Britain’s post-truth ‘Iraqistan’ memorial insults both veterans and reality, A gilded fiction is still a fiction, after all.
First published on the International Business Times
Given the gulf between Britain’s imperial self-image and the unheroic truth, I always felt that the inevitable memorial to our recent failed wars would be off the mark when it arrived.
Yet first impressions indicate the star-studded unveiling in London’s Victoria Embankment Gardens on Thursday 9 March of a new ”Iraqistan” statue will plumb new depths of post-truthery.
Folding three wars of aggression into one fictional humanitarian aid operation is bad enough, I thought… and that was before I realised this latest extravaganza is the brainchild of the Murdoch press and was part-funded by global arms giant BAE Systems.
This state of affairs rules the Iraq Afghanistan Memorial out of representing the reality of the wars for many of the veterans who served in them or, indeed, the forgotten people of the victim nations.
I am not denying for a moment the immense skill apparent in the artist’s work but he appears to have impaled himself on the same bayonet as the post 9/11 media: reiterating what the establishment says as if it were incontrovertibly true. A gilded fiction is still a fiction, after all.
The surest thing about the memorial is its parentage. It is obviously the progeny of an arms firm, the gutter press and a military and political establishment desperate to draw a line under embarrassing defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan with a view to repeating them elsewhere in future.
This desperation is captured perfectly in a Ministry of Defence promotional video tweeted ahead of unveiling which exhibits depths of self-delusion I haven’t witnessed since I last encountered a senior British military officer.
On the 9 March HM The Queen will unveil the Iraq & Afghanistan Memorial honouring the duty and service of both UK armed forces and civilians pic.twitter.com/FzN7528myc
— Ministry of Defence (@DefenceHQ) February 28, 2017
In less than two minutes, the slick and emotively scored promo re-brands three wars of aggression – the signal foreign policy disasters of our time – as a 25 year long humanitarian aid operation carried out in uniform.
In a masterclass of selective memorialisation, it appears there will be no references at all to dodgy dossiers, extrajudicial drone assassinations, massive refugee crises, oil, Isis, a re-energised Taliban, rendition, Tony Blair or any of the other tentacled horrors which have come to define Britain’s recent adventures in the sandpit.
As a recent veteran myself I can tell you I was surprised to find that far from violently occupying those far-off impoverished places, the British military had in fact “championed democracy”, “protected British interests” and, most surprisingly of all, “rebuilt villages”.
One can only assume that the latter activity took place after the occupying forces had levelled said hamlets from the air, which somehow makes the sentiment a little less impressive.
Despite the attempt to soften the wars by folding civilian aid and development workers in with the military, this new addition must be seen in much the same way as the Chilcot Inquiry.
While the two-million word report was the establishment’s investigation of itself, this is the establishment’s memorial to what it wishes the wars had been: just, right, necessary and worth the cost.
Prince Harry, who last year outrageously shook hands with George W Bush at the Invictus Games for wounded soldiers, will headline the opening in his apparently self-elected role as the soldiers’ champion.
Naturally his dear grandmother, who uttered not a squeak in public against the wars, has been booked to look on.
When I first spotted and raised these discrepancies, I was understandably challenged for my view. Some people will appreciate being honoured in this manner, I was told.
I agree. Some people will be taken in by this exercise in bleaching the truth out of history. Just as many others, myself included, will not.
For veterans who have woken up this “Iraqistan” memorial will recall a time when we believed that the UK, and the British military, was fundamentally in the business of good causes rather than imperial adventures. A time which has passed.
For those of us who have come to realize what we were involved in our testament reads differently to that of the government, the military, arms firms or the Sun newspaper.
We will recall Afghanistan as what it was: a knee-jerk war against some of the poorest people in the world. A war in which we engaged initially to stay in with the United States and, after 2006, to recover our image in American eyes after utter failure in Basra.
Likewise we will recall the British role in Iraq as what it was: that of a junior henchman in the mother of all heists. And a failed heist at that.
On reflection, perhaps there is something to this flattering re-brand to delude future generations. Even if only ironically.
It may not be remotely based on what actually occurred in the wars but it captures precisely the new military bluster of the post-truth age combined with the established tendency of our leaders to overreach based on a cocktail of personal ambition, wishful thinking and faulty information.
Joe Glenton is a member of VFP UK and author of Soldier Box, published by Verso Books.