Tuesday 28 August 2012

Our Diminishing Capacity For Empathy

 A Failure Of Empathy: The casual cruelty of Barbara Sumner-Burstyn's Facebook posting about the death of Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker offered swift corroboration of Dr Bruce Perry's claim that social media are diminishing our capacity for empathy.
ARE SOCIAL MEDIA making us crueller? Dr Bruce Perry, an American neuroscientist currently touring New Zealand, argues that the explosive growth of communications technology is diminishing our capacity for empathy. By undermining face-to-face relationships and weakening the intimate and ethical bonds that hold communities together, claims Dr Perry, social media are changing the way our brains work.
A challenging thesis, but Dr Perry’s disturbing ideas received almost instant corroboration. In an extraordinary outburst on Facebook, the New Zealand film-maker, Barbara Sumner-Burstyn, delivered the following, scathing, ‘testimonial’ to Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, the young New Zealand soldier killed in action in Afghanistan on 19 August:
“Oh, so fallen soldier Jacinda Baker liked boxing and baking – did they forget she also liked invading countries we are not at war with, killing innocent people and had no moral compass. She 100 per cent does not deserve our respect for her flawed choices. We are not at war. We are helping America invade another country for their oil. No more than that.”
It is difficult to know where to begin with this thoroughly obnoxious piece of writing. Perhaps with Ms Sumner-Burstyn’s simple errors of fact.
Lance Corporal Baker did not invade Afghanistan, she was posted there as a serving member of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) which was in Afghanistan at the behest of the New Zealand Government, which had agreed to supply the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan province. The ISAF is in Afghanistan by virtue of a UN Security Council resolution authorising UN member states to aid the creation of an effective and democratic Afghan government.
Lance Corporal Baker, far from “killing innocent people” was a medic – duty bound to assist all those wounded in combat or injured by enemy munitions – regardless of status or nationality. When she was killed, Lance Corporal Baker was escorting an injured comrade to medical assistance. It is extremely difficult to reconcile these facts with Ms Sumner-Burstyn’s charge that Lance Corporal Baker “had no moral compass”.
Ms Sumner-Burstyn’s final claim: “We are helping America invade another country for their oil” is similarly false. Afghanistan possesses no oil fields worth expending US blood and treasure to secure. The Americans are there for only one reason. Because the Taliban Government of Afghanistan had offered safe haven to Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida: the terrorists ultimately responsible for the murderous attacks of 11 September 2001.

Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker
Natural reticence, not to mention fear of instant retaliation, would almost certainly have prevented Ms Sumner-Burstyn from uttering such false and hurtful accusations in front of people who did not share completely her opinions on the Afghanistan conflict. The classical injunction De mortuis nil nisi bonum – Of the dead speak only good – invokes a simpler world in which people confronted one another face-to-face. By placing a computer screen between herself and the family, friends and comrades of Lance Corporal Baker, Ms Sumner-Burstyn lost the inhibitive effect of close human proximity. Without its protection she had nothing to shield her from the full emotional and practical consequences of her actions.
These followed with terrifying speed and intensity. Ms Sumner-Burstyn’s comments appeared on her Facebook Page on Friday, by Saturday a new Facebook Page – Sumner Burstyn Give Back Your NZ Passport! – had attracted more than 15,000 followers. By Sunday that number had grown to 20,000.
Reading the comments posted on this new page, Dr Perry would no doubt suffer an embarrassment of evidential riches for his diminishing-empathy thesis. If Ms Sumner-Burstyn’s comments were ignorant and insensitive, the response was nothing short of homicidal. The reactive firestorm’s flames leaped across the Pacific Ocean to Canada – where Ms Sumner-Burstyn is working – and she hurriedly took down her Facebook Page and changed her e-mail address.
Too late. On the Internet everything is recoverable – including screen-shots of Ms Sumner-Burstyn’s original comments. By Sunday, family members had been driven from their homes by the public fury. Threatened with rape and murder, Ms Sumner-Burstyn fears to return to New Zealand.
A recent photograph of Ms Sumner-Burstyn shows a middle-aged woman posed in front of a large book-case filled with academic literature. Studying her face, and reading about her many awards for documentary film-making – many of them on “progressive” themes – it is difficult to fathom how Ms Sumner-Burstyn could be capable of such casual cruelty. As a clearly gifted artist and feminist, it is extraordinary that she was so utterly unable to empathise with Lance Corporal Baker – the first female member of the NZDF to lose her life on active service.
By the same token, it is profoundly depressing to read the spittle-flecked responses of her detractors.
Lance Corporal Baker lost her life on a mission to re-build and heal a damaged province in a ravaged land. Her empathy merited a much more generous memorial.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 28 August 2012.


