the US for that war, and subsequent invasions. We require, to use John Pilger’s words, not a journalism that serves as a mouthpiece for the rich and powerful, but an insurrection – an uprising of subjugated knowledge.

 

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My migrant parents taught me the values to live by in Australia

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been discussing an issue that has a vast impact on the lives of ordinary Australians – the topic of Australian values. He has, along with his conservative colleagues, been playing the Trumpian ‘Australia First’ card by promoting a vision of social cohesion – called Australian values. When asked exactly what those values were, Turnbull struggled to compose an agreed list of them.

There are a number of reasons Turnbull has started this discussion – to boost his sagging ratings in the opinion polls; to stop the hemorraghing of votes to the other ultra-right anti-immigrant parties such as One Nation; and to distract attention from the growing income inequality in Australia. Turnbull, no doubt inspired by the electoral success of Trump in the United States (and the anti-immigrant xenophobia that was a crucial part of the Tory Brexit campaign in the UK), has forged the campaign around ‘Australian values’ as a political weapon of exclusion, rather than an instrument for social inclusion and cohesion.

There are many aspects to this issue of Australian values, and reams of articles have been written. Rather than go into all the permutations of this debate, let us focus on one core assumption of the right-wing brigade –  that migrants are unaware of Australian values, or that migrants have values that are completely at odds with living in Australia. In fact, it is the conservative side of politics that more than not, responds with the ugly trademark of Australian racism – ‘go back to where you come from’.

The refrain of the ignorant bigot, and the constant slogan of the Australian conservative, is the phrase above, which I have written about previously. Antoun Issa, senior editor of the Middle East Institute in Washington DC, has written a perceptive article about this obnoxious feature of Australian racism. Emboldened by the rise of ultra-rightist anti-immigrant forces in Europe and America, blasting Australians of non-Anglo-Celtic background has become almost a sporting pastime, and has gained greater legitimacy in the mainstream media. The hounding of Yasmin Abdel-Magied is a case in point. After sustaining a campaign of vitriol and hatred against her, she is relocating to England.

As Antoun Issa explained in his article:

For some, Australia’s democracy and freedoms are reserved for Anglo-Celtics only. The vulgar retort “go back to where you come from” has been an ugly trademark of Australian racism dating back decades, as my Guardian column last year discussed. It is the standard rebuke for racists in this country when non-Anglo Australians dare attempt to participate in democracy on an equal footing, and question core assumptions of our socio-economic and political foundations.

The assertion of ultra-rightist white anti-immigrant xenophobia is nothing exclusive to Australia, or particularly new. What is different this time is the degree of normalisation that such hate speech has achieved, particularly in this age of the internet and social media. The occurrence of patriotic trolling, as Carly Nyst puts it in her article, is currently something quite new, and is sweeping all those countries where critics raise their voices against the rich and powerful. Social media outlets have become a new space for hate mobs to vent their vitriol. In a way, they are the inheritors of the legacy of all the old angry lynch mobs of racist whites that confronted the African American and civil rights protesters of the 1960s.

Unpronounceable names and fitting in

There is no desire on my part to be unreasonable or stubborn. So, look, I understand one basic fact of life in Australia – by Anglo-Celtic standards, I have an unpronounceable name. It is easy for me, and it rolls off my tongue. It is no challenge for other Armenians. But yes, for people from an English-speaking background, coming across what is for them a ‘foreign’ name is a challenge. I have had my name butchered by teachers during roll-call in school, mispronounced by baristas when picking up my order from the coffee shop, and mangled by sales people and postal staff when using their services.

I can relate to the experiences of Mariam Veiszadeh, who wrote an article for the Sydney Morning Herald entitled ‘The beauty of unpronounceable names is that we all eventually learn them’. Look, I understand – the average Anglo-Celtic person in Sydney is confronted by a bewildering array of migrants from all over the world – Armenians, Lebanese, Chinese, Tamils, Indians, Vietnamese, Afghans – each of us jabbering in our own languages, cooking our strange exotic foods, and making our first meagre efforts to understand Australian English – if you can call it English.

Understanding and pronouncing a person’s name is the first step towards accepting a core part of their identity as a person. I can create a video, and upload it to YouTube, in which I pronounce my name, and you can listen to it as often as needs be. When you mispronounce my name time and time again, and still tell me to ‘go back to where I come from’, it is a direct assault on not only my identity, but an exclusionary move to deliberately place me outside the pale of society. Ironically, the same ultra-rightist bigots who demand that migrants should immediately assimilate, are also the loudest voices in promoting moral panic about Australia being ‘swamped’ by hordes of migrants. When examining the data, they tell a different story.

Another person with a similarly unpronounceable name is Tim Soutphommasane, the Race Discrimination Commissioner. He made a reasonable and viable suggestion to improve the quality of life for all Australians – that the media should contain more voices from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Greater multicultural diversity in the media would promote more awareness and acceptance among all sectors of Australian society, according to Soutphommasane. The predictable and obnoxious response from the conservative media to Soutphommasane’s remarks – ‘go back to where you come from’.

Values cannot be reduced to a simple shopping list of commodities that can be ticked once they have been consumed. Yes, we are all aware of some contenders for the category of Australian values – mateship, larrikinism, respect for law, commitment to democracy, etc. These are values that migrants actually understand and bring to Australia. The collection of allegedly Australian values are quite average and understandable to the migrant – there is nothing particularly unique or extraordinary about Australian values.

My migrant parents taught me values to live by and contribute to Australia – compassion, generosity, solidarity, and resilience in the face of obstacles. My late father kept the Shahada in the living room – and he was secular. He displayed the Shahada out of respect to his fellow Egyptians who were of the Islamic faith. He gave of himself to the cause of the Palestinians, as an expression of cross-cultural and anti-imperialist solidarity. No, my late father never advocated beheading people. He never promoted female genital mutilation, suicide bombings, or spousal abuse. If anything, there was domestic violence in the homes of the Anglo-Celtic families in our neighbourhood. I am a red-diaper baby – the child of socialist-minded parents. Standing up for the downtrodden and the oppressed is a crucial value I learned from my migrant parents.

Those values sound perfectly commendable to me.

Iraqi Christians who supported Trump now face prospect of deportation

Throughout June 2017, hundreds of Iraqi Christian nationals, residing mainly in Detroit, Michigan, were rounded up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (ICE) as part of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration from Muslim-majority countries. The Iraqi residents are Chaldeans, ethnic Assyrian Christians who practice the Catholic faith. What is distinctive about this particular deportation order is that Middle Eastern Christians form a generally supportive constituency for the Republican Trump.

The detained Iraqis have been transported to immigration detention centres in Arizona. The stories regarding the arrest and imprisonment of the targeted Iraqi Chaldean nationals makes for heart-rending reading. Families that have lived in the US for decades are now being torn apart. Some of these people arrived in the United States with unclear immigration statuses, or committed minor crimes and served sentences prior to gaining citizenship. Now they are being caught in the Trumpian deportation dragnet.

The Chaldeans have been targeted by Islamic State (IS) for persecution back in Iraq. While Trump, during the 2016 election campaign, was blasting illegal immigration from Mexico and other Latin American countries, pledged to protect Christian minority groups from the Middle East. Trump, and current Vice President Mike Pence, loudly proclaimed that Christians were the most persecuted minority in the Muslim-majority countries. A bold claim – we will examine that later in the article.

Be that as it may, the Iraqi Chaldeans were given seemingly ironclad pledges of protection by the incoming Trump administration. The fact that Middle Eastern Christians vote Republican is nothing new – Syriac Christians have also been generally supportive of the conservative and Christian Republican party. The Iraqi Christian community threw their weight behind the Trump election campaign.

Currently, with the unanimous passage of the revised anti-Islamic travel ban, the Iraqi Chaldeans face an uncertain future. They face persecution should they be returned to Iraq, the latter still being a war zone where American troops (among others) are actively engaged in combat. As the Iraqi Christians were being rounded up, airstrikes and battles were continuing in Mosul, Tal Afar, and other cities.

The deportees do not want to be returned to Iraq, and there have been protests by the Iraqi Christian community against what they perceive as Trump’s betrayal of their cause. It is interesting to note that Mosul, currently under attack by Coalition forces, was one of the main historic centres of Eastern Rite Catholicism and Eastern Christianity. Chaldeans, descendants of the ancient Assyrians, practice their version of Catholicism. Deportation to Iraq in these circumstances is tantamount to a death sentence for the Iraqi Christian nationals.

Let us be clear – there is no joy or solace to be derived from the suffering of others. We must resist the temptation to denounce the Trump-supporting voters from the Iraqi Chaldean-Assyrian community as idiots or deserving of their plight. There are idiots in every ethnic community – my own tribe, the Sydney-based Armenians, are no strangers to chaotic imbecility. Every community has examples of embarrassing idiocy. The Iraqi Chaldeans have the right to apply for asylum, and should remain in the United States. The anti-Muslim travel bans must be repealed, and a person’s application for refuge should be based on their own merits, regardless of ethnic origin, race, creed or gender.

The plight of the Iraqi Christians is nothing to be trifled with, or to be treated in a frivolous way. However, let us also stop using the phrase “Christian genocide” when referring to the killings in Iraq or Syria. That phrase is false and misleading – there is no “Christian genocide” occurring. What is occurring is a systematic campaign of persecution, murder and expulsion of all those who oppose IS-brand of fanaticism. Christians are being murdered in Iraq – that is absolutely true.

Those Sunni Muslims who oppose IS are also being killed in huge numbers. Shia Muslims, Yazidis, Assyrians, Armenians – IS targets any group that does not conform to its particular perverted notion of religious fundamentalism. In early July, IS captured and killed 200 Turkmen civilians attempting to flee the city of Tal Afar. There is no suggestion that one group of victims are more ‘worthy’ of solidarity than others. We must examine the war in Iraq as a humanitarian tragedy that has swept up all its people in this ongoing, sectarian strife.

This leads us to an important set of questions – why do not the Iraqi Chaldeans wish to return to Iraq? Why do they not feel safe there? Why do they are regard life in Iraq as one with no future? This leads us to examine the impact of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States. That invasion, a criminal undertaking pursued by a predatory imperialist power, was motivated by the need for economic and military expansion. The decision to send Iraqi Chaldean refugees back to Iraq demolishes the underlying rationale for that war – the lie of ‘humanitarian intervention’. The claim that Trump, or any US administration for that matter, is motivated by humanitarian concerns is preposterous in the extreme.

Since the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the United States has established a political system that rewards sectarian patronage at the expense of Arab and Iraqi nationalism. Each ethnic group is pitted against the other, and voting patterns are encouraged along narrow sectarian-based lines. This is not to suggest that different ethnic and religious groups are condemned to live in eternal hostility – far from it. In the 1970s and 1980s, under the control of the Ba’ath Party, Iraqis of all ethnic minorities lived and worked side-by-side. The Chaldean Christians were left to worship and practice their religion as they saw fit. Political disloyalty however, was harshly punished, regardless of ethnic background or religious affiliation.

