Thursday 23 March 2023

The Pot and the Kettle: the Iraq War.

People living in Western liberal democracies have short memories. That makes them self-righteous. Perhaps a stroll down memory lane is due.

This week was the twentieth anniversary of the Iraqi War. Use your memory, my friend.

Twenty years ago your TV screen was showing that or something very much like it.

As a consequence of that war, the whole Arab world, from the Tigris River in the east, to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, was destabilised. Already poor countries lost valuable infrastructure. Millions of people were displaced or left disabled, orphaned or destitute.

But let’s talk about deaths only. Nobody knows how many people died in that war. The lowest partial death estimates range from some 100 thousand to 113 thousand civilians killed between 2003 and 2021. A higher estimate shows some 600 thousand civilians and combatants killed between March 2003 and June 2006 alone (roughly two thirds of them, civilians, including women and children).

How did we get there?

Thursday 16 March 2023

55 Years Ago: My Lai.

I’m sure experts can say many deep things about war crimes. Alas, I’m no expert. And yet, that caveat in place, I think I’ve noticed two things about war crimes. It’s up to you to judge how interesting they are.

The first thing I can say about war crimes is that for years we hear next to nothing about them, even during wartime. It’s almost like wars became civilised affairs.

Then, suddenly, news reports are full of alleged war crimes.

That’s what happened since February 2022, when the Russian Federation invaded the Ukraine: the term “war crime” became almost as frequent on our TV screens as the daily appearances of the Ukrainian President.

The second thing I’ve noticed is that current news coverage of war crimes is inevitably framed within a cosmic good versus evil conflict – sorry – Western liberal democracies versus autocratic regimes narrative. In this story war crimes are the preserve of the Other: autocratic regimes (aka, the bad guys). Western liberal democracies (We), the immaculately good guys, abhor such things. Living under the rule of law, We promote an “international rules-based order”.


If you are young enough (and certainly, many Aussies old and young do their best to erase this episode from public awareness) you probably never heard of My Lai, let alone remember it, but today is its anniversary.

Fifty five years ago the military of the United States of America, our ally, the world’s richest and most democratic nation, did this: