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WHAT WE TRULY LEARNED FROM THE GREAT WAR AND THE ABSURDITY OF REMEMBRANCE DAY

By John Chuckman | Aletho News | November 13, 2014

No matter what high-blown claims the politicians make each year on Remembrance Day, The Great War was essentially a fight between two branches of a single royal family over the balance of power on the continent of Europe, British foreign policy holding to a longstanding principle that no one nation should ever be permitted to dominate the continent.

It was also a war between the world’s greatest existing imperial power, Britain, and another state, Germany, which aspired to become a greater imperial power than it was.

To a considerable extent, it was a war resulting from large standing armies and great arms races, a telling indictment of those who preach the false gospel of ever-greater military strength to defend freedom. As with any huge, shiny new investment, great armies will always be used, and the results are almost invariably great misery.

The First World War was not a war to end all wars, as a slogan of the time claimed. If anything, it was a precursor for a great many wars to follow, and, most importantly, it was a powerful and important cause of World War II.

It also was not a war about democracy since none of the participants, including Britain, would qualify as democracies by any reasonable reckoning with their heavily limited voting franchise and government structures stacked in the interests of old and privileged orders, quite apart from their holding empires whose populations enjoyed no franchise at all.

The war was also one of history’s great instances of mass hysteria, particularly among the young men of several countries. In Britain, there have been many laments over the loss of some fine and promising young men who rushed to join up. In Germany, it was no different, and we note one young man, then of no importance, by the name of Adolph Hitler rushing to join up, much as his British contemporaries, to share in the “glory.”

Today, we pretend shock that young men sometimes go abroad to fight for a cause, religious or otherwise, but compared to the mass insanity of World War I, what we see today is truly petty. The authorities everywhere then made great efforts to push young men, using songs, marching bands, slogans, shame and social pressure in many forms, and countless lies. The nonsense about the Kaiser’s troops bayonetting babies was one example, a lie served up again decades later with a slight twist by George Bush the Elder’s government as it desperately wanted support to invade Iraq, the babies the second time around supposedly being ripped from respirators.

World War I made absolutely no sense. It achieved nothing worth achieving, and it did so at immense cost. Apart from killing about 20,000,000 people, the war left countless crippled and disabled and created a great swathe of destruction across Europe.

If Germany had been allowed to dominate Europe for a time, it would have made comparatively little difference to the lives of most people. Indeed, today, that is the situation we find in the European Union.

It is important to realize that large wars are always revolutionary in nature, and no one at the outset can possibly predict the outcomes of such chaotic storms in terms of social, economic, and political change. World War I very much set the stage, with huge losses of men and the incompetence demonstrated by Imperial commanders, for the Communists to take power in Russia, a development which led ultimately to the Cold War.

The War’s immense costs and the realization by millions of soldiers from abroad that they fought for a nation which gave them no rights provided the great first blow towards ending the British Empire. The approaching World War II would finish the work of imperial rot and collapse.

The First World War set the stage for the rise of Hitler less than two decades later and made inevitable the catastrophe of World War II, which would inflict at least two and a half times as many deaths again and would see such horrors as the Holocaust and the use of atomic bombs.

So why, about a century later, do we still treat The Great War with reverence and sentimental remembrance?

The act of remembrance actually contradicts the sound human tendency to forget terrible experiences. Of course, we hear repeated countless times the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” one of those glib and catchy sayings which seem at first hearing to carry some deep truth. Just the consideration that in real life no two events ever can be identical makes the saying a pleasantly-phrased nonsense, resembling the aphorisms on far lighter subjects from Oscar Wilde.

Those repeating the glib phrase as received wisdom from an unimpeachable prophet always neglect to remind us of the importance of scrupulously defining what it is that you are remembering. If we remember World War One for exactly what it was, and not for what we wish it had been, we see a vast, pointless slaughter that succeeded in setting conditions for still more slaughter. Never repeating it would be a blessing indeed.

But if we see it as moving and inspirational, if we associate its name with thoughts of ending war or protecting democracy or of great camaraderie and shared hardship, if we are emotionally moved by troops in uniforms and flags flying and bugles and drumbeats, then we most assuredly will repeat it, as we have already done more than once, and I’m pretty sure that’s what the arrogant politicians and jingoes want us ready to do.

Remembrance Day surely is not about the loss of life, as we pretend it is, because the only way to hold those or any lives sacred is not to send them off to war in the first place. The ugly truth is that governments, run by men with great egos – likely more often than not, actual narcissists – who are supported by privileged wealth wanting to keep or expand its privilege, make the decision for wars largely on the basis of fairly primitive instincts, instincts about being first or not letting a competitor gain an advantage, or just vague and meaningless stuff about being manly or resolute – standing your ground, keeping a stiff upper lip, putting up with no nonsense, showing your manhood, and so on and so forth.

One American politician, in a play on an infamous quote by George Wallace, said no one would ever “out-commie” him again in an election. Such was the thinking of Lyndon Johnson in making the fatal decision to start a major war in Southeast Asia. On just such hormone-laden considerations hung a decade’s brutal fighting and the deaths of 3 million Vietnamese.

The real reason for the ceremonies and parades and speeches is to keep young men keen to go and kill and die, there being no group of humans more subject to cheap emotional appeals about glory and heroism than young men, as we see, ad nauseam, generation after generation.

As I’ve written before, humans are little more than chimpanzees with larger brains, those larger brains enabling us to magnify immensely the power of our murderous instincts, a fact we seem determined proudly to display every Remembrance Day.

November 13, 2014 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Their history and ours: the first world war that won’t be commemorated in 2014

By Neil Faulkner | No Glory in War | January 5, 2014

Military historian Max Hastings and education minister Michael Gove say we should should blame the Germans for World War I and celebrate the victory for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. Archaeologist Neil Faulkner disagrees.

Max Hastings has his new book on 1914 out already (Catastrophe: Europe goes to war, 1914). In it he pulls no punches. Even the dustcover proclaims the forthright revisionist message.

‘He [the author] finds the evidence overwhelming that Austria and Germany must accept the principal blame for the outbreak. While what followed was a vast tragedy, he argues passionately against the ‘poets ‘view’ that the war was not worth winning. It was vital to the freedom of Europe, he says, that the Kaiser’s Germany should be defeated.’

UK secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, writing in the Daily Mail, takes the same view:

The First World War may have been a uniquely horrific war, but it was also plainly a just war… The ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order all made resistance more than justified.

So there you have it. Just as the rulers of Britain and France argued at the time, it was all Germany’s fault. Never mind that Britain had the largest empire in the world, ruling over one-fifth of the world’s land mass and one-quarter of its people. Never mind that Britain’s navy was almost the twice the size of Germany’s. Never mind that Britain had formed a military alliance with Russia and France, leaving Germany’s rulers feeling corralled and threatened in an arms race they were losing.

This is not to exonerate the Kaiser. It is simply to say that he was no worse than the rulers of Britain and France. All were imperialists and warmongers. All were prepared to plunge the world into an industrialised war for the power and profit of a few. The vast majority of humanity – the vast majority of the people these rulers were supposed to represent – had no interest in the war. The conscripted workers and peasants of Europe were the victims of a millionaires’ war.

‘No poet,’ says Hastings, ‘ever identified a route by which the British, French, and Belgian people could have escaped the conflict, save by accepting the Kaiser’s domination of Europe.’ This claim appears in a Daily Mail article in June this year headlined Sucking up to the Germans is no way to remember our Great War heroes, Mr Cameron‘.

But this is nonsense. There was a Europe-wide movement against war. Just days before Germany’s declaration of war there were 100,000 anti-war demonstrators on the streets of Berlin. Across Germany, during four days of mass protest in the final days of peace, there had been no fewer than 288 anti-war demonstrations involving up to three-quarters of a million people.

Across Europe that last summer of peace, as millions of people took action against their own rulers, there was a widespread mood of internationalism and solidarity. But when the leaders of all the mainstream parties lined up in support of the war effort, they reinforced a tide of jingoism that the killed the anti-war movement and swept the people of Europe into internecine carnage.

But that mood would resurface, and when it did, beginning in 1917, it would be charged with bitterness at the slaughter and impoverishment, becoming a giant wave of revolution crashing across the continent, ending the war, toppling tyrants, and shaking the foundations of the entire social order.