The situation of ethnic minorities since the 2003 invasion has deteriorated significantly. From a high point of 1.5 million, the total population of Iraq’s Christians has falled to 400 000. Churches and Christian places of worship are regularly bombed and attacked in the new post-US invasion Iraq. Christian communities continue to live and worship in Baghdad, but always under conditions of fear, never knowing when the next attack will come.

Actually, Iraq’s plight as a unified nation began, not in 2003, but in 1990-91, with the first American assault on that country. The savage aerial aggression against Iraq, rationalised as it was as a ‘humanitarian gesture’ to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi military occupation, was the beginning of a series of continued assaults intended to break down Iraqi society. The direct military attack of Operation Desert Storm was followed by years of sanctions that crippled the once-functioning and stable Iraqi economy.

Lance Selfa, writing in the International Socialist Review in 1999, stated that:

But the biggest victims of Desert Storm remain the Iraqi people. Desert Storm left behind the greatest human-made catastrophe in modern times. By UN estimates, the war and the continuing economic sanctions have reduced a country which was once on par with the economic development of Greece to the economic level of Mali. The only word which captures the impact of the sanctions is “genocide.” The mind-numbing statistics–7,000 children dying a month, 1.5 million Iraqis killed since 1990, ordinary Iraqis receiving only 34 percent of the daily caloric minimum–don’t adequately convey the destruction of an entire people.

We must take note of the reasoning of Amrou Al-Kadhi, the latter a gay man from Iraq. He wrote in The Independent magazine of the homophobic killings and violence directed at LGBTQI persons in Iraq. What has his situation got to do with the Iraqi Chaldeans? Do not worry – we are coming to the point. Denouncing the assassination of Iraqi actor Karar Nushi, who was rumoured to be homosexual, Al-Kadhi forthrightly attacks the 2003 American invasion for breaking down Iraqi society, making such killings all-the-more frequent.

Al-Kadhi, while blasting the homophobia of IS, makes clear the terrible consequences of the American invasion for LGBTQI persons in Iraq:

Violence against LGBTQI+ people in Iraq has escalated dramatically since the Western invasion in 2003, and it’s not a coincidence. Just as the far right use LGBTQI+ rights as a way to brew racism, Isis exploit LGBTQI+ people as a tool to fuel anti-Western hatred. Disdain for the West is potent on Iraqi soil – what did we expect after destroying a civilisation for no actual reason? And homosexuality has become imaged as a Western export.

Note that Al-Kadhi is not engaging in simplistic and ritual denunciations of Islam and Muslims, or recycling clichés about savagely backward people in the Middle East. He is examining the targeting of LGBTQI persons in the context of the social impact of the imperialist bombardment of his nation.

It is high time for the Iraqi Christians who voted for Trump – and their similarly conservative counterparts in Australia – to re-evaluate the reasons why they voted the way they did. Trump and Pence, after making grandiose claims to be the ‘protector’ of Christians, have now shown their true colours. That the Iraqi Chaldeans wish to practice their religion is not controversial – worship the way you think is appropriate. The Christians of the Trump-Pence variety are agents of corporate pillage and plunder, and they have no allegiance – except of course to the almighty dollar.

There are Christians in the United States who understand and denounce the predatory militarism of their ruling elite, and who fight against it. The Christians that descend from the political lineage of the late great Reverend Dr Martin Luther King are the most reliable allies in any social or political struggle. Dr King was not just an avuncular, nice guy who gave speeches around the country – important though they were. He was also a radical critique of his government and its imperialistic foreign policy. It is the example of D King and his political followers from whom practising Christians can draw inspiration. Dr King, linking the struggle against imperialist war overseas with social justice at home, called the United States the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” He was right back then in 1967 – and he is right until today.

Meet the DUP – the monstrous allies of Theresa May

British Prime Minister Theresa May has finalised a deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her minority Tory government. This arrangement, made in the wake of the surprising and encouraging surge of electoral support for the leftist Labour candidate Jeremy Corbyn, has focused public attention on the nature of the Theresa May’s new friends. Indeed, the link between the English ruling elite and the DUP are extensive and run deep.

Corbyn overcame an inner-Labour party conflict, a hostile media campaign, and initially poor opinion polls predicting a Tory landslide. He won over enough of the electorate on an anti-austerity manifesto, and achieved the largest vote swing to Labour since the 1945 election of Clement Attlee.

However, this result should not blind us to the emergent danger in our midst – the political alliance between the Conservative Party and the DUP. In an article published in Jacobin magazine, authors Kerby Miller and Connor Lewis examine the nature and political platform of the DUP. In their article, entitled ‘May’s Monsters’, they reveal deeply sectarian, ultra-right wing and bigoted politics of the DUP and its base of support. Not only does it advocate an exclusively Protestant state for Protestant people to the exclusion of all others, it has extensive links with Loyalist paramilitary terrorist death squads.

Using the label ‘monsters’ to describe the nature of the DUP is not an exercise in wilfully slanderous intent, nor does it minimise the toxicity of their brand of ultra-right wing Protestant fundamentalism. It is meant as a description of the poisonous effect they will have on British politics. As Miller and Lewis explain in their article:

Founded by conservative zealot Reverend Ian Paisley, the DUP most closely resembles the racist blood-and-soil fascism of the British National Party and the European far right. Paisley first came to prominence by crusading against the faintest whiffs of ecumenism from Canterbury or Rome in the 1950s. Over the next twenty years, he emerged as a hardline opponent of the Northern Irish Civil Rights Association as well as the power-sharing agreements aimed at restoring peace in the North.