Anonymous said...

"Lance Corporal Baker lost her life on a mission to re-build and heal a damaged province in a ravaged land"

Come on.

May have been a nice person but she was there as part of a Western imperialist alliance power play.

Chris Trotter said...

That last sentence trips easily of the left-wing tongue, Anonymous, but Afghanistan, like all wars, is the product of both general and specific influences and motivations.

In my opinion there is far less imperialistic calculation about the invasion of Afghanistan than there was about the invasion of Iraq. Like Ms Sumner-Burstyn, you seem to be conflating two very different conflicts.

I also think you need to come to a conclusion about our armed forces. Do you want them - or would you rather they were disbanded?

If it's the former, then presumably you would prefer an army that followed the orders of its government.

An army which refuses to follow orders is a very dangerous thing - especially when it comes to the survival of democracies.

LC Baker was following the orders of her democratically elected government. If you feel the need to take anyone to task over Afghanistan - take the voters to task.

The soldiers are simply doing the job we asked them to do.

Jigsaw said...

Well said Chris-in every aspect.

Anonymous said...

"The soldiers are simply doing the job we asked them to do" trips as easily off the liberal tongue as off the RSA tongue.
Cling if you like, and as I am fairly sure you will, to the fantasy that the mass of the people somehow control the armed forces through the medium of parliament.
Despite the daily propaganda to the contrary, they are not "our" armed forces. Yes, I would like them disbanded, and in some future social circumstances I probably will not live to experience, they will so be.

Victor said...

Correct in all particulars, Chris.

Well said

LesterPK said...

Chris, I must admit in politics I'm squarely on the right side, but I wanted to say than you for an excellent post about the situation.

Kat said...

Chris, your comment to take the voters to task is somewhat spurious. At what point have NZ voters had the opportunity to cast a vote 'for or against' our presence in Afghanistan? Both Labour and National have been complicit in our involvement in Afghanistan. When did international conflict ever directly decide an election outcome in NZ?

Bazza said...

Hatred is an ugly master.

This essay is without peer.

Simon said...

“Afghanistan possesses no oil fields worth expending US blood and treasure to secure. “

“The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan,

http://www.cnbc.com/id/37678403 or

Afghanistan houses rich seams of copper, iron, gold, lithium and rare earth deposits worth up to $3 trillion, according to the Afghan government.


Rupert Murdoch is picking Karzai to move to Minister of mining next year as he sells off exploration rights to the highest bidder. Either the Chinese or American.

Private armies will move in. In the meantime the little people are getting killed while Big Money get their Govt payoffs lined up. It is pretty sordid and making us all idiots.

Anonymous said...

It's a pity the real truth can't be told about Barbara Sumner Burstyn's past, and her former names. TV3 and Stuff are saying she's Canadian. She's not. She's from Invercargil for a start. It's rich her accusing Jacinda Baker of having "no moral compass". Burstyn (under her former identities and names) has wrecked several marriages in NZ. She has caused enormous hurt to people then walked away laughing. She is no friend to women. She has also done other despicable things to her "friends" which can't be written here. She is no "gifted artist" - her current husband is, as is her her last husband, a film editor, whom she treated abominably. Oh make no mistake, I've known this woman for a long, long time, and this latest outburst is true to form. She's not changed at all. I just feel sorry for her, that after all these years she still can't help herself, she still has to be so cruel to her fellow human beings.

John Ansell said...

Well said, Chris - though your implication that "progressives" and cruel remarks do not normally go together has not been my experience.

(You are the shining exception, of course :-))

valens said...

what about the S.A.S?

Anonymous said...

I hope this is an outlier blip of nationalism rather than a trend toward intellectual senility, Chris. The humanitarianism you hold up as an ultimate objective justification is part of a discursive practice of power intended to eliminate the capacity to even think politically in this sinking neo-liberal world. In know dialectics isn’t too fashionable at present, but recourse to vulgar positivism I would have hoped to have been beneath you.

Doubtless this woman’s post suffered from factual laziness and a portentous clean-hands liberal-bourgeois moral superiority, but your response is every bit as facile.

I) That a military occupation is sanctioned by various national and international institutions and apparatuses of power does not at all negate the possibility of imperialist intent. One need only cast one’s mind back to the manner in which the truly independent voices in the UN were silenced and how tenuous that institution’s legitimation was for prime example. New Zealand’s political elite were and are immensely secretive and evasive regarding what New Zealand forces are and have been doing there and employ a humanitarian justification to silence any meaningful debate.

II) Anyone with even a remotely critical stance on the invasions is aware of the intended oil pipeline to run through Afghanistan and how it has been foremost in American considerations even prior to the invasion.