‘Far from dying in vain,’ continues Hastings, ‘those who perished … between 1914 and 1918 made as important a contribution to our privileged, peaceful lives today as did their sons in World War II.’

And Michael Gove agrees:

‘For all our mistakes as a nation, Britain’s role in the world has also been marked by nobility and courage. Indeed, the more we reflect on every aspect of the war, the more cause there is for us to appreciate what we owe to our forebears and their traditions.’

These are extraordinary claims. The British and the French used their victory in 1918 to re-divide the world, helping themselves to German colonies, hacking off chunks of German territory in Europe, and imposing crippling reparations payments on the German people.

Meantime, to control their enlarged empires in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, they gunned down protestors demanding democracy and independence. This imperialist carve-up – ‘a peace to end all peace’ – created the preconditions for the Second World War two decades later.

The cost of the First World War was 15 million dead. The cost of the sequel was 60 million dead. More human beings have been killed by war in the last century than in the whole of the rest of human history put together.

The immense potential of industrial society to provide the goods and service we all need has, again and again, been turned into its opposite: means of destruction and waste on an unprecedented scale.

This is not something to be rationalised into a choice between ‘good’ empires and ‘bad’ empires; a choice between ‘democratic’ Britain and France as against ‘autocratic’ and ‘expansionist’ Germany. This is to trivialise historical events, reducing them to little more than a banal discussion about who sent the final ultimatum, who mobilised first, who fired the first shot.

Max Hastings and Michael Gove want us to side with one empire against another. He wants us to wave a Union Jack, celebrate a British victory, and promote the lie that the 15 million dead of the First World War were ‘a necessary sacrifice’.

What is required is an analysis that roots tragedies like the First World War, and all the other imperialist conflicts of the last century, in the madness of a world divided into competing corporations and warring nation-states.


No Glory – the real History of the First World War
Neil Faulkner’s new pamphlet published by No Glory in War
More details and how to buy…


Neil Faulkner is a First World War archaeologist and editor of Military History Monthly. He is one of the founders of the No Glory in War campaign.

March 4, 2014 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | 2 Comments

How to stop the commemoration of WWI becoming a justification for future wars

By John Rees | No Glory | January 30, 2014

The effect of the Parliament’s decision  not to attack Syria last year is still reverberating through the Western military establishment.

Let’s not forget that the decision was forced on the political elite. In the days before the vote the BBC was openly speculating that any such decision would re-ignite Iraq war levels of protest. They cited opinion polling going back a decade to show that anti-war opinion had become entrenched in the UK.

Many MPs in the lobbies did not hide the fact that they were embarrassed at the Iraq vote in 2003 and were unwilling to follow the government into another deeply unpopular conflict.

More recently the Guardian has reported that the Ministry of Defence is worried that multi-culturalism in Britain has made the country systematically averse to war: ‘The MoD is still taking stock of the surprise decision of the House of Commons last summer to reject military intervention to punish President Assad of Syria for the use of chemical weapons against rebel forces’.

In fact the situation is so serious that it is impacting on the defence review, ‘A growing reluctance in an increasingly multicultural Britain to see UK troops deployed on the ground in future operations abroad is influencing the next two strategic defence reviews, according to senior figures at the Ministry of Defence’.

In the wake of the Syria vote, Robert Gates, US imperial Grandee and former Defense Secretary and director of the CIA who served under both Bush and Obama, has said the defence spending cuts in the UK mean that the ‘special relationship’ is over and that Britain ‘won’t have full spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past’.

This combination of a crisis in public support for military adventures and the usual push-back from the military over defence cuts is casting a new light over the debate about the 100 year commemoration of the First World War.

David Cameron has long made it clear that huge set-piece public spectaculars are part of the government’s way of getting through the recession. The Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics were part of this ‘no bread and circuses’ strategy.

The First World War commemoration was initially thought of mainly in this register, although it was always also going to be about refurbishing the standing of the military as well.

But now, as neo-con Michael Gove’s recent intervention into the debate has made clear, it’s become an ideological offensive bound up with the post-Syria vote crisis of interventionism. Remember Gove was incandescent at the loss of the Syria vote, publically and abusively bawling out Labour MPs in the House of Commons corridors because the vote, he said, had ‘got to him’.

So make no mistake, this will be a full scale British establishment operation.

The Queen will be at a special event at Glasgow Cathedral on 4th August because the city is hosting the Commonwealth Games which end the day before. The plan is that across the country, flags on public buildings will fly at half mast on the anniversary of the outbreak of war.  The day will end with a vigil at Westminster Abbey to be ‘attended by scouts, cubs and brownies’ as well as members of the Armed Forces. This will be replicated around Britain in churches, town halls, and other venues.

Ministers hope this will allow people to mark the conflict which ravaged the continent ‘with sorrow and with pride’ and have set aside £10 million just for funding art, drama and music projects linked to the war, from a total government funding for the commemoration of £50 million. According to the Daily Telegraph, a government source said ‘We are keen to ensure that this [will be] a centenary programme that the country can come together on’.

The BBC are planning major, all year coverage. There will be 1,000 books published this year alone on the First World War.

The anti-war movement must meet this ideological operation by the government just as it has met its previous pro-war propaganda efforts. The No Glory campaign, initiated by the Stop the War Coalition, has made a great start. Its initial letter is approaching 15,000 signatures, its website is drawing thousands of visitors every week, the No Glory pamphlet, The Real History of World War One, is a best seller and thousands of pounds were donated in the first few hours of its financial appeal to help fund its events and activities.

But we need to do more. No pro-war article, speech or event should go unchallenged. We need to get into the colleges and schools where these commemorations are being planned. We need to sustain the cultural events that are critical of the war.

The image of the First World War has been established in the popular mind as the most disastrous war ever. The Tories and the establishment hate that fact. And they are out to reverse it.

We cannot let that happen. The more the dead and injured of the First World War are forgotten in a rush of chauvinistic nostalgia, the more likely it is that dead will pile up in future conflicts. This is not just a battle to remember the past correctly. It’s about political priorities in the present. It’s about keeping the peace in the future.

March 3, 2014 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iran as a Twentieth Century Victim: 1900 Through the Aftermath of World War II

By Stephen J. Sniegoski | Opinion-Maker | November 10, 2013

Iran was once a great power, and though invaded by Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and Mongols and exploited by imperialist powers in the modern era, it has continued to assert its national identity and its people have developed a special sensitivity to interference with its sovereign rights. This concern on the part of Iran does not represent some overwrought sensitivity but is actually a realistic assessment of its history over the past century, as this article will delineate. While professing idealistic principles in international relations, European powers ignored these principles in their violations of Iran’s sovereign rights, which in at least one case led to human suffering on par with the most tragic events of the twentieth century.

(In the outside world Iran was known as “Persia” until 1935, although people within the country used the term “Iran.” This article will use the term “Iran” except when using actual names or quoting from other sources.)

During the nineteenth century, Russia and Britain competed for power and influence in Central Asia, in what was known as the Great Game. Needless to say, it was neither great nor a game for those countries, such as Iran, which were treated like pawns on a chessboard by the two great powers. By the turn of the twentieth century, Russia had come to dominate the northern part of Iran while Britain dominated the south. The two powers formalized this division in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, which segmented Iran into three parts—a Russian zone in the north, in which Russia was to have exclusive political and economic control; a British zone in the southeast, in which Britain had the sole right to exercise political and economic control; and a neutral “buffer” zone in the rest of the country, in which both the British and the Russians shared power.

This agreement was intended to put an end to open conflict between the two powers and establish stability in the country. With the dramatic rise in power of Germany in Europe, which was also starting to penetrate Central Asia, Britain and Russia realized that it was necessary if not to completely put away their rivalry, then at least to lessen tensions. This development, however, did not bode well for Iranian sovereignty since the formal division made it appear that the imperial control would be lasting.

This foreign domination essentially meant that the resources of Iran were under the control of the two imperial powers and that the purpose of whatever economic development took place was primarily for the benefit of those powers and not the Iranian state or people. The central government in Tehran did not even have the power to select its own ministers without the approval of the British and Russian consulates.

