Friday 30 December 2011

Singing Away The War

From What? Are the Taliban laying siege to Buckingham Palace? Are Predator drones taking out shoppers in Slough? The carefully manufactured song Wherever You Are reaching No. 1 in the British pop charts represents not only a propaganda triumph for the UK's Department of Defence, but is also a sobering commentary on the British people's ability to look through the war crimes committed in their name.

WHEREVER YOU ARE, by Military Wives, is No. 1 on the UK pop-charts. And somewhere in the UK Department of Defence (DOD) the Champagne corks are popping. Why not? The song and its accompanying video, released on 19 December, represent the triumph of a truly masterful PR campaign in support of the United Kingdom’s participation in the Afghan War.

The most effective aspect of the campaign was to have it fronted by the wives of soldiers on active duty in Afghanistan. These women are not only a potent reservoir of patriotic emotion, but they also constitute an unchallengeable rhetorical vector for DOD propaganda. Who’s going to contradict the testimony of 100 military wives?

The story that ended this week with Wherever You Are at No. 1 began several months ago when the DOD convinced BBC-2 to take a hand-picked group of military wives as the raw material for the third season of the public network’s high-rating series Choir – hosted by Britain’s “inspirational” choirmaster, Gareth Malone.

As a propaganda force, this alliance between the DOD and the BBC proved formidable. Through its sponsors The Choir: Military Wives was able to secure the musical talents of celebrated Welsh composer, Paul Mealor, whose Ubi Caritas et Amor formed part of the ceremony at Prince William’s and Kate Middleton’s nuptials.

The lyrics to Mr Mealor’s appealing melody were stitched together out of hundreds of letters sent by the Military Wives’ choir to their husbands in Afghanistan. With such phrases as “my wondrous star” and “my prince of peace” prominently featured in Wherever You Are, it is pretty clear that the quest for the No. 1 Christmas slot was something more than fortuitous.

The finale of The Choir: Military Wives series was recorded at The Royal Albert Hall on 12 November as part of the Royal British Legion’s (the UK’s equivalent of the RSA) Remembrance Parade, with the Queen in Attendance. Wherever You Are was thus able to make its debut before a television audience estimated at 2.6 million viewers.

Like all hit recordings, Wherever You Are comes with its own “official” video. Images of the choir engaged in recording the song are interspersed with footage of the wives and their children preparing “Welcome Home” banners for their returning heroes, along with heart-wrenching scenes of family reunions. Throughout, the women are shown wearing black T-shirts bearing the words “My husband protects Queen and Country.”

From whom? One is moved to enquire. Have Afghan tanks rolled through the streets of London? Have Afghan attack helicopters strafed defenceless villages in the Home Counties? Do Afghan soldiers patrol the strategic passes of the Pennines? Is the Metropolitan Police Force being re-trained by advisors from Pakistan and Egypt?

Were all these things true, and if the Royal Army was engaged in a heroic defence of the United Kingdom against a foreign army of occupation, then those T-shirts might make some sense. But they are not true. The truth is that it is these women’s husbands who are driving the tanks, flying the attack helicopters, patrolling the mountain passes and training a Quisling government’s army and police.

And for every one of the “wondrous stars” and “princes of peace” who fall in battle, we must count ten, twenty, thirty Afghan resistance fighters and civilians. The “official” video does not show us these families. We do not hear the wailing of Afghan women, or the sobs of Afghan children, for Afghan husbands and fathers who never came home.

The brutal reality of the Afghan War is deliberately hidden in Wherever You Are. Indeed, the very name of the song, by denying the combatants’ theatre of action its true name, and its unique location on the globe, is itself an act of sanitation. It allows the “sexy, sexy supermen” of the Royal Army and Marines to “protect Queen and Country” in an anonymous country called “Wherever” without scrutiny or accountability.

Should the military wives be blamed for participating in this superbly executed propaganda exercise? After all, it wasn’t on their orders that their menfolk were unleashed upon the tragedy that is Afghanistan.

No, it wasn’t, and it’s not for that I condemn them.

What I condemn is their lack of empathy and imagination; their utter incapacity to acknowledge the all-too-real victims of their husbands’ “heroism”.

The men, women and children of Afghanistan.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 30 December 2011.


Robert Winter said...

So it has been forever. The interesting thing is what the soldiers sing - for every piece of musical propaganda produced by the state, soldiers and civil society produce a counterpoint. I'm minded of gems such as 'If you want the old battalion, we know where they are..' from the 1WW, and Brecht's wonderful 'Wife of a Soldier' - sympathetic to the soldier, yet patently critical of the politics that gave rise to the war.