III) “The Americans are there for only one reason. Because the Taliban Government of Afghanistan had offered safe haven to Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida: the terrorists ultimately responsible for the murderous attacks of 11 September 2001.” The ideological climate occasioned by the destruction of the World Trade Centre can be said to have enabled the invasions, but to buy the profoundly weak narrative linking countries, organisations and persons—so rapidly plucked from Western indifference and emotively demonised in media—to such in utter absence of credible public information is Orwellian lunacy. How about we tie Iran and Syria into this amorphous shambles of disparate halfwit imperatives premised on a crude admixture of vengeance and humanitarianism—say using half-truths or unsupported assertions of nuclear and biological weapons arsenals—and proceed to invade them to free up markets, labour power, and resources?

Yes, it was cruel to charge a dead soldier with the weight of the unjustifiable brutality of Western power before she was even buried, and yes, all these distanced forms of communication pervert our sociality, but does this technology not just point the conscience of the individual unhampered by a cultural tradition of not causing a stir and thus the political reality that consensus is a fiction of power in a class society which suppresses consideration of class? Do we really wish to endorse a culture of unthinking nationalism and silent assent to elitist agendas?

Anonymous said...

"An army which refuses to follow orders is a very dangerous thing..."

We were just following orders. I recall hearing that at Nuremberg.

"The soldiers are simply doing the job we asked them to do."

I didn't ask them to go to Afghanistan to contribute to more death and destruction.

gregster said...

Very good CT. You can write but I can't often say I agree with the subject matter.

Sparky said...

I agree with Jigsaw. Ms. S-B's comments were vicious, not based on facts and of extremely poor taste.
By the same token, the reaction, while understandable, was irreprehensible as well.
Ms. S-B should have taken her criticisms to Mr. Key not to a dead soldier doing her duty. Blaming the victim is par for the course today.

Anonymous said...

"LC Baker was following the orders of her democratically elected government... If you feel the need to take anyone to task over Afghanistan - take the voters to task."

Fair enough, but "I was only obeying orders" is not generally regarded as a sufficient legal or moral defence for war crimes or crimes against humanity (not that LC Baker committed any such crimes).

More to the point: Osama bin Laden could have pointed out (with some justification) that American voters had legitimised their government's bad actions towards Muslim people (not least the behaviour of Israel towards the Palestinians), and were therefore legitimate targets. Do we really want to go there?

And does anyone actually know how many Afghans have been killed by the occupying forces? That always seems to get lost in the fuss over the small number of casualties suffered by the occupiers (the fuss amazes me – have people never heard of the Somme?).

Anonymous said...

"I also think you need to come to a conclusion about our armed forces. Do you want them - or would you rather they were disbanded?"

Hmmm so you supported NZ's involvement in the Vietnam War, Chris? I don't want the armed forces disbanded but neither do I want them fighting other countries' wars on the slightest pretext. You seem to be saying that where the US goes, we should go. That is nonsense. We should be able to think for ourselves.

TM said...

Whether the Afghanistan occupation is justified is irrelevant. Even if she was completely right, to try and make a political statement by denigrating someone recently killed is very cold and callous.

The reactions to her comments further emphasise the rise of the keyboard warrior who has equal disregard for the welbeing of others.

And somehow incidents like this don't surprise me at all. If Greenpeace or Sea Shepherd activists were killed while protesting, you can guarantee there would be people lining up to denigrate the death of people doing what they believed in. And the counter-reaction would be equally vitriolic.

In our modern world, people confuse empathy and manners with being politically correct, but it is empathy and manners which help society funciton and keep a lid on escalating extremist actions.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@6:59PM

What utter tosh!

Because I opposed NZ's involvement in the Vietnam War I took part in protest demonstrations and supported the Labour Party - which was pledged to end NZ's participation.

In 1972 Labour won the election and our armed forces (about 25 of them by that stage) were withdrawn.

That is the democratic way to end your country's involvement in an immoral war. It does not require the denegration of the military personnel sent to do the Government's bidding.

Victor said...

Anonymous @ 2.12pm

"Anyone with even a remotely critical stance on the invasions is aware of the intended oil pipeline to run through Afghanistan and how it has been foremost in American considerations even prior to the invasion."

Anyone who can recall the world before 9/11, will remember that the new Bush Administration was anxious to free the US military from ongoing overseas entanglements and was instead concentrating on its ability to deliver massive force globally from the American homeland.

Donald Rumsfeld had been working to this end since his involvement in the Ford Administration in the 1970s. A crucial concern was the emerging (and now emerged) rivalry with China.

The only challenge to this focus from inside the Administration came from some of the Neo-cons, with their hubristic plans for reorganising the Middle East.

Afghanistan, by contrast, was on no-one's road map.