While Iran had traditionally been an absolute monarchy, revolutionary agitation in 1905 forced the Shah to allow for a relatively free press and accept a constitution reducing his power. The elected parliament, the Majlis, would formally have considerable power, although in actuality government decisions had to be amenable to the two dominant powers who essentially controlled what took place within their respective zones and heavily influenced developments elsewhere in the country.

Both Britain, with some qualifications, and Russia looked negatively on this new liberal political body, preferring to deal with a small number of people who could more easily be coerced or bribed to advance their imperialist goals, which very likely went against public opinion in Iran that shaped the new parliamentary body. Although the imperial powers could, if they exerted themselves, overcome opposition from the Majlis, it did make things more troublesome.

In 1911, Iran’s nascent constitutional government appointed an American, E. Morgan Shuster, anoted lawyer, civil servant, and financial expert, to help organize the country’s finances, which were in a perilous situation at that time due largely to heavy indebtedness to Russia and Britain. While his proposed reforms were embraced by the Iranians, they were vehemently opposed by the two European powers who feared that these might serve to reduce Iranian dependence on them.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Iran, Shuster became involved in a dispute with Russia over customs policy, in which he requested, and was given, plenary powers by the parliament. At Russia’s behest, backed up by its moving troops to Tehran (which was within the Russian zone), he was ultimately forced to leave Iran in January 1912. Upon his return to the United States, he wrote a heated indictment of Russian and British exploitation of Iran, titled “The Strangling of Persia,” which he dedicated to “The Persian People.” In a much-quoted passage, Shuster summed up the malicious impact of the two Great Powers thus: “[I]t was obvious that the people of Persia deserve much better than what they are getting, that they wanted us to succeed, but it was the British and the Russians who were determined not to let us succeed.”

As bad as it was for Iran at the beginning of the twentieth century, things would become infinitely worse during World War I. Hoping to avoid entanglement in the war, Iran declared its neutrality on November 1, 1914. (The British and Russians had entered the war against Germany and Austria two months earlier.) Nevertheless, the country became a battleground between Russia and Britain (who were allies), and Turkey (a German ally) and its local Muslim supporters. And when the Turks were not in the country, the two European powers were involved in fighting against tribes and groups of nationalists who were stirred into action by the war and the occupiers’ wartime depredations.

According to historian Mohammed Gholi Majd: “World War One was unquestionably the greatest calamity in the history of Persia, far surpassing anything that happened before. It was in WWI that Persia suffered its worst tragedy in its entire history, losing some 40% of its population to famine and disease, a calamity that was entirely due to the occupation of Persia by the Russian and British armies, and about which little is known. Persia was the greatest victim of WWI: no country had suffered so much in absolute and relative terms. As I have shown in another study there are indications that 10 million Persians were lost to starvation and disease.  Persia was the victim of one of the largest genocide [sic] of the twentieth century. (Majd, “Persia in World War I and Its Conquest by Great Britain,” 2003, pp. 3-4)

What caused a famine of such horrific proportions? The Russians and, even more so, the British used Iran as a base for their war effort; and Majd finds the British to be principally responsible for the famine. Local transportation, land and river, was taken over by the British for the movement of war materials, which meant that farmers had a difficult time marketing their produce inside Iran.  At the same time, significant amounts of food were purchased or confiscated by the British to supply British troops, both within Iran and in the Middle East region as a whole. Moreover, Britain prohibited Iran from importing food from its neighbors—India and Mesopotamia (Iraq), where grain was plentiful–and from the United States. The British used various reasons, including the alleged sabotage of an oil pipeline, to justify the withholding of most oil revenue to the Iranian government (Iran had recently become a major oil producer) during the war years, which reduced the ability of Iran to purchase food. (Majd, “The Great Famine & Genocide in Iran: 1917-1919,” Second Edition, Chapters 5-7.)

It seems unlikely, however, that the British intentionally sought to commit genocide against the Iranian population, as Majd sometimes implies, but rather that the British were solely concerned about their own war effort, pursuing it at the expense of the Iranian people, who died off in the process. But there is no need to debate British intent, or their degree of culpability, to illustrate the point that Iran endured appalling suffering from the actions of other countries during World War I. The same could be said if the death figures Majd provides are excessive and did not actually exceed Holocaust-like levels, though Majd’s analysis of population statistics, which indicate a huge decline in population between 1910 and 1920, seems to substantiate his numbers. (Majd, “Great Famine & Genocide in Iran: 1917-1919,” pp. 77-87)

Furthermore, Majd does show that other observers noted that Iranian civilians perished as a result of the war in massive numbers, if not necessarily in the astronomically high numbers that Majd arrives at. A report submitted by the Iranian delegation to the General Assembly of the League of Nations, dated December 6, 1920, states: “At the beginning of the war of 1914-1918, the Persian government, anxious to continue its historic traditions, solemnly declared its neutrality . . . . Despite her neutrality, Persia has been a battlefield during the world cataclysm. Her richest provinces in the north and north-east have been ravaged, divided and disorganized by the Turco-Russian forces. Many are the ruins which cover Persian territory from Makou (a town lying in the extreme north of Persian province Azerbaijan), to the very south. Towns and villages have been pillaged and burned, and hundreds of thousands of men were compelled to say a lasting farewell to their beloved homes and to find death from hunger and cold far from their native provinces. At Teheran, a city of about 500,000 inhabitants, 90,000 persons died of famine for want of bread; since the big lines of communication were cut by the invaders. All the governments which followed each other during the war were faced with insurmountable difficulties which arose from the violation of Persian neutrality. The food providing provinces of Persia –such as Mazenderan, Gilan, Azerbaijan, Hamadan and Kirmanshahan— which were rich in corn, rice and other cereals, were unable to produce anything, owing to the lack of labour and the want of security: famine, that pitiless scourge, ruled over the greater part of the country and spread ruin and death among its people . . . . It is with deep emotion that we mention the high figure of our loss in man-power—a cruel loss of 300,000 men, massacred by the sword of the invader.”  (Majd, “Great Famine & Genocide in Iran: 1917-1919,” p. 8)

In his 1934 biography of the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, Harold Nicolson, who had served as a British diplomat in Iran during the 1920s, wrote:“Persia, during the war, had been exposed to violations and sufferings not endured by any other neutral country.” (Majd, “Great Famine & Genocide in Iran,” p. 8, quoted from Nicolson, “George Curzon: The Last Phase,” 1934, p. 129)

In a memorandum of August 13, 1941, the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, Wallace Smith Murray, wrote: “During the late World War, despite Iran’s declared neutrality, she was invaded by both the Great Powers, which resulted in untold misery to the Persian people. It is estimated that during the famine of 1917-1918, caused by the chaotic conditions of the country, approximately one third of the population perished.” (Majd, “Great Famine & Genocide in Iran,”p. 8). In a note to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, dated August 21, 1941, which includes Iran’s reply to the Anglo-Russian ultimatum of August 16, 1941, the Iranian minister to Washington, Mohammad Schayesteh, wrote: “The Iranians remember with sorrow the great misfortunes of the last war, the unbelievable number of the population which died as a result of famine and epidemics caused by foreign interference in Iran.” (Majd, “Great Famine & Genocide in Iran,”pp. 8-9)

That virtually no one in the United States, and much of the overall West, would know about the famine in Iran is quite understandable. Britain controlled the news about the war and most of the American elite that shaped the news tended to be Anglophile. Once America entered the war, Britain was an ally. And World War I was considered a great moral crusade. It was the war to make the world safe for democracy; it was the war to save civilization. It was, in short, a Manichean war of good versus evil. Atrocities —real, exaggerated, or imagined– could only be attributed to members of the Central Powers. Thus, Germans supposedly engaged in the raping of nuns, the crucifixion of priests and the bayoneting of babies in their invasion and occupation of Belgium. And much was made of the Turks engaging in mass murder against the Armenians—an atrocity that has, in recent decades, been de-emphasized and debated in the United States as Turkey has become an American ally.

As the partisanship of World War I died down, no one in the United States really knew or cared much about the strange, faraway country of Iran. And Britain remained a close ally of America’s in the fight against the Axis and during the Cold War. Today as the American government and an American media (both heavily influenced by the Israel lobby)  have presented U.S. war policy in the Middle East in a good versus evil dichotomy, the depiction of Iran as the victim at any time in its history would not mesh with current policy needs.