James McGehan said...

Chris everyone who walks through the gauntlet of armed police and soldiers at Heathrow airport can understand exactly how much the British are at war with an enemy who think killing is fun and prophetable.
As long as Afghanistan can be a refuge, for so long the rest of the world will need to be there. We don't expect them to like our ways, they have their own and welcome to them. But we cannot allow everyhere to be a target. This is a United Nations effort because Kenyans and Indians count just as much as Americans.
Happy New Year to you and yours.
James McGehan

Chris Trotter said...

Quite simply, James, you're wrong.

All the UN Security Council resolutions empowered the US and other nations to do was restore order in Kabul sufficent for an Afghan government to function.

The 9/11 attack against New York and Washington was conceived in Hamburg and carried out by Saudis, Yemenis and Egyptians. No Afghans were involved.

Mullah Omar, then the effective Head of State of Afghanistan, offered to hand Bin Laden and his associates over to the International Court of Justice for trial. The US Government rejected any and all attempts to achieve such a peaceful resolution.

The world acquiesced in the Americans' illegal military actions in Afghanistan out of an understandable but ultimately misguided sympathy for the losses inflicted by the 9/11 attacks.

The Afghan people have been paying the price ever since.

Oh, and just in case you've forgotten, the UK's worst post-9/11 attack - the Underground Bombings of 7/7/05 - were carried out by British residents. Once again, not an Afghan among them.

What's more, the suicide bombers of 7/7 justified their actions by citing what was happening to their fellow Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is, therefore, possible to argue that the military occupation of these two countries made life in the UK less - not more - secure.

Your casual acceptance of the US's, the UK's and NATO's justifications for being in Afghanistan merely confirm Westerners' amazing ability to look through their own crimes as if they were made of clear glass.

Christopher Mitson said...

Well said, Mr Trotter, I've got ten bucks that says some tasteless plagiarist in New Zealand will cobble together a Kiwi version of this mawkish piece of propaganda nonsense. Are you on?

I haven't heard the words (and hope I never will). I still shudder at the Green Beret song ("pin silver wings on my son's chest...blah, vomit, blah...America's best").

These deluded UK women won't even realise they are being conned and exploited. Just as most New Zealanders don't realise we have been conned and exploited by the current government and the last Labour government which cynically sent men to die, and to kill Afghani people, in return for a pat on the head from Washington.

Bushbaptist said...

I agree entirely Chris. And to add; no Iraqis were involved either.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's so easy to sneer from your comfortable armchair, while these women face the daily reality of losing their husbands. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war (and it is not as black and white as you make it out to be), as you admit they are not responsible for British foreign policy (and neither, in fact, are their husbands). They should be condemned for "lacking empathy"? Well I am sure that the men, women and children of Afghanistan are very grateful for your empathy. It must really help to alleviate their suffering. That is why you wrote this, I take it, rather than simply because you've identified a soft target for bolstering your own sense of moral righteousness? Oh, and "Queen and Country" is a patriotic figure of speech: yes, it's a bit of a loathsome phrase, but is there really a need to be so condescending?

Andy C said...

So let me get your position straight here , your all up for the comming civil war in Afganistan. You couldn't give a rats ass about who dies so long as it's no one from NZ.

The Taliban moved on from their political ideology a couple of years ago and its all about Heroin and the money now.
Perhaps your vitreol should be directed at Pakistan for continuing support for the drug gangs.
The few military deaths that have occured are going to be a very brief forward to the thousands of drug addeled overdose deaths that are going to come our way.

Sanctuary said...

@Andy C - So let me see if I have got this right. You are arguing that the US and it's vassal states are not in Afghanistan because of 9/11 but to interdict the heroin trade? Hello? *knock knock* What?

Are you - and I don't excuse my language - a fucking idiot? Where did you dream up that crackpot justification? What U.N. resolution mandates or even mentions that as a reason for us to join in invading a distant land-locked in central Asia?

The invasion of Afghanistan was ostensibly to destroy the power of the Bin-Laden led terror network to repeat attacks on the United States on the scale of 9/11. That was achieved a decade ago. It had nothing to do with heroin (the trade in which you can guarantee the puppet Karzai regime is heavily invovled in) or any incipient Afghan civil war.

I don't want to use war and military occupation as a tool to direct Afghanis how to conduct their private and civil lives. That is their affair, not that of young boys from Burnham and Waiouru.

Bring our troops home now, if only so we can be mercifully free of the idiocy of diversionist arguments like yours.

Andy C said...

