Sunday 2 March 2008

Harry's Imperial Adventures in an Unjust War

When Channel 4 journalist Jon Snow asked whether "viewers, readers and listeners will ever want to trust the media again", after British news editors entered into secret deal to hide Prince Harry's deployment to Afghanistan, he was asking the wrong question. The idea that the mainstream journalism, with a few honourable exceptions, is interested primarily in the truth and that ethics play a significant part in the shaping of news are both rather tired myths.

Guardian reporter Nick Davies' interesting book 'Flat Earth News' illustrates how the media has become a factory, desperately churning out stories and increasingly part of a dependent relationship with both government and commercial spin-doctors. Snow could just as easily have asked the same question about trust in the media over the way the Iraq war was dishonestly sold to the public - or how readily newspapers and television news have embraced the Ministry of Defence's blatant PR exercise over 'Harry the Hero' on his return to Britain. Television has positively drooled over what are clearly staged photo-opportunities and the Daily Mail and Daily Express devoted 11 pages to the story, more even than the nine pages in The Sun. The media's response has been a text-book example of the celebrity-obsessed, unquestioning 'churnalism' that Davies has so effectively described.

Only the Independent on Sunday seems to have asked the most important question: whether British troops have any business being in Afghanistan. Even it concludes the the Britain's military presence is "a just war, but that its conduct over the past six years has seriously weakened its legitimacy", although "Prince Harry's tour of duty should draw attention to the impossibility of winning the support of local people by calling down air strikes."

The problem with this argument is that Afghan civilians have been continually punished with aerial bombing since the start of the US-led act of revenge for the September 11 attacks on America. No efforts have been made by Afghanistan's invaders to accurately count the number of dead, although Professor Marc W. Herold of the University of New Hampshire has compiled a Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States' Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan that calculates there have been between 3485 and 4034 civilians killed as a result of US and British bombing.

Moreover, each of the claims made in 2001 for the invasion's mission - the capture of Osama bin Laden, the removal of the Taliban, the creation of a functioning state and the removal of religious oppression - have all failed. Bin Laden remains free to release his insane video messages, the Taliban is growing rapidly, corruption within President Karzai's government has become endemic in a country awash with opium money, whilst the country's infrastructure remains shattered. Over-optimistic rhetoric by current US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton back in 2001 about the new freedom for Afghan women looks particularly hollow when compared to the words of one of the Afghan parliament's women MPs, Malalai Joya, who has described the US and British supported government as "bad as as the Taliban – in fact, it is little more than a photocopy of the Taliban. The situation in Afghanistan is getting progressively worse – and not just for women, but for all Afghans."

Now I'm sure that Cornet Harry Wales is a nice enough lad (and that he's really, really sorry for 'hilariously' dressing up as a Nazi). But this is the reality of the war he has been fighting - one nominally on behalf of a corrupt, unstable government whose rule barely extends beyond Kabul and that has done nothing to prevent the spread of increasing theocracy. It is also one where the insurgency can no longer be described simplistically as terrorists (in Prince Harry's words, 'Terry Taliban'), but as an amalgam of different forces that includes Islamists but also disgruntled poppy farmers, nationalists opposing foreign occupation, clan groups involved in the heroin trade and in all likelihood, a number of the warlords who claim in public to support the Kabul government. It's a war that cannot be won and that the presence of British soldiers in Helmand province can only perpetuate. In such circumstances, proclaiming pride in serving your country, as Prince Harry has done, becomes a pretty empty form of patriotism - even if your granny is Commander-in-Chief of the army.

If the war in Afghanistan is neither 'just' or a place for a member of the Royal Family to experience a little imperial adventure at the expense of Afghanistan's future peace and prosperity, it is no place for any British soldier. This is a war that can only end with the withdrawal of all foreign troops.

Trust the media, spoon-fed their stories once again by the government and the military, to pretend otherwise.

Random Blowe | Original articles licensed under a Creative Commons License.