With the revolution in Russia in March 1917, the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky would forswear all concessions made to Tsarist Russia in Iran. The armistice agreement between Bolshevik Russia and the Central Powers was concluded on December 15, 1917, which included the provision that Russia would evacuate its forces from Iran, which did take place. (Martin Sicker, “The Bear and the Lion:  Soviet Imperialism and Iran,”1988, p. 29.) With the fall of the Central Powers in November1918, however, Bolshevik Russia would state that the terms of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, which ended Russia’s war with those countries, were null and void, though continuing to profess that it did not have designs on Iran. Some of its actions, however, as we shall see, would soon belie this pledge of non-interference.

With Soviet Russia’s official departure, Britain was now by default the overwhelmingly dominant foreign influence in Iran. By virtue of this monopoly power and bribery, Britain was able to get the Iranian government to sign the Anglo-Iranian Agreement of 1919, which essentially would make Iran a protectorate of Britain. In return for a loan of two million pounds for the development of Iran’s railroad system (and also financial inducements to leading government officials), the treaty would give Britain a monopoly over the supply of arms, military training, infrastructure construction, and advisers for Iran. It also would have the sole right to develop a committee to revise the Iranian tariff–which would, of course, be to Britain’s advantage. Influenced by popular outcries by all segments of the Iranian population, the Majlis refused to ratify the treaty. Nonetheless, the British acted as if the treaty were in effect, as they shaped the Iranian army and developed a tariff law that favored British imports.

It should be pointed out that, during this period of British dominance, Soviet Russia, though pulling out its troops and officially renouncing the imperialist concessions held by the Tsarist government, did not lack interest in Iran. The new Bolshevik government, with its professed belief of world revolution, sought to spread radical revolution to Asia, including Iran, which was illustrated by the First Congress of the Peoples of the East, which was held in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, in September 1920.

After the collapse of Tsarist Russia, an Azerbaijan Democratic Republic came into being on May 28, 1918 in what had been part of the Russian Empire. It would be invaded by Soviet Russia on April 25, 1920 and in three days would be under the complete control of Moscow, though Soviet Russia retained the fiction that although Azerbaijan had become a Soviet state, it had remained independent.

The Baku Congress brought together Communists and radical nationalist forces in Asia and discussed a united effort between the two groups in support of national revolutions against foreign imperialism, though the Communists saw this as a necessary stage for the ultimate sovietization of these lands. Iran, in large part because of its proximity to the Indian subcontinent, was seen by a number of Russian Bolshevik thinkers as the key to the spread of radical revolution in Asia. For example, Konstantin Troyanovsky, in his book “Vostok i Revolutsiya” (“The East and the Revolution”), published in 1918, wrote: “The Persian revolution may become the key to the revolution of the whole Orient, just as Egypt and the Suez Canal are the key to English domination in the Orient . . . . The political conquest of Persia . . . is what we must accomplish first of all. This precious key to all other revolutions in the Orient must be in our hands, come what may.”  (Quoted in Shireen Hunter, “Islam in Russia: The Politics of Identity and Security,” 2004, 316-17)

Soviet policy toward Iran thus would essentially run on two tracks. One track, reflecting the Communist’s official repudiation of traditional Western imperialism, consisted of establishing good official state-to-state relations between the Soviet government and the Iranian government, in which the latter was formally treated as an equal, sovereign nation. The other track involved support for the revolutionary nationalist movements in northern Iran closest to Soviet Russia, the most important of which was the Persian Socialist Soviet Republic (widely known as the Soviet Republic of Gilan) in the Iranian province of Gilan, which lasted from June 1920 until September 1921.

The densely forested mountainous region of Gilan and Mazanderan provinces along the shores of the Caspian Sea had been beyond the control of the Iranian government for some time. It was here that the Jangal (Jungle or Forest) movement arose, which was anti-Western, pan-Islamic, socially radical and fought against both the foreign occupiers and the Iranian government in Tehran. It was led by a charismatic land owner and Muslim cleric, Mirza Kouchek Khan.

The Soviet conquest of what had been the Russian portion of Azerbaijan would serve as a springboard for moving into northern Iran. The Soviet army, which had departed Iran in 1919, would reappear there in 1920 at about the same time as preparations were being made for the Baku conference. The reason given for this military action was to apprehend the remnants of the counterrevolutionary White army of Admiral Deniken, which had fled Russia after being defeated in the Russian Civil War and found sanctuary under British protection in the Gilan port city of Enceli on the Caspian Sea, which was not yet under the control of the Jingali secessionists. Claiming that the White army remained a threat to Soviet Russia, the Soviet army attacked. Facing a much superior force, the British retreated and the Whites once again fled. The Soviet army then would move through Gilan province and link up with Kouchek Khan’s Jingali.

Soviet Russia provided arms and soldiers to help Kouchek Khan in his revolutionary endeavor. By the end of 1920, his military force was so successful that it was preparing to march on Tehran. (Ervand Abrahamian, “Iran between Two Revolutions,” 1982, p. 116)

Faced with this threat from the military forces of the Soviet Republic of Gilan, with its large Soviet Russian contingent, along with discontent and rebelliousness in other parts of the country, a crisis feeling developed in Tehran among Iranian supporters of the national government and the British. Concerned about the weakness of the existing Iranian government and its seeming inability to suppress Soviet-backed revolutionaries, the British supported a coup d’état by a military officer named Reza Khan who entered Tehran on February 21, 1921 with a force of 3000 soldiers and seized control of the government, assuring the Shah that he took this action to protect the monarchy from revolution.

Meanwhile, in the Soviet Republic of Gilan, strong differences arose between the non-Communist Jangali and the Iranian Communist Party, causing Mirza Kouchek Khan to quit the government and withdraw with his group back into the forest. The Communists now were in charge and, influenced by ideologues from Soviet Russia, tried to establish a full-scale dictatorship of the proletariat that soon alienated much of the local population.

However, at this time higher level officials in Moscow, including Lenin, saw this open support for revolutionary action in northern Iran as premature and counterproductive to the long-term success of world revolution. They were especially interested in improving state-to-state relations with non-communist states in order to strengthen Soviet Russia; for example, the Soviets were negotiating a loan from Britain, which could be undermined by such overt revolutionary action. (Sicker, p.43)

This new position of the Soviet Union and that of the new government of Iran under Reza Shah harmonized and they made a treaty of friendship, as the latter nullified the highly unpopular 1919 treaty with Britain (which had never been ratified by the Majlis). In the Soviet-Iranian Treaty of 1921, the Soviet Union pledged to withdraw its military forces from Gilan and officially cancelled the Iranian debt and concessions to the Tsarist regime. As quid pro quo, Iran guaranteed that its territory would not be used for attacks on the Soviet state.

From the Iranian perspective, there was one discordant note in this otherwise favorable treaty, for it granted Soviet Russia the right to intervene in Iran if it considered events there to be threatening to its own national security. Obviously, this could be used by Soviet Russia not only to defend itself from counterrevolutionary threats but for offensive reasons as well. The possibility that the Soviets might use this provision to justify an attack on Iran was disturbing to members of the Iranian government and they demanded an explanation from the Soviet government, but they were willing to accept an unwritten, oral response that the Soviet Union would not intervene unless there were some overt military threat to its security. (Sicker, p. 44-45)

Lacking the critical support from the Red Army, the Soviet Republic of Gilan fell to the military forces of the Iranian government. And after the fall of the Gilan, the Communist Party of Iran would follow the Soviet party line and support the strengthening of the central government in Tehran, which was now perceived as being beneficial to the Soviet Russia. (Abrahamian, “Iran between Two Revolutions,” p.128). In 1923, for example, while Reza was Prime Minister, the Comintern had praised him for “his progressive and anti-imperialist orientation.” (Quoted in Sicker, p. 47) Though an anti-Communist, Reza, as a nationalist, temporarily served Soviet interests because he sought to reduce British influence in southern Iran and the Persian Gulf—and the Soviet Union then regarded Britain as its primary foe. Moreover, heavy trade existed between the Soviet Union and Iran, with the Soviets being Iran’s major trading partner until 1939. But while the Soviet Union put aside its interest in Iranian territory for the present, it had not been abandoned and would resurface during World War II.