Yes, there would be strategic and resource advantages to the US if it could retain control of Afghanistan. But the advantages are far outweighed by the disadvantages and they're not what took the US there in the first place.

Whether the US was wise to respond to 9/11 by invading the Graveyard of Empires is another matter, as has been and remains the wisdom of our involvement therewith.


It's true that that the Nuremburg judgements removed the defence of carrying out orders in the case of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. Do you seriously believe Lance Corporal Baker was guilty of such crimes. If so, what's your evidence?

Anonymous @3.35 pm

I for one am aware of the scale of lives lost on the Somme. I'm quite glad that generals are no longer as profligate with their soldiers' lives. Aren't you?

Your point about the disparity between our concern for our own military dead and for slaughtered Afghans is, however, well made.

Anonymous said...

"It does not require the denegration of the military personnel sent to do the Government's bidding."

Well, if various accounts are to be believed, joining the SAS means that you may well be sent on secret missions to murder the civilian political enemies of our nation and its allies, even if those "enemies" have done nothing more than attempt to exercise rights that we in New Zealand think everyone should have (just not in the way "we" would prefer they do so).

You have to wonder at the moral character of anyone who would submit themselves to the military orders of a western government these days. At least those who fought Hitler could be confident that they were being asked to do the right thing.

Most soldiers seem like nice people. But there exists a terrible void, nevertheless.

Unknown said...

What I love about you Chris is you assume a different position to challenge people and to bring another angle to the debate. Even if it is heresy in the eyes of left.
This (despite fervent elitist protestations to the contrary) is something the left seems incapable to do lest they lose their dwindling base of students and bohemians.

Unknown said...

And personally we can't know exactly all of the US's exact motives for the invasion of Afghanistan. This is something that usually comes out much later on. What we do know is when it comes to US military deployments, selfish motives and pure deeds seldom coincide.

And to anonymous at 6.59pm, your comments perfectly illustrate the brainmold of the straightjacket left. We could summarise it as; 'if you're not with us on every single issue, you're against us'

And before you jump the gun, comrade, I am a democratic socialist myself and I believe in a classless society free of the profit motive as the final goal in the liberation of mankind from wage slavery.

Anonymous said...


What is democratic about NZ's involvement in Afghanistan? Did you or I vote on the issue? And as you say, you protested against the Vietnam War, so clearly you weren't happy with the "democratic way" any more than Sumner-Burstyn is happy with NZ's presence in Afghan. She has complained about that presence, as she surely is entitled to do.

Personally I wouldn't pick and choose which wars to support. We shouldn't be in Afghanistan and if we weren't there, this issue would never have arisen. I recall a similar furore over Valerie Morse's protest on Anzac Day during a dawn service. That was precisely the time to protest.

Tiger Mountain said...

Sumner-Burstyn has made a real dick of herself and presents as a rather unpleasant and even unwell type, but does she deserve to be threatened with rape and murder via the internet?

Recent research indicates that social media amplifies many people’s thinking and behaviour so acts of incredible kindness and altruism are matched by gruesome violent projections as in this case.

Experienced users often self censor and think before hitting “post comment” or the “Enter” key. This limits death threats and having to delete posts, (that can be there forever anyway) via screen shots and certain server archives.

Service people unsurprisingly have a woeful track record in supporting freedom of speech and attacks on democracy in New Zealand. They are quite happy to head off overseas and kill the “yellow man” and any other ‘man’ the yanks paint a target on. Following orders? Archie Baxter didn’t and the rest of us do not have to either.

Sumner-Burstyn’s would be violators do illustrate the advent of the ‘FaceMob’ as I call the rush of blood FaceBook lot. These people got all carried away too during the Lord Jackson Hobbit Enabling Act affair whereby New Zealand apparently IS Middle Earth, and anyone to the contrary is a traitor. Cue the shameful Labour Day Weta march.

Social media exacerbates and facilitates what already exists, we obviously live among some very dark, sadistic, non empathetic New Zealanders.

Victor said...


"You have to wonder at the moral character of anyone who would submit themselves to the military orders of a western government these days."

As a general point, I think I understand what you mean about the moral character of the professional soldier. But I wonder how relevant this observation is to the specifics of New Zealand.

Most of our recent army deployments have been in a peacekeeping role, either in the Middle East (e.g. Sinai, Lebanon) or closer to home in places like Bougainville, East Timor etc.

I agree that it's open to question whether the Afghanistan deployment fits the same template. But that doesn't invalidate the template's existence.

As to our Airforce, we no longer have planes that can shoot anything down but we do have a whole heap of choppers available (inter alia) for search and rescue missions, as well as some aged Hercs that can be sent off for cyclone relief etc.