The DUP are a party of racist, homophobic and creationist bigots who will turn the clock back in the UK on a range of social and political issues. The DUP oppose reproductive rights for women, are against marriage equality for same-sex couples, and intend to impose a biblically literalist interpretation of education in schools. It is not wrong in and of itself to have a debate about abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage equality or religious education in schools. However, it is toxic for a society when a party turns the clock back on social and political issues based exclusively on a strict, literalist interpretation of a holy scripture.

May’s deal with the DUP is a slap in the face for all those who have worked for decades to promote science education in schools, who have fought and campaigned for LGBTI and reproductive rights in Britain, and who are facing discrimination on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The DUP will return the public to stone age times, so to speak. Campaigners and groups across Britain, from the Royal College of Midwives, the Trade Union Council and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, are calling upon May to stop the reactionary agenda of the DUP.

It is interesting to note that May never actually raised any of the above issues during the election campaign. She had ample opportunity to put these questions to the electorate. However, in the wake of the poor showing of the Tory party in the election, she immediately approached the DUP for an electoral alliance – a desperate move by a beleaguered politician. In order to hang on to power, however tenuous or fragile her hold on power is, May has openly sided with a party that not only vilifies gays, Muslims, Catholics and Irish nationalists, but is in many ways a Vanilla ISIS.

In an article exposing the ultra-sectarian origins of the DUP in Ulster loyalism, Connor Kelly writes that the DUP is the last refuge of desperate Tories. Kelly writes that the DUP’s electoral appeal proceeds across class lines, drawing voters from working class Protestant communities as well as wealthier middle and upper class constituencies. This cross-class voting is solidified by a sectarian hatred of everything Irish Nationalist, republican and Catholic. Founded by the late Reverend Ian Paisley, an Ulster fundamentalist and bigot, the DUP has consistently operated as a prop for the British state in the north of Ireland.

One of the issues that did arise during the election campaign were the talks that Jeremy Corbyn held with representatives of Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party. Corbyn was immediately assailed by the Tory party and associated heavyweight media for being a terrorist sympathiser. That accusation is not only ironic, it is hypocritical in the extreme, given that the DUP, May’s new friends, have longstanding and deep roots in the Ulster loyalist terrorism that has plagued the north of Ireland for decades. Sectarian hatred is not something new or a recent development in the Protestant statelet, sadly. Ulster loyalism was built into the political framework of that statelet since the partition of Ireland in 1922.

Britain has ensured that Unionist control was maintained through the application of gerrymandering electorates, brute force and discrimination. British military intelligence recruited, trained and armed Protestant loyalist groups that went on to become terrorist death squads. The various paramilitary groupings – the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) – were all established to provide a strong underpinning for British imperial rule in the north of Ireland. Ulster unionism, organised into the Orange Order, has always been a barrier to Irish nationalism and has bolstered British rule in that country.

Counterfire magazine published an informative article by Chris Bambery, examining the loyalist paramilitary origins of the DUP. Bambery wrote that in the north of Ireland, the Protestant supremacist order was maintained by violence:

It is commonplace to blame the Northern Ireland Troubles that ran from 1968-1969 until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 on the IRA. Yet Loyalist killings, and those of the security forces, predated the IRA’s military campaign. The 1966 UVF killings were in many ways the start.

While the IRA is usually blamed exclusively for bringing weapons and guns into the Irish-British conflict, political violence is not the single preserve of the Irish nationalists. In fact, politically-motivated violence – sectarian-based, fundamentalist violence – was practiced by the Unionist side since the early days of partition. The DUP, formed in the early 1970s on the basis that traditional Ulster politicians were ‘too soft’ on Irish nationalism, was also following in the footsteps of ultra-violent predecessors. Make no mistake – Loyalist violence was always at least tolerated – and sometimes organised and encouraged – by the British military-state apparatus. Connor Kelly wrote that:

We cannot examine any political support the DUP gave to loyalist death squads without also looking at the direct military and intelligence support that the British State lavished on these groups. Collusion between loyalist groupings and the RUC is, at this point, well known. But British Intelligence (military and otherwise) also aided and abetted – and sometimes organised – atrocities committed by people who have been described by former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan as “serial killers.”

This level of collusion should not be surprising, given that Ulster loyalism has been a significant force in suppressing the civil rights movement of Irish Catholic communities in the 1960s. The DUP is merely the continuation of the ugly, sectarian reaction that has helped maintain British rule in the Protestant supremacist statelet.

We should note in this connection, that the DUP is a strongly pro-Israel, Christian Zionist party. It has been a vociferous supporter of the settler-colonial state in the Middle East, and has maintained links with the Israeli state. The DUP and Zionism have a shared history, being sectarian partitioned states organised against the wishes of the indigenous populations. No less a figure than Sir Ronald Storrs, the first British military governor of Jerusalem, noted the connection between the Zionist project in Palestine and Ulster in Ireland:

Enough [Jews] could return, if not to form a Jewish state … at least to prove that the enterprise was one which blessed him that gave as well as him that took, by forming for England ‘a little loyal Jewish Ulster’ in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.

Ulster loyalism derives its rationale as a Protestant supremacist statelet by couching their project in terms of fulfilling God’s mission in Ireland, in much the same way that Zionism justifies its settlement project in Palestine as a Biblical ‘return’ to the Holy Land.

The Tory party, the primary political instrument of the English ruling class, is in deep crisis. In a move reeking of desperation, the Prime Minister has turned to the DUP to form a toxic and fragile alliance. The crisis of the Tory party will continue, in as much as this arrangement is doomed to failure. However, the crisis is not just about the Tory party, but the project of neoliberal capitalism. Millions of Britons rejected not just the Tory party, but the entire programme of austerity. Bringing the DUP in to shore up a minority government is at best a temporary fix. The DUP will only aggravate the crisis of neoliberalism. It is high time to break not only with the DUP and the Conservatives, but with neoliberal experiment of austerity.