In voiding the (never ratified) Anglo-Iranian Agreement of 1919, the Iranian government placated the British by requesting that British advisers remain behind to help reorganize the Iranian army and civilian administration.  Moreover, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC), which was partly owned by the British government and a major provider of oil for the British Navy, still controlled the oil industry in southern Iran.  This was about as much influence as Britain could expect to exercise since being deeply in debt from World War I, the British government, pursuing a policy of economic austerity, removed its troops from Iran in 1921.

Reza Khan gradually consolidated his power, ultimately proclaiming himself monarch in 1926 under the name Reza Shah Pahlavi. Reza Shah sought to establish a modern, centralized state, with Kemal Atatürk’s Turkey serving as a model. His programs helped to bring about improvements in agriculture, public health, education, transportation and industry and women’s rights while curtailing the power of the Islamic religious leaders. In achieving these ends, however, Reza Shah exercised ruthless, dictatorial powers, turning Iran into a despotic state.

In regard to foreign relations, Reza Shah sought a modern industrial third party state to serve as an economic counterweight to the Soviet Union and Britain, both of whom he regarded as threats to Iranian sovereignty, despite the existence of treaties of amity. His first choice was the United States, but it did not show much interest. After that he looked to Germany, which had shown interest in Iran since the first decade of the twentieth century.

Nazi Germany responded positively. Germany certainly sought profitable commercial relations with any country, especially one open to large scale investment such as Iran. Furthermore, Iran could provide the oil which Germany desperately needed. Moreover, economic connections could be used to enhance German political and military interests. Iran provided a strategic location from which German agents could stir up oppressed Muslim and other Third World nationalities under the control of the Soviet and British empires. Consequently, by the eve of World War II, Germany had become Iran’s largest trading partner. And an influx of German technicians and consultants had entered the country.

On September 4, 1939, three days after the war commenced, Iran officially declared its neutrality. And five days after Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 21, 1941, Iran reaffirmed its neutrality in the conflict.

Nonetheless, Soviet and British troops invaded Iran on August 25, 1941, on the grounds that Iran was harboring German agents. Reza Shah appealed to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt under the idealistic Atlantic Charter, which Roosevelt (and Churchill) piously claimed would be the basis for the future world order, and which included such ideals as the protection of smaller and weaker countries from the powerful. The U.S., however, failed to respond positively to the Shah’s request and, without any outside support, the limited resistance put forth by Iran was overwhelmed by Soviet and British forces in less than a week.

Shortly after the invasion, Reza Shah, being perceived as pro-German, was pressured to abdicate and was replaced by his son Mohammed, only 21 years old, and a constitutional monarchy was reestablished. Political parties were allowed to operate and a multitude of parties arose reflecting various segments of the Iranian population. The removal of Reza Shah “unleashed pent-up social grievances” that could not be expressed during his reign. (Ervand Abrahamian, “Iran between Two Revolutions,”1982, p. 169) However, while elections took place, Iranian government officials were not allowed to interfere with the rule of the occupying powers.

While using the alleged existence of numerous German agents to justify the invasion, Britain and the Soviet Unionhad decided to occupy Iran for multiple reasons. Iran was a major producer of oil, which the Allies wanted to exploit and concomitantly prevent Germany from accessing. Furthermore, in a region seething with anti-colonial passions, Allied control of Iran would serve to protect India, which was an indispensable cog in the British Empire. And most importantly, Iran provided a secure conduit for sending vital war supplies to the beleaguered Soviet Union, which had very few other access routes, and none as viable.

Although Britain and Russia guaranteed Iran’s sovereignty, they took over most significant functions of the country, many of which had heretofore been in private hands. First, they exercised control of all political institutions in their respective zones. And important economic activities —such as banking, oil production, and transportation— fell under their dominion. Furthermore, the occupying powers commandeered food products, fuel, and other essentials, causing famine in the land—though nothing comparable to the human catastrophe that took place duringWorld War I. Once again, Iran was being used as a mere instrument for the interests of foreign countries.

Now it might be assumed that the Allies were fighting for the universal interests of all humanity (the “Good War” concept), and that this took precedence over Iranian sovereignty and its rights as a neutral—that Iran should have willingly acquiesced to this greater good. But it needs to be pointed out that the United States never accepted this concept when it was a weak country and the great powers of that day violated American neutral rights in order to purportedly advance some higher principles. The United States was not even willing to accept a curtailment of its right to trade with belligerents, much less accede to an occupation by foreign countries.

For example, republican France in the 1790s saw itself fighting for the rights of mankind and expected support (though not demanding direct military involvement) from its fellow republic, the United States, in its war of survival against the monarchical  powers of Europe; but no such support was forthcoming, even though the two countries had a formal “perpetual” alliance concluded during the American Revolutionary War, in which France had played a major role in bringing about American independence. Instead, the United States, emphasizing its rights as a neutral, continued to trade with  monarchical Britain and ultimately fought an undeclared naval war with France —the Quasi-War, 1798-1800— because of French naval efforts to  interfere with that wartime trade.

Similarly, during the Napoleonic wars, Britain presented itself as fighting for ordered liberty and the independence of other countries against Napoleon’s tyrannical effort to control Europe, but the United States claimed the right to trade with France, opposing British naval interference, and ultimately going to war with Britain in 1812 — a war that lasted until the end of 1814— thus from the British perspective, aiding Napoleon.

The Tehran Conference (28 November to 1 December 1943), which was the first of the major World War II conferences in which the leaders of the three main Allied powers –Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill— met together, focused on the broad issues of the war and the future peace, but also included a declaration that they all shared a “desire for the maintenance of the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Iran.”

Stalin, however, had somewhat different plans for Iran. As the German threat to the Soviet Union receded, the Soviets virtually sealed off the northernprovinces from officials from Britain, the United States, and even Iran. After 1942 no member of the foreign media was allowed to enter the Soviet zone to report on conditions there. Moreover,the Soviet Union gave open support to the Communist Party of Iran, which used the press to promote pro-Soviet propaganda, a considerable proportion of which attacked the Iranian government in Tehran. It would justify its control of Iranian territory by citing the 1921 treaty with Iran that gave it the right to intervene in Iran in order to protect its own security. (Sicker,pp. 61-80)

When the war ended, the U.S. and Britain would withdraw their troops from Iran, but Soviet forces would remain. Moreover, the Soviet Union was organizing separatist movements in its northern zone that could be used to declare independence and join the Azerbaijan SSR.

“Decree of the CC CPSU Politburo to Mir Bagirov CC Secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, ‘Measures to Organize a Separatist Movement in Southern Azerbaijan and Other Provinces of Northern Iran’” July 06, 1945, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive,

“Secret Soviet Instructions on Measures to Carry out Special Assignments throughout Southern Azerbaijan and the Northern Provinces of Iran in an attempt to set the basis for a separatist movement in Northern Iran.,” July 14, 1945, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive,

Thus, the Soviets installed the Communist Cafer Pisaveri as the head of the secessionist Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, which declared its independence on December 12, 1945. Pisaveri had played a role in the Republic of Gilan of the post-World War I years and later found refuge in the Soviet Union during part of the interwar period. (Sicker, pp. 70-71)  Pisaveri was Communist and, despite anAzeri nationalist inclination, saw therevolutionary government in Azerbaijan as the first step toward Communist revolution throughout the rest of Iran. (M. Reza Ghods, “Iran in the Twentieth Century,” 1989, p. 172)

Also supported by the Soviet Union, a Kurdish independence movement emerged in the region around the town of Mahabadin northwestern Iran, and in December 1945, a Kurdish Peoples Republic was established there under Soviet auspices. (p.71, Sicker) The Kurdish Peoples Republic’s emphasis was on Kurdish nationalism rather than on Communism with the establishment of Kurdish as the national language. Although there was redistribution of unoccupied land, the republic lacked the social radicalism that would loom large in the Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan.

Although these secessionist regimes had substantial support from their inhabitants, at least in their early stages, archival evidence shows that the Soviet Union was directly behind the development of these governments and was necessary for their perpetuation.