The Navy is the Navy. You join it and you see (if not the World then at least) the Pacific. You sometimes get to help tsunami victims although you might end up patrolling with dubious allies in the Persian Gulf.

In short, young people joining our armed forces might well be at least as interested in saving lives as in taking them, albeit that the latter does obviously happen.

And they'll also probably be adventurous and recognise a reasonably good, medium term career option when they see one.

Moreover, a very large percentage of New Zealand's army is Maori. I suspect that they're not exactly dazzled by the other career options open to them.

I could make a similar (though by no means identical) point about the British squaddies I used to come across on train journeys through the UK in the 1980s. Most of them were former no-hope kids from Northern English towns wasted by Thatcher's de-industrialisation policies.

They'd swapped utter hopelessness for comfortable barracks somewhere in Germany, access to career training and a secure pension in early middle age. But they paid a high price, certainly physically and perhaps ethically, through occasional deployments in Northern Ireland, the South Atlantic etc.

It wasn't an enviable choice, nor, necessarily, an edifying one. But I would hesitate to sit in judgement on them.

Anonymous said...

In saying “the new Bush Administration was anxious to free the US military from ongoing overseas entanglements and was instead concentrating on its ability to deliver massive force globally from the American homeland” I take it you refer, for the main, to the Dr Strangelove-esque missile defence program in consideration at the time. Meanwhile, spending on the military-industrial complex never diminished. What point, in the capitalist paradigm, in extreme militaristic capability when capitalism’s growth is stunted by isolationism?

The “concern” with China’s rapid and brutal economic development, unless one bought into those superficial “clash of civilizations” “theories” of the time, turned on maintaining dominance in the global domain. Given Western populations will tacitly assent to any foreign policy which maintains their standard of living and the inability to compete with China’s brutality against its own labouring populace, one could easily make an argument that neo-imperialism was a necessary and foreseeable strategy. How about Luxemburg’s ‘Accumulation of Capital’ for bedtime reading?
(Anonymous @ 2.12pm)

Victor said...


No, I wasn't referring to missile defence systems but to plans to project US dominance through a mixture of sophisticated offensive missile systems and rapid deployment formations, rather than through stationing GIs on the ground in potentially hostile regions.

This certainly wouldn't have involved any diminution in defence spending. Nor am I or was I ever an advocate for such policies.And nor, for that matter, am I a spear carrier for the US, let alone for the absurd and murderous Bush administration.

I merely note that this was the dominant strand in US strategic thinking immediately prior to 9/11 and that the invasion of Afghanistan was in total contradiction to this strand of thinking.

Madison said...

Fabulous, Chris brings up the dehumanising effects of too much time on line, possibly showing in the lack of empathy with Barbara Sumner-Burstyn and we get into a debate about why people are invading Afghanistan. The point is that civility and an ability to relate to people on line as you would in person, at least as far as I see it, is disappearing and this firestorm (both sides of it) shows the effects all too well.

My brother spent 2 years in Afghanistan and because he was stationed there as a member of the US Army I've had all too many people on line tell me how they would be happy had he been killed there. In person I've never had such issues. Yet for all the trouble my brother spent 2 years risking his life to clear mine fields in the Afghan countryside to hopefully open up new fields for anything other than opium farming.

I can say that in person people have been reasonable if they disagree, especially as it was not me that went, not my choice and I didn't agree with the whole idea. On line things were decidedly much nastier. This lack of empathy is clearly a problem as many people feel shielded by their screens. IF more and more of our debate and personal connections are on line instead of through physical and face-to-face means then this lack of empathy is looking to lead to serious issues. Just look at the increase in cyber-bullying and the effects that is having on younger people.

I agree that for the Baker family this is all a bit of a travesty. They lost a daughter, and even if they disagreed with her choices they loved her and merely wanted the best for her. As a parent I would be crushed at someone seemingly cheering the death of my child and I only hope some people learn to use their humanity as often on line as they do in person.

peedledee said...

While I agree with most of what you say regarding this display of recklessly misdirected indignation, I (too) am surprised - even allowing for calculations of context - that you put the rationale for the war in Afghanistan in such simple, unqualified terms. Are you really content to seem to dismiss the structural logic behind U.S-led interventions, captured in a phrase of the late Gore Vidal's as 'perpetual war for perpetual peace'? To quote writers from the Retort collective in California on the 'machine' of imperial war: 'Any analysis that claims a single casus belli to explain...any given intervention, without paying full heed to the momentum of this thoroughly militarized, deep strategic project, will be fundamentally incomplete'. Whatever else the war in Afghanistan is being fought for, there was always the demonstration effect - even if this has mutated spectacularly from what was originally envisaged.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, there is no evidence that Osama Bin Laden was involved in 9/11. None. FBI and CIA reports conclude around 2006 that there is *no* evidence.
Secondly, the Taliban government was in negotiations with the US for a Caspian oil and gas pipeline deal. They wanted too much.
Saddam Hussein, and Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9/11.
Neither did New Zealand - funny that?
Lastly, we have not declared war on Afghanistan. Our presence is a war crime.
Would you help a friend do something illegal because he was your friend? That's what the USA is doing in the world. Invasion, steeling resources, and genocide.
We're party to that.
If you don't believe me - look at how NZDF staff are using terrorism to suppress New Zealanders right to freedom of speech?
The NZDF are the terrorists. Watch and learn.