@Sanc. The world has moved on, what was authorised by the UN became a guerilla drug war that the Americans had no idea was coming. There are force withdrwals happening now. 10,000 US troops were pulled out in the last 30 days and they all plan to be out by 2014. To quote..

The Taliban and drug gangs continue to run a terrorism campaign against civilians who will not cooperate or submit to Taliban or gang control. Foreign troops often go after Taliban who participate in these terrorist acts (especially murders and kidnappings).

For the first time in five years Taliban attacks were down (nearly 20 percent) over an entire year. Despite the hostile relations with Pakistan, the Taliban bases in Pakistan are increasingly unsafe, denying the Afghan Taliban sanctuaries.

Afghanistan is still a very poor country, and until the foreign armies and their foreign aid arrived a decade ago, poverty was the norm. Only the drug gangs were getting rich and before that, only a few percent of the population had any wealth and everyone else scraped by. The drug gangs and the foreign aid brought in unprecedented amounts of wealth. In the 1990s, opium and heroin sales made thousands of Pushtun tribesmen in the south unbelievably rich. Then came the foreign aid, which was spread around the country, because the Pushtun Taliban was overthrown, with American assistance, by the non-Pushtun majority from the north, who still dominate the government.

"That is their affair". No it's not, if the UN trainers don't get the local authorities up and running soon you can bet it's coming to your street very shortly.

Chris Trotter said...

You seem to be unaware, Andy C, that the Taliban, when it was in control of Afghanistan, brought trafficking in Opium to a standstill.

Only the Northern warlords persisted in the trade - the same warlords the Americans made alliances with, armed and equipped, in the aftermath of 9/11.

The Taliban were harsh rulers, and their attitude toward women was medieval, but they definitely won their "War on Drugs".

Drug trafficking in today's Afghanistan, in addition to reflecting the general breakdown of centralised government control, represents the Taliban's only reliable means of paying for its war of resistance against the foreign invader.

Anonymous said...

Obviously Britain should have waited until Hitler actually invaded before doing anything....
You make the classic mistake of thinking that no planning is required to meet an oncoming threat. The world is doing this with Iran and North Korea-if we are wrong it will be too late when we realise.

The Hermanators said...

@ Andy C, who appears to be playing a game of My Politics Can Beat Up Your History. No it can't. Anyone with even only the lightest insight into these military ventures - and I count myself among those who can lay claim to insight of only the most modest measure - knew before the first Nato soldier's boot left an imprint in the dust of Afghanistan that this would upset the power dynamics and promote new nonsense.

If the Pentagon and CIA couldn't see it coming then more the fool they were but I don't believe that for a second; the enduring challenge of Afghanistan was too good a revenue opportunity for the military industrial complex for it not to lobby hard for an open-ended deployment. After all, secure annuity revenue is the holy grail of most businesses.

There's a money trail that leads back to the masters of war in the US and elsewhere that speaks of a moral corruption far more alarming than the drug trade that rightly deserves condemnation but which is a convenient distraction.

Chris Trotter said...

TO: Anonymous@3:26

Why doesn't anyone read history anymore?!

The UK had plenty of opportunities to stop Hitler well before he attempted to cross the Channel.

The most opportune was in 1938 during the Sudeten Crisis. Had the UK and France announced their intention to mobilise in sympathy with Czechoslovakia (as France's treaty with the Czechs promised) then the German General Staff would have removed him from power.

The UK's and Frances's behaviour at Munich made war in Europe more or less inevitable. After that, only a treaty with the Soviet Union could have halted the rush to war. Unfortunately, the British Tories were ideologically incapable of countenancing such a move and Stalin eagerly accepted the "protection" of the infamous non-aggression pact which Hitler was only too happy to offer.

Nazi Germany was, of course, a genuine threat to the British people - unlike Afghanistan. The Afghans in 2001 were an exhausted people painfully attempting to reconstruct their battered country after 30 years of war.

Those who attempt to equate Saddam and/or the Taliban with Hitler reveal themselves as little more than crude mouthpieces for Pentagon propaganda.

Michael said...

I did read Afghanistan and Central Asia : a modern history by Martin McCauley. Good. Can't remember much of it - mind approaching middle age. Of Afghans I suspect a few men but few women will look forward to the end of the current military intervention/occupation by the US and associates. Neither I expect are they thankful while it continues. God bless Afghanistan. No one else seems to.

Anonymous said...

Gee, Chris. If you had only thought of this, when you were ramping up support for this war.

I am sure that if the NZ military had come up with this mawkish propaganda during Helen Clark's tenure, you would be featuring the video on your site.