New Evidence on the Iran Crisis 1945-46,”

It should be observedthat the Soviet Union was following its usual modus operandi toward the two secessionist states. In most of central and eastern Europe occupied by the Red Army after World WarII, Communist regimes and societies were not established immediately but came into being by a gradual process, so that this would not indicate the lack of Soviet control of the two secessionist states nor the Soviet Union’s ultimate goal of sovietization.

The United States and Britain started to become deeply disturbed by the Soviet actions in northern Iran and supported efforts on the part of the Iranian government to reestablish its control in those break-away areas. However, when Iranian military forces tried to move into Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, they were blocked by Soviet forces.

On January 19, 1946, Iran lodged a complaint to the newly-established United Nations Security Council that the Soviet Union was aiding the Azeri and Kurdish secessionists and thus was illegally interfering in Iran’s internal affairs. The Soviet Union responded that it was simply acting in accord with the Soviet-Iranian Treaty of 1921, which gave it the right to intervene if there were threats coming from Iran, and thus it was legal for its military to remain there to protect Azerbaijan’s petroleum, which, it claimed, was endangered.

After lengthy negotiations, the Iranian government and the Soviet Union made a sweeping agreement in which the Soviets would receive a 51% share of the petroleum in northern Iran in exchange for the withdrawal of its troops from Iran. The agreement also stated that the Soviets would establish joint petroleum companies with Iran and accept the secessionist uprisings as strictly Iranian domestic matters in which it would not interfere. The oil agreement, however, would not be put into effect until after its approval by the Iranian Majlis.

Believing that it had received what it wanted, the Soviet Union started to withdraw its troops from Iran on May 9, 1946. Without Soviet military support, the secessionist regimes, against which large-scale popular rebellions had broken out, surrendered to the Iranian government in December 1946. (M. Reza Ghods, “Iran in the Twentieth Century,” 1989, p. 175)

During this time period, elections took place in Iran and the newly-elected Majlis wasn’t able to come together effectively until 1947 to vote on the oil agreement with the Soviet Union. The U.S. government, fearful of Soviet control of Iranian petroleum, informed Iran that if it would reject the petroleum agreement, and the Soviet Union then pressured and made threats against it, America would come to its defense. With this pledge of protection, the Majlis refused to ratify the Soviet oil agreement on October 22, 1947 by the overwhelming vote of 102 to 2.

The Soviet Union essentially accepted this decision, although not without strong threats and some minor hostile acts toward Iran. The reason for Stalin not doing more is beyond the purview of this essay. But it can be briefly stated that Stalin, at that time, apparently did not want to intensify anti-Soviet feeling in the United States or Iran, because of the negative impact this would have on other objectives deemed more important than the petroleum agreement, and that the ultimate unpopularity of the secessionist governments in northern Iran would have made their restoration much more difficult than their initial creation.

The history of the twentieth century has clearly illustrated that Iran has been forced to relinquish its sovereign rights in order to serve the needs and desires of other, more powerful nations, often couched in the name of some universal good, and that it has suffered severely as a consequence. It is thus understandable why Iran would resist this approach at the present, and expect to have the same rights as those who would try to place restrictions on theirs, with the United States and Israel being the major countries currently taking this anti-Iranian stance. Furthermore, while the past suffering of Jews is continually mentioned in the West and is often used to justify special privileges for Israel —for instance, its right to have a Jewish supremacist state and nuclear weapons— the past suffering of Iran caused by other countries is completely ignored and thus plays no part in international decision-making today. Simple justice would seem to dictate that the United States change its current approach and allow all countries to have the same sovereign rights as guaranteed by international law—no more and no less.

November 10, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Militarism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Doughboys and Dumb Things Humans Have Done

By David Swanson | War is a Crime | October 29, 2013

This November 11th at 11 a.m. will mark 95 years since World War I ended.  Next July 28th will mark 100 years since it started.  The world war, the great war, the war for no good reason, the war of poison gas, the war to end all wars, the war of mass stupidity, the war that went on for days after the Germans agreed to end it, the war that continued until 11 a.m. as that time had been set to end it, the war whose last man killed in action was a suicidal American who ran at the Germans at 10:59, the war that in fact was intentionally not ended but extended into mass-punishment of the German people until World War II could be commenced, this century-old piece of historical stupidity that shames our species is about to be commemorated on a serious scale — so dust off your gas masks and get ready.

A hundred years. A hundred ever-loving years, and we’ve neither learned that wars don’t end wars nor ever really ended World War II, ever brought the troops home from Japan and Germany, ever scaled back the taxation and military spending and foreign basing and war profiteering.

The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten War by Richard Rubin is 500 pages of excellent history of World War I but without the appropriate rejection of the decision to go to war or the embarrassment one should feel for those who thought they could find glory or goodness by joining in that mass murdering madness.  We tend to look down on all sorts of aspects of early 20th century morality.  Colonialism, sexism, racism, corporal punishment in schools, creationism — you name it, we’ve moved on.  Yet writers still recount wars as if the decision to take part in them were neutral or admirable.

In a way this makes sense, given what we’re all taught about history.  The Khan Academy is a wonderful website for kids (or anyone) to use in learning math.  But if you click over to the section on history it’s literally nothing but wars.  Perhaps they plan to add in a few unimportant things that happened during the pauses in between wars, but they haven’t done so yet.  It’s nothing but war after war after war.  That’s history.  President Kennedy supposedly said Lincoln would have been nothing without the Civil War — it takes war to make greatness.  It takes war to be in the history books.

Richard Rubin found and interviewed the last remaining U.S. veterans of World War I before they died.  As he spoke with them their average age was 107.  Everything he learned and recorded is of great interest, but much of it is simply about what it’s like to become 107.  Such a study could have been done of non-veterans.  A comparison could have been made of veterans and non-veterans.  Or a study like this one could have looked at World War I resisters.  That there’s not a similar book about them, and now can never be, says little about them and a great deal about all of us.  A comparison of the lifespans of veterans and refuseniks would have been an interesting test of the author’s theory that going along to get along increases your life.

It is perhaps not too late to track down and interview the last remaining survivors of the strongest peace movement the United States has known — that of the 1920s and 1930s — but somebody would have to do it and do it soon.

Perhaps Richard Rubin will take up that idea, but I tend to doubt it.  His fascination is with war, not wisdom.  And not just his fascination, but most people’s.  The sad fact is that, in Rubin’s telling, these World War I veterans didn’t tend to develop an appropriate sense of regret over a period of 85 years.  There are, no doubt, cases of slave owners who by 1950 were able to express some regret over slavery.  But slavery was on its way out.  War is ever on its way in.

Despite my lengthy caveat, The Last of the Doughboys really is an excellent book, for what it is.  The discussions of World War I songs and World War I books, and so forth, are quite wonderful.  And Doughboys is not blatantly dishonest war hype.  It includes the facts about the Lusitania (that Germany had warned Americans not to get on a ship with arms and troops as it would be sunk).  It doesn’t look closely at the war propaganda, but it is straightforward enough on the clampdown on speech and civil liberties, and the vicious demonization of Germans and the Kaiser.  It doesn’t mention the Wall Street coup or the name Smedley Butler, but its coverage of the Bonus Army is otherwise good.  It doesn’t focus on opposition or alternatives, but it does convey the pointlessness of the horror, and it does recount the badly misguided way in which the war was ended.

Yet, ultimately, Rubin is striving to give more credit and honor to warriors unfairly overshadowed by the glorification of World War II.  The heroes of the original world war saved the world in the snow and shoeless and uphill both ways.  Rubin wants World War I to get its due — unlike some wars.  The war on the Philippines, for example, he calls “not much of” a war, despite the fact that it cost the population involved a greater percentage of its lives than any other U.S. war has inflicted on any other population, including the population of the U.S. — including in the U.S. Civil War.  Go to the Philippines and say it wasn’t much of a war, I dare you.  It was the model for the costly, pointless, racist, one-sided slaughters of the 21st century.  World War I was a model only for its expansion into World War II.  Otherwise it’s obsolete.