Chris Trotter said...

It's a pity, Anonymous@8:40AM, that you haven't put your name to this because it would be interesting to learn whether you are someone who should know better than to peddle such offensive twaddle, or merely one of those who take their information from the fetid, conspiritorial swamps of ultra-left websites.

ISAF is in Afghanistan with the sanction of the United Nations' Security Council.

Osama Bin Laden personally and repeatedly claimed responsibility for the attacks of 9/11.

The NZDF are not terrorists. But, if you want to learn what terrorism is really like, try the following:

Go to Kabul, hire a car, drive in any direction you choose for 25 minutes, and wait.

Anonymous said...

As war has not been declared by NZ, then by ICC definitions troops present engaging in activities are committing war crimes, regardless of SC declarations, which are superseded by international law.

According to the local Taliban present during the attack, these soldiers were wearing US uniforms, carried US weapons and were travelling in US vehicles at the time the IED was detonated. Photographs were taken that tend to confirm this.
Are they NZ soldiers - or US soldiers Mr Trotter? Clarification please!!

I have spent 5 days with the Taliban. I would suggest you travel there and investigate, then you will be able to spot propaganda, instead of publishing it.

'The 'FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11'. Vice President Cheney says, 'We've never made the case, or argued the case, that somehow Osama Bin Laden was directly involved in 9/11'' - he was in fact wanted for the 1998 WTC bombings.

Next time I see you in the Koru Lounge, I'll introduce myself.
I look forward to seeing your evidence to back up your above claims.

Anonymous said...

In fact Chris, Sumner knows what terrorism is like - first hand - from the officially condoned activities of Ted Grainger and Lance Corporal Whittingham.

peedledee said...

Er - I should correct something in my comment above: Vidal was quoting the historian Charles Beard.

Victor said...

We can argue till the cows come home about either the wisdom or morality of the US-led military involvement in Afghanistan.

Some things are, however, beyond reasonable doubt.

The first is the operation's legality. Even before the UN got involved, the US had a justifiable casus belli in terms of the 9/11 attacks. Similarly, its NATO allies had an obligation to come to its aid, even though this involved action outside of the North Atlantic region.

There are justifiable doubts over the legality of many of the wars of the 1990s and 2000s (e.g. Kosovo, Lebanon, Iraq). But not over this one.

There are, of course, some on the Left who regard international law as merely a facade for the interests of global capitalism and/or US power political considerations. Whether they are right or wrong, their beliefs should surely disqualify them from credible protest over legalities.

Secondly, whilst the United States (along with Russia, China and India) has a clear interest in ensuring the flow of oil from the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, it makes little strategic sense for Washington to favour pipelines through notoriously unstable countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, when there are alternative routs across the Caspian to Baku and thence across the Black Sea and/or through the territory of pro-Western states. This is, by the way, one of the few area in which US and Indian interests may conflict.

Moreover, there's no empirical evidence that the US was motivated by oil interests in invading Afghanistan. All we have is 'cum hoc ergo propter hoc' reasoning of a particularly banal sort.

The same goes for the sudden massive expansion of US influence into Central Asia under the Bush administration, an expansion that has now been substantially reversed by Russian statecraft.

And, finally, it's beyond doubt that the US-led Afghan involvement has failed. It was, moreover, probably bound to fail.

Nor is there much doubt that the cost in human life and infrastructure outweighs any perceivable advantage that might be gained from continuing the war.

It is long past time for time for US to go. And it is, of course, also long past time for New Zealand to pull out its forces.

But we should not blind ourselves to the noxious choices we will be leaving behind for the Afghan people (and particularly for the country's women).

Nor should we blind ourselves to the revived odor of Imperialism that will undermine all that western nations seek to do in that part of the world for some years to come, whatever our intents.

It will need wisdom, circumspection, humility and humanity, if we are to contribute anything worthwhile towards Afghanistan's future from hereon.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@11:44AM

Spent 5 DAYS with the Taliban did you?

AND you're an expert on international law?

Yeah, right.

Anonymous said...