 

Australian free speech defenders silent on the issue of Palestine

A few months ago, we wrote about the issue of free speech, and specifically the Australian politicians who were most zealous in their desire to defend this noble ideal. Several ultra-right wing political figures, Murdoch media commentators and free-market fundamentalist fanatics took up the cause of free speech when demanding the repeal of Section 18C, the provision of the Racial Discrimination Act that outlaws racially-motivated hate speech.

Over the last couple of months, there was a case which afforded the opportunity for the partisans of free speech to demonstrate their commitment to the cause. Sadly, these voices have failed to live up to the lofty goal of free speech. The Australian Federal government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull denied an entry visa to a Palestinian human right activist Bassem Tamimi, only a few hours before he was due to board a plane bound for Australia. He was scheduled to address the annual Marxism Conference in Melbourne, before travelling to other Australian cities to address various Australian audiences.

The decision to revoke Tamimi’s visa was justified by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on the grounds that while Tamimi himself was no threat, Australian audiences may take offence at some of his views. Jeff Sparrow, writer for The Guardian, wrote that the free speech defenders were curiously silent on the denial of the Palestinian activist’s right to free speech.

Turnbull, Immigration Minister Dutton, and others in the federal government had subjected Australian audiences to strident denunciations of those who would restrict our right to free speech for months on end. The centrality of Middle East politics to international affairs is not being denied – but it is strange that we are being prevented from hearing the views of the Palestinians, whose lives and plight are central to the politics of the Middle East.

Bassem Tamimi, who comes from the town of Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank. He and his fellow residents have organised peaceful protests against the ongoing encroachments of Israeli settlements onto Palestinian land. In 2012, the European Union designated Tamimi a human rights defender. Tamimi, a vocal critique of the Israeli occupation, has been subjected to sustained attacks and smears by Australian Zionist groups and their political allies.

During this entire debate, the free-speech warriors were remarkably absent, maintaining a studied silence on the issue. Sparrow, writing in the Guardian, highlighted this hypocrisy in his article. Tim Wilson, Liberal MP and policy director for the Institute for Public Affairs, was quite clear on the issue of free speech. He wrote that:

“We should always be wary when the government uses migration law to indirectly decide the views that can be expressed, and more importantly the views that Australians are allowed to hear.”

That is interesting he should state that – because he wrote that in 2015, defending the visit of Geert Wilders, the ultra-rightist Dutch Islamophobic political bigot. Wilders had ample opportunity to freely defend his views during his Australian tour. Interestingly, racist far-right politicians from Europe are vociferously anti-Islamic, and Wilders denies that Palestine even exists – but the historically anti-Semitic far-right are vigorously pro-Israel. Ultra-rightist parties in Europe, since the end of World War Two, have held a grotesquely cynical view; the optimal way to fulfil the anti-Semitic removal of European Jewry is to advocate for their tribal relocation to the Israeli state.

Wilders, back in 2015, expounded his views without any curtailment on his right to free speech. For the record, I oppose his brand of Islamophobic bigotry and anti-immigrant xenophobia. If anything, his views have incited others to commit acts of violence against ethnic minorities. Wilders and his Australian co-thinkers publicised their views, and achieved media coverage.

As for Tim Wilson – he is still silent on the banning of Bassem Tamimi.

 

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Wilders was not the only ultra-rightist politician from overseas provided a platform to advocate his views. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, back in February 2017, became the first sitting Israeli prime minister to visit Australia in 70 years. His government is a coalition of far-right settler and ultra-Orthodox parties – similar to the attempted Tory-DUP coalition that British PM Theresa May is trying to achieve at the time of writing.

Netanyahu received an effusive welcome in Australia – he was feted by PM Turnbull, and had several rounds of dinners with business leaders and political figures. In the ruling circles of Australian politics, Netanyahu was greeted as a heroic statesman, with billionaires, financial moguls and political heavyweights (past and present) lining up to pay their respects to the Israeli prime minister. Australia’s relationship with Israel has been one of unstinting cooperation in all matters – political, economic and military. Dashiel Lawrence, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne, wrote that:

Relations between the two states have been buoyant for nearly seven decades. Australia has been famously described as a midwife at the birth the State of Israel in 1948. Doc Evatt, the head of the Australian delegation at the San Francisco conference in 1945, played a critical role developing Article 80 of the UN Charter. This paved the way for Jewish settlement in what was then known as Mandatory Palestine.

For his part, Turnbull has consistently identified with and defended the colonial-settler state in the Middle East. At least Turnbull is being ideologically consistent – the white settler-colonial state of Australia is a sister ally of the white settler-colonial state in the Levant. With Canberra’s solid defence of its ally in the Middle East, Australia has become complicit in the ongoing dispossession and displacement of the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s government has escalated the building of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, creating facts on the ground in order to push for greater advantage in any final peace settlement.

 

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We have another important opportunity to revisit the Palestine issue in Australia. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War. That war, during which Israel invaded and annexed East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza strip, the Golan Heights from Syria the Sinai from Egypt – is currently the longest running conventional military occupation in contemporary history. This war is still shrouded in myths and half-truths – the most egregious being that Israel faced the prospect of annihilation at the hands of the numerically superior Arab armies.

The Jewish David inflicted a stinging defeat on the Arab Goliath – at least that is what we have been told over the last fifty years. Israeli political and military leaders have exposed this myth with their own words; the Six Day war was a war of conquest and subjugation. One of the Israeli generals involved in the June 1967 admitted that the thesis that Israel was facing extermination was a complete fiction.