My friend Sandy Davies, who knows this stuff, recently looked up what the costs have been of the ongoing warmaking by the United States since the pair of World Wars.  I think it’s relevant because every single time I speak about ending war and take questions on the topic I’m asked “What about Hitler?”  In the days since Hitler’s been gone, as the world has moved on from Hitler-like expansionism, as a great portion of the world has moved away from war, the United States, according to Davies, has spent $37-40 trillion (in 2013 dollars) on war and preparations for war.

There’s $32 trillion since 1948 in Department of So-Called-Defense spending documented in http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2014/FY14_Green_Book.pdf plus $780 billion to the War Department in 1946-7 before it was rebranded. Extra funding to the Energy Department, the V.A. and other departments is harder to find, but can be estimated at:
Nuclear weapons (DOE): $1.7 – 3 trillion
V.A.: $1.3 to 2.5 trillion
Other departments: $1 to 2 trillion

Then there’s the real cost: 10 to 20 million dead in wars the U.S. has been directly involved in, or 15 to 30 million if you count the DRC, Cambodia, the French War in Indochina, and the Iran-Iraq War.  “These numbers are very conservative,” says Davies, “based on publicly available estimates, generally ignoring Les Roberts’ findings in Rwanda and the DRC that passive reporting methods generally only count 5-20% of deaths in war zones.”  These figures include:

Korea: 2.5 to 3.5 million
Vietnam: 2 to 4 million
Iraq: 400,000 to 1.5 million
Afghanistan (total): 1 to 2 million
China: 1.75 million
Indonesia: 500,000 to 2 million
Angola: 500,000 to 1 million
Somalia: 300,000 to 500,000
Guatemala: 200,000 to 300,000
Greece: 200,000
East Timor: 100,000 to 220,000
El Salvador: 100,000 to 120,000
Syria: 90,000 to 130,000
Operation Condor: 60,000 to 100,000
Peru: 70,000
Colombia: 50,000 – 200,000
Laos: 40,000 to 100,000
Nicaragua: 30,000 to 55,000
Libya: 25,000 to 50,000
plus smaller numbers in many other countries.

Either we’re on a record streak of greatest generations after greatest generations, or we’ve caught a war addiction so badly that we’ve come to imagine it’s normal, and that — in fact — it’s all that ever has happened in the world.

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Book Review, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | 1 Comment

No Glory in War: “My Dad and My Uncle were in World War One”


My Dad and my Uncle were in World War One.
At least they were in it, but not in it:
Conscripted but never committed.

My Dad was called up in 1915,
And then run over by a field gun
In an army camp at Lydd marsh in Kent,
So he never actually made it
Across the Channel to fight.
His pelvis and both legs were crushed,
In his first week, in a training exercise,
By a Howitzer rolling downhill.
It weighed over thirty hundredweight.

While pushing and dragging the gun up a slope
My Dad and the other eighteen-year-olds carried shells,
Shells to be fed into the Howitzer’s six-foot-long barrel.
One of the group lost his footing
And they lost control of the gun carriage,
Then two were crushed by its cast-iron wheels;
Each wheel being the height of a man’s shoulder.
One of them died, but my Dad survived.

As a child I was ashamed of the story,
Naively wanting him to be a hero
But, of course, if he’d never been invalided out,
I might never have come into existence.

There were a thousand Howitzers on the Western Front,
Heavy, Swedish-made guns towed along
By boys, men and horses from battle to battle
Which, by the war’s end, had fired 25 million shells,
Stealing thousands of lives, and generations unborn,
Making the gun crews primary targets.

My Uncle Jack’s connection to the war
Was stronger than my Dad’s, as Jack “saw action”.
He made it across the Channel
In a Royal Artillery troopship,
And lost the use of a limb in 1916.
His arm was half severed by shrapnel:
He held it in place until it was patched up
And then he was returned to his unit,
With a flask of iodine to dab on it.

Jack was in one of that war’s most famous battles,
One of those whose very name makes you well up –
But Jack ran counter to the received wisdom
About the soldiers serving in the Great War
With its sentimental patina and its mythologized tales
Of Nurse Edith Cavell, and the Angel of Mons,
And lions led by donkeys and plucky Brits,
Because my Dad’s elder brother
Never really participated either,
And he certainly never gave it his all.
Jack had “reservations” was how my Dad put it.

More often than not Jack didn’t have “one up the spout”
Meaning he’d avoid putting a bullet in his gun,
Because, with a dodgy arm, it was a nuisance to load it
And when his hands were freezing he just thought ‘sod it’.
It was easy to escape their corporal’s attention,
And Jack said there were many others who did the same.
“Hundreds, if not thousands,” Jack always claimed,
Men whose instincts told them to do the minimum.

Jack won the Military Cross, but not for that.
He won it for dragging their Sergeant Major
Back into the trenches from No Man’s Land,
Where the Sergeant Major was lying wounded.

Jack’s commanding officer came to know of it
And Jack was “mentioned in dispatches” –
The Army’s understated way
Of saying that he’d shown courage
In undertaking his one-armed rescue,
Though, as far as his fellow soldiers were concerned,
Jack’s exploit had been a waste of time
For their Sergeant Major was unpopular,
And in any case he was dead on arrival.

Jack lived with the taunts and the ribbing
About his gesture having been pointless,
And was even accused of doing it to “show off”.
Cripplingly shy, this was a knife to the heart,
And it lasted long, long afterwards.
Jack never picked up his Military Cross
And whenever a family member mentioned it,
He dismissed it as “a putty medal with a wooden string.”

As a child I never quite knew what that meant,
But apparently it was a common expression,
Applied to the top brass when they visited the front,
When they strutted up and down –
Martinets with black gloves and swagger sticks
Fact-finding desk-jockeys from the War Office
Clanking away with their rows of flash medals
And drawing attention to themselves –
Those below in the dugouts would mutter,
“Putty medals with a wooden string.”

“Your Uncle Jack lost all his friends in the trenches,”
My Dad would say, “And he’s never made any, ever again.”
And it was true, I never saw Jack with a friend.
I saw him throughout my life, but he was always alone
Except for his sister, Mabel, who looked after him.
He never made another friend in over fifty years.

Neither he nor my father ever explained the war to me.
It was just something that had happened to them.
Something irrational that hung over them;
A grisly cloud of spectral blood;
A tumour that fogged the psyche;
Something in their history that had spoiled both their lives.
Stoically they never admitted to the pain
But, looking back, my Dad was always in pain
And Jack could be painfully silent
To the point of catatonia.

Even though they were little more than children,
They’d been forced to endure a random, excruciating pain
That had confiscated parts of their bodies,
Bodies that had been their birthright.

But afterwards each was able to exact
A small but significant revenge
By their both giving the war some fifty years
Of unremitting negative spin.
They’d scoff at those who tried to romanticize it;
They’d never buy poppies for their buttonholes;
And on Remembrance Day they’d say
That there was nothing worth remembering.
To my father the cenotaph was “a monument to Jack’s hell.”
“A traffic hazard”, he’d say when we drove past it.
And he’d curse it, that dreary Lutyens plinth
With its floral lifebelts laid beneath it,
Lifebelts that save no one’s lives,
Propped up against a memorial
That’s used to fetishize war after war.
“They should have a picture on it,” my Dad said
“Of your Uncle Jack living beside rotting corpses –
“Pictures of doomed youth with froth-corrupted lungs.”
(He had a first edition of Wilfred Owen.)

As a child I naively wanted to boast about Jack
And to tell other boys that he’d won the MC
As if that would make me seem brave too.
When my father overheard me once
I got a dressing-down that I remember to this day:
He accused me of “throwing Jack’s weight about.
“You never ask yourself do you, why Jack never picked it up?
His medal? Well, he wasn’t proud of it. He was ashamed,
When his friends are there, six foot deep in Belgian mud.
If he doesn’t swank about it, why should you?”

When my father died, Jack invited me to go out for a meal
On the first Friday of the month, every year till he died.
The meals were largely silent. His bad dream was still there,
Even in the nineteen-seventies.
His mind was still numbed by something whose origins
Were inexplicable and which he’d never decoded.
A war that had caused another war, like a cancer
That people still seem unable to cauterize.
Over the years, I’d winkle out his memories
As tactfully as I could.

As a boy I seem to have been set the uninvited task
Of probing a world that they wished never existed,
And which left them wishing it would go away.