Bush's original crusade against the Taliban of Afghanistan has more to do with control of the immense oil and gas resources of the Caspian Basin than it does with "rooting out terrorism".
After all, how many Taliban were on those hijacked planes at 9/11? Umm none?
How many Saudis were on those planes(or are still alive?)?
How many countries has the USA invaded under the pretext of 9/11? Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and they are currently pestering Syria (we have presently SAS there) and Iran.
Did Saddam and all of the rest of them Fund Al Qaeda? Nope!
But the USA did! But then negotiations broke down for the Afghan pipeline (trans-Afghan) and the USA used the pretext of Osama Bin Laden not being handed over as a reason to invade. All the Taliban asked was for the Americans to provide proof that Osama was involved in 9/11. They couldn't prove that - so they bombed Afghanistan without real reason, like Nazi Germany invading Poland, and let the Blitzkrieg roll!
Except the Americans couldn't even do that, 10 years later.

Ask Mikheil Saakashvili about what happens when you have problems getting a Caspian pipeline through your neighbours land to the Black Sea for the Americans? A little bit of aggressive genocide against your neighbours brought in CIS tanks. Russia ended that little party just outside Tbilisi.
America thought it could invade Afghanistan to achieve an end just like every other invader before it.

The Taliban are seen in the West in the wrong light. They are just normal people like you or I, whom have had friends and family brutally murdered by coalition forces - and are now fighting back. They are an inhomogeneous group based upon tribal loyalties and family groups.
To apply your ideals for their system of justice, no matter how brutal you may perceive it - smacks of Cultural Racism. You think yourself better than the Taliban Chris?

As for International Law. You know deep down that arguing that 'doing good for the people' is like trying to save the village from the NVA by destroying it?
Our troops are doing very little 'rebuilding' and are actively engaged in offensive operations with the US against the locals.
How long is it going to be before someone shows inappropriate footage of NZ soldiers with dead Taliban, or burning Korans in Afghanistan before you start to jump up and down? How many innocents have we killed by mistake? Or handed POWs over to the Americans whom have ended up dead? In violation of the Geneva Convention?

We're up to our neck in War Crimes, and until our brain dead media start talking about our 'dirty illegal war' then nothing will change.
After all, you wouldn't help a mate do something illegal - would you Chris? Because that's what we are doing in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Libya, and now in Syria.

And you write opinion pieces without doing real research before you publish? Tui! Ditto!

Anonymous said...

You will be interested to learn that many NZDF personnel and veterans have high levels of depleted uranium in their urine. Some have had abortions and miscarriages at higher rates (case study Middlemore), and children born with nasty genetic defects.
This is all being kept very quiet.
Just like Christmas Island test vets in the Navy, Agent Orange and Bug Repellent in Vietnam, and now Depleted Uranium exposure.
In fact, there is nothing depleted about it. Most of it is re-processed reactor waste containing Am241, U238, U236 and in some very rare cases, highly elevated levels of U235 ...
The NZDF will not recognise these issues for veterans, nor compensate.
Look at the Massey Study for Christmas Island.
Oh, and the use of depleted Uranium is clearly a War Crime, no if's, but's or maybes. You might want to ask the Army upon which ranges in NZ it has been firing DU ...

Anonymous said...

Chris, just so as we know what to steer clear of, just exactly which are " the fetid, conspiritorial swamps of ultra-left websites" ?

Just the New Zealand ones would do for a starter.

Tar and Feather The Bastards said...

She definitely put her foot in it and the comments were pretty harsh, BUT, although she got some facts wrong, specificly about the oil, she does have a point and I thought that u in particular Chris would be well aware that the Taliban said they would hand over bin Laden when shown proof, then said they'd do it without, but of course it's full steam ahead for war profiteering and no suprises here, the usa REJECTED the offer. Check out the link below.

Goggle "carpet of gold or a carpet of bombs" an offer made to the Taliban well before 911, over stalled Unicols negotiations for the laying and security of an oil / gas PIPELINE(her mistake) through Afghanistan. Surely you've heard it referred to as "Pipelinestan". War was launched to enable this with 911 as the convienient excuse. As for leaving the Gan, it'll be much like Iraq - "all the troops have been withdrawn", 'cept for the 50,000 still in Iraq for "whatever raison d'etre applies this month. The prize is Iran and security council edicts aside, this is a UN rubberstamped corporate takeover and redrawing of the middle east, and we are there because the Amerikans have told us to be there. Nothing to do with the electorate and how they voted - an argument I found somewhat facile from someone of your of your statuegyurcen 198- F Chris

Peter Malcouronne said...

Chris. The Taliban said they'd hand over OBL if the US provided proof that he masterminded 9/11. But of course, there is no proof - just these clumsy fabrications:


Like the Taliban, I'm astonished that the most powerful empire of all time didn't turn the other cheek after it was attacked. It's very odd that a tiger retaliates when you tweak its tail.

Victor said...

Peter Malcouronne

I don't buy into elaborate conspiracy theories purporting to prove the non-culpability of bin Laden in 9/11.

There is, however, considerable evidence that Mullah Omar was under pressure from within the Taliban to expel Al Qaeda and mend fences with the movement's erstwhile US patrons. So, from a point of view of combating global terror, the invasion ( with all its attendant loss of life and political and economic damage) might not have been necessary.

However, I'd have been astonished if the US hadn't done something large and violent following 9/11. That's what tigers do when you tweak their tails.

And I think you're ignoring the psychological impact of the attacks on US opinion and the need to be seen to do 'something'.

As a result, the US blundered into the perceptional trap bin Laden had set for it.


It's true that the development of a pipeline from Baku to Turkey via Azerbaijan and southern Georgia is not in Russia's interests and may well have played a role in fomenting the Ossettia war.

But not even Bush and Rumsfeld would have imagined that Afghanistan was a safer bet.

As to your professions of cultural relativism, they sail so close to the wind of amoralism that I seriously question your right to take moralistic stances.

Victor said...

Just one more point.

In 2008, it was Georgia rather than Russia that turned a series of low level border skirmishes with South Ossetia into a full scale war.

You cannot therefore take this conflict as evidence of the inherent dangers of laying a
pipeline through Transcaucasia.

Geogians advancing northwards tells us nothing about the safety or otherwise of a pipeline in their country's extreme South. Nor does it suggest the pipeline was key to the conflict's outbreak.

Still less can you use this conflict as evidence of Afghanistan and Pakistan providing an inherently safer pipeline rout (which they patently do not). And least of all can you use this argument as an explanation for America's involvement in Afghanistan.

To do so is to draw a bow of impossible length and no accuracy whatsoever.

The pipeline certainly helps explain the depth of US support for the Georgian regime. But there are many other factors involved,including the expansion of NATO and what Russia fears might be an attempt at strategic encirclement.

That's not to paint the Russian regime as a collection of plaster saints. Its crimes in Chechnya are in the same league as those of the Anglophone-led coalition in Iraq, even if its role in the South Ossetia conflict had some justification.

Anonymous said...

Russia's Crimes in Chechnya? There were no crimes. This is an internal matter for Russia, and the CIS, in dealing with internal Islamic fundamentalists supported externally by Saudi Arabia and the West.
Russia is not a regime, but has the most secure democratic processes for electing officials of any country today. Voting at the last Presidential election was extremely well overseen, and certainly beats the USA, where Obama supporters were being filmed stuffing ballot boxes with votes. That's for sure.

As for the American War of Terror.
Some lite reading for you all. After all, Veterans Today is Publishing it. Chris had better catch up. Fast.



Anonymous said...

Wouldn't surprise me if the bomb that blew up the NZDF people was funded by a German/NATO NGO ... read the previous article carefully.
After all, who are the Taliban?


Anonymous said...

From the Lip of the Don-Key? "Secretary Clinton and I discussed the broad range of issues in the Asia Pacific region as we look towards the APEC summit in Russia in around 10 days time. New Zealand warmly supports the United States rebalancing towards the Asia Pacific, and we welcome the opportunity to cooperate with the US in the next conflicts."

Chris Trotter said...

Keep up with the play, Anonymous@11:18PM.

What you've quoted is the mangled US version of Key's comments.

Check-out today's NZ Herald to discover what he actually said.

Anonymous said...

So what's the difference Chris between Support the US "... in the next conflicts." versus " in all contexts."? Please explain. I'm rather simple when it comes to Politico-speak.

Isn't that the same anyway?

When 'Princess' Tony Blair & Co. go to The Hague - won't Helen and John follow?



Anonymous said...

So - they want Assange and Kim Dot Kom - but what about Helen and John?

Which UN mandate thingy that is to be held above International law Chris?
Since when does the UN mandate International Law?

Say "Helen and John are party to War Crimes" ... go on! It will just roll off you lips ...

Anonymous said...

"In Haig's presence, Kissinger referred pointedly to military men as 'dumb, stupid animals to be used' as pawns for foreign policy."

-- Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein, The Final Days, p. 208

Years of exposure to the opinions of military people and their supporters have left me with some sympathy for Kissinger's assessment of them. The question is the degree to which they were like that before they signed up. I suspect the "grooming" they receive after enlistment does nothing for their capability for free thought. I was going to write critical thought - but noone criticises like a soldier! (unfortunately that criticism is usually at such a low and insular level that its only use is an indicator of its emanator's limitations)