Surely it is time, fifty years after the event, to listen to the voices of those whose lives have been directly impacted by this occupation – the Palestinians? A re-examination of the lies and myths of the June 1967 is long overdue. Mehdi Hasan, writer for The Intercept, published an article entitled “A 50 Year Occupation: Israel’s Six-Day War started with a Lie.”  Hasan explains that the conflict and subsequent occupation has had reverberations that have persisted until today:

Fifty long years of occupation; of dispossession and ethnic cleansing; of house demolitions and night curfews; of checkpointswalls, and permits.

Fifty years of bombings and blockades; of air raids and night raids; of “targeted killings” and “human shields”; of tortured Palestinian kids.

Fifty years of racial discrimination and ethnic prejudice; of a “separate but unequal” two-tier justice system for Palestinians and Israelis; of military courts and “administrative detention.”

Fifty years of humiliation and subjugation; of pregnant Palestinian women giving birth at checkpoints; of Palestinian cancer patients denied access to radiation therapy; of Palestinian footballers prevented from reaching their matches.

Hasan also makes the obvious point – fifty years of ongoing settlement activity has been punctuated by successive and failed peace negotiations – Madrid, Oslo, Wye River – the list of treaties goes on. While peace talks continue, one side continues to construct settlements, thus capturing more ground and rendering any subsequent peace treaty futile. Building settlements sounds like an innocuous activity, until you realise that the purpose of these mini-garrisons is to expand the religiously-motivated tribalist project of extending exclusive Israeli control over greater portions of occupied Palestinian territory. Indeed, constructing settlements is a way of establishing a form of apartheid – and the United Nations has described in great detail how this resurrected apartheid is being built in the occupied Palestinian territories.

It is high time to listen to the voices of those who are subjugated to this apartheid regime, the Palestinians. We would do well to support the right of free speech for those whose lives are blighted by occupation. We must speak out against those who impose an apartheid-style regime.

Recruiting youth and child soldiers – from Africa to Manchester

In the previous article, we looked at the use, and simplistic portrayal of, child soldiers in conflicts around the world. In this article, we examine the historical issues, and look at the contemporary problems of child soldiering.

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In an incisive essay for Aeon magazine, Malcolm Harris wrote precisely on this issue of child soldiers. Entitled ‘Is the Child Soldier anything more than a tragic victim?’, Harris explores the shifting and simplistic definitions of child soldiers. Indeed, he points out that throughout the history of the West (at least, those societies that we historically link with the West), militarised youth were considered to be an acceptable part of any conflict. Harris cites examples of child soldiers that we hold up as virtuous heroes until today – Alexander the Great began his career of conquest as a 16-year old leader of Macedon; Clausewitz, the Prussian military author and general, joined the army at 12.

Joan of Arc was a fighting adolescent, and is today revered in France for her courageous military role in the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years War. Joan of Arc was canonised as a Roman Catholic saint; Lord Nelson, the British general and hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, began his career as a child soldier in the Navy.

If we are to adapt a literal interpretation of the Old Testament, then we would have to conclude that King David, revered as an ancestor of the future messiah, was himself a boy of fifteen when he fought Goliath – today, he would be classified as a child soldier. You would be hard put to find one conflict throughout history where the use of militarised youth – at least adolescents -was not a normal and acceptable feature. Harris summarises the findings of Professor Mark Drumbl, who wrote a book in 2012 called Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy. Drumbl examines the historical role of child soldiering, and looks at the fact that the presence of children fighting in a military capacity was regarded as a sign that their cause was just, positive and blessed by God.

Drumbl explains the findings of his research in this video presentation. He makes observations that Western audiences would find surprising – most the world’s child soldiers are adolescents, usually between the ages of 15 and 17. The majority of the world’s child soldiers are not forcibly conscripted or abducted – about two-thirds of militarised youths volunteer to fight for one side or another. Volunteering can come about in various ways – familial ties to a group, social pressures to defend your community against hostile forces, signing up to join political movements to achieve specific political goals such as in conflicts in Latin America and today among the Syrian Kurds of Rojava.

Indeed, during the 2011 uprising in Libya, when anti-Gaddafi militias rose up in rebellion, the youth in that country – and Libyan exiles outside – joined in military activities to oust the Gaddafi regime. Salman Abedi, the Manchester suicide bomber, began his military activities as one of many British Libyans sent with the approval of the British authorities to join that conflict in 2011. Abedi would have been only 15 or 16 at the time – an officially sanctioned child soldier.

He fought, along with thousands of other youths, in a campaign officially supported by the imperialist states, such as Britain and France. The NATO bombing of Libya did materially assist, among others, the youthful anti-Gaddafi child soldiers fighting as part of a wider campaign against the regime. No qualms about child soldiering here.

The use of child soldiers was not always regarded as an act of criminality, immediately condemning the practitioners with international disgrace. It is interesting to note that during the Cold War, Hollywood made a film called Red Dawn (1984), an account of a fictional Soviet invasion of the United States. In that film, the heroic protagonists are a group of courageous American adolescents, who take up an underground guerrilla war against the foreign invaders – in other words, child soldiers.

The Wolverines, named after their school mascot, had no moral dilemmas or anxieties about taking up arms against a foreign occupying force. The writers and producers of that movie may not have realised it, but they did predict the future – but not in the way they intended.

In 2003, in the immediate aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq, the occupying US forces did face stubborn resistance by, among other groups, the Fedayeen Saddam, the paramilitary and youth wing of the former Ba’athist Iraqi regime. These child soldiers – formerly known as Saddam’s Lion Cubs – were the Iraqi equivalent of the Wolverines in the fictional story. These child soldiers, all grown-up today and facing the marginalisation of Sunni Iraqis from the current post-2003 sectarian political setup, are ironically lending their skills and expertise to the ISIS militia.

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If boy soldiering is portrayed as the province of the drug-induced demon-bandit, girl child soldiers are represented as vulnerable to the threats of sexual violence. There is great truth in this depiction – young girls are exploited for sexual purposes around the globe, and it is a serious problem. There are guerrilla groups and state-military forces who recruit on the basis of threatening sexual harm to young girls. For instance, the former guerrilla outfit and current political party in Mozambique, Renamo, did forcibly abduct and recruit child soldiers. An anti-communist movement, it was started and financed by the former white Rhodesian intelligence service, and became a proxy army for Rhodesia, and later apartheid South Africa.

We will also find that girls join guerrilla groups and become child soldiers precisely to escape sexual violence – usually the sexual assaults committed by state-militaries. Yvonne Keairns, a researcher at the Quaker UN office, found that girls from different conflicts – the Philippines, Colombia, Sri Lanka – volunteered to become soldiers for a variety of reasons – to find protection from an abusive military; to escape the socially conservative mores of the traditional family; to find a sense of purpose and belonging.

In 2003, she wrote a book on The Voices of Girl Child Soldiers. Keairns encourages the readers to listen to the girls, and understand their reasons for becoming soldiers. There are strict procedures and protocols to be followed for any interaction between boys and girls among the guerrilla groups – Keairns research is summarised by Harris in his article for Aeon magazine:

One Sri Lankan militant describes escaping her home on the eve of an unwanted marriage. The statements of the Filipina militants are especially striking: the girls report taking part in a culture of mutual criticism, where they had plenty of time to study, and the group listened to their voices. Training included a lecture on strict sexual harassment policies. ‘In the seminar, it was made clear that it was absolutely prohibited to take advantage of women,’ one interviewee said. ‘I felt very safe; I had no fear.’

And, contrary to Western ideas about the agency of female child soldiers, a majority of those interviewed had made a calculated choice to become militants.

In Harper’s magazine in 2005, Keairns relates the experience of a Colombian girl, once a child soldier and now participating in a reintegration programme. The young woman states that she was the victim of violent abuse by members of her family; she joined the a leftwing Colombian guerrilla group. She explained that:

Among the guerrillas, no man has the right to be disrespectful toward a woman, nor do you have the right to insult someone there. If you insult someone you get punished. Nobody hit me, nobody insulted me. I mean, after that the guerrillas were like my family. I settled in. I never got bored or fed up with the guerrillas, but I had a good time, because the commanders helped you a lot, and it’s very different when nobody is telling you off or hitting you all the time, and I really changed a lot. But then later, I don’t know, that changed, and I ran away from there.

She explained that among the guerrillas she received an education, learned new skills, was taught how to fight, found a sense of belonging and safety, and overcame her fears. As a guerrilla, she helped poor people, there was a culture of mutual criticism, and were advised to resolve their internal problems through dialogue and conciliation. She did have fears though:

I wasn’t afraid of dying but of being taken alive by the army. One of the girls was taken alive; she was about sixteen years old. They captured her and they all raped her, all the soldiers, more than a hundred, and then at the end when they were tired of that, they stuck their rifle barrels into her vagina and fired and then they poured sulfuric acid on her. They buried her, and then afterward we went there and dug her up, and we gave her military honors, and we bathed her, and then we looked at her, and then we dressed her, and then we took her to be buried in another cemetery. We were very angry, and so we went and fought the army for two days running.

The Marxist-feminist guerrillas of the Syrian Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPG) are the latest example of young girls and women taking up arms against a misogynist opponent – in their case, to fight the ISIS militants. They became a kind of cause celebre in the Western media; taking the battle to ISIS and fighting the good fight. Among their ranks there are under-18s, inducing the editors of one major magazine to announce that they do not condone the use of child soldiers.

Ironically, while ISIS is routinely (and rightly) denounced for their recruitment and use of child soldiers, the US-organised and led coalition of Iraqi militias fighting to retake Mosul has been recruiting, among others, under-18s to join their Popular Mobilisation Units, thus creating a new generation of child soldiers.

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In order to understand child soldiering, let us move beyond the sound-bite messages and simplistic stereotypes that abound in the major media. Understanding something is not an exercise in justification. This is not an endorsement of child-soldiering – all recruitment for under-18s should be banned in all countries and situations. However, let us abandon our hypocrisies surrounding the use of child soldiers; and let us fully understand why it is that adolescents volunteer to become child soldiers. Militarised youth are not always a criminalised entity – retributive sanctions against the practitioners, while warranted, must also be combined with restorative justice.

The use of child soldiers is nothing new in Western societies

While we condemn militias in non-Western societies for recruiting child soldiers, the deployment of child soldiers is nothing new in the West.

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The Manchester terrorist bombing has, quite rightly, attracted condemnation from all quarters of the political and ethnic spectrum. It is with a heavy heart that one reads about the details of this cowardly, terrorist attack. Sadness at the loss of life is tempered by the heartening displays of solidarity and compassion demonstrated by thousands in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity. The Morning Star newspaper carried an article on May 25 stating that solidarity and courage are required to defeat terrorism, and that the psychopathic murderer (or murderers) responsible for this latest outrage will not triumph over our common humanity.

There will be more commentary about the Manchester bombing in the coming weeks and months. Without going into a detailed analysis of this atrocity here, it is worth noting that one of the most distressing aspects of this cowardly attack are the child victims. The latter arouse in us a particular empathy for the families of the deceased, and a stronger revulsion for those responsible for their deaths. Children’s lives cut down by a horrible attack evoke in us an understandable and necessary response – the ‘something must be done’ rejoinder. This aspect led me to consider the general subject of children caught up in war, and specifically about the subject of child soldiers.

A typical example of how we view child soldiers – particularly from African, Asian and other non-white nationalities – is provided by the Sudanese Australian and 2016 Australian of the Year Deng Adut. Adut, a refugee from the South Sudanese conflict and currently a lawyer, described his journey from forcible child soldiering in his home country to refugee advocate in Australia.

Abducted and forcibly recruited by a militia group, he gave details about the harrowing experiences of a child soldier. A witness to, and sometimes participant in, horrifying violence, he has demonstrated tremendous personal courage in not only escaping the terrible circumstances of his youth, but also in turning his life around and becoming a successful person. Adut still has nightmares about his time as a youthful recruit, forced to perform and view terrifying and disturbing acts of violence. His resilience in the face of such tremendous difficulties and personal trauma is commendable. His story is inspirational, to be sure. His journey, like that of many former child soldiers, is full of pathos – the tragic victims of violent circumstances that were beyond their control.

Please do not misconstrue my motivations – I am happy that he is alive and well, successful in his chosen profession. I am glad that he is able to live a peaceful life, and give of himself to others. His story, and the stories of other celebrity-child soldiers – such as Ishmael Beah – have come to represent indomitable human courage in the face of terrible adversity.

This stereotype of the child soldier – a passive victim, forced into combat by cult-like brainwashing, or loyalty to a maniacal, power-hungry dictator – is only one part of a multi-faceted story. Western audiences understand child soldiers to be African, Asian or non-white in origin – popularised by blockbuster movies such as Blood Diamond. That stereotype lends itself quite easily to the next logical step in the drama – Western intervention ‘to do something’. The non-white child soldier is seen an irrational, drug-induced budding psychopath, very impressionable and ready to kill. This leaves us with several unanswered and serious questions.

The British Army – one of the main pillars of the British nation-state – is still recruiting child soldiers. Back in December 2015, Mark Bostridge writing in the Guardian newspaper pointed out that Britain is the only country in Europe, and only one of a handful worldwide, that still recruits 16-year olds into its ranks as soldiers. Minors are targeted by recruitment campaigns approved and promoted by the Ministry of Defence. Army recruiters disproportionately target schools in economically disadvantaged areas, and readily recruits youths from low-income backgrounds.

These child soldiers – integrated into the army – are at higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. Chris Atkins, writing in The Guardian back in 2013, highlighted the stories of those British child soldiers who serve in the infantry, the latter is the branch of the army where under-18s are over-represented. Atkins explains that:

David Buck joined the army at 17, saw active duty in Kosovo when he was just 19, and witnessed mass graves and burning bodies. On returning to civilian life at 26 he was diagnosed with PTSD, which he attributes to seeing such horrific images at such a young age. He also experienced bouts of severe alcoholism when he returned from fighting in Iraq. “I was trying to get away from the mental torture of PTSD,” he told the Guardian.

Buck says he was swayed by the brochures he read at the recruitment office. “It’s just deception. It doesn’t show someone with their head blown off.” He recalls images that glamorised army life, with recruits abseiling and skiing. “Being so young I was easily manipulated with the stuff they shovel down your neck in the careers office,” he said.

The army presents itself as a way out of deprived circumstances, an avenue of upward social mobility out of a deindustrialised and marginalised community. In a way, the military cashes in on the lack of educational and social opportunities. Communities devastated by neoliberal austerity, job and service cutbacks and unemployment, provide a fertile ground (no pun intended) for the production of children that are vulnerable – and impressionable; ready for recruitment into the ranks of the military.

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The recruitment of child soldiers is not a recent development – armies and popular insurgencies have been deploying child soldiers for years. This point is worth remembering, because the use of child soldiers is portrayed to Western audiences as evidence of the ethical depravity and moral bankruptcy of the groups and militias that use such tactics. There is truth in this – the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone, the mercenary outfit of the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda are abhorrent institutions, known to forcibly recruit children, and compel them to perform terrifying acts of drug-induced brutality. These groups, and anything that they have bequeathed, must be strongly condemned and have lost all legitimacy. These groups are guilty of heinous crimes against young people, and deserve our revulsion.

Bear that in mind when considering the following – during the American war of independence (1775-1783) the Continental Army used, among other recruits – child soldiers. Boys as young as 15 or 16 were to be found in the ranks of the patriotic army fighting a revolutionary insurrection against British rule in the former colonies. That continental army was the military wing of the American political campaign for independence.

The insurrectionary and American patriot-force, which later evolved to become the American military, had no legal minimum age of service. That army, which needed new recruits, viewed children as evidence that their cause was just, and even blessed by God. As long as a draftee could carry a musket, supply the army with its needs, and fulfil the duties of a revolutionary soldier, then that draftee was inducted into the Continental Army.

Examples of the enthusiasm with which thousands of minors took up the Continental cause abound in the relevant literature. Are we to conclude that the political institutions buttressed by the emergent American army are now illegitimate because of the use of child soldiers?

The current article is getting long enough, but the subject has by no means been exhausted. So let us conclude this contribution – part one – on the following note. Child soldiers have played a crucial role on the battlefield for centuries. To be clear, this is not an endorsement of child-soldiering – for the record, I think all recruitment for under-18s should be banned in all countries and situations. However, let us abandon our hypocrisies surrounding the use of child soldiers – we in the West, the proverbial good guys – find it easy to condemn guerrilla groups and non-state actors for the deployment of child soldiers as a unique moral outrage – but we have engaged in that practice since time immemorial.

In the next part, we will examine the historical issues of child soldiers, and the issue of recruitment today.