Jack didn’t mind talking about actual events
Allowing himself only to recount the facts,
But never touching upon his emotions.
A waiter would bring the cheese trolley and most months
Jack would tell the same story about a mule cart
That had arrived behind the lines ferrying an enormous cheese,
A Dutch cheese which they’d all salivated at the sight of.
Jack’s best friend from the same street in Chester
Impulsively ran towards it, his mouth watering
Only to be picked off by a German sniper.
“Fell down against the cheese”, Jack said,
“I won’t eat the stuff now.”
And I’d nod and say, “No,”
As understandingly as I could manage.

The story was unchanging, several times a year.
A hapless waiter wheeled off the cheese trolley untouched.
“I ever tell you about that?” Jack would ask at the end.
I was sure that he half knew he had, but why not?
If the fact of it never went away.

My Dad and my Uncle were in the First World War
Though it’s not quite the whole story,
Because neither of them were exactly in it,
Not in the way that most people might think,
But from their experiences I was able to learn
What callous folly had killed thirty million.

They were forced to serve King and Country for no reason,
They both had lifelong scars, and got nothing in return –
Nothing from the King, and nothing from the Country,
But both ended up certain there must be another way
And for that I’ve been grateful to them, ever since.

They may or may not be in some other world now
But something is certain, if only to me.
They won’t be commemorating World War One

And may not even think the matter worth raising.

October 6, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , , , | Leave a comment

Canada’s Concentration Camps – The War Measures Act

Japs Keep Moving Photo: Unsourced, tumblr
By Diana Breti | The Law Connection | 1998

Canadian Concentration Camps

By world standards Canada is a country that respects and protects its citizens’ human rights. That has not always been true, however. Many people are familiar with the story of the internment of Japanese-Canadians in BC during World War II. But not many people are aware that the Japanese were not the only Canadians imprisoned during wartime simply because of their ethnic origin. The history of Canada includes more than one shameful incident in which the Canadian government used the law to violate the civil rights of its own citizens.

The War Measures Act

The War Measures Act was enacted on 22 August 1914, and gave the federal government full authority to do everything deemed necessary “for the security, defence, peace, order and welfare of Canada”. It could be used when the government thought that Canada was about to be invaded or war would be declared, in order to mobilize all segments of society to support the war effort. The Act also gave the federal government sweeping emergency powers that allowed Cabinet to administer the war effort without accountability to Parliament, and without regard to existing legislation. It gave the government additional powers of media censorship, arrest without charge, deportation without trial, and the expropriation, control and disposal of property. This Act was always implemented via an Order in Council, rather than by approval of the democratically elected Parliament.

World War I

After Great Britain entered the First World War in August 1914, the government of Canada issued an Order in Council under the War Measures Act. It required the registration and in certain cases the internment of aliens of “enemy nationality”. This included the more than 80,000 Canadians who were formerly citizens of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. These individuals had to register as “enemy aliens” and report to local authorities on a regular basis. Twenty-four “concentration camps” (later called “internment camps”) were established across Canada, eight of them in British Columbia. View a list of World War 1 Concentration Camps. The camps were supposed to house enemy alien immigrants who had contravened regulations or who were deemed to be security threats. In fact, the “enemy aliens” could be interned if they failed to register, or failed to report monthly, or travelled without permission, or wrote to relatives in Austria.

Other less concrete reasons given for internment included “acting in a very suspicious manner” and being “undesirable”. By the middle of 1915, 4,000 of the internees had been imprisoned for being “indigent” (poor and unemployed). A total of 8,579 Canadians were interned between 1914 and 1920. Over 5,000 of them were of Ukrainian descent. Germans, Poles, Italians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Turks, Serbians, Hungarians, Russians, Jews, and Romanians were also imprisoned. Of the 8,579 internees, only 2,321 could be classed as “prisoners of war” (i.e. “captured in arms or belonging to enemy reserves”); the rest were civilians.

Upon each individual’s arrest, whatever money and property they had was taken by the government. In the internment camps they were denied access to newspapers and their correspondence was censored. They were sometimes mistreated by the guards. One hundred and seven internees died, including several shot while trying to escape. They were forced to work on maintaining the camps, road-building, railway construction, and mining. As the need for soldiers overseas led to a shortage of workers in Canada, many of these internees were released on parole to work for private companies.

The first World War ended in 1918, but the forced labour program was such a benefit to Canadian corporations that the internment was continued for two years after the end of the War.

World War II

During World War II the War Measures Act was used again to intern Canadians, and 26 internment camps were set up across Canada. In 1940 an Order in Council was passed that defined enemy aliens as “all persons of German or Italian racial origin who have become naturalized British subjects since September 1, 1922”. (At the time, Canada didn’t grant passports and citizenship on its own, so immigrants were “naturalized” by becoming British subjects.) A further Order in Council outlawed the Communist Party. Estimates suggest that some 30,000 individuals were affected by these Orders; that is, they were forced to register with the RCMP and to report to them on a monthly basis. The government interned approximately 500 Italians and over 100 communists.

In New Brunswick, 711 Jews, refugees from the holocaust, were interned at the request of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill because he thought there might be spies in the group.

In 1942, the government decided it wanted 2,240 acres of Indian Reserve land at Stony Point, in southwestern Ontario, to establish an advanced infantry training base. Apparently the decision to take Reserve land for the army base was made to avoid the cost and time involved in expropriating non-Aboriginal lands. The Stony Point Reserve comprised over half the Reserve territory of the Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point. Under the Indian Act, reserve lands can only be sold by Surrender, which involves a vote by the Band membership. The Band members voted against the Surrender, however the Band realized the importance of the war effort and they were willing to lease the land to the Government. The Government rejected the offer to lease. On April 14, 1942, an Order-in-Council authorizing the appropriation of Stony Point was passed under the provisions of the War Measures Act. The military was sent in to forcibly remove the residents of Stony Point. Houses, buildings and the burial ground were bulldozed to establish Camp Ipperwash. By the terms of the Order-in-Council, the Military could use the Reserve lands at Stony Point only until the end of World War II. However, those lands have not yet been returned. The military base was closed in the early 1950’s, and since then the lands have been used for cadet training, weapons training and recreational facilities for military personnel.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942, the government passed an Order in Council authorizing the removal of “enemy aliens” within a 100-mile radius of the BC coast. On March 4, 1942 22,000 Japanese Canadians were given 24 hours to pack before being interned. They were first incarcerated in a temporary facility at Hastings Park Race Track in Vancouver. Women, children and older people were sent to internment camps in the Interior. Others were forced into road construction camps. There were also “self-supporting camps”, where 1,161 internees paid to lease farms in a less restrictive environment, although they were still considered “enemy aliens”. Men who complained about separation from their families or violated the curfew were sent to the “prisoner of war” camps in Ontario.

The property of the Japanese Canadians – land, businesses, and other assets – were confiscated by the government and sold, and the proceeds used to pay for their internment. In 1945, the government extended the Order in Council to force the Japanese Canadians to go to Japan and lose their Canadian citizenship, or move to eastern Canada. Even though the war was over, it was illegal for Japanese Canadians to return to Vancouver until 1949. In 1988 Canada apologized for this miscarriage of justice, admitting that the actions of the government were influenced by racial discrimination. The government signed a redress agreement providing a small amount of money compensation.

Could This Happen Today?

The War Measures Act was repealed in 1988. It was replaced with the Emergencies Act. The Emergencies Act allows the federal government to make temporary laws in the event of a serious national emergency. The Emergencies Act differs from the War Measures Act in two important ways:

1. A declaration of an emergency by the Cabinet must be reviewed by Parliament
2. Any temporary laws made under the Act are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Thus any attempt by the government to suspend the civil rights of Canadians, even in an emergency, will be subject to the “reasonable and justified” test under section 1 of the Charter. Restrictions and limitations on freedom were inevitable during times of war. To the Canadian government, internment during both World Wars was a practical solution to a perceived security problem. However the terms of the Orders in Council, and the methods used to carry them out, reveal that the government was influenced more by racial discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiments than by any real threat to national security. The stories of the internees are a reminder of how human rights are vulnerable in situations of crisis.

By Diana Breti
Centre for Education, Law and Society (CELS)
Simon Fraser University
Vancouver, British Columbia

October 